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Lori Saroya

Lori Saroya: From Fear to Understanding Islam in Little Falls, Minnesota

From-Fear-to-Understanding-IslamOn Tuesday, April 29, interfaith leaders and community members gathered at the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls, Minn., for a community dialogue on "Tolerance and the Fear of Islam." The event was organized after community leaders and activists considered the negative impact a speech by an anti-Muslim speaker had in the same community last year.

Approximately one-third of the audience consisted of individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims – and they came prepared with their Islamophobic books. They handed out hate-filled flyers and started heckling, but eventually they started to listen.

CAIR-MN Brings Dialogue on Tolerance to Little Falls

http://mcrecord.com/2014/04/30/cair-brings-dialogue-on-tolerance-to-little-falls/

CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla presented first, when the crowd was the most hostile. She spoke about the history of religious intolerance in America and provided some much-needed context and education. The heckling gradually diminished as her presentation went on.

Then CAIR-MN Outreach Director Jaylani Hussein presented on Islam 101. His Quran recitation was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed. I could see that, whether they wanted to admit it or not, the recitation touched some of the individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims- to the point that they were bowing their heads down. He did a great job in making connections to things community members could relate to like sports and winter weather, and showed everyone how normal Muslims are.

Lastly, Father Virgil Petermeier of the St. Cloud Muslim-Christian Dialogue spoke about his positive experiences living with Muslims in Indonesia for 36 years. He told the story of when the monastery was burned to the ground, the Muslims in their community helped rebuild it. He said how when a senior pastor fell ill, a Muslim woman doctor drove two hours while she was fasting and saved the pastor's life. He said how Muslim students attended the Catholic school and demonstrated how the local imam, Baba Haji, greeted him with both arms raised whenever he saw him. These stories were imperative in countering all the negative stories of Christian-Muslim relations some people had heard.

The Q&A was respectful and organized, thanks to the efforts of moderator Kevin LaNave, director of the Center for Learning Services and Social Change. Attendees asked real questions they have about Islam and Muslims and the panelists openly and honestly answered them.

After the event, many people stayed back. Some of the same people who had been distributing hateful flyers at the beginning of the event were now talking to us. They were asking questions.

My most memorable moment from the evening was at the very end. The host of the Little Falls Dialogue had told us that he was fielding hate calls all week. Some people were trying to intimidate him into cancelling the event. There was one call that stood out to him - it was from one of his donors. The individual said that he would withdraw his donation if this event took place. The host politely told him that he was sorry to lose the donation, but that the event would go on as scheduled. He was not going to cancel it. When the event was finished and we were all walking out together, a Muslim stopped the host and said, "You may have lost one donor for holding this event, but you gained another one,"- and handed him a personal check.

This event won't change everyone, but I saw firsthand how many people changed. Most people had never met a Muslim, let alone sat and listened to them talk for two hours. What a wonderful world this could be if everyone just listened - even if it's for two hours in a convent in Little Falls, Minnesota.

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Lori Saroya is executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Event sponsors included: Little Falls Partners for Peace, Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace, Building Blocks of Islam, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). It was hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls at the St. Francis Convent.​

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Corey Saylor

Is sharia compatible with democracy?

[My speech on "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" was presented in Maine on March 22, 2014. The below text differs slightly from the original as I was able to check a couple of references that I did not have access to while in Vacationland. From here forward, everything in brackets was added after the speech was delivered.]

Salaam alaykum. Peace be unto you. Good evening.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf asserted that his action was a reflection of his understanding of the Islamic faith.

This sparked a nationwide debate.

Shortly after, one of the major news magazines ran a story about the ensuing controversy. The story featured a photo of a woman at a later Nuggets game wrapped in an American flag and crying. [She was demonstrating her outrage at Abdul-Rauf's deed.]

Abdul-Rauf's action was, in my opinion then and now, disrespectful and inappropriate. Indeed, he later stated that while he believed his motivation was correct, his choice of expression was not the best approach." So while I disagreed with the action, I would defend his right to do what he did.

Abdul-Rauf's act was political dissent, respect for which is enshrined in our national character. [This respect for dissent is why I also disagree with the woman in the photo. I defend her right to do what she did, but I think becoming angry at his act is also not the best approach.]

At the time there were calls for Abdul-Rauf to face consequences. He served a one game suspension.

