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Monday, October 31, 2005

"Bay Area Sikhs protest French ban on turbans in schools"

According to the Associated Press, about 100 "Sikhs in the San Francisco Bay area protested the French government's ban on the wearing of turbans and other religious symbols in public schools as French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte visited the city."

The law against the wearing of conspicuous articles of faith in public schools, which was meant to address Muslim fundamentalism, is fairly broad: its reach extends not only to hijabs, the traditional Muslim headscarf, and Sikh turbans, but also to crucifixes and yarmulkes.

Indeed, the law has been enforced against Sikhs: "Three turban-wearing teenagers were expelled from a high school in the Paris suburb of Bobigny last year...."

One of the protesters, Kulwant Singh, noted: "I'm here to protect my right to wear a turban not only in France, but everywhere in the world.... It's not only cultural, it's religious: part of our body."

Another argued, "Sikhs fought for the freedom of France.... We did not wear helmets. We wore turbans. They did not have a problem then."

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Sikh Student Claims Ejection from Train was Because of Religious Symbol

Balpreet Singh, a Sikh law student, claims his religious rights were violated when he was ejected from a train in Toronto, Canada. Singh alleges that he was removed from the train because he was wearing a kirpan, or ceremonial daggar worn by Sikhs.

The case may be brought before the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Navdeep Bains, a member of Parliament who is also a Sikh, "said he is looking into the incident."

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Muslim Woman Obtains Settlement in Employment Discrimination Suit

Shabana Ahmed, a former teacher, reached a settlement with School & Pre-School Supply Center Inc., the owner of Learning How. Ahmed argued that she was fired on Oct. 25, 2001, on the basis of her religion; she wore a traditional Muslim headscarf and prayed at work.

According to the charging documents, the owner of Learning How said, around the time of her firing, "Are you crazy? ... I can't have her working here." Ahmed became suspicious of this decision as it came on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and she was not given, in her estimation, a valid reason for her dismissal. She then contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which aided Ahmed in reaching a settlement.

The defendants dispute the discrimination charge, noting that "it was simply a matter of miscommunication.... Ms. Ahmed was let go for budgetary reasons."

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Expert Medical Groups Intervene in Punjab Mass Cremations Matter

In May and June 2005, ENSAAF organized the Physicians for Human Rights and the Bellevue/NYU School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture to conduct a study of 127 families who survived the disappearance of a family member in Amritsar, Punjab. These cases draw from those pending before the National Human Rights Commission in the Punjab mass cremations matter. On October 24, 2005, PHR/Bellevue submitted their final report to the National Human Rights Commission.

The PHR/Bellevue assessment reveals a “pattern of intentional abuse by law enforcement officials among multiple family members,” demonstrating that the Commission needs to investigate and adjudicate the fundamental rights violations committed by Indian security forces, beyond the illegal cremation of the family member:

As a result of the death and illegal cremation of a close family member, most of
the individuals interviewed demonstrated severe psychological disorders
including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, with nearly half of
those interviewed continuing to describe these symptoms more than ten years
after the traumas occurred....Many participants described permanent impairments
and long-term disability related to the physical abuse inflicted by the
authorities during the time period surrounding the death and cremation of their

CIIP vs. State of Punjab has proceeded before the Commission for nearly nine years. The Commission, however, has not heard the testimony of a single survivor in the Punjab mass cremations matter; nor has it found a single security official or agency liable for the thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial executions leading to illegal cremations in Punjab. The Commission continues to flout international and domestic law by refusing to investigate the secret cremations, ignoring fundamental rights violations such as the unlawful deprivation of life and torture of family members. The PHR/Bellevue report should compel the Commission to investigate the physical and psychological trauma suffered by victim families, in addition to the murder and illegal cremation of their relative.

Read an article on the Oct. 18 hearing here.

[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's blog.]

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

In Defense of Democracy

August, 26-2005- Today was our very last day of interviews. It was only appropriate that our final two interviewees held opposing positions on how to defend American democracy in the post-9/11 era: one believes that we need to target undocumented immigrants and use racial profiling in security searches, and the other believes that such state policies are a form of public violence that encourage private hate violence. Both were intriguing.

We first interviewed CLIFFORD MAY (pictured below), President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is also Chairman of the Policy Committee of the Committee on the Present Danger. With a sharp and confident voice, Clifford May shared with us his reflections on what is required to defend American democracy:

"The democratic experiment has been under threat since the beginning. It was under intense threat in 20th century from totalitarian moments: Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Radical Islam is also a totalitarian move... All these movements are profoundly anti-democratic, against human rights and free choice. They must be taken at least as seriously as the ones in the past.

"After 9/11, there is no question that the Justice Deptartment took more seriously than in the past those in this country illegally and especially those from parts of the world where terrorists are recruited... We should welcome guests and immigrants. We should insist that people should not be here illegally. But if you come into this country, we need to know your name and why you’re here. You can't be underground because that’s scary to us at this point... 1.2 billion Muslims need to understand that they must choose to fight the free world or join free world. The free world welcomes them with open arms, but if they fight, we must defend ourselves.

"I’m not for racial profiling, I’m for terrorist profiling. If you put in what you know about a terrorist into the computer, he will be male, not over eighty and not under ten years of age. On September 11, all nineteen terrorists were young, male, and from Muslim countries. You just can’t ignore it. I think most people would be willing to accept the inconvenience... Freedom is under attack. All people who are freedom-loving must join together for the fight."

Our final interview was with MUNEER AHMAD (pictured), Professor of Law at American University. He discussed the state's use of immigration law as part of a larger form of public violence that targets Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. He distinguished this from private violence, and argued that the two operate in tandem:

"Within a couple of weeks after 9/11, there were more than a thousand incidents: murder, assaults, vandalism of places of worships, homes, stores, and racial epithets. That’s what we tend to think of as private violence. Starting soon after that began another form of violence from the government: public violence. The government began to remove people from planes, search people in racially targeted way, and craft policies that targeted people thought to be Muslim, Arab, or South Asian. There was an expansion in immigration enforcement in racially targeted ways. Immigration law is a series of trip wires. It is a complex arcane area, and it's very easy for citizen to commit immigration violation without knowing it. It became much easier for the government to use immigration law rather than criminal law to pick up and detain immigrants.

