Thursday, June 30, 2005
RECAP of "30 Days" Episode: "Inside an American Muslim Family"
Morgan Spurlock's new reality TV series, 30 Days, "places people in a variety of unfamiliar circumstances for 30 days" [previous posts here, here, and here]. Last night's episode featured Dave Stacy, a Caucasian man from West Virginia, who was forced to live with a Muslim-American family in Dearborn, Michigan and follow certain Muslim practices for 30 days. Here are some initial thoughts and recaps from the episode:
In brief, Stacy lived with the Haques, a Muslim-American family, ate only Halal food products (and went to a proper Muslim slaughterhouse in order to learn how and why the sacrifices take place in a certain fashion), and attended the five daily Muslim prayers. Stacy was set up with a Muslim spiritual advisor who attempted to explain that members of the Muslim faith pray to the same God as Jews and Christians, only in a different language, way, and angle. The Imam contended that Jesus is not the physical son of God, but the spiritual son of God. Stacy was asked to read a prayer in Arabic during a Friday session at the mosque, but he did not feel comfortable, as he did not know what was being said in Arabic and he also felt as if he would be betraying his own faith if he read the prayer.
Stacy was unsatisfied with having this particular Imam as his spiritual advisor; he was looking for more concrete knowledge and guidance, for example on what each of the physical movements in the prayer mean. Stacy turned to another spiritual advisor who provided him with this information. Stacy also took lessons in Arabic.
Throughout the 30 days, Stacy wears a Muslim-style hat, keeps a beard, and wears traditional Muslim clothing for men. In other words, he is made to "look" Muslim. To test his appearance, Stacy is sent to another town to ask mainly Caucasians to support a petition against racial profiling of Muslims. The footage shows Stacy being rudely turned down by a number of potential respondents - all of whom are Caucasian. In fact, one woman asks Stacy point blank if he is there to cause trouble.
Stacy also participates in a radio call-in show, in which callers question Stacy about Muslim beliefs and make reference to them as terrorists. Stacy notes after the show that he felt as if he was defending Islam, and really his own association with them.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the show was the debate that took place between Stacy and one of his Muslim hosts. Stacy argued that Muslims, particularly Muslim clerics, should speak out against the terrorist attacks, as some Muslim terrorists are acting out in violent ways because they believe their faith dictates their actions; in other words, terrorism is being conducted on the basis of faith. A Muslim lawyer later explained to Stacy that there is a crucial, albeit subtle, distinction between apologizing and condemning terrorist activity - Muslims should and do condemn the terrorist attacks, but do not apologize for it, which would imply some sort of responsibility for the attacks.
Also mentioned was the controversy in Dearborn regarding the Muslim call to prayer, which is broadcast over a loud speaker outside of the mosque. This call has angered some of the locals, who feel it is too loud and unpleasant, unlike church bells. Also, Spurlock interviewed a few non-Muslims, asking them about their feelings if they sat next to a Muslim on a plane (the reactions were not positive). Spurlock also placed brief segments in the episode explaining basic aspects of Islam, such as its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.
By the end of the episode, Stacy feels comfortable enough to pray along with other Muslim men in the mosque - he goes through all of the physical movements, including the kneeling and bowing, but he holds a cross in his right hand as he goes through the motions.
Overall, the show was extremely intruiging and informative. Respect must be given to Stacy for placing himself in this unfamiliar situation, one in which he was away from home and obviously uncomfortable. He left with greater knowledge of the faith, and with an appreciation for his hosts and especially for his Arabic teacher. Contrary to initial speculation, Stacy was an honest and reasonable person, not a hick from West Virginia.
We highly recommend that you watch this show, if you haven't already.
A very good recap of the episode can be found here.
UPDATE: In the interests of fairness, we are linking to an article, "Unreal for 30 Days", from the Wall Street Journal that contends this episode was fixed.
"The Hardest Way to Become an American"
Military.com is reporting:
It is the hardest way to become an American citizen: fighting for a country that is not yet yours, and in some cases dying for it....
Army Spc. Uday Singh, a native of India who was eager to become a U.S. citizen, wrote from Iraq last November to a favorite aunt living in Lake Forest, Ill.: "I got some more good news. My citizenship process has finally gone through."
Singh, 21, had hoped to complete the process by January. But on Dec.1, he was killed in action when his platoon was ambushed along a highway near Habbaniyah.
Singh was posthumously awarded citizenship. His remains were transported to India for a Sikh funeral service and cremation. The ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
"He was committed to bettering himself," says his aunt, Harpreet Datt. "He felt that being on his own, with some distance from his parents (in India), would allow him to reach his potential. And citizenship was very much a part of that potential. It allows you to be what you can be."
