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Posted by on in Hate Crimes

Two years after the senseless shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed six innocent lives, the challenges facing the Sikh American community have only been compounded.

Members of this religious minority continue to be subjected to hate and bias attacks from racists due to their physical appearance and traditional attire.

Last Thursday, a Sikh man walking with his mother was approached by three teenagers who yelled racial and ethnic slurs at his mom before calling him "Osama bin laden" and physically assaulting him.

Only a few days before that, a 29-year-old father of two, Sandeep Singh, was also victimized in a brutal hate crime. As he walked home with friends, a man in a truck began shouting racial slurs and abuse at Singh, who wears a turban. When Singh confronted him, the man reportedly mowed him down with his truck. Singh is now hospitalized, struggling to recover from the extensive injuries he sustained.

Physically, both of these victims are expected to recuperate; however, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will take much longer to heal.

This most recent wave of attacks has heightened tensions in an already marginalized community that has suffered tremendous backlash in post-9/11 America.

These incidents fueled by bigotry and hatred must stop.

It is unconscionable, unjustifiable, and un-American to verbally or physically assault anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Hate is divisive and robs us of compassion and understanding. Intolerance blinds us to the vast diversity that strengthens and beautifies our nation.

The Sikh community is compassionate, and proud. Many Sikhs in America have shared heartbreaking stories of their struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with their American identity.

It is unacceptable that they -- or members of any ethnic or religious group -- feel fearful of practicing their religion.

As a civil rights activist committed to advancing justice for all people, I strongly believe that if we are not a part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to idly sit back and ignore the threat bigotry and racism pose in our society; we must unequivocally condemn it.

Groups in both public and private sectors must work together to combat these issues that overshadow the discourse in marginalized communities across the nation.

Faith in our justice system must be restored. Law enforcement officials must take appropriate steps to discourage repeat attacks; they must conduct thorough, fair investigations and they must be held accountable in making sure justice is served.

And, perhaps most importantly, victims like Sandeep Singh and their families must be made to feel safe again in an environment that appears increasingly hostile towards all they represent.

Only when we unite as Americans to send a strong, clear message that racism and bigotry are unacceptable, can we effectively work to cure the intolerance that infects our society.

Tagged in: CAIR Hate Crimes Sikh
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Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

My English classroom in high school was covered in posters. Some had grammar rules, some showed pictures of authors, and others featured cats in funny costumes. But the one poster I remember most was a quotation. It read:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Though I didn't know it at the time, this is a famous quotation from the Christian theologian Martin Niemoller. He was a German pastor who publicly criticized Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. Although he remained nationalistic and an outspoken anti-Semite throughout World War II, his criticism of the Nazi party caused him to be imprisoned for seven years in a concentration camp.

After he was released by Allied forces in 1945, Niemoller became one of the first Germans to talk about the guilt of the German people and the sin they had all committed through inaction . He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for international peace.

Now that I'm in my third year of studying religion, that poster-filled classroom seems a long way away to me, but Martin Niemoller's words seem closer and more urgent than ever before. In 2012 there were 5,796 hate crimes reported in the United States, 842 million people worldwide were undernourished, and just a few weeks ago, 60 people were shot in a single U.S. city over one weekend. This must stop.

Now that I work just blocks from the U.S. Capitol as an intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I'm exposed to horrifying statistics like these more than ever. A few weeks ago I attended a conference advocating for equal rights for Arab-Americans with my fellow interns. We sat at a table and a woman shortly joined us. We introduced ourselves and told her we were interns with the CAIR. She told me about some of the work she does and then asked if I was Muslim. I told her no, I'm an atheist going to school in Minnesota. This shocked her and I gladly told her about my journey through the interfaith movement that led me to work at CAIR. But is the fact that I, an atheist, am concerned about Muslim rights so shocking?

When Niemoller died more than 30 years ago at the age of 92, he was still fighting for peace. I cannot begin to compare my effort to his long struggle for peace. I can't even compare it to the scores of people I've met in the last few weeks who dedicate their lives to advancing social justice. But I've learned how the status of one group affects the wellbeing of all.
Atheists like me must stand up to protect religious rights. Christians must stand for the rights of Muslims. Likewise, Muslims must stand up for the rights of their fellow Americans of other beliefs. Every group, minorities or majorities, liberal or conservative, religious or not, should work together to achieve peace. Not because one day they expect the other group to speak for them, but because of the loss they risk if they do not speak now.