"People tend to think of private and public violence as separate, but I think that they operate in tandem. Once the government responds with racial programs and policies, it communicates to private citizens what is permissable and what is not. If it's okay for the government to engage in racial profiling, then it becomes okay for private citizens to engage in racial profiling.

"9/11 produced a signal moment when a new racial category was created. People might have had a sense of Arabs as different from whites or African Americans, but the borders of this category were not fully formed in American racial discourse. The same is true for South Asians and Muslims. After 9/11, all these categories consolidate into a single category, described in different ways. Terrorist-looking. Now the assumption is that all terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists. Well, who is terrorist-looking? Its sweep is so large. It includes Arabs and South Asians. A significant percentage of Arabs are Christians, and a significant number of South Asians are Christians or Sikhs. Certainly the Sikh community has seen vigilante violence directed toward its members. A significant number in the Muslim community is African American. If you start to pull it apart, it doesn’t make much sense.

"Laws and policies are a form of government speech. They send a message and they continue a kind of ideology that is picked up in the culture. It is now a standard joke on Letterman or Leno about the turbaned man kicked off of an airplane. This is not an individual act but a government act. This collection of government policies and acts constitutes a state ideology after 9/11; it is an ideology of violence. It constructs these communities as enemy, as foreign, as traitors, as not to be trusted, and therefore as worthy of punishment. It's hard for governments to articulate that kind of ideology and not expect individuals in the country to espouse the same ideology."

It was a long day and both interviews were deeply compelling. Our interview with Professor Ahmad became our last interview of the entire summer's production. We have one more day of b-roll in Washington, DC. We are just on the brink of celebrating, but there is still work to do. Our director Sharat Raju is pictured coordinating our final day.

I took one last glance into our film camera set up for interviews before we took it down (pictured below). I am satisfied with the voices we captured. We talked again with many of the people I had first interviewed four years ago. And we gathered a range of political views on how we should respond in this post-9/11 world.

When we are done tomorrow, we'll have 30 hours of film footage from this summer. Add this to the 100 hours of high-8 footage from the fall of 2001. We have our work in the editing room. Best not to think about it just yet. Instead, we'll focus on one more day of production... and our inevitable celebration.

Support our film.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

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Best and Worst of America

August 25, 2005- Today we interviewed SHER SINGH (pictured) who was arrested on September 12, 2001 as the first suspected terrorist after the 9/11 attacks. He was riding a Boston-bound train when it stopped in Providence, Rhode Island. He was wearing a turban and kirpan, both articles of Sikh faith. His ‘suspicious’ appearance had caught the attention of the FBI who sent federal agents and local police with bomb-sniffing dogs to the station to intercept him.

Officers rushed the entrance of the train and pointed rifles at the man: “Get your f--- hands up.” They pulled him out of the train at gunpoint and handcuffed him. One officer said, “How’s Osama bin Laden?” They led him onto the platform, where crowds of people had gathered, shouting profanities. Someone yelled, “You killed my brother.” Others shouted, “Kill him.”

Sher Singh was released within three hours of his arrest, because it was clear he was innocent. Authorities announced that he had no connection to the attacks. Yet the footage of his arrest was broadcasted and published around the world for three days, showing a tall man with a turban and long black beard, eyes cast downward, led in handcuffs by black-uniformed officers believing they had apprehended the first terrorist

We had first heard this story from Sher Singh in December 2001. Four years later, he reflected on his experience:

I felt and sometimes feel a little estranged. I feel for a split second, maybe I’m not at home here. But then I tell myself it’s all in my mind. If somebody has or had a negative opinion about my appearance or any Sikh's appearance, then it’s in that person’s mind. That person needs to open up. Home is where you are. No looking back.” He smiles.

After this happened, I got more involved in my community. I gave talks about Sikhism, attending rallies on civil rights, and talked to children on understanding different faiths. I felt that I had to give back a lot more than I had ever given back.

“I’m now a solution architect for EED; I develop solutions for the Navy and Marine Corps and help develop their information technology. I get to do very high level design and it’s a new challenge everyday.”

In his story alone, I see the worst and best parts of the American experience: Sher was a victim of racial profiling, but upon his release, he was able to choose to defend American national security, developing technologies that support troops abroad.

We continued looking at the tension between the history of discrimination in America and the American dream when we made our next visit to the office of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT). We interviewed the Executive Director of SAALT, DEEPA IYER (pictured). She explained a history of discrimination toward Asian Americans to provide context to post-9/11 hate violence:

"It’s dangerous to look at post-9/11 by itself. We really need to realize that there has been a history of discrimination that goes back over 100 years for immigrants in the United States. Laws by the US prevented Asians from becoming naturalized, owning land, immigrating to the US. We must remember that many South Asians challenged those laws and became active in their communities. They demanded to be treated with equality, dignity, and justice.

"9/11 was a lightening rod for sentiments against immigrants and people of color, but it did more than that. Just a week after 9/11, a high number of incidents of bias were recorded in the media by South Asians and Arab Americans. SAALT did a report within a month after 9/11 looking at bias incidents. We found 645 reported in the media in just one week. That’s a snapshot of a much larger picture of what happened in the ensuing months and years after 9/11. In the pre-9/11 atmosphere, there was a muted anti-immigrant sentiment, and 9/11 became a space for these sentiments to explode. Suddenly, it became fine to speak openly and visibly about South Asians, Sikhs, Muslims, and people who are brown as possible terrorists."

I was grateful that organizations like SAALT record these incidents and raise awareness through resources and dialogue groups. You can check out their work here.