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Judicial Restraint, Internment, and Slavery
Stephen J. Fortunato Jr. offers this very interesting book review of Men In Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America, by Mark R. Levin. Levin argues principally that the Justices of the Supreme Court have neglected or ignored the letter of the law in an effort to codify their own subjective views as to what the appropriate outcome of a given case should be. In other words, "Good judges 'look to the text of the Constitution and the intent of the framers when deciding a constitutional question.' Activist judges, on the other hand, 'see their role limited only by the boundaries of their imaginations,' and 'they substitute their will for the judgment of deliberative bodies.'"
Interestingly, Levin "points to the infamous decisions of Dred Scott upholding slavery and Korematsu allowing the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans as examples of judicial abuse" (emphasis added). In other words, under the regime favored by Levin, an originalist justice would look only to the original intent of the Framers and actual text of the Constitution, and arrive at opposite conclusions from the court in both Dred Scott (slavery) and Korematsu (internment).
Fortunato Jr. effectively rebuts this argument: "Levin fails to grasp that the majorities in both these cases employed the judicial philosophy he advocates, deferring to a congressional enactment in the former case and in the latter to executive orders issued in the name of national security."
Indeed, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who authored the Dred Scott opinion, "was personally opposed to slavery, having freed his own slaves" (contra "Dred Scott case: the Supreme Court decision"). In fact, Reverdy Johnson, who represented the slave owner in Dred Scott, was "personally opposed to slavery." In other words, both Taney and Johnson put aside their own personal opinions regarding slavery and followed only the law as they interpreted it - reaching the now universally recognized unjust result of the case. Thus, it appears as if Levin is overly optimistic about the merits of his judicial philosophy, and has incorrectly assumed that an impartial justice would arrive at legal conclusions that he -- and the rest of society -- now agree with.
Britain's Proposed Ban on Inciting Religious Hatred
Two Muslim activists are debating the merits of a proposed law in Britain that would penalize the incitement of religious hatred [previous posts here and here]. Relevant excerpts and our analysis are below.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, writes in opposition to the bill:
"This piece of legislation is driven by political motives to stem the haemorrhaging of Labour support among the Muslim community." In fact, the bill is not a political tool used by the Labour party to attract the support of Muslim voters that was lost after the war in Iraq because the bill was introduced after 9/11 but before the war in Iraq was being seriously considered.
"The home office has already indicated that the burden of proof would be set so high that few prosecutions are expected." Surely a "few" prosecutions would be preferable to none. That is, society would be better off if a few people were punished under this act, rather than citizens being able to incite religious hatred with no consequence.
"The way forward is... to proceed with the... Liberal Democrats’ amendment. This would change the law on incitement to racial hatred to explicitly include reference to religion as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group." Wouldn't this amendment also rely on evidence that may implicate the same speech concerns? In other words, in order to obtain evidence that religion was a pretext for religious hatred, wouldn't prosecutors require evidence of the perpetrator's speech during or immediately before the act in question, or other evidence from the person's home, such as his reading material, posts on the Internet, etc.?
Inayat Bunglawala, media secretary for the Muslim Council of Britain, argues in favour of the bill:
"Incitement to hatred of others purely because of their religion should also be regarded as a social evil whatever their religious background." True, the loophole that currently excludes Muslims should be eliminated. However, the question remains whether this particular bill is the most sensible alternative, especially considering the amendment put forth by the Liberal Democrats.
"The attorney-general Lord Goldsmith has clearly said it is “about protecting people from hatred, not faiths from criticism”. Will it not be the case, if the bill passes, that certain minority groups, particularly Muslims, will disproportionately invoke the protections of the bill - not because they are more likely the victims of such hatred, but because they ill be more sensitive to this hatred given that this bill is, in reality, meant for their benefit? In other words, while the bill protects people, perhaps people of certain faiths will unnecessarily invoke its protections, thus leading to the actual scenario that the bill protects certain faiths.
SCOTUS - Ten Commandments Decisions
On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its last decisions for this term. Two of the rulings related to the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government property. The two decisions, as summarized by the SCOTUS Blog, are as follows:
No. 03-1500, van Orden v. Perry, affirmed 5-4. The Chief Justice wrote a plurality opinion for four Justices. It's Justice Breyer, not (as many suspected) Justice O'Connor, who splits his vote in the two cases -- he concurs separately in the judgment. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the Chief Justice's opinion, as did Justice Thomas. Justice Stevens filed a dissent that Justice Ginsburg joined. Justice Souter filed a dissent that Justices Stevens and Ginsburg joined. And Justice O'Connor filed a one-sentence dissent noting her essential agreement with Justice Souter.
