Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1999, pages 103-107
AMA Southern California Chapters Hold Civic Education Session
Some 250 Southern California American Muslim Alliance members turned out Sept. 18 for a fund-raiser and civic education and leadership training forum in Pomona. Speakers at the evening program included representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties, federal, state and county officials, local AMA activists, AMA chairman Dr. Agha Saeed, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs executive editor Richard Curtiss, and former Congressman Paul Findley.
Dr. Talat Khan moderated the program, hosted by the San Bernardino and Riverside county AMA chapters, and Ms. Beena Kazi gave an overview of the American political system. Pointing out that there are 921,000 elective and appointive offices in the United States, and that Muslims make up at least three percent of the population, she asked, “shouldn’t we have three percent, or 27,630 of those positions? From this perspective the AMA target of 2,000 elected Muslim officials by the year 2000 does not seem unrealistic.”
Arif Alikhan, a Muslim attorney in the federal attorney general’s office in Los Angeles, discussed “Acquainting the Bureaucracy About Muslims and Islam.” He noted that “I’ve been involved in law enforcement since I was 17 years old and every step of the way I’ve used the opportunity to educate and inform people about Islam. I’ve also encouraged members of the [Muslim] community to go into government service—police, firemen, attorneys. We have plenty of doctors and engineers. It’s time to move on to other professions....Another way to get involved is through politics.”
Another speaker was Mr. Sherif Khaja, who introduced himself as an immigrant from Pakistan 20 years ago who now is a candidate for treasurer of the City of Montebello, near Los Angeles.
Citing the huge number of delegates to state political party conventions, AMA chairman Agha Saeed told his listeners, “you can run for office and this is your support group.” Explaining the importance of voting, he said that “51 percent of Americans don’t vote. If we are only 3 percent of the population but 100 percent of us turn out to vote, then we are 6 percent.
“The reason the Jewish community (which is only 2 percent of the population) has reached its present situation is they have used their numbers for making their presence known,” Dr. Saeed said. “In this election every candidate must become aware of our presence and our concerns. The American Muslim community is not here to form an island, but to build bridges, make friends and be part of the larger club.”
Richard Curtiss, author of books about U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and whose magazine reports on the political activities of Jewish-American, Arab-American and Muslim-American groups, congratulated AMA and its 85 local chapters on its strategy to encourage Muslims to become active in the political process, particularly in the 14 states in which American Muslims are concentrated.
Because of the system whereby the presidential election candidate who gets the most votes in a state gets the state’s entire electoral vote, the Muslim concentration in key industrial states gives the community the potential to swing a close national election to the presidential candidate of their choice, he said.
“When Muslims register to vote, turn out to vote in both the primary and general elections, and go into the polling place with a list of candidates recommended by local Muslim leaders, they have the potential to change both domestic and foreign policy—for all time and for the better,” he concluded.
Keynote speaker and former Illinois Congressman Findley, who has written books on the Israel Lobby in the U.S. and myths and facts about the Israeli-Arab dispute, now is writing a book about Muslims in America. He said his work was partly inspired by a letter from a professor of ethics who wrote to him: “I believe there will never be world peace until there is peace between the major religions of the world. And there will never be peace among them until they reach understandings to work together toward their common goals.”
Speaking of his own involvement, Findley said, “I’ve been on a journey through Islam for more than 25 years and it’s been a very rewarding experience...I came to realize how ugly and false are the stereotypes about Muslims.” Alluding to the work still to be done, Findley pointed out that as yet there are no Muslims in Congress, on the Supreme Court, in the cabinet, or in senior policymaking positions in the U.S. government.
CAIR Celebrates Five Years in the Service of Islam
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonprofit, grassroots membership organization with its national headquarters in Washington, DC, held its fifth annual fund-raiser Oct. 2in Arlington, VA’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Over 1,000 CAIR supporters from all over the United States and Canada attended the evening function.