The team is battling colds and general fatigue, but we are all staying at the lovely home of Vidya and Tonse Raju (who have supported 'the arts' for years now as Sharat's parents). We are getting some good rest here as we head for the finish line. We are joined by our final sound technician, JIM (pictured to the left of our first cameraman Don.) We have only two more interviews left in Washington, DC before we wrap up production! Here we go.

Support our endeavor.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Parents upset over school presentation on Islam

On October 20, 2005, The Times reported, "A presentation about Muslim culture last month to students at Porter Lakes Elementary School upset parents and sparked an argument about the role of religion in public schools. On Sept. 30, a second-grade class and the entire third grade listened to a cultural presentation by the family of some Muslim students who are new to the school. In addition to talking about Muslim traditions, the children were read the book 'Ramadan' by Carol Gnojewski. 'The presentation was intended to share information, hopefully to answer some of the questions children had,' Porter Township School Corp. Superintendent Nick Brown said. The presentation involved a lot of religious content because religion is heavily intertwined with the Muslim culture, Brown said. The religious aspect of the assembly angered parents, who say that religion has no role in the public school setting. Several parents intend to discuss the issue at tonight's School Board meeting. Brown said the assembly was never meant to offend anyone. The school teaches its students about a variety of cultures with the hope of widening their world views, he said. 'We have Chanukah presentations, we do Christmas,' Brown said. 'It falls just within enlightening people'... Having the new Muslim students in the small, rural community has gotten the rumor churning, including gossip about a possible terrorist search inside the school. None of those threats, including the spotting of a suspicious van, have been substantiated."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mosque in Sweden destroyed by arson attack

On October 22, 2005 The Local reported, "The mosque in Malmö was the target of a new arson attack just before midnight on Friday. Several minor fires were started in the main building, but these were put out quickly by the emergency services after passers-by had spotted smoke coming out of the building. One man was taken to hospital suffering from mild smoke injuries. The man was staying in the mosque temporarily for the Ramadan period and was sleeping in the building when the fire began. Someone had broken into the building after smashing a window at the back. 'There were a small number of fires which we put out in the premises,' said Swen Krook, the duty fire officer. The indications are that the fires were not accidental. Swen Krook said that there was some small-scale damage."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News.

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Australian Muslim women become targets of assault

On October 21, 2005 The Muslim News reported, "Women wearing headscarfs have been spat on, sworn at and assaulted while hate graffiti such as 'Kill Muslims' and 'Muslims Out' has appeared in Melbourne's northern suburbs. In the past two weeks, two Muslim women have been attacked in daylight. In one, a milkshake was hurled at a Muslim woman as she waited at a Sydney Rd tram stop with her three children. In the other a man swerved at a Muslim woman and shouted: 'F--- off terrorist' while she was crossing the road carrying her baby. There are also reports of Muslim girls being spat at and abused by drivers. The Islamic Council of Victoria is alarmed at the rise of religious abuse. Coburg resident Omar Merhi was stunned when he saw the car swerve at the woman with her baby. Mr Merhi said Muslim victims often had poor English and felt powerless to take action. Sgt Mick Ehmer, from Brunswick police, encouraged victims to come forward to help stamp out the bigoted behaviour."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Hate Crimes and Violence.

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Muslim McGill University Students Vie for Prayer Space

On October 24, 2005 The Montreal Gazette reported, "Hani Ezzadeen isn't sure what he'll do in the winter when snow covers the campus that he and dozens of other Muslim McGill University students use to say their daily prayers... Until June, the students were allowed to pray in a room on a temporary basis. Since June, they have been praying in stairwells, empty classrooms or outside. Debate over the right to prayer space is raging at McGill, along with engineering faculties at Ecole polytechnique and the Ecole de technologie superieure. Administrators at all three schools say opening a multi-faith room on campus - as requested by Muslim students - goes against their institutions' secular character. In December, the Quebec Human Rights Commission is expected to come out with an opinion on the right to prayer space, following a 2003 complaint by ETS students. With questions over the hijab, or Muslim head scarf, largely resolved in a June opinion by the commission - women can cover their heads, even in private schools - prayer space has emerged as a new issue in the debate over religious tolerance in Quebec schools."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Welcome: Sakhiba Khairullah

I am pleased to introduce Sakhiba Khairullah, DNSI's legal intern. Ms. Khairullah is currently a law student at The George Washington University. She received her undergraduate degree from The George Washington University summa cum laude in 2002. She was selected as a Presidential Scholar, a member of the Honors Program, a member of the Roots of Western Civilization Living and Learning Program as well as a Student Association peer advisor. She spent a summer abroad studying British and Irish history at Oxford University. Ms. Khairullah also interned at C-SPAN where she was fortunate to meet several prominent scholars and political figures.

Following graduation, Ms. Khairullah worked for the The George Washington University Honors Program as a teaching assistant and for Legal Services. Throughout her academic career, Ms. Khairullah has actively participated in community service. She has volunteered for Americorps Neighbor’s Project, the Indian Embassy, and Street Law.

She is a valuable addition to our team.

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"Sport scores in integrating British communities"

The questions of whether Muslims should be integrated into British society to some acceptable degree, and how such integration should be acheived, have been the subject of various scholarly articles, press reports, and other commentary [see previous posts here].

Kate Holton of Reuters offers this interesting piece, which suggests that athletics is "play[ing] a major role in [a London housing] project's transformation into a positive example of integration in Britain's increasingly multicultural society."

One of the organizers of weekly soccer training sessions in London notes, "We don't look at color or what culture you are. You come here under the umbrella of sport. The main aim wasn't the level of football, but it was to get kids off the street."

After the bombings of 7/7, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned that Britain was "'sleepwalking our way to segregation.' He singled out sports as one way of halting this."

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Statements on Passing of Civil Rights Icon, Rosa Parks

She will always have a special place in American history, and our nation thinks of Rosa Parks and her loved ones today.... Fifty years ago in Montgomery, Ala., this humble seamstress stood up to injustice by refusing a bus driver's order that she give up her seat for a white man. Her show of defiance was an act of personal courage that moved millions, including a young preacher named Martin Luther King. — President George W. Bush

[Selected from Yahoo!]