No. 03-1693, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, was affirmed 5-4. Justice Souter wrote the opinion of the Court. Justice O'Connor concurred. Justice Scalia dissented, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas and in large part by Justice Kennedy.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
"Report details secret detentions of US-based Muslim men after Sept 11"
Forbes contains the following article, which begins: "Washington sent scores of US-based Muslim men to jail without charge after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, US rights groups said in a new report."
The report, released by the Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union, charges:
- "The men were held behind a veil of secrecy under a US law permitting the arrest and detention of 'material witnesses' thought to have important information about a crime and considered likely to flee....
- "'A handful' were later charged with crimes related to terrorism. About half were never brought to testify, and the US government apologized to 13 of the men for wrongfully detaining them, according to the report released today.....
- "Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed 70 such detentions after a year of research. The men were typically taken at gunpoint, held in solitary confinement, harassed and in some cases physically abused...."
More on the report is available here.
Monday, June 27, 2005
NAPALC Issues Action Alert on Hate Crimes Legislation
From an email sent by the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC):
NAPALC urges you to call upon Members of Congress to support two hate crime bills. They bring much needed uniformity to federal hate crime laws and reflects the growing support for stronger hate crime legislation on the state level. State and federal governments should not tolerate any form of bias-motivated violence.
On May 26, 2005, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2005 (S. 1145, LLEEA) was introduced in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). A companion bill known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 2662) was introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI).
The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA) and the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act are both intended to strengthen the ability of the federal, state, and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The two bills help state and local anti-bias efforts by enabling the Justice Department to assist them in the investigation and prosecution of all hate crimes, not just those that prevent the victim from exercising a federally protected right.
Every year, Asian Americans find themselves victims of hate crimes. Over the years, NAPALC has documented hundreds upon hundreds of bias-motivated crimes. It is important to our communities that the federal government be able to address cases that state and local authorities either cannot or will not investigate or prosecute properly. All hate crimes need to be taken seriously because they have a crippling effect not only on the victim, but on whole communities.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Thursday, June 23, 2005
"CAIR Asks N.C. Judges to Allow Use of Quran In Oaths"
In a press release, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it "called on judges... to allow use of the Quran, Islam's revealed text, when administering oaths."
This call to action is in response to statements made by W. Douglas Albright, a North Carolina Superior Court judge, who said according to the press release, "An oath on the Quran is not a lawful oath under our law."
The media advisory also notes, North Carolina "law only refers to swearing an oath by putting a hand on the 'Holy Scriptures.' Those who do not wish to take an oath using the Bible may instead make an 'affirmation.'"
The implication that the Quran does not qualify as "Holy Scriptures" while the Bible does prompted CAIR to argue that "exclusive use of the Bible may be an inappropriate state endorsement of religion."
UPDATE: a North Carolina newspaper contains an op-ed in which the author asks rhetorically:
Why should you be swearing an oath on a book that does not represent your own religion? You object, but the judge forces you to, in essence, swear an oath that violates your own religion! You can't refuse, or you will be found in contempt.
How can anyone justify forcing a Muslim-American to swear on a Christian Bible before they testify?
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Religious Hatred Law Survives in UK
According to the BBC, a controversial law that punishes those who incite religious hatred has moved on to the committee stage despite the objections of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as well as by backbenchers within the Labor party itself. Indeed, a Muslim MP from Labor argued, "When I was beaten to a pulp by a gang of skinheads on my first day at high school, it wasn't because of my religion."
A civil rights activist of South Asian descent responded, "In a democracy there is no right not to be offended." Home Secretary Charles Clarke added, "the bill protects 'people not faiths.'"
Interestingly, one of the most vocal opponents of this bill is none other than comic Rowan Atkinson (better known as the actor who plays Mr Bean). He argues that "measure will limit freedom of expression and stop them from telling religious jokes." To this, Clarke noted, "What this bill isn't about is stopping anybody telling jokes about religion, stopping anybody ridiculing religions or engaging in robust debate about religion."
The bill was successfully moved by a vote of 303 to 247 .
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
"Atheists should welcome a law against religious hatred"
The Guardian (UK) offers this commentary on a bill before British lawmakers that would criminalize the incitement of hatred against people on the grounds of their religious belief. The bill essentially covers 'religious hate speech.' The op-ed, written in defense of the bill, responds to various arguments against the passage of the bill.