Often in incidents like this we even hear legislators talk of passing laws to ban certain behaviors or to legally impose them. Outlawing flag burning, another form of protest I view as a crass political stunt, is a frequent example. I think the tension between faith, politics, ideals and their expression we see in the Abdul-Rauf incident is important to think about tonight.

Now, before my hosts get too nervous trying to figure out why the speaker is rambling on about a minor incident, I want to take a moment to increase their tension.

I respectfully disagree with our chosen topic for tonight. I think it draws on incorrect assumptions about sharia, or Islamic legal principles, and democracy. I honestly think there is another, more significant topic to be considered.

So I am going to beg your indulgence for a bit and allow me to make my case. I pray you will find by the end of our discussion that I have answered the "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" question anyway.

Sharia's ideals

To start, let's discuss sharia. Like jihad, it is a term that has been hijacked and turned into something scary.

To assist our discussion of sharia I will turn to a scholar, Asifa Quraishi-Landes. She teaches American constitutional law and Islamic law at the University of Wisconsin and has a doctorate from Harvard Law School among other honors. Here is a short passage from her paper "Sharia and Diversity" in which she describes sharia as literally meaning "way" or "street":

"Sharia refers to the way that God has advised Muslims to live, as documented in the Quran and exemplified in the practices of Prophet Muhammad. In other words, sharia can be understood as the Islamic recipe for living a good life. But of course, no one can taste a recipe. We can only taste the product of a chef's efforts to follow one. In addition, different chefs can follow the same recipe and still come up with quite varied results."

There are a few things I hope we hear in this reading.

First, Muslims recognize that the process of understanding God's will is ongoing. There is not a set of books equivalent to the U.S. Code sitting somewhere that spells out what the law is in fine detail. There is the ideal of divine law [found primarily in the Quran and the life of Islam's Prophet] and the reality of human interpretations of the law, which we can define using the Arabic term fiqh.

Second, we are painfully aware of our humanity and that we can interpret and express these ideals wrongly.

Third, there can be a wide variance in the understanding of Islam.

I like Quraishi-Landes's use of the recipe metaphor. Sharia is the recipe, but different religious scholars produce varied dishes from it.

Let me give you a real world example of the variety [available to Muslims.]

One of Islam's most important holidays is Eid Al-Fitr. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the month wherein Muslims eat no food, drink no water and avoid other physical indulgences during daylight hours. Ramadan is a time of great spiritual reflection and self-denial, Eid is the party at the end. I would be lying to you if I did not admit that after a month of food and sleep deprivation it is a joy to get this party started.

The problem is, we have a hard time agreeing on when it starts. Islam is on a lunar calendar, and thus the date of Eid changes each year in relation to our own calendar. Some Muslims maintain Eid starts when someone of good reputation sees the new moon with their eyes, thus starting the new month. Others say we can use scientific calculations to know the exact moment of the birth of the new moon. Many immigrant Muslims prefer go with when their country of origin says Eid starts. Others say that since Islam is now worldwide, we should all go with when Mecca, the place all Muslims face when we pray, recognizes the start of Eid.

As a result, every year we hear conversations in mosques along the lines of "Are you celebrating Eid on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?"

We have people going to their employers and saying, "next week is our most important religious holiday of the year, I need to take the day off." The boss usually replies, "Sure, what day do you need?" Then we get the rather awkward response of, "Well, it might be Monday, but maybe Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday."

As an aside, next time someone tells you Muslims have some shady conspiracy to subvert the Constitution, remember this holiday. If we cannot organize our major holidays, I doubt we can pull off a vast conspiracy. I have also never encountered any actual Muslim interest in such a conspiracy.

So, sharia was and is developed to be flexible and dynamic in practice. This was done in order to achieve two main goals, and protect six main principles in society. The two goals are to bring good to humanity community, and to repel harm from humanity. Please note, this is not bring good to Muslims, and to repel harm from Muslims. It is humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of Sharia, presented here as written out by Sumbul Ali-Karamali:

  • "The right to the protection of life.
  • "The right to the protection of family.
  • "The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • "The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • "The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • "The right to the protection of religion."

Sharia must then adapt with respect to the social, political, and cultural climate of a given place and time in order to ensure that these two goals are met, and these six principles are protected. In fact, sharia mandates that a Muslim practice their faith while respecting the law of the land in which they reside.