Rosa Parks was a woman of great courage, grace and dignity. Her refusal to be treated as a second class citizen on a Montgomery bus in 1955 struck a blow to racial segregation and sparked a movement that broke the back of Jim Crow. ... She was an inspiration to me and to all who work for the day when we will be one America. May God bless her soul and may she rest in peace. — William Jefferson Clinton

I truly believe that there's a little bit of Rosa Parks in all Americans who have the courage to say enough is enough and stand up for what they believe in. She did such a small thing, but it was so courageous for her as a humble person to do. — Rep. Charles Rangel

The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans. Her quiet fight for equality sounded the bells of freedom for millions. — Sen. Edward Kennedy

Rosa Parks has shown the awesome power of right over might in history's long journey for peace and freedom. — Rev. Jesse Jackson

I remember her as an almost saint-like person. And I use that term with care. She was very humble, she was soft-spoken, but inside she had a determination that was quite fierce. — Rep. John Conyers

[Selected from the Associated Press]

Rosa Parks was a genuine American hero. Through her courage and by her example, she helped lay the foundation for a country that could begin to live up to its creed. Just as important, she reminded each and every one of us of our personal responsibilities to stand up for what is right and the central truth of the American experience that our greatness as a nation derives from seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We will all miss her cherished spirit but know that her legacy lives on in the heart of the nation. — Rep. Barack Obama

[Selected from WBBM-TV]

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Update: Sikh Truck Drivers Challenge Hard Hat Policy

In August, we reported on a group of Sikh truck drivers in Canada who were challenging the Canadian National Railway's policy that all drivers wear hard hats, a policy which would obviously mean that the turbaned Sikh drivers would be unable to wear turbans as prescribed by their faith [see previous post].

Today's Trucking Online is now stating that the "group of about 500 Sikh truck drivers hauling in and out of CP's intermodal yards are still wearing their turbans as they negotiate a settlement."

Apparently, as part of the negotiation, the railway-employer "suggest[ed] that the truckers could remove only part of their turban, which comes in two sections. A hardhat could therefore sit properly on the 'underturban' by removing the five metre-long 'overturban.'

"The drivers, however, refused that offer."

According to lawyers specializing in employment law, if the matter is formally brought before a human rights commission or trial court, it will be a close call as to who prevails: "You would think based on history they would lean to accommodation. But the flip side of that is no commission wants to see one of these guys get hurt three months later. So they've got a very sensitive political issue to deal with."

UPDATE: In related news, a group of Canadian Sikhs, led by Avtar Singh Dhillon and Amarjit Singh Sidhu, along with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, are "fighting the government's decision to make wearing of hard hats mandatory" for longshoremen.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Sikh Exhibit Opens in Seattle Museum

The Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle Washington opened an exhibit entitled, "Sikh Community: Over 100 Years in the Pacific Northwest," which explores the presence and contribution of Sikhs to the region, and also provides information on the fundamental basics of the religion itself.

The idea for the exhibit developed after Sikhs in the area began experiencing harassment after 9/11. According to the Seattle Times:

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, Parminder Singh remembers how somebody yelled "Go home!" to him at a gas station, and that security guards at an airport asked him to remove his turban — something deeply offensive to his Sikh faith.

A Sikh motel owner in SeaTac was beaten with a metal cane. There were reports of Sikh cabdrivers being attacked and yelled at, of Sikh schoolchildren harassed for wearing turbans.
In response, Sikhs and others partnered to create this exhibit. The article notes the exhibit it important "not only to prevent discrimination and harassment, but also because the number of Sikhs here is growing rapidly."

For more information on the exhibit, including location and times, please click here.

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Expert Medical Study Documents Torture and Psychological Trauma Suffered by Families of the “Disappeared” in Punjab


(San Francisco, CA) Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Bellevue/New York University School of Medicine Program for Survivors of Torture (Bellevue) submitted a report (www.ensaaf.org/PHR-Bellevue.html) today in the Punjab mass cremations matter pending before India’s National Human Rights Commission since December 1996. The report, entitled Evaluation of Litigants Pertaining to Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 447/95 Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab vs. State of Punjab, is based on structured interviews and diagnostic evaluations of 127 family members of victims killed and illegally cremated by Indian security forces from 1984 to 1995.

A six-member PHR/Bellevue investigative team with extensive experience in documenting torture and human rights abuses conducted this study in Amritsar, Punjab in May and June 2005 at the request of ENSAAF, a U.S.-based non-profit organization fighting impunity for human rights abuses committed in India. The PHR/Bellevue assessment reveals a “pattern of intentional abuse by law enforcement officials among multiple family members,” demonstrating that the Commission needs to investigate and adjudicate the fundamental rights violations committed by Indian security forces, beyond the illegal cremation of the family member.

“As a result of the death and illegal cremation of a close family member, most of the individuals interviewed demonstrated severe psychological disorders including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, with nearly half of those interviewed continuing to describe these symptoms more than ten years after the traumas occurred,” write Dr. Allen Keller and Dr. Barry Rosenfeld, authors of the report. They further write, “Many participants described permanent impairments and long-term disability related to the physical abuse inflicted by the authorities during the time period surrounding the death and cremation of their relative.”

CIIP vs. State of Punjab has proceeded before the Commission for nearly nine years. The Commission, however, has not heard the testimony of a single survivor in the Punjab mass cremations matter; nor has it found a single security official or agency liable for the thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial executions leading to illegal cremations in Punjab. The Commission continues to flout international and domestic law by refusing to investigate the secret cremations, ignoring fundamental rights violations such as the unlawful deprivation of life and torture of family members. The PHR/Bellevue report should compel the Commission to investigate the physical and psychological trauma suffered by victim families, in addition to the murder and illegal cremation of their relative.

[This press release was issued by ENSAAF.]