First, the article notes the problem: "Mothers collecting children from school have been abused and assaulted. So have men attending their places of worship. Homes have been stoned and fire-bombed. Recently it has been Muslim mothers, Muslim men, Muslim homes. Yet at present our laws offer no special protection to Muslims against incitement to these acts, even though it provides such protection to Jews and Sikhs and some Christians."
As to the arguments against the bill, the author claims that the incitement of religious hatred bill would not extend to blasphemy, as the common law offense that remains on the books today only protects statements made in reference to the Church of England.
Moreover, the bill is not over-inclusive in the sense that it will criminalize more speech than it was intended to cover: the bill "is narrowly drawn, confining the offence to expressions or behaviour intended or likely to stir up hatred.... To fall foul of the law, offenders must use threats, abuse or insults that are intended to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their religion, or are likely to do so" (empahsis added).
According to the author, the bill is not a political tool used by the government to attract the support of Muslim voters that was lost after the war in Iraq because the bill was introduced after 9/11 but before the war in Iraq was being seriously considered.
In addition, the law does not confer special protection on certain religious groups -- or all religions -- because "it also outlaws incitement to hatred of people because they don't have any religious beliefs " (empahsis added).
In response to the argument that "while it was right to outlaw hatred on the grounds of race, it's not right to apply it to religion because, although you can't change your race, you can change your religion", the author provides the following retort: "religious belief isn't as optional as some people seem to think. In reality most people remain with the belief, or absence of belief, of the group in which they were born and brought up."
In conclusion, the author states, "Changes in the law bring about changes in behaviour, partly by acting as a deterrent and partly by declaring that something is wrong. We know the law against incitement to racial hatred has had that effect. Incitement to religious hatred is just as wrong, so the law should declare it wrong."
Monday, June 20, 2005
Friday, June 17, 2005
Thursday, June 16, 2005
"Mainstream must weed out homegrown terrorism"
The Indianapolis Star is running an op-ed discussing the need to monitor and prevent "homegrown terrorism", not just "foreign" or "Islamist" terrorism:
A comment on this piece. There is a questions as to whether the mainstream can weed out homegrown terrorism. the suggestion that the mainstream is connected to the extreme is not shared by all observers of the post-9/11 climate, particularly not all Muslims. Indeed, we noted yesterday that a Muslim man providing helpful answers and advice to the FBI in Seattle said bluntly: "The common man in Islam is no different than the common man here. The common man cannot bring terrorists to justice."
As we obsess with threats of foreign, Islamist terrorism, we tend to ignore a more real and pervasive threat: homegrown terrorism. It is easy to forget that until Sept. 11, 2001, the most violent terrorist attack on U.S. soil was committed by two white Christian Americans. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, including babies and toddlers in the building's day-care center.
Blacks, Jews, Muslims and gays are standard targets of hate groups and "lone wolves" who commit acts intended to terrorize entire communities. Sikhs -- whose turbans led ignorant haters to mistake them for Muslims after 9/11 -- have also been attacked and even murdered.
The vast majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims are not terrorists. Nor are most abortion opponents in this country. But to say that the extremist fringe has no connection culturally or ideologically to the mainstream is to ignore social reality.
If we are to reduce terrorism at home and abroad, one of the essential elements will be for people within the mainstream to thoroughly denounce and marginalize their own fringe elements. Muslim leaders and ordinary believers must de-legitimize their bin Ladens.
Perhaps one way in which the everyday Muslim can stop terrorism is to be careful where he donates his money to. Yesterday, a "senior official with the U.S. Treasury Department who deals with charity financing of terrorism, told about 30 local Arab-American and Muslim leaders that they must play an active role in regulating themselves to make sure they're not supporting terror." The official noted, "You all -- the American Muslim community -- have the most power to make a difference...."
Clearly, there is a difference of opinion as to the effectiveness of the objections or abilities of "ordinary believers" or the "common man" to prevent or minimize terrorist attacks taking place on U.S. soil.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
USA Patriot Act, Civil Liberties, and Religious Freedom
Chip Pitts, Board Chair of Amnesty International USA, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the USA Patriot Act and civil liberties.
This week, Pitts recalled his testimony and experience before the Committee in an article appearing on the progressive site, CommonDreams.org. Pitts said, in part:
The Justice Department's own Inspector General in 2003 documented post-9/11 violations at home that were different only in degree, not in kind, from those seen at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. Muslims and Arabs and those mistaken for them (Sikhs and people of color generally) were treated as sub-human, beaten, spat upon, their religion insulted, their access to family, health care, and legal counsel denied....This last sentence, sadly, is not a political or partisan comment. The Supreme Court noted in a recent opinion, "It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that... we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad."