The evening got underway with recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an, followed by dinner and presentation of CAIR’s 1999 Islamic Community Awards. Among honorees in the activism category were Hussam Ayloush of CAIR Southern California, Sheema Khan of CAIR Ottawa, Fouad Khatib of CAIR Northern California, and Janan Najeeb of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition. Recipients in the leadership and community service categories were Bassam Estwani and Fakhri Barzinji respectively. The excellence in journalism awards went to Ayesha Mustafaa of the Muslim Journal and to executive editor Richard H. Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on Middle East Affairs.
Imam Siraj Wahhaj, national leader, devoted Muslim activist, and imam of Masjid At-Taqwa in New York City, delivered the keynote address. It included much-deserved praise for CAIR, its leadership under its Washington, DC-based president Nihad Awad and Northern California-based chairman Omar Ahmad, and its outstanding work in defending the image and practice of Islam in America. Imam Siraj reminded the audience of the critical place zakat and sadaqah (spending in the cause of Islam) have in Islam, and urged audience members to contribute generously and share in CAIR’s “serious work” by citing the example of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq, the first caliph of Islam. After the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), some of the bedouin tribes who had converted to Islam refused to pay the mandatory zakat, Imam Siraj related, and it was Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq who stood firm and enforced the inseparability of prayer and zakat—that just as prayer is obligatory upon every Muslim, so is the financial support of Islamic institutions, organizations and projects.
At the end of the evening, CAIR officials were extremely pleased with the amount of funds raised. The organization has come a long way since its inception in 1994, when it opened a small office on K Street in Washington, DC. In a short period of time, CAIR has gone head-to-head with such giants as Hollywood film producers, launching aggressive campaigns against movies that portray Muslims and Arabs as terrorists; Nike, getting the company to recall shoes with a symbol imitating the Arabic word for “Allah”; Simon & Schuster, forcing the publisher to recall a children’s book that grossly defamed the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); and most recently the Fox News Channel, which allowed CAIR executive director Nihad Awad to refute statements made by a talk show guest who claimed that under Islamic law a woman is required to commit suicide after being raped.
During the Oct. 2 fund-raiser, Mr. Awad informed audience members about CAIR’s upcoming projects. Due to its increasing staff, extensive research department, and growing presence on the American political and social landscape, CAIR has been looking for a new site to house its national headquarters. Awad announced that a prime location on Capitol Hill has been selected and the necessary funds are being collected to secure the building. With the holy months of Ramadan and Dhul-Hijjah rapidly approaching, CAIR is preparing information kits to distribute to local and national media outlets as well as to mosques and Muslim activists. In addition to these, CAIR is continuing with its defense of Muslims across America who encounter injustice and discrimination in their personal and professional lives.
For more information about CAIR, to become a member, or to request a list of CAIR’s publications, call (800) 78-ISLAM.
—Saira Abdul Razaq
CAIR Calls for Airport Taxicab Investigation
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a news conference Oct. 21 at Reagan National Airport in support of Muslim taxicab drivers at both that facility, just outside Washington, DC, and Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. The majority of taxi drivers are of the Islamic faith and they allege denial of religious accommodations in both airports. They are asking for suitable areas in which drivers may wash prior to prayer without inconveniencing others, and an area where they may offer their prayers.
At Dulles Airport, the drivers also say working conditions are unsafe or oppressive because the current taxi contract holder forces drivers to work 18- or even 24-hour days, six or seven days a week, in order to make a living wage. The drivers also charge that intimidation is used against recent immigrants and retaliation against those who protest unsafe working conditions. CAIR asked the Department of Transportation’s inspector general to conduct an investigation.
—Delinda C. Hanley
A coalition of American Muslim organizations launched a campaign to boycott the Walt Disney Company at a National Press Club press conference Sept. 20 in Washington, DC. American Muslims for Jerusalem, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the American Muslim Council called for the boycott after Disney ignored Muslim and Arab concerns over a Millennium Village exhibit in Orlando, Florida, for which Israel spent $1.8 million, which depicted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The United Arab Emirates Information and Culture Minister Abdullah ibn Zaid Al-Nahayan called upon the 22-member Arab League and Arab foreign ministers to join the boycott—until the exhibit removed explicit mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and opened on schedule Oct. 1.