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Role of Islam in Public Schools Challenged

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard argument in a case brought by two Christian families who are challenging
a public school's effort to acquaint students with Islam... by having the students don Islamic dress, recite phrases from the Koran, and mimic the fasting associated with the Muslim observance of Ramadan.
According to the parents, these efforts violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. During argument, the lawyer for the families partially described what he thought was offensive of the Constitution:
during the eight-week unit on Islam, religious teachings were described as "facts" and students were instructed to wear name tags that included the religion's star-and-crescent imagery.
He also suggested that this would be an easier case had the dispute involved Christian teachings and imagery instead: "If this case dealt with the teaching of Catholicism... of course people would say you're endorsing religion...."

A federal district court threw out the suit; the families appealed. Apparently the circuit judges hearing the appeal were also skeptical of the plaintiffs' arguments. Indeed, one judge asked, "Are you saying our children should not be taught the history of all the religions of the world?"

Also, the lawyer for the school noted that none of the school officials involved in the case is Muslim: "It would just be bizarre for the school to have a secret agenda to indoctrinate students in a religion to which they did not subscribe," she said.

[Hat tip: "How Appealing."]

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Philadelphia Tells Muslim Police to Trim Beards or Lose Jobs"

According to Bloomberg, "Philadelphia police officer Kenneth Wallace... is serving his second month-long suspension for refusing to shave. Wallace, a 31-year-old Muslim, has asked for an arbitration hearing to challenge the department's 1/4-inch limit on the length of beards."

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "You don't wear religion on your face...You wear it in your heart and mind.''

As for Muslim women on the force, they are "still barred from wearing the scarf known as khimar or hijab." Apparently the Department "said the scarf posed a safety risk because it could be grabbed by a suspect."

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Text of President Bush's Speech at White House Iftaar Dinner

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you. Welcome to the White House. This is the fifth year in a row that it's been my honor to host an Iftaar in the State Dining Room.

Our distinguished guests represent the millions of Muslims that we're proud to call Americans, and many Islamic nations are represented here that America is proud to call friend. We welcome the representatives from many countries with large Muslim populations. I want to thank you all for coming to celebrate an honored tradition of the Muslim faith, and wish you a, "Ramadan Mubarak."

I want to thank those in my administration who have joined us. I want to thank the Imam for joining us today, and thank you for leading us in prayer after these short remarks. I want to thank all the ambassadors from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. I welcome other members of the Diplomatic Corps. And I want to thank the Muslim -- American Muslim leaders who are with us today. Thanks for taking time out to celebrate this important dinner.

Ramadan is the holiest time of the Muslim year. According to Islamic teaching, this month commemorates the revelation of God's word to the Prophet Muhammad in the form of the Koran. For more than a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of heartfelt prayer and togetherness. It is a time of fasting and personal sacrifice. It's a time to give thanks for God's blessings through works of charity.

One Muslim leader said: "It's a national and Islamic obligation to assist one's neighbors when they are in need." The American people saw that spirit as we recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The world sees that spirit, that compassion of Islam, through the countless acts of kindness following the recent earthquake in southeast -- in South Asia.

America is fortunate to count such good-hearted men and women among our fellow citizens. We have great respect for the commitment that all Muslims make to faith, family, and education. And Americans of many backgrounds seek to learn more about the rich tradition of Islam. To promote greater understanding between our cultures, I have encouraged American families to travel abroad, to visit with Muslim families. And I have encouraged American families to host exchange students from the Muslim world. I have asked young Americans to study the language and customs of the broader Middle East. And for the first time in our nation's history, we have added a Koran to the White House Library. (Applause.)

All of us gathered tonight share a conviction that America must remain a welcoming and tolerant land, in which our people are free to practice any faith they choose. We reject every form of ethnic and religious discrimination. As I said in my second Inaugural Address, we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.

We also share a common hope for the future -- that our children and grandchildren will grow up in a safer and more peaceful world. Delivering on that promise to future generations requires action from our generation. We must stand confidently in the cause of freedom -- including the freedom of people everywhere to practice their faith in peace. We must also firmly oppose all who commit evil in God's name. I am grateful to the Muslim nations that have joined our coalition in the war on terror -- including many nations that have been victims of terror themselves.

As we work together to defeat the terrorists, we must be very clear about the enemies we face. The killers who take the lives of innocent men, women, and children are followers of a violent ideology very different from the religion of Islam. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision, including Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.

Their strategy will fail. Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity. I appreciate those of you here who have joined these scholars in rejecting violent extremists. And I believe the time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to denounce an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles your noble faith.

I have great confidence in the future of this nation, and in the future of the Muslim world. I have been inspired by the courage of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Muslims are celebrating Ramadan in two of the world's newest democracies. I believe that people of every religious and ethnic background have the right and the desire to be free. And I believe that the spread of freedom and justice and tolerance in the broader Middle East will lead to the peace that we all seek.

As we celebrate this special Iftaar, we renew the ties of friendship that bind all those who trace their faith back to God's call on Abraham. We recognize the many hopeful works we have achieved together. We look forward to learning more from each other in the years ahead.
I'm so grateful that you joined us today. I wish you a blessed Ramadan, and may God bless you all. (Applause.)

[Text of the speech is available here. Emphasis is my own.]

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"Al Qaeda exploits 'blue-eyed' Muslim converts"

In April, I wrote in these pages that reliance on racial profiling as a means to identify and capture terrorists would have the unintended and counterproductive effect of compelling the terrorists to recruit those who defied the profile, thus the terrorist organizations could maintain their plans to exact horror on the United States and others despite the use of this particular security strategy.