It pains me to say it, but a government that tolerates abuses at home is unlikely to be scrupulous when it comes to abuses abroad.
Washington Post on Airport Security
This morning's Washington Post contains a very provocative op-ed, entitled "Airport Security's Grand Illusion", written by Anne Applebaum. She offers a cost-benefit analysis of airport security and generally argues that the government's largely inefficient security measures would not save many lives but still (ironically) provides the American public with a sense of security and comfort:
By even the crudest cost-benefit risk analysis, bulletproof cockpit doors, which nobody notices, have the potential to save far more lives, at a far lower cost per life, than the screeners who open your child's backpack and your grandmother's purse while you stand around in your socks waiting for them to finish....[Thanks to the Volokh Conspiracy]
Which is why I conclude that we don't actually want value for money. No, we want every passenger to have the chance to recite that I-packed-these-bags-myself mantra to a uniformed official before boarding an airplane. Magic words, it seems, are what make Americans feel really safe.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
"30 Days" Episode Featuring Muslim-American Family
As previously reported, Morgan Spurlock, of "Super Size Me" fame, has a new reality TV series called 30 Days, "which places people in a variety of unfamiliar circumstances for 30 days."
The Orlando Sentinel is now providing us with a sneak-peak into the much-anticipated episode in which a Christian man from West Virginia is placed in the home of Muslim-Americans for 30 days. The article notes:
a devout Christian agrees to spend a month with a devout Muslim family, following their traditions of dress and prayer; he's immediately searched in an airport and later, despite the reassurances of his Imam, panics that he's repudiating his own God.
REMINDER: The series premiere of "30 Days" is tomorrow, June 15, 2005!
[The episode specifically involves] a West Virginia insurance salesman and practicing Christian named Dave [who] goes to live with the Haques of Dearborn, Mich. — "the most densely populated Muslim community in America," Spurlock tells us....
"Do you guys think it's possible that there's any, like, sleeper-cell activity around here?" he asks his host family, over dinner. Meanwhile, Dave can't get to a place of trust with Imam al Husaini at the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center. Spurlock, off camera, keeps upping the ante. Dave has to collect signatures for a petition to stop the racial profiling of Muslim Americans.
"The rush to condemn"
The Toledo Blade contains the following editorial. Because of its powerful message, most of the text of the editorial is being reprinted here:
MOST Americans, Arab and Muslims among them, have been working on issues of trust and belonging since 9/11. The difficult issue facing them is to ensure security while avoiding the inevitable paranoia that erupts when people of the same religious or ethnic group are charged with certain crimes and the deeds become fodder for suspicion of others in the group.
It's not right, but it happens. Today being Muslim when Islamic terrorists are besetting the world can be as dicey as being a Japanese-American after the Pearl Harbor bombing, or being suspected of the unofficial crime of "driving while black" today.
For example, though details are unknown, the Muslim community in New York was upset after the arrests of a Florida physician and a New York martial arts trainer in a sting operation for alleged collaboration with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorists.
Their uninformed alarm is understandable. The memory of two teenage girls arrested with great fanfare as potential suicide bombers, only to be quietly released after six weeks in detention with nary an explanation, is still fresh.
The FBI, which has by now recruited a network of Muslim informers - they hopefully only report and don't instigate, as plants in the 1960s protest movements were sometimes urged to do - is also working to soothe feelings in the Muslim and Arab communities in New York and elsewhere to make its work more transparent.
Special agents meet with Muslim activists to explain the FBI's work, hear gripes, and get a more nuanced grasp of Muslim-American culture....
It's wrong to paint everyone in a group with the same brush, even though to do so is a typical human first response.
We can get past our differences, but it will take persistence, goodwill, a growing mutual trust and understanding, and time. That's a lot to ask, but doable.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Sikh Teen of the Hoax: "Biggest mistake of my life"
According to a Sikh news outlet, the 17-year-old Sikh who made up allegations of an attack in which his turban was taken off and his hair cut, is now stating, "I am really sorry for everything that has happened."
In a statement released by the teen, he noted, "I did not realize that it will become an issue at such a large scale. My sincere apologies to my family, friends, the RCMP and overall community – whose feelings I have hurt in this whole ordeal. I have to work very hard to rebuild the trust I lost."
A Sikh interviewed for the article said that Sikhs too have to work hard to build back credibility within the community, particularly the law enforcement community: "incidents such as this could diminish the response to real hate crimes against Sikhs."