According to the Detroit Jewish News, in his remarks delivered Sept. 29 at a special opening reception of the exhibit, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Eitan Ben-Tsur, repeated three times: “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel” earning the applause of hundreds of Jewish community representatives who had gathered at EPCOT.
AMJ planned to distribute pamphlets on Jerusalem outside Walter Disney World.
—Delinda C. Hanley
U.S. Government: American Muslim Boycotts of U.S. Companies Operating in Israeli Settlements Are Legal
American Muslim boycotts of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories do not violate U.S. law, an official at the U.S. Department of Commerce told iviews.com, an online news magazine, on Oct.14. That statement came following an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) news release earlier in the week that claimed American Muslim boycotts of companies like Burger King were “under scrutiny” by the Commerce Department, and “could be in violation of anti-boycott regulations.”
In a written statement Dexter Price, director of the Office of Anti-Boycott Compliance at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Export Administration, explained: “The anti-boycott regulations enforced by the Commerce Department apply to boycotts imposed by foreign countries against Israel and other countries friendly to the United States. If a U.S. company shuts down its operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories solely in response to a boycott call or pressure by American Muslims or any other group of U.S.-based consumers, the Commerce anti-boycott regulations would not apply.”
Price also said that the anti-boycott laws do not apply if “the company is not called upon to shut down its operations in the entire State of Israel, only in settlements in the disputed territories.” He added that his statement was general, and referred to the application of the Commerce Department anti-boycott regulations, not a particular case, example or incident.
In August, Burger King Corporation canceled its contract with its franchise in a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after American Muslims called for a global boycott of the fast-food giant. “From British tea to segregated buses, boycotts have been a part of American political activism,” said Fahhim Abdulhadi, communications director of American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ). “Our community is confident in its voice and our right to use it.” AMJ is the Washington-based advocacy group that spearheaded the Burger King campaign.
“It’s not uncommon for groups to seek consumer boycotts of companies, for whatever reason,” said Mark Ellis, an expert on foreign investment law and international legal reform for the American Bar Association, and special counsel for the Coalition for International Justice. “The call for a boycott itself is not illegal, nor would a consumer’s choice to respond to the boycott be illegal. It falls within freedom of speech, and the freedom of choice for consumers to decide where to spend their money.”
In August, iviews.com asked a U.S. State Department official what advice he would give an American company intending to build a restaurant in Ma’ale Adumim, the location of the disputed Burger King restaurant. The State Department official replied: “This is a risky investment; any kind of long-term investment there is risky. The status of that place is not yet decided. That’s what official U.S. policy is. We think that the Israeli settlement policy is destructive to the peace process.”
In response to the same question, an official with the U.S. Department of Commerce said, “I don’t think we’d encourage it; that’s safe to say.” The iviews Web site is https://www.iviews.com
Muslim and Human Rights Activists Protest Use of Secret Evidence
The American Muslim Council (AMC), a political organization working at the local and national levels fostering Muslim involvement in government and politics, held a Sept. 25 rally in Washington, DC’s Lafayette park, facing the White House. Co-sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF), and other activist organizations, the rally called attention to the federal government’s use of secret evidence as a means of detaining and deporting resident aliens and American citizens.
Speakers, including Kit Gage and Frank Wilkinson from the NCPPF and Greg Nojeim from the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced the use of secret evidence against American Muslims and Arabs as a severe violation of civil liberties and due process, elements fundamental to the American political system. Rally attendees were also made aware of other components of the 1996 anti-terrorism legislation and effective death penalty act that gave rise to the use of secret evidence and that seemed to impute guilt by association to persons associated with the lawful activities of organizations deemed terrorist by the U.S. government. The attendees were also encouraged to ask their representatives to support pending legislation, H.R. 2121, to repeal the use of secret evidence.