Unsurprisingly, Reuters is now reporting on successful efforts by Al-Qaeda to recruit those who may not fit the "terrorist profile," some well-known, others not:

  • Richard Reid, the convicted British "shoe bomber" who tried to set off explosives in his footwear on a 2001 transatlantic flight, was a petty criminal who first turned to Islam during a spell in prison.
  • Christian Ganczarski, a German suspected of involvement in a 2002 bombing in Tunisia, converted at 20 before embarking on a jihadist career in which, investigators believe, he became a close associate of bin Laden's.
  • Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay, one of four suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London in July
  • Briton Andrew Rowe, jailed for 15 years last month for possessing terrorist materials.
  • Frenchman Lionel Dumont, a suspected Rowe associate and another convert, will go on trial in December accused of a series of attacks in the 1990s, including an attempt to bomb a Group of Seven summit in Lille.
  • John Walker Lindh, dubbed "the American Taliban," was convicted and jailed in 2002 for fighting alongside the Afghan militia
  • In Australia, British-born Muslim convert Jack Roche was jailed for nine years in 2004 for conspiring to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
  • U.S. citizen Jose Padilla has been held for more than three years as a suspected enemy combatant in connection with an alleged "dirty bomb" plot.
The article notes:
The advantage for militant groups -- and the problem for security agencies -- is that converts can often move more freely and attract less suspicion than people of obviously Middle Eastern appearance.

"Thanks to their physical appearance they can penetrate targets in Europe much more easily without being spotted," said Roland Jacquard, head of the International Terrorism Observatory in Paris.

"Now, when you take Muslim converts whose mother and father are French, English, Spanish or Italian and who live in society normally, with society's habits, they are absolutely undetectable."

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"Have You Hugged a Muslim Today?"

Christopher Halleron offers this candid and entertaining article on why he thinks racial profiling should be abandoned in favor of random acts of kindness towards Muslims.

Halleron admits that before 9/11, he used to look for women on the train that he would consider becoming intimate with; a shallow exercise that simply passed the time. After 9/11, he notes, this game was replaced with "Who is going to blow me up?" in which he would attempt to identify those individuals who may be dangerous: "You look at the color of their skin, the length of their beard, the bulge in their backpack and you begin to evaluate whether or not they're going to blow you up today."

Realizing the unreliability of a profile, Halleron argues, "Instead of scowling and sneering at people who I think might be considering blowing me up, I should try to be nice to them. I'll throw them a smile, offer up my seat, talk to them about the weather, treat them like human beings."

Why? "if a random act of kindness and humanity could possibly dissuade some bitter fanatic from blowing me up... then I say, give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?"

He continues, "perhaps if we become a kinder, gentler New York Metro area... we can avoid what everyone considers to be the inevitable."

Sure, the article was part of a humor column. But, perhaps there is something to be said for demonstrating kindness and compassion rather than perpetuating the alienation and stigmatization of anyone who looks like they may blow you up.

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FBI Releases 2004 Hate Crime Statistics

The FBI issued its 2004 hate crimes report, which noted in part that "the hate crime program tallied 7,649 bias-motivated incidents involving 9,035 offenses directed at 9,528 victims. The offenses were committed by 7,145 known offenders."

The Anti-Defamation League's analysis of the report concludes that the FBI statistics "document[] a slight decrease in overall crime reports in 2004, but an increase in the number of reported hate crimes." Further, "the number of reported religion-based crimes increased slightly from 2003...."

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Friday, October 14, 2005

"Sikh sites hit with epithets, swastikas"

Yasmin Assemi, writing for the Stockton Record (CA), notes that "Vandals this week sprayed several swastikas and racial epithets on property that includes a Sikh temple" in Lodi, California.

"The vandalism included remarks such as 'killers' and 'white power' along with other racial epithets directed at Muslims of Middle Eastern origin."

The owner of the land, Nirmal Samra, remarked that he "has never before experienced prejudice in his 30 years living in Lodi." Samra explained what has become painfully clear to many Sikhs -- that Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims "because they wear turbans."

Assemi continued:
The fear of such misdirected hate inspired the Sikh community in 2001 to increase its participation in many community events in hopes of educating the public about the two different religions.

Hate crimes targeting American Sikhs spiked shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a report released in July by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

But reported crimes against people of Middle Eastern descent dropped 35 percent in California from 2003 to 2004, according to the report, "Hate Crime in California 2004."

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"The heart of Muslim Britain"

H.D.S. Greenway discusses Britain's experiment with multiculturalism, compared to the American experience with racial problems, and viewed in light of the terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005.

Greenway notes that Britons "used to shake their heads at America's racial problems" and ridiculed America's ''obsessive saluting of the flag and other ostentatious demonstrations of national unity." However, racial difficulties in Britain have forced Britons to reconsider the value of muticulturalism and the need to encourage a national identity.

A study, unsurprisingly, found that "that racial disturbances are more likely to happen 'in those areas where diversity really hadn't been valued and seen as a positive force. It had been allowed to degenerate into segregation and polarization.'" The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality said children of different races are ''[s]leepwalking into segregation." Such division, the chairmain stated, provided a ''fertile breeding ground for extremists."

Accordingly, while some are still arguing that ''multiculturalism is crucial to establishing a national bargain" between the racial majority and racial minorities, others are calling for the overt patriotism that Britons once chided.

Indeed, Greenway concludes by highlighting this ironic, if not hypocritical, situation; the conservative Telegraph (UK) publication ran the following headline: ''Teach our children what it means to be British."

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"Making Room for Muslim Educators"

The Los Angeles Times contains this excellent piece on the use of educational instruction by Muslims as a means of defeating the isolation of Muslims in Europe and any unfamiliarity with Islam. The article profiles Muslim teachers who are interested in educating students not only about academic subjects, but about becoming comfortable with Muslims and Islam.

The article notes that a new breed of Muslim teachers are responding to the need for "Muslim instructors to teach Islam in public schools while being sensitive to Western culture" and the more general, if not pressing, need to "better integrate a Muslim community that has doubled since the 1980s but remains in a largely parallel [read: isolated or segregated?] universe."