Throughout history the way to achieve these goals and protect these principles has differed between various philosophies, eras, communities, and leaders. At the center of these various interpretations is always intended to be human good.

Ibn al Qayyim, a notable medieval-era Islamic jurist put it this way, "The foundation of the sharia is wisdom and the safeguarding of people's interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the sharia. ..."

So these are the ideals behind Islamic legal principles. We Muslims, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

Let's think about one example. In Islamic inheritance a son gets a full share and a daughter gets a half share. This is done because the son is expected to pay for funeral expenses and support all family members. The daughter can choose to help, but it is not an obligation. Similarly, a man is obligated to financially support his family. Any money a wife earns is hers to do with as she chooses, she can contribute or not as she wishes.

These are the ideals aimed at ensuring everyone is supported financially and it is clear who is responsible. Does it always work out that way? No.

American ideals

In my opinion, ideals are at the core of our conversation tonight. They are precious things. We in America have them and strive for them. We Americans, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they chose. John Adams -- who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and become our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In 2013, shortly after revelations of overly-broad warrantless surveillance of the American public by the National Security Agency, or NSA, the Pew Research Center found 56 percent of Americans think this is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism." Sixty-two percent agreed that it is more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on personal privacy." A stark contrast to the men who founded our nation.

More recently, Pew reported, "Today, 40% approve of the government's collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove." Pew adds, "In addition, nearly half (48%) say there are not adequate limits on what telephone and internet data the government can collect."

So here we see an example of our national struggle to balance our ideals with reasonable concerns for public safety and less reasonable fears that may cause us to be too willing to give up ideals the founders valued.

John Adams, by the way, set the standard for placing ideals over emotions when he acted as legal counsel to British soldiers accused in the Boston massacre, one of those iconic incidents that contributed to sparking full scale colonial revolt against King George.

The ideal, broadly embraced in our society, was later expressed in the Sixth Amendment as an accused having the right to the assistance of counsel to his defense.

Writing in his diary, Adams expressed fear he felt for his own safety, as well as that of his family from more radical elements of the revolutionary movement. Of his decision to defend the soldiers Adams concluded: "It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country."

Let's consider a couple of more recent examples.

In 2004, three years after the 9/11 attacks, Cornell University reported that "nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans." This included "27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government."

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any "religious test" for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that "twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court" and that "nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for president."

The lesson I see here is that we have grand ideals in this nation, but our reality does not always live up to them. The struggle to enshrine our ideals is long and difficult.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Civil War, James McPherson reports on English Protestant Americans' suspicion of German and Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century. He writes, "most of these new Americans worshipped in Roman Catholic churches. Their growing presence filled some Protestant Americans with alarm. Numerous nativist organizations sprang up as the first line of resistance in what became a long and painful retreat toward acceptance of cultural pluralism."

Striving to "civilize" Native Americans, the federal government instituted a practice of taking children away from their parents and placing them in off-reservation boarding schools. Here, the children were to learn a culture not their own. These schools still existed in the 1960s.

It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women full voting rights. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law in 2009, reminds us that women in America still struggle for equal pay for equal work.

Our nation placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The deeply troubling story of the African-American struggle for full equality is well known. Sadly, it is commonplace for minority groups and their leaders to be vilified.

Martin Luther King, a non-violent, civil rights icon, has a federal holiday named after him and won a Nobel Peace Prize.

However, before his assassination, he was branded the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. His calls and sometimes hotel rooms were wiretapped. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a degenerate.

Which Democracy?

I hope by now you may begin to see why my concern is not "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" The term democracy may not even be the best for our thoughts tonight. Like Islam, democracy takes many forms.

The citizens of Athens, a direct democracy where only landed males could vote, would hardly recognize our system. Pirate democracy, entertaining as the subject is, is probably not a focus for us tonight. On a pirate ship, all crew got a vote and the captain was elected.

Some -- maybe Vladimir Putin -- would call the recent referendum in Crimea an instance of democracy. But voting is not necessarily an indicator of a healthy democracy. We are all familiar with despotic rulers who handily win "vote me or else" elections.

Indeed, our own democracy, the recipe the Founding Fathers gave us is constantly being assessed by new chefs. When the U.S. Constitution came into effect, 10 of the 13 states required a voter to own property or pay some form of tax. Today, such requirements cause outrage.

Examining the ideals side-by-side

But, as you may have noticed, the ideals, the principles behind our expression of democracy do offer us a guide to the target of our thoughts tonight.

Two documents give us a sense of the recipe:

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the right of the people "to alter or to abolish their government" must remain intact and the people must have the freedom to lay government's "foundation on such principles" and organize "its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The Constitution adds additional thoughts: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.""

These are the goals of the democracy our founders created. These are the ideals, the recipe.

Let me remind you of the two main goals and six main principles of sharia. The two goals are to bring good to humanity, and to repel harm from humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of sharia:

  • The right to the protection of life.
  • The right to the protection of family.
  • The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • The right to the protection of religion.

I hope you are beginning to hear what I concluded long ago -- that the similarities between Islamic sharia ideals and western democratic ideals are fairly obvious.

Many Muslims have already concluded the ideals are similar. This is not just my opinion. Early after my decision to embrace Islam I heard a story. I do not know if it is fact, but it expresses a reality I have heard many Muslims agree with. In short, after visiting America, a Muslim scholar is reported to have said, "I went to the east and found Muslims without Islam. I went to the west and found Islam without Muslims."

This scholar is saying he saw in the west Islamic principles in action where Islam was not the majority faith. He is saying in many countries where Islam is the majority faith, politics and history have created circumstances where Islamic principles are not expressed in society.

In 2011, the Fiqh Council of North America adopted a resolution titled "On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans."

Here are a few lines from that resolution:

  • Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura -- mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state, and globally.
  • Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims' obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

Aside: Al-Qaeda is everybody's enemy

At this moment of thinking about the parallels between Islamic ideals and western democratic ideals, let me insert a couple of thoughts about Al-Qaeda and their ideological allies.

Extremists who claim that Islam motivates, or worse, sanctions, their atrocities have done deep harm to Islam. Their terrorism, the blatant human rights abuses, their complete distortion of the faith -- these provide the breeding ground for much of the anti-Muslim extremism we are living through today.

The worldview of violent extremists is a complete distortion of Islam. Islamic teachings clearly state that the killing of one innocent is the moral equivalent to the killing of all humanity.

To the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, Islam is a religion that teaches tolerance, justice and compassion. Unfortunately, for many who know little of Islam or Muslims, violent extremists have come to personify both.

What many do not realize is that in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and its ideological allies we can adopt an us [America] vs. them [Muslims] attitude or we can adopt a "we are all in the struggle against violent extremism together" approach.

At least 31 Muslims were among the victims of the 9/11 attackers. This includes Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went into one of the Twin Towers to offer assistance and died while doing so. His sacrifice was noted in the USA PATRIOT ACT.

After reviewing a 2009 report titled Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al-Qaida's Violence Against Muslims, Ralph Peters wrote in the New York's Daily Post, "Al-Qaeda does one thing extremely well: killing Muslims."

President Obama echoed this conclusion at a White House Ramadan fastbreaking reception in 2010 when he noted, "In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."

American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals

The more we think about it, the more the us [democracy] vs. them [sharia] dichotomy falls apart.

Now here is a key, and for this gathering, crucial reality, that may surprise you: American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in America has resulted in a certain willingness by a significant proportion of Americans to undermine the Constitution.

We are not just talking about [survey respondent's] words and opinions. In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will, marriage agreement or other contracts such as home financing structured according to the Islamic prohibition against interest-bearing loans.

In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that "Islamic religious principles are based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed."

This language rather directly contradicts the First Amendment in two key ways. First, the Establishment Clause prohibits government from condemning or endorsing any religion. Second, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees all persons of faith equal liberty to practice their faith.

Now, persons of faith regularly enter contracts or enact incorporating elements of their faith. So long as such provisions do not violate U.S. law, it is irrelevant to courts from where the provision originates.

For example, if a Jewish person enacts a will that directs a court to divide his estate in accordance with a particular verse found within his religious tradition, a court would likely comply with this request. But if a Muslim person were to attempt something similar in a state that has passed an anti-Islam bill such as Oklahoma's SQ 755, that Muslim would be prevented from doing so. This differential freedom accorded to members of one faith over another is what the Free Exercise Clause was written to protect against.

For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. Interestingly, CAIR was accused of trying to subvert the Constitution while we were making the First Amendment arguments I just presented to you. In 2013 a federal judge struck the amendment down as unconstitutional.

Oklahoma's bill wasn't unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. I am still tallying 2013, but it looks like another [37 bills in 16 states] total bills. Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.

As a second example that Muslims are on the front line of protecting American ideals, let's look at the 2012 presidential election, one of our nation's most visible platforms for political thought.

Herman Cain was for a while the frontrunner for the GOP's presidential nomination.

Speaking to Christianity Today on March 11, 2011, Cain said that followers of the Muslim religion have "an objective to convert all infidels or kill them." Cain also said that Muslims who wanted to serve in his administration would have to take loyalty oaths. He explained to Fox News host Glenn Beck that he would not require similar oaths from Mormons or Catholics "because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions.""

As we know from earlier, this would violate Article VI's ban on "religious tests" for public office. So, here we have a man, a frontrunner, committing to undermining the Constitution. Did he get tossed from the stage? No. He got applause.

Rick Santorum, also a frontrunner for a time, endorsed religious profiling during one of the GOP presidential debates, saying, "Obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at." In January 2012, journalists brought attention to a lengthy Islamophobic rant Santorum gave in 2007 during which he asserted that in order to "win" against a vaguely-defined Muslim enemy, Americans must "educate, engage, evangelize, and eradicate."

A former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich, yet another onetime frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told an audience that he feared that by the time his grandchildren reach his age "they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." If you find Gingrich's assertion that a future secular atheist America will be run by Islamic radicals confusing, don't worry -- so does everyone else.

While these facts are disconcerting, they are nothing new. Just as Jews, Catholics and others stood up to prejudice, so, too, are Muslims. In fact, Muslims benefit from the lessons these other faith traditions learned in their struggles against prejudice. America's Muslims also recognize that while the lens of prejudice may be on us today, it will eventually turn elsewhere. We want to make sure our struggle is a benefit to this next group and our nation as a whole. We should stop splitting into two different camps.

So, to my understanding, our original topic tonight has the effect of slicing us into two different camps. "Is sharia (them) compatible with democracy (us)?"

I am pretty sure, hearing that topic, most of you did not come here expecting an American history lesson. However, I pray that what I have said tonight brings you to share my conviction that we are, in fact, allies.

Islam and American democracy may disagree on some things. However, just as best friends often disagree without it hurting their relations we too can be adults and debate differences while partnering on ideals. Frankly, those differences are relatively minor. Violent extremists like al-Qaeda may trying to convince you otherwise, but they are everyone's enemy.

I also pray that we can now start our conversation from a healthy place -- not one of "us vs. them," but of how do we work together to establish our shared ideals of justice.

Thank you.

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Guest

The Trouble with an All-Knowing NSA

By Gadeir Abbas

There was a time not long ago when the vast size of our world and the sheer number of people inhabiting it provided a degree of privacy protection against an intrusive government. No government could monitor everything that happened everywhere. So instead, governments had to pick and choose who to follow, what to listen to, and which information to collect. God might be omniscient, but we hoped our government never would be.

Unfortunately, we now know that there are places in the world in which the United States is omniscient. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to "collect, sort, and make available every Iraqi email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time."

Last month we learned from the Washington Post that, through an NSA program called MYSTIC, the agency is making a recording of all phone calls that occur in an entire undisclosed country. And the NSA has not been reluctant to extend its reach. Last year's intelligence budget provided the NSA the opportunity to extend its gaze to an additional five nations.

The NSA can now reduce to zeroes and ones the life of whole nations. The government no longer needs to pick and choose what information to collect. They can know it all. The privacy protections afforded by being just one person among many no longer apply.

And while the United States developed this monitoring capacity in secret, citizens must now decide for themselves whether their government should have it. One would hope that this question -- whether omniscience is an appropriate policy objective -- answers itself.

Just consider for a moment the recordings and intercepts the United States has now collected from half a dozen countries in the world -- calls to the doctor to discuss a complicated pregnancy, messages from a mother informing her children of their father's death, conversations between youngsters in love, pleas for help from those in dire financial straits -- the NSA would have a record of all these otherwise fleeting interactions stored away for as long as it likes.