Abdel Malik Ali, the Imamof Masjid al-Islam in Oakland, California, urged audience members to think deeply and rationally about the implications of secret evidence. As Imam Ali explained, the broad umbrella of the Constitution is what grants U.S. citizens the freedom of speech, expression, and religion. But since passage of the anti-terrorism legislation of 1996 the government is misusing its power to undermine the constitutional rights of all Americans and to deprive Muslims of their civil rights and freedoms. Muslims are languishing in U.S. prisons, Imam Ali explained, yet most American Muslims are not even aware of the issue, let alone prepared to raise their voices against the injustices their co-religionists are experiencing.
Georgetown University’s First Muslim Chaplain
Imam Yahya Hendi, the first Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, was honored at a Sept. 21 reception held in the University’s Riggs Memorial Library. University President Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, and University Chaplain Adam Bunnell noted in their welcoming remarks that Georgetown is committed to religious education as well as scholastic excellence as it prepares its students for the 21st century. The university, they said, encourages its students to listen to each other in order to understand that all humankind is one.
As Imam Hendi’s appointment demonstrates, Georgetown University listened to its Muslim students when they asked for a Muslim chaplain. The Muslim students’ association and the university formed a search committee, drew up a list of qualifications and selected Imam Hendi from a long list of applicants.
Imam Hendi was born in the Holy Land and studied in Jordan and at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. He served in the U.S. armed forces and as a chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center, and at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, MD. He also was the imam at the Islamic Center of Charlotte, NC and has been community relations director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Georgetown University, founded in 1789, is the nation’s oldest Catholic university. More than 12,000 students from 50 states and 110 countries attend the university’s eight schools.
“I am very delighted to be working at Georgetown University along with the students, staff members, and faculty,” Imam Hendi said. “My position, which is, we believe, the first of its kind at a major American university, is a milestone in the history of U.S. institutions of higher education in terms of a growing responsiveness to Muslim communities and campuses.”
—Delinda C. Hanley
Islam Today: Examining the Myths
The Iowa Sister States Committee hosted a conference on the theme “Islam Today: Examining the Myths” for some 70 participants on Oct. 15-16 at the Collins Plaza in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dr. Janet Heineke of Simpson College stated that the intent of the conference was “to both describe and illuminate the cultural contribution of Islam, to examine and study the changing geopolitics in which these contributions occur, and to gain an understanding surrounding the nature and structure of the Islamic world in contemporary society.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Ralph Braibanti, professor emeritus of political science at Duke University, documented the growing influence of Islam in the world today. He also noted a new realization in the United States of the potential impact of some 60 Islamic nations working in concert, and a new appreciation by the mainstream media that the major tenets of Islam point to peaceful settlement of disputes.
Dr. Riffat Hassan of the University of Louisville spoke on “Islam in a New Millenium,” and Dr. Mohamed Fahmy of the University of Northern Iowa described “The Impact of Industrial Technology in Emerging Islamic States.” A dialogue between Dr. Sam Hamod and Dr. David Hay engaged the audience in understanding the commonalities between Islam and Christianity.
In celebration of Iowa’s sister-state relationship with Terenggau, Malaysia, representatives of the Malaysian student associations from both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University entertained conference participants with traditional dances.
Georgetown Center Probes Islam and U.S. Policy
The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, DC hosted a day-long panel discussion on Islam and U.S. Policy on Sept. 23. Greg Nojeim of the American Civil Liberties Union opened the discussion with an analysis of federal immigration and national security legislation.
An FBI decision to investigate and question Muslim- and Arab-American community leaders at the onset of the Gulf war raised a fundamental legal question, Nojeim said. Was it permissible for the FBI to base its investigations on an individual’s ethnicity?
The implications of that are profound, Nojeim said. “If the government has that kind of power for reasons falling under national security, the only option we have is procedural, that is, to ask for due process.”
Knowing that the U.S. has enacted anti-terrorism legislation, we then have to question whether that policy specifically targets Muslims and threatens their civil liberties in the United States, Nojeim continued. “The fact is that most of the anti-terrorism laws that we have that have an impact on civil liberties in the United States are written objectively. There isn’t anything in the law that says Christians can, but Muslims can’t.” Therefore, Nojeim said, the problem must originate in the application of the law.
To highlight this problem of application, Nojeim discussed three different areas of anti-terrorism policy that seem to have a disparate impact on Muslim Americans, two of which originated from the 1996 anti-terrorism law, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing.
“About a decade ago the Justice Department started saying that we have secret evidence that there are people in the United States who are a threat to U.S. security, but we cannot bring that information out to the public, because it would reveal a source of information,” Nojeim said. The government then began regularly using secret evidence in the form of classified information to deport aliens. Currently, 23 out of the 25 individuals being held on secret evidence are Muslim.
The second aspect of the 1996 policy that hurts Muslims is the notion that the government could create a list of foreign terrorist organizations, half of which are from Muslim countries. The consequences of this are two-fold, Nojeim said. First, the U.S. government was given the power to exclude all the members of those organizations from the U.S. regardless of whether they themselves had engaged in terrorist activities. The second consequence was that it became illegal for Americans to support the lawful activities of these organizations. “This severely blurs the constitutional divide between being a member of a group and of being a member of a conspiracy,” Nojeim explained.
The central debate behind this issue came up very recently, Nojeim said. The president, giving two reasons, recently pardoned 16 members of Puerto Rico’s FALN. The first reason was that the sentences had been disproportionately lengthy for the crimes they had committed. The second reason he gave was that they themselves had not been involved in the actual violent activity. But he didn’t say they weren’t involved in unlawful activity, Nojeim explained.
Isn’t it ironic then, Nojeim asked, that the president a few years earlier had proposed legislation that would make it a crime to support lawful activities of groups, and then turned around and pardoned people because they had supported unlawful activities, without directly involving themselves in the violence?
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, spoke next on negative stereotypes becoming public policy. The prime example of this, Zogby said, is when Muslim- and Arab-American groups asked the Federal Aviation Administration whether security profiling should be based on nationality or ethnicity. The FAA representatives responded by saying, “It is not in our scope to use ethnic features to determine who should be profiled.” When pushed further, the FAA spokesman blurted, “Well, who else should we look at?”
Zogby encouraged Muslim and Arab Americans to take a firm stance. “When we travel,” Zogby said, “we check our bags, not our rights.” It shouldn’t matter what our ethnic origin is, where our families came from, or what our families do for a living.
Speaking first on the second panel on “American Perspectives on Islam and U.S. Policy” was Edward Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University and a former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs. Djerejian recalled a speech he had delivered at Meridian House in 1992 in the immediate aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Gulf war, and the beginning of the Madrid peace process. People were looking for the next “ism” to replace communism, Djerejian said, and municipal elections in Algeria that seemed to be bringing an Islamic party to power pushed Islam to be that next ism. But some in the State Department began cautioning against viewing Islam as the enemy.
According to Djerejian, the policy in both the Bush and Clinton administrations was based on the principles outlined in his Meridian House speech. First, Djerejian said, it cautioned against perceiving Islam as a threat after the end of the Cold War and as seeing an emerging competition between Islam and the West.
Second, it urged people in the U.S. and other parts of the world to recognize Islam as a great faith and peaceful religion. Part of that process was educating people about the one billion Muslims in the world and providing basic facts, Djerejian said.
Third, Djerejian said, we realized that extremism was coming not from Islam, but from social and economic injustices within a certain region.
Speaking after Ambassador Djerejian was Ronald Neuman, former ambassador to Algeria and a deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Neuman began with two broad generalizations. First, he posited that U.S. policy in the Near East is solely based on national interest, not religion. Religion does not determine our position on terrorism, immigration, the peace process, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or human rights, Neuman asserted. Secondly, he said, the U.S. does not have a policy toward Islam.