Interestingly, the Muslim teachers mentioned in the article

personify the intersection of the Islamic creed and European life. They carry iPods and hang out at dance clubs. Many are more attuned to reality TV than the bloody politics of Iraq. But they also pray five times a day, wanting to be devout without being stereotyped as fanatical. Most believe they can keep their faith despite the increasingly secular atmosphere around them.
The teachers have also been forced to debate the compatibility of Islamic prinicples and Western social mores. For example,
They debate issues such as arranged marriages, permitted by Islamic custom but deplored by German society, and the merits of separate gym classes for boys and girls in elementary schools to preserve the Muslim sense of modesty.
Of course, the article also notes the problems that Muslims have been facing in Europe because of the global climate of terrorism: One man noted, "People today are too suspicious of Islam.... I came here to study. I have a beard, and they think I'm part of a sleeper terrorist cell."

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"Racial profiling no tool in thwarting terrorism"

Mike German, a former FBI agent, offers these thoughts on racial profiling as a means to identify terrorists in the United States:

otherwise intelligent people suggest that it's perfectly reasonable to racially profile all Asian, black and Arab Americans who might be Muslim in the hope of catching the very tiny percentage of Muslim extremists who might actually be a problem. They suggest that Muslim Americans should endure this inconvenience with the realization that the police are just trying to ensure everyone's safety. But it's not just the public humiliation that makes racial profiling wrong; it's the reinforcement of the false impression that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

Racial profiling is not just unreasonable, it's racism. And it's not just ineffective, it's counterproductive. Osama bin Laden has spent the last 15 years telling Muslims that Islam is under attack by the West: "They compromise our honor and our dignity," he said in a 1998 interview, "and dare we utter a word of protest against the injustice, we are called terrorists." Overstated to say the least, but effective nonetheless, because extremism is fueled by the perception of injustice. Racial profiling doesn't add to our arsenal -- it adds to his.
The entire article is worth reading.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Canadian Schools and Religious Attire

The right of students to wear conspicious articles of faith in schools and of the State to regulate such clothing has been the subject of considerable discussion and controversy, particularly in France. The controversy continues -- this time in Canada.

Sara Asfour, 17, a student in Quebec, Canada, "was told to remove her hijab [a head scarf worn by Muslim women] at College Jean-Eudes...." In response, the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled that "religious schools admitting students from more than one faith must make reasonable efforts to accommodate all their pupils' beliefs" -- irrespective of whether they are public or private institutions.

The Quebec government, however, came to the opposite conclusion, stating that it "will not force private schools to accept the hijab." Instead, according to the province's Education Department, "it's up to each institution to apply the rule as it sees fit...."

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Elderly Sikhs Attacked, Killed in Surrey, Canada

Last month, two elderly Sikhs, Mewa Singh Bains, 84, and Shingara Thandi, 76, "were beaten with baseball bats in separate attacks" in a park in Surrey, Canada. [Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver.] "Thandi, who was attacked on July 19, died in hospital on Aug. 6. Bains was beaten on July 18 and died Sept. 3."

Thandi's son "said the beating obliterated his father's face" and that "he could not recognize his dad in hospital". Thandi noted, "I had to look at the rest of his body to tell that was my dad."

The perpetrators of these crimes are two teenage boys, aged 13 and 15. To the outrage of the Sikh- and Indo-Canadian communities, they were initially charged with assault and aggravated assault -- not murder. However, the charges were later upgraded to aggravated assault and murder [see previous report here].

In a separate incident that followed the beating deaths of Bains and Thandi, "A group of Sikh-Canadian senior citizens were sprayed with fire extinguisher foam from a slow-moving minivan as they sat at a picnic table" in the same exact park [see previous report here].

The Constable has said the attacks have been "targeted" and purposeful," but has stopped short of calling them racially motivated.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

An Appeal for Assistance

An earthquake measuring 7.6 in magnitude struck South Asia, with the epicenter in Pakistan, Saturday morning, leaving at least 20,000 dead and millions homeless. [For extensive coverage of the earthquake, please visit this BBC's web page.]

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we placed a link to the Red Cross's web site on this blog, enabling readers to donate to associated relief efforts.

We offer this post with a similar intention in mind, to urge readers to learn more about this tragedy and contribute financially to credible recovery and relief efforts. Thanks.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Arranged Marriages and Terrorism

After the London bombings of July 7, 2005, politicians, commentators, and others have discussed the appropriate balance between multiculturalism and integration, and the propriety of immigration generally [see e.g., here, here, here, and here]. Indeed, some have argued that immigrant communities -- particularly South Asians, Muslims, and Arabs -- should further assimilate into British society (thereby sacrificing part of their ethnic identity). They argue specifically that a Muslim youth who is integrated to some acceptable degree will be less likely to become a homegrown terrorist and exact violence comparable to 9/11 or 7/7 on his British brothers and sisters.

A report released by Migration Watch UK now suggests that arranged marriages are a contributing factor to the problem of homegrown terrorism in Britain. (Yes, arranged marriages.) According to the Times of London's review of the report:
The number of British Asians bringing in spouses from the Indian subcontinent has doubled over five years.... Instead of integrating over successive generations by marrying in the UK, some Asian communities are fuelling segregation through arranged marriages to overseas partners....
To those advocating increased integration by South Asians, Muslims, and Arabs, these ghettos represent the problem: they are fertile ground for fundamentalist teachings, are where ethnic identity is reinforced, and are indications of explicit resistance to the call to adopt British culture, nationalism, and traditions.

The solution proposed by the report:
an immigration policy that discourages international arranged marriages. It suggests the introduction of a “family connection test”, similar to the system in Denmark. The test would apply where a British resident wished to marry a person from the country in which he or she (or either parent) was born. Permission to enter the UK would not be granted until the bride and groom were 24 years old, rather than the present 18.
[This entry is cross-posted on "IntentBlog"].