Other Sikhs have not been very sympathetic towards the young man. A Sikh educator was reported as saying, "I'm hoping – and there are many in the community who hope – the RCMP lay some charges against the boy and hopefully also against the family."
The authorities decided not to press charges against the teen.
In an unrelated story, press reports are indicating that "Davinder Singh, a 15-year-old [Sikh] student of Bayside High School, was assaulted, called a 'terrorist' and threats to kill made against him and his family by a classmate's father on school grounds on June 1."
The father of that classmate exited his vehicle and confronted Davinder Singh. The classmate's father challenged Davinder Singh to a fight without any provocation and threatened to shoot Davinder and his family. Davinder did not respond to the provocation. The classmate's father repeated his challenge to Davinder Singh for a fight and called Davinder Singh a "terrorist". Again, Davinder Singh did not respond to the provocation. Finally, the classmate's father struck Davinder Singh across the face with his fist. Upon doing so, security guards, having seen the assault, confronted the clasmate's father, wrestled him to the ground and stopped the assault. Even upon being restrained, the father told Davinder Singh that if arrested, he would emerge from custody to shoot him and his family.
"The Model School, Islamic Style: As they learn about the American Dream, these kids wonder if it's theirs to pursue"
Time is featuring an article on the Universal School, "an Islamic institution teaching 638 students in pre-K through 12th grades in" Illinois.
The school's goal is to give its students such a solid grounding in their religion and education that they will be able to go forth and succeed in mainstream American life without compromising their values. "Proud to be Muslim, proud to be American," says Safaa Zarzour, vice chairman of the school's board and its former principal....
Since 9/11, "there's been extra pressure on them," says Hanan Abdallah, their assistant principal. "Anytime they're out, whatever they say counts 110%. They are young adults at an earlier age."
"Lodi Mayor Balancing Terrorism, Civil Rights Concerns"
As we previously noted, two Pakistani-Americans from Lodi, California were arrested for lying to federal investigators about their involvement in terrorist training activities. Muslims in the area have "expressed worries about a possible backlash against their community following the much-publicized arrests of local men on federal charges."
A local California news station is stating, though, that the Lodi mayor, John Beckman, "has tried to balance concerns of terrorism and civil rights." The mayor remarked that "The Pakistani community is part of Lodi" and that there have already been instances of verbal harassment documented against Muslims.
However, in response, Beckman said, "You got a few people who if you look like a Muslim, you're a bad guy. And we don't tolerate that either."
UPDATE: a local California paper is running this article: Backlash feared by some area Muslims.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Thursday, June 09, 2005
"Lawmakers decry attacks against Sikhs, admire community's resilience post-9/11"
Rediff.com is reporting (in a very untimely manner) on a Sikh Heritage dinner that took place on Capitol Hill last month. The dinner, organized by the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (commonly known as "SCORE"), was attended by over 300 guests and featured some very prominent speakers, including Senators Richard Lugar and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Congressmen Tom Davis, Jim McDermott, Frank Pallone, Rush Holt, and Joe Crowley.
In her remarks, Senator Clinton noted, "I am delighted to be the Senator from Punjab as well as from New York. It is always a pleasure and an honor to represent so many of my Sikh American constituents in New York."
I had the pleasure of being invited to this high-powered dinner, and was delighted that these Senators and Congressmen offered very uplifting comments regarding the character and accomplishments of the Sikh community in the United States. (On the other hand, I have never heard so many butchered "Sat Sri Akals" in my life -- "A" for effort, I suppose.)
First Muslim Channel to Appear on Cable
Shrewsbury (Mass.) Cable is offering a new channel featuring "cooking shows, nightly newscasts, educational programming for the children and new and classic movies" called Bridges TV. This channel is the "first Muslim-American station to be offered in the country."
The creator of Bridges says the channel "was conceived as a counter to misconceptions and negative stereotypes of Muslim-Americans that [he] and others said they noticed surfacing after 9/11."
"The best way to overcome the erroneous image of American Muslims is to let the rest of America get to know us the way they would get to know their next door neighbor," said boxing legend Muhammed Ali, who has supported the channel.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Profiling of Muslim Inmates?
The San Diego Union-Tribune picked up an Associated Press story that reads:
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have brought new scrutiny to Muslim inmates, many of whom are black men focused on surviving incarceration. While prison chaplains of various denominations argue that Islam offers a spiritual path to rehabilitation, others say it has the potential to turn felons into terrorists. The FBI calls prisons "fertile ground for extremists"....
Ever since the 2002 arrest of Jose Padilla, a felon and American Muslim convert who authorities say planned a "dirty bomb" radiological attack after he left jail, law enforcement officials, politicians and even a few evangelical leaders have warned that Muslim inmates are ripe for terrorist recruitment....
Chaplains describe the typical inmate convert as a poor, black American upset about racism, not Mideast politics; someone who turned to Islam to cope with imprisonment....
In September 2003, FBI supervisory special agent Andrew Black told a conference for correctional officers in Ohio that there have been no documented cases of U.S. inmates joining al-Qaeda in prison. Asked if that was still the case now, an FBI spokesman in Washington said the agency could not comment.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Thoughts on the Hoax....
Analysis: Last week, Canadian newspapers reported that a 17 year-old Sikh had been assaulted by a group of five men, who proceeded to rip his turban off and cut his sacred hair, a most cruel violation of his personal being and faith. The reaction from the Sikh community and those appreciative of the Sikh tradition was surely one of disgust, anger, and sadness at these turn of events. These concrete feelings (e.g., anger or sadness) more likely gave way to a series of difficult and draining questions: how could a young man be humiliated in this fashion; why are Sikhs suffering this treatment at the hands of Canadians who fail to understand Sikh identity and the value of hair to this faith; what must the child and his family be going through at this most sensitive of times, etc.?
Still, despite these thoughts, doubt lingered as to whether the incident actually took place, whether the teen fabricated the story in an effort to obtain a purely individual benefit - i.e., to explain to his traditional parents that his unshorn hair was in this new condition not because of his own choice, but because of an unruly gang of White men. The story, it would seem, would free him of his hair, of his obviously negative feelings towards his appearance and/or the treatment he received as a result of it. A selfish act, perhaps. But, then again, any anger directed towards the child would only be justified if this was a hoax.
The truth, it turns out, was that the child did lie. He made the incident up. The injuries he sustained were self-inflicted.
The police had entertained this possibility while still validating the fears of the Sikh population that this incident was not the result of a troubled boy's imagination, but the by-product of a hateful society in which Sikhs are still not socially accepted to the extent that they would like.
A question for Sikhs is, which outcome is preferable, one in which the child lied (resulting in strong emotions directed at the boy and/or his family, embarrassment, a recognition that the community will suffer lost credibility and respect, a recognition that the boy must have endured a tremendous amount of suffering in order to stoop to this level, the 'silver lining' that the boy's surroundings aren't that oppressive, etc.) OR one in which five Caucasian men really did attack this boy (resulting in a unity of identity and brotherhood, calls for political action and the need for awareness, further justification for the proposition that Sikhs do in fact live in a hostile environment after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, validation of our initial reactions, assurance that the Sikh boy told the truth in contrast to other instances, etc.).
This is not the first instance in which a Sikh has lied about having his hair cut off by attackers. The reaction to the incident in New Jersey, as described by one Sikh community leader, was one of anger and disbelief. The anger is understandable, to an extent; we, as individuals, feel taken - our initial feelings were unnecessary and were provoked by someone who lied for his own convenient interests. Disbelief also is expected; how could a person think he could get away with such a story without suffering any meaningful consequences from the greater Sikh community and the authorities?
At the opposite end of the emotive spectrum exists sympathetic souls who feel for the young man, both in terms of what he must have went through in order to reach this decision to lie, and also in terms of how he has embarrassed not only himself but the family which he was so fearful of. The rest of his formative years, and arguably the rest of his life, will be negatively impacted by the events of the last few weeks. While the rest of us will move on and be distracted by the next story, legitimate or not, the boy will have to live with his lie -- a matter of personal integrity -- and his new identity -- a matter of deep religious, social, and familial importance.
Some have called for charges to be filed against the teen, much in the same way that Americans angrily demanded that the "Runaway Bride" be subjected to criminal charges for lying about being abducted (it turned out, she just had cold feet). There is a sense of betrayal that may undergird both situations, the feeling of being emotionally engrossed in a story and then to realize that those feelings were meaningless. Despite any superficial similarity, there are obvious differences that may counsel against any imposition of charges against the Sikh teen. The Runaway Bride was contending with jitters, whereas the boy was seemingly up against an identity he did not like, a religious tradition that he no longer wanted to accept, a family that held on to these traditions, and perhaps a hostile environment that subjected him to cruel jokes, discrimination, and the like.
There is no doubt that it is difficult to be a Sikh these days; the question becomes what should be the proper avenue for Sikhs, particularly Sikh boys, to express their concerns, fears, and problems (thus obviating the possibility that a Sikh in the future will cut his hair and blame it on others)?