In 1963 another international leader penned a famous letter from the cell of an Alabama prison. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

Which leads me to ask some important questions: What kind of world would we live in if people only stood up for their own rights? Where would we be if all remained silent for any justice but their own? And most importantly: is that the kind of world we want to live in?

The answer, of course, is no. So it's time to do something about it.

Robyn Adams is a religion major in her junior year of college. She is currently working as a summer intern for CAIR's department to monitor and combat Islamophobia.

Tagged in: CAIR
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Posted by on in Targeted Killing

In response to a court order, the Obama administration has released the Justice Department's 41-page legal memo on U.S. targeted killing operations. The memo was used in the decision-making process that led to the 2011 extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdurrahman, who was also a U.S. citizen. The memo was released in response to a court order in consolidated FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times.

For the past several years, CAIR has joined the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other civil liberties and human rights organizations in calling on the president and submitting testimony to Congress seeking the release of all U.S. government targeted killing memos related to counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

It's critical for Americans to know how our government determines its own authority to assassinate U.S. citizens suspected of supporting or engaging in acts of terrorism. And the U.S. government's targeted killing program has not only taken the lives of several American citizens but has killed thousands of other people, including countless civilians who are all too often referred to as necessary collateral damage.

As a nation we must ensure that the rule of law and respect for human life is preserved -- whether the intended target is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national -- when targeting groups like al-Qaeda. If we don't, such groups will continue to capitalize on America's targeted killing program, drawing support from popular resentment built around unintended but all too frequent civilian deaths.

CAIR looks forward to reviewing the memo, and continues to urge our government to commit to further disclosure and transparency of American counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

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

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Posted by on in Surveillance

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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Posted by on in Surveillance

 

By Robert McCaw

How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have reacted to recent revelations that the U.S. government is collecting and storing nearly every citizen's phone records and gathering their electronic data?

From 1958 until his 1968 assassination, the FBI conducted extensive surveillance on Dr. King, amassing over 17,000 pages of material on his day-to-day activities.

Today King's legacy as a civil rights leader is celebrated; there is even a federal holiday named after him. But during his lifetime, the government tracked his movements, tapped his phones, bugged his offices and hotel rooms, and planted informants to spy on him. In addition, the FBI anonymously sent him a letter threatening to destroy his credibility and suggesting that he commit suicide to avoid this.

King was also separately targeted by an NSA domestic spying program called "Minaret." With others, including Muhammad Ali, Dr. King was labeled and watch-listed as a possible "domestic terrorist and foreign radical" suspect.

We know that Dr. King was aware of his constant surveillance and the threat that it posed to him, yet he continued to teach and promote the ideals of peaceful organizing and resistance, equality, fraternity, and freedom until his life was taken.

So how would he react to the recent disclosures that the NSA and FBI, along with the CIA, DEA, and even local law enforcement agencies like the NYPD are spying on U.S. citizens by collecting communication metadata and infiltrating public demonstrations, activist circles, and houses of worship?

Today Dr. King would be confronted with the Orwellian truth that we are all under surveillance, although some groups -- like American Muslims -- are under more scrutiny than others. However, whether you are white or black, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim or Christian, the government is spying on all groups as potential "domestic terrorist and foreign radicals."

Just as it was 50 years ago, the NSA and FBI have once again been caught abusing their surveillance powers, infringing on the liberties they are sworn to protect -- all in the name of national security.

These government spying programs constitute a clear violation the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, and chills First Amendment freedom of speech.

Dr. King supported the Constitution as a framework for all citizens to achieve equal rights, and I believe he would have vocally opposed such government intrusions and spying. While he may have remained publicly silent on the government's unlawful invasion of his personal life, it's hard to believe that he would have sat idly by and let every American experience similar attacks on personal liberties as he faced while leading the battle for civil rights and the nation's soul.

To honor Dr. King's legacy and the values on which our nation was founded, Americans should work together to challenge these expansive domestic spying programs that are robbing us of our civil liberties.

Some members of Congress and the Obama administration make the claim that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dr. King would know better -- the Constitution is clear and these programs are illegal and need to be ended.

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

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