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Boeing, Bell apologize for ad depicting mosque raid

On September 30, 2005 ABC News/Reuters reported, "Boeing Co. apologized on Friday for a mistakenly published advertisement for its V-22 Osprey aircraft showing troops dropping onto the roof of a mosque in what appears to be a simulated battle scene. The ad, coming amid rising concern among Muslims over U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompted immediate complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which demanded the withdrawal of the campaign. But Boeing, which created the ad with partner Bell Helicopter, said publication was a 'clerical error' by the National Journal, which ran the ad on September 24. 'We consider the ad offensive, regret its publication and apologize to those who like us are dismayed with its contents,' said Mary Foerster, vice president at Boeing's defense unit, in a statement. The ad 'did not proceed through normal channels,' Boeing said, and despite asking for it to be withdrawn and destroyed, was published in error... A spokesman for CAIR said on Friday the group welcomed the companies' swift response, but would press the issue of how such an ad came to be created."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News.

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Second attack on Sikhs in Vancouver park leaves community wary

On October 1, 2005 The Globe and Mail reported, "A group of Sikh-Canadian senior citizens were sprayed with fire extinguisher foam from a slow-moving minivan as they sat at a picnic table yesterday morning in Surrey's Bear Creek Park. It was in that same park that two elderly Sikh men were attacked with baseball bats in the summer and later died. This time, no one was seriously injured, said Surrey RCMP Constable Ali Mirza. But to a community on edge after the slayings, the spraying of a group who regularly use the park for recreation is upsetting, he said. 'People were very fearful that this had happened,' Constable Mirza said."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Hate Crimes and Violence.

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UK Hindu meeting interrupted with swastika hate crime

On September 30, 2005 BBC News reported, "Paving slabs with swastikas scratched on them were thrown through the windows of a hall while a Hindu religious meeting was in progress. No-one was injured in the racist attack, which happened late on Wednesday evening at Carnival Hall in Council Road in Basingstoke, Hampshire. Hampshire Police has sent the two slabs for forensic analysis. Ch Insp Chris Brown said: 'Any racial or religious attacks on members of our community are treated very seriously.' He appealed for any witnesses to contact police. 'We have recently had several successful prosecutions for these kind of incidents and this shows that we will not tolerate such behaviour in the Basingstoke Area,' he added. The Swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol appropriated by the Nazis and the far right."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Hate Crimes and Violence.

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New Report: Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism Through Illegal Detention and Torture

On October 5, 2005, ENSAAF released its report Punjab Police: Fabricating Terrorism through Illegal Detention and Torture (June 2005 to August 2005). This report details human rights violations committed by Indian security forces in recent-militancy related arrests. From June 2005 to August 2005, Indian police claim to have arrested several dozen individuals intent on reviving or supporting militancy in Punjab. ENSAAF's research reveals that Indian security forces routinely resorted to illegal and incommunicado detention and frequently tortured detainees. The Indian police have presented elaborate stories of thwarted militant crimes, concealing the escalation in human rights abuses. The majority of the detainees whose experiences are discussed in the report remain in the custody of Indian security forces and continue to be at risk of further abuse.

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Queer Biopolitics

Professor Jasbir Puar of Rutgers University gave an interesting lecture yesterday at Cornell University, in which she discussed her forthcoming book, Queer Biopolitics: Terror and the Ascendancy of Whiteness. Puar -- whose academic interests include ethnic studies, feminism, and sexuality -- addressed some very unique topics worthy of further examination and debate. Indeed, Puar described her book as an exploration into the “intersections of sexuality and the war on terror, specifically how some [lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and questioning individuals] are complicit with nationalist, racist, and orientalist politics of the U.S.”

From the description of her lecture, I was most fascinated by her discussion of perceived racial identity and homosexual identity in the context of the post-9/11 backlash. According to the article, Puar, "said that if a guy wearing a turban is the victim of a hate crime and it also turns out he’s gay, one must analyze what identity his attackers intended to target.... [H]is Arab identity is associated with terrorists and 9/11, while harems and a mystique of hypersexuality are associated with his sexual identity." This question is important not only for identity purposes, but also for the prosecution of hate crimes.

Puar became interested in this subject matter after "notic[ing] a big vacuum around sexuality and the war on terror and around gender and the war on terror." I look forward to reading more from Puar and hope she continues to advance scholarship in this novel area.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

9/11 Backlash vs. 7/7 Backlash

According to one world leader, "the UK government and its people had adopted a saner view towards the Muslims in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings, as compared to the treatment meted out to the community in the US after the 9/11 attacks." Click here for his reasoning.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Racial Profiling and James Oddo

August 23, 2005- After the London bombings, the debate on racial profiling was everywhere, on television and in newspapers. As the film crew and I traveled around the country, interviewing victims of prejudice and profiling, two New York legislators announced an upcoming bill that "called for racial profiling” on subways. While this announcement was met with signs of protest (like that pictured), it still gave me chills. I saw the way that racial profiling – in airports and on the streets – had damaged entire communities. How could they fail to recognize these costs?

So I decided to ask.

We called New York City Councilmember JAMES ODDO and asked for a film interview, and he agreed.

I wish I could say that I wasn’t nervous. But I was a wreck. In the morning, I performed my ritual of preparing questions for that day’s interview, taking longer than usual. When I read the questions out loud to Sharat (director) and Tracy (communications), it was clear that my tone was combative:

“Should authorities have profiled white men who ‘looked like’ Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombings? How would authorities even distinguish Muslims and Arabs from all brown people? Have you thought about the impact of this policy on communities of color? Do you support the Japanese internment?”

I had to meet this man on his own terms, but how? I was not accustomed to interviewing people with radically different views, let alone views that would hurt the people I knew and cared about. Would it undermine my own position to engage and dignify his position?

But then I thought about the aim of this film: Between stories of people living in the shadow of 9/11, I want to weave in different positions on how best to respond to these stories. I want to set these positions in dialogue with each other and treat each one respectfully. I do not want to take a strong editorial voice in the tradition of Michael Moore (though there is a place for that kind of voice). Rather I want these stories and positions to speak for themselves and let the audience decide. In a time of polarized public discourse – talking heads yelling over each other – I want this film to run deeper than partisