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Posted by on in Political Advocacy

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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Posted by on in Political Advocacy
Several weeks ago I participated in the nation's largest Muslim advocacy day at the U.S. Capitol. Hosted by CAIR, the three-day event brought representatives from the American Muslim community and over 20 CAIR chapters to Washington, D.C., where we met with a third of the House of Representatives and a quarter of the Senate.

In total we met with 168 congressional offices, 112 Democratic and 56 Republican. Some of these offices were longtime allies while others we met with for the first time.

We were there to discuss important issues that are affecting our community. One of these is the misapplication of federal watch lists such as the no-fly list to strand and pressure American Muslims traveling abroad. We also briefed lawmakers about acts of religious profiling and discrimination along the northern border and sought their intervention. Finally, we voiced support for immigration reform and anti-bullying efforts like the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

In just three days of meetings, we received overwhelming support from Congress on these issues, including definitive actions to address them. In the months ahead I hope that positive results from these meetings will be felt not only by American Muslims but all Americans.

And while CAIR remains committed to protecting the civil liberties enjoyed by all Americans and will continue our annual Hill visits, a few days of advocacy is just not enough to create significant change in Washington.

For these visits to be truly effective, lawmakers must already have strong relationships with the American Muslim community in their states and districts. The growing voice of Muslim citizen advocates needs to be heard.

These relationships should start early on -- perhaps when a neighbor announces candidacy for public office -- and span the life of political careers, starting with local offices and progressing to members elected to state legislatures, the governor's mansion, Congress, or the presidency.

As Muslim citizen advocates we need to invite candidates running for office to speak at public forums and gatherings hosted by Muslim community centers and houses of worship. Officials can also be asked to attend public and private religious celebrations and everyday events.

It is critical for Muslim communities to continue organizing Muslim advocacy days at state capitols across the nation, like the ones already being hosted in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington state.

Political capital is built over years by active Muslim citizen advocates donating their time and resources to candidates who reflect their views, regardless of political party. In turn, political capital is spent by Muslim communities visiting elected officials to let them know how they as public servants can help address important issues.

Let's not wait for CAIR to host next year's Capitol Hill advocacy days. We can start now by becoming more politically engaged and cultivating relationships that will benefit American Muslims for years to come.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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Posted by on in Indefinite Detention

As dozens of Guantanamo detainees carry on the hunger strike that began in early February over allegations of guards mishandling inmates' Qurans, CAIR is joining 24 other human and civil rights organizations today in sending a letter to President Obama calling for "immediate steps to end indefinite detention without charge and begin closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay."

Reports differ between military officials and detainees' attorneys on the number of prisoners on hunger strike. The military is claiming that 26 out of the 166 inmates are on strike, with 11 being fed through feeding tubes, while attorneys and prisoners say 130 prisoners are on strike, and that one attempted suicide. As the hunger strike continues, the possibility of prisoner deaths becomes more imminent.

After being detained for 11 years without charge or trial, many Guantánamo prisoners are willing to go on hunger strike and risk death to draw attention to their indefinite detention.

When President Obama first took office, he pledged to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year. Yet five years later, Congress has repeatedly outmaneuvered the president's efforts to do so and closing the facility no longer seems to be a priority, deepening the despair of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners.

After twice failing to make good on his threats to veto the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2013, President Obama has signed into law a number of restrictive provisions that check his ability to transfer or prosecute detainees or close the prison. While 86 prisoners were approved for release by the U.S. government's Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, none have been cleared for transfer because of these obstructive provisions.

As this crisis further develops, CAIR is joining the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, and many others to call upon President Obama to once again commit his administration "to transfer[ing] the remaining detained men [at Guantánamo Bay] to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, or to charge them in a court that comports with fair trial standards."

Moreover, we ask that the president appoint an individual within his administration to lead this transfer effort. Appointing such an individual would be an important step to show that he is recommitting to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay once and for all.

The shameful detention of prisoners at Guantánamo has become a symbol of our government's erosion of civil liberties over the past 12 years. Only when we as a nation address the issue of indefinite military detention can we begin to restore those liberties and repair our international reputation as a country committed to the rule of law.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

ISLAM-OPED: American Muslims May Decide Who Becomes President

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis. Please consider the following commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, [email protected], 202-744-7726 (c)

-----

American Muslims May Decide Who Becomes President
By: Nihad Awad

Word Count: 686

[Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: [email protected]]

In this close election, it is a small voting bloc that will decide the outcome. On November 6, American Muslims are in a position to determine which presidential candidate will win in key swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

A recent survey of registered Muslim voters, conducted by an independent research firm for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), indicates that some 25 percent of Muslim voters are still undecided about who to vote for in the presidential election and are therefore still open to appeals from the candidates.

CAIR's survey also shows that American Muslims are engaged in the political process, with more than 90 percent of Muslim voters saying they will go to the polls on election day. Of those polled, 68 percent said they will vote to re-elect President Obama and seven percent said they will vote for Mitt Romney.