It does not make one a terrorist sympathizer to find this objectionable. The NSA should not spy on foreign populations in ways that make our stomachs churn and tyrants green with envy. Foreigners are people like us and desire privacy as much as we do. This must count for something.

Though foreigners are subject to the NSA's omniscience today, Americans inside our borders will be tomorrow. If we cannot muster the empathy to respect the privacy of innocent foreigners, let's just be selfish. Government omniscience anywhere is the first step toward government omniscience everywhere.

The amount of information in the world there is to monitor no longer exceeds the United States' capacity to monitor it. And with this development, a pillar that once supported our right to privacy has crumbled.

Because we now have to answer the question of whether we want the United States to be omniscient, let us make clear that such attributes should be reserved for God alone.

Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Corey Saylor

CAIR exclusive: Documents reveal feds may have attended Va. anti-Muslim training

John Guandolo is a former FBI agent who claims that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim agent of a foreign power, and says that American Muslims "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything." Guandolo left the FBI shortly after reports surfaced that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a key witness in a corruption trial. He also falsely claims "it is a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians."

In February 2014, Guandolo was scheduled to conduct a counter-terrorism training hosted by the sherriff's office in Culpeper, Va. According to documents obtained by CAIR's anti-Islamophobia department, the training was initially accredited for 19 hours of career development, three hours of legal and two hours of cultural diversity continuing education units.

Hints of federal government participation

An email Guandolo sent on February 17, 2014 stated: "Included in the training are: Several from Fairfax County PD, the [redacted] from the [redacted] of [redacted] and two detectives, Albemarle County deputy, VA state Police, Arlington County and a couple from the military." In a separate email the same day, Guandolo wrote: "Some military folks, DC police and others are still trying to figure out how to get folks there."

These sentences raise serious questions. In 2012, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered a top to bottom review of its training materials to remove anti-Islam content. If Department of Defense representatives are being paid and receiving training credits to participate in biased and inaccurate anti-Islam trainings, it is at least violating the spirit of the 2012 order. More research on this issue is needed.

Accreditation withdrawn

After Guandolo's credibility was challenged by the Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR, the accreditation for continuing education units was withdrawn.

In an email obtained by CAIR, Mike Harvey, executive director of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, which approves in-service training credits, wrote in part:

"In speaking with another academy director who also pulled support for this training I learned Mr. Guandolo appears absolute in his message that all Muslims ascribe to a violent ideology against westerners. While I support much of his message I cannot support one that casts all people of one faith in the same light. Certainly there are Muslims who are terrorists and I support training that discusses this but I cannot in good faith support a training that espouses because one is Muslim he or she must support violence and hatred toward those who are not Muslim." [Email obtained by FOIA request.]

The unaccredited course still cost Culpeper County taxpayers $4,375.

Questions regarding Guandolo's resume and supporters

Guandolo's biography for his company, Understanding the Threat LLC, asserts the he "served as an adjunct instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army War College." However, Major General Tony Cucolo, a commandant with the US Army War College, wrote in a personal email to CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper that "Mr. Guandolo's claim (in print) that he teaches at the Army War College and any other references (e.g., online) identifying him as an adjunct instructor here are simply untrue." Cucolo adds, "At some point during the Spring of 2011, during the elective portion of this course, Mr. Guandolo was invited to speak as a guest lecturer during one lesson of an elective entitled, 'Strategic Intelligence for Counterterrorism: Contemporary Threats to National Security.' This invitation was made by the faculty member who was in charge of that elective. To our knowledge, Mr. Guandolo came here, participated in an academic small group discussion that lasted no more than three hours, and then departed. That is all."(March 6, 2014)

Announcements for the event distributed by the Culpeper County Sherriff's Office included a supportive quote from retired Lieutenant General William Boykin. Boykin asserts that "[Islam] should not be protected under the First Amendment," that there should be "no mosques in America," that Islam is a "totalitarian way of life," and that there can be no interfaith dialogue or cooperation between Muslims and Christians. In 2013, Boykin warned, "If you are tied to the mainstream media you will never know anything about the true nature of Islam."