What has to be understood, Neuman said, is that U.S. policy in the Middle East and toward other Muslim countries is neither static nor based on theology. To put it simply, Neuman said, we do not see any clash with Islam or any inherent conflict between Islam and the West.
The final speaker, Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a strongly pro-Israel group, presented a view of Islam opposing that of the other speakers on the panel. Pipes began by making a distinction between Islam and Islamism, saying the latter is a concern for American foreign policy.
Islam is a faith dating back some 14 hundred centuries, Pipes said, whereas Islamism is a 20th century political phenomenon which requires a strong political response. Pipes asserted that extremism in Islam was the result of a trauma experienced by the modern Muslim world. “Extremism was the result of going from an extraordinary period in which Muslims were leaders in virtually all areas of human endeavor to a period of decline and tribulation, in which Muslims are constantly wondering what went wrong,” Pipes explained.
Pipes also suggested that Islamism is anti-American and views the United States as the greatest seducer of Muslim values. Pipes offered a statement by Iran’s late Ayatollah Khomeini as proof of his position. “We don’t want American soldiers and we don’t want American universities.”
Dr. Maher Hathout Delivers First Islamic Institute
The Islamic Institute, founded in 1998 by former American Muslim Council official and Republican Party activist Khalid Saffuri, held the first in a planned series of congressional lectures on Oct. 13 at the Longworth House Office Building. Located in the nation’s capital, the Islamic Institute was established in order to foster a relationship between the Muslim community and the general American public.
Exploring the issue of religion in contemporary life at the Institute’s first Capitol Hill lecture was Dr. Maher Hathout, senior adviser of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. Hathout has lectured extensively on Islam and Muslims and has authored several books on Islam, Middle East politics, and the abuse of human rights.
According to Hathout, the last 50 years have been marred by the increasing presence of religion in the context of intra- and interstate conflict. Hathout cited the partition of India and Pakistan along religious lines in 1947 and the ongoing tension over Kashmir between the two, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the events transpiring in Chechnya as proof of the prominent role religion has played in numerous long-standing conflicts.
Groups seeking power through ideological supremacy, Hathout said, have also employed religion as a means of advancing their political aspirations. Examples are the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. Hathout noted that most Americans have been conditioned to the idea that Muslim extremists are the groups impelling their followers to engage in war, insurgency, and terrorism to meet their religious and political obligations. A glaring exception to such a generalization, Hathout said, is Dr. Baruch Goldstein, an American immigrant to Israel who on Feb. 28, 1994, entered the mosque portion of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and shot to death 29 Muslims prostrating in their prayers. Goldstein was referred to as a “deranged person” by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the American media, rather than as a Jewish extremist acting in the context of his belief system, Hathout pointed out, but Jewish West Bank religious settlers have turned his tomb into a shrine and place of pilgrimage.
Although all religious extremists have confused religious piety and fundamentalism, Hathout said, the overwhelming majority of Muslims, Jews, and Christians do not use their beliefs to justify violent behavior.
Hathout concluded by discussing three areas that need to be improved in order for religion, specifically Islam, to be perceived as non-virulent. First, the lack of accurate information about Islam needs to be rectified, Hathout said. Part of that is deconstructing negative Islamic stereotypes that exist and presenting an informed perspective on Islam and its adherents. Another part of that is letting Muslims debate issues such as population planning from within the perspective of Islam, and not through the lens of Judeo-Christian norms.
According to Hathout, the second area that requires serious improvement is the level of freedom allowed for the discussion of Islam. Muslims should encourage more dialogue on Islam in settings such as this, Hathout said.
Lastly, Hathout said, when any group of people feels threatened, the natural reaction is to protect their identity and social and cultural integrity. So, when Muslims are analyzed in the context of a future civilizational conflict, Hathout said, one can hardly expect them to respond holding an olive branch.