Like many other Americans, the top five issues of importance to American Muslim voters are jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security, and civil rights.

The percentage of those who said they are closer to the Democratic Party grew from 49 percent in a similar poll taken in 2008 to 66 percent today. Almost half of respondents said that the Democratic Party was friendly towards Muslims.

Muslim voters are very concerned about the rising level of Islamophobia within American society and with the promotion and exploitation of Islamophobia within the Republican Party. More than half of CAIR survey respondents say that the Republican Party is unfriendly toward Muslims.

As was evident from the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney's hostile view of the Muslim and Arab world makes American Muslims voters anxious about a possible repeat of George W. Bush's counterproductive foreign policies. Romney's ideological approach to foreign policy does not inspire confidence in the establishment of more productive relations with the Muslim world.

Because of their knowledge and understanding of international issues, American Muslims also care about foreign policies such as democracy in the Muslim world and peace and justice for the Palestinians.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents to CAIR's survey say the U.S. should provide support to those fighting for freedom in Syria and 76 percent say the U.S. and NATO made the right decision by intervening in the Libyan revolution.

The majority of American Muslims will likely vote for President Obama, but not as enthusiastically as they did in 2008. They are clearly not happy with the continued erosion of Muslim civil liberties, the most egregious example of which was the widespread spying on Muslim students, shopkeepers, schools, and mosques by the New York Police Department in cooperation with the CIA.

There is relief that the unjustified war on Iraq was ended by President Obama, but also concern that the escalation of military action in Afghanistan caused more harm than benefit. And American Muslims are not alone in opposing the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have claimed so many innocent civilian lives.

A number of surveys have shown that Muslim voters are religiously diverse, well integrated in American society, politically active, and support candidates of any party who address their concerns.

In the 2000 election, Muslims voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, in part because of his public stand against the use of secret evidence in the nation's courts. In 2004, Muslims concerned about the erosion of civil rights in the post-9/11 era voted for Sen. John Kerry. In 2008, almost 90 percent of American Muslim voters picked Barack Obama.

It is this willingness to swing between parties that makes Muslim voters so important in close elections.

In the end, American Muslim voters will look at the overall picture of the future under either one of the major candidates and will then they make a decision about who to vote for. But the lack of engagement with American Muslims by the candidates may very well cost one of them the presidency.

The fact that more than 90 percent of registered Muslim voters intend to go to the polls on November 6 clearly shows that Muslims are among the most politically-engaged of all Americans.

Tagged in: CAIR Ibrahim Hooper
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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

Word Count: 713

[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He can be contacted at: [email protected] ]

As we mark one of history's most triumphant acts of liberty, I want to share with you some of the many things America's Muslims are doing to preserve this fundamental principle of the American identity.

The revolution we honor each year on July 4th was in part sparked by unreasonable government intrusions into individual liberty. 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 wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation''s second president -- said of Otis' speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In times of threat, public opinion often shifts away from liberty. Ten years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Pew Research Center found that a troubling number of Americans supported government monitoring of credit card transactions (42%) and phone calls (29%). Similarly, the Associated Press found disconcerting percentages of Americans embracing the ideas of warrantless monitoring of domestic phone calls (23%) and email (30%).

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a California Muslim serves as one example of turning to the Constitution to preserve American liberty from over-broad or warrantless government intrusions into individual liberty. The lawsuit asserts that the FBI violated Yasir Afifi's First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.

American liberty is about going before a judge, providing reasonable suspicion and getting a warrant, not about unchecked government power to intrude into a person's life.

Liberty in the form of free exercise of religion is also crucial to our nation. Everyone who went to elementary school in this country knows the pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe.

In 2011, 54 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslims' religious practices -- so-called "anti-sharia" bills -- were considered in 25 states and the U.S. Congress. This trend continues today. It is often carried out under the banner of a conspiracy theory that asserts Muslims are working to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.

Yet we know that no religious code can replace American law. Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, "This Constitution ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby."

Laws intended to target Muslims have been passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and South Dakota. This is a serious threat to the First Amendment, which prohibits government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

Muslims, along with interfaith and business partners, have been active in opposing such bills. The 2010 amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution, which violates the First Amendment by explicitly subjecting Islam to government censure, immediately faced a legal challenge from a Muslim living in that state. A federal judge put the law on hold after determining that the challenge had merit and will likely result in the law being ruled unconstitutional.

There are countless examples of Muslims defending American liberty. Muslims have worked to undo the sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow for indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional because it disregards the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process for "all persons" and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial.

When presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich asserted that they would impose loyalty oaths on Muslims who may have wanted to serve in their administrations, Muslims again asserted American principles, pointing out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits "religious tests" for public office. America is about who merits the position, not what their faith might be.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live the American dream and help fulfill that dream for all our nation's citizens. On July 4th, I will join my fellow Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds to mark the courage the Founding Fathers showed in asserting liberty from a tyrannical British king. The next day, I will go back to defending American ideals, because that is what my faith compels me to do.

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