As pre-training viewing, Guandolo recommended Glenn Beck's The Project. In February 2011, Beck hosted anti-Muslim speaker Joel Richardson on his Fox News program and the two "tied Islam to the Antichrist in the New Testament." In 2013, Beck implied that Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) failed run for president was under investigation because, "We have been sold to radical Islam." Bachmann had previously led a campaign falsely alleging that many Muslims in public service were operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. This false allegation was rebuked by senior members of the Republican party.

Guandolo's program in Culpeper included a presentation by former CIA Case Officer Clare Lopez. In 2013, Lopez told an audience, "When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people -- Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists." Lopez is on the Clarion Project's board of advisors, on the Florida-based United West's board, and is a fellow at the Center for Security Policy. All three groups have well-documented histories of spreading falsehoods, fear and mistrust of Islam.

CAIR has long maintained that good counter-terrorism training leads to good law enforcement. Gunadolo's conspiracy theories and broad-brush condemnation of an entire faith do not qualify.

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Robert McCaw

CAIR's take on President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address

On Tuesday night President Obama delivered his 2014 State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. In response to the president's speech, I'd like to highlight several key areas of the address that are important to the American Muslim community and provide CAIR's response.

Domestic surveillance

"[W]orking with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs -- because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

Two weeks ago, CAIR again urged the president to end the bulk collection of citizens' telephone and internet metadata. On January 17, the president addressed public concerns over the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of citizens' phone records, promising to develop a solution, although not actually providing one. The president asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to decide who will store Americans' phone call records, whether it be phone companies or a third party that doesn't yet exist.

CAIR disagrees with the president on this issue and believes that the privacy of ordinary people is being violated. CAIR instead concurs with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's recent report declaring that the NSA's bulk collection of citizens' phone records is illegal and should immediately be ended. Moreover, bulk collection of phone records is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to domestic surveillance programs. CAIR calls on Congress to restore the privacy rights of all citizens with the introduction of the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act.

Closing the prison at Guantanamo (by 2014?)

"[W]ith the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay -- because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR is pleased that the president has once again called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo. After six years of promising to do so without any results, he recently signed into law an annual defense spending bill passed by Congress that eases transfer restrictions on inmates from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign nations. The law will ease some of the more rigid transfer provisions that Congress had previously placed on the administration and foreign nations willing to accept prisoners.

With that said, CAIR now encourages President Obama to use his newly granted authorities to begin the process of transferring prisoners who have already been cleared for release to the nations willing to accept them. And while CAIR remains optimistic that in 2014 the situation at Guantanamo will improve, we remain concerned about the lack of due process for prisoners who remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo without a hearing or trial, and disappointed in Congress for not doing anything to address the controversial threat of indefinite military detention of persons on U.S. soil as authorized by the 2011 NDAA.

Use of Drones

"[E]ven as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks -- through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners -- America must move off a permanent war footing. That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones -- for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR continues to hope that the president's words translate into action when it comes to moving the U.S. off of "permanent war footing"; it's good to see him acknowledging that our national security is jeopardized when "people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence."

A drone strike on December 12 in Yemen hit a wedding party, killing 12 and injuring 14 others. Such unlawful killings, just one of many examples, cannot be written up as "collateral damage" in the war on terrorism.

CAIR believes that if the administration is truly interested in limiting the use of drones it will publicly address the drone program's lack of public accountability and transparency, claims of executive overreach, possible lack of due process in lethally targeting American citizens, and the high number of civilian casualties that have resulted from these attacks.

As outlined in CAIR's congressional testimony on the use of drone warfare, the president must establish transparent and accountable guidelines and procedures that better define the U.S. drone program's legal framework and avoid civilian deaths and injuries.

Comprehensive immigration reform

"Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, and contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let's get immigration reform done this year." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR applauds the president for reaffirming his support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. CAIR strongly supports Congress passing immigration reform this year, and urges the House of Representatives to reject piecemeal measures that would increase racial and religious profiling, unconstitutional detention, and militarization of the U.S. border. Rather, Congress should adopt comprehensive immigration reform that provides a framework for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain legal status and eventual citizenship.

Securing a fair living wage

"Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR supports the president in his call for an increase to the federal minimum wage and also on the right to work. Looking for Islamic spiritual guidance on the issue of wages, we find in the Holy Quran: "And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due" (Quran 11:85). The Prophet Muhammad said that on the Day of Judgment one group of people he will oppose are those who "hire a worker, but do not pay him his right wages owed to him after fulfilling his work."

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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