Instead of Sikhs asking for charges, demanding answers, or feeling bad about their own over-reactions, perhaps they should engage in a healthy, introspective discussion about ways in which they can help boys in this position -- as there are undoubtedly other Sikhs who have thought about cutting their hair for various reasons, both substantive and aesthetic. In other words, it is incumbent upon Sikhs to support all Sikh boys -- and especially this Sikh teen at this perilous time in his life -- in order to reaffirm their singular identity and their allegiance to each other, regardless of whether the Sikh in question has his hair or not.
That is, perhaps worse than an act of lying by an immature Sikh boy would be for the Sikh community to abandon this person -- and those similarly situated -- when they are in greatest need of support, help, and guidance.
More on Sikh Teen: "Crying wolf in B.C."
The Globe and Mail offers this editorial on the Sikh teen who lied about having his hair cut off by a group of Caucasian attackers in Canada:
The reported assault on a Sikh youth in Richmond, B.C., sparked outrage, and for good reason. The 17-year-old claimed he had been subjected to a racial slur and then set upon and beaten by five attackers in a schoolyard. He said his turban had been yanked off his head and his hair hacked off. Police launched an investigation into what they suspected was a vicious hate crime and appealed for calm in the Indo-Canadian community. Now it turns out that the story was a hoax; but it should not be treated lightly, because the repercussions for the community are still serious.
The teen apparently made up the incident and inflicted his own injuries to avoid a confrontation with his parents over cutting his hair, in violation of his faith. This is a sad commentary on the widening gap between the aspirations of young Canadians and the strict enforcement of traditional values and beliefs by their immigrant parents. It cries out for family counselling, but it does not excuse what occurred.
By making up his story of racial hatred run amok, the youth heedlessly sowed fear and anger in his own ethnic community and destroyed a considerable amount of goodwill. The next time there is a genuine case of racial violence, there are bound to be suspicions that it, too, might be a fake. Because of the circumstances and the sensibilities involved, the authorities may be reluctant to lay charges for making a false police report. But that is precisely what they ought to do in this case.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Sikh Teen May Have Lied about Having Hair Cut by Attackers
As we reported yesterday, a Sikh teen in Canada alleged that he was assaulted and then had his turban removed and hair cut by five attackers.
Police, however, have not ruled out the possibility that the teen lied about the incident and cut his own hair. According to the Globe and Mail, there were no witnesses or suspects, leading the Richmond RCMP to say that "one possibility they're investigating is whether the boy cut his own hair." Moreover, "investigators have heard from members in the Sikh community that the teenager may have lied about the assault in order to defy his parents' expectations that his hair should remain uncut as a symbol of his faith."
While this possibility has not been ruled out, the Richmond RCMP notes that "the likelihood is greater that the boy was attacked."
A Sikh spokesman admitted that "There was a previous case where that was the circumstance and the whole community felt embarrassed by the situation." One such case occurred in 2003 -- a Sikh boy in New Jersey claimed that "[d]uring a brash drugstore robbery, [his] arm was slashed, his turban removed, and his hair chopped off." The police later revealed that the boy "snipped his own hair, and slashed his own hand." In fact, a police captain remarked, "He said it was cut with a knife, but it was cut like in a salon."
The fabrication drew a strong response from the Sikh community. Rajwant Singh of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education said, "People are just outraged. We feel that this is the lowest anybody can go to exploit a situation for their own personal benefit."
UPDATE: another incident in which another Canadian Sikh teen "claimed that a group of skinheads attacked him and cut his hair off. The truth was, he didn't want long hair anymore."
The article asks the significant question, why would a Sikh lie about an incident in order to justify his short hair? A Sikh activists answers, "In this society, there's a lot of pressure to conform to what is normal, and normal is not a baptized Sikh."
More to come....
New French PM Could Resolve Religious Headwear Ban
On Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac named Dominique de Villepin France's new prime minister. News of this development was received very well by Sikhs in India, who are "recalling [de Villepin's] promise as Foreign Minister last year over the Sikh turban issue" in France.
Specifically, "During his Indian visit in February last year, Mr Villepin... told reporters at a Delhi hotel that the French Government would work out a solution for turban-wearing Sikh pupils caught up in Paris' secularity law." The law in question bans students in French public schools from wearing overt articles of faith, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, Christian crosses and Sikh turbans.
A prominent Sikh leader noted, "The appointment of Mr Villepin... as France's new Prime Minister has raised Sikh hopes."
In a related story, the Washington Times today is featuring an article entitled, "France's ban on veils judged a success." The article notes that French "education officials say the legislation has improved the integration of students into French public schools."
Wednesday, June 01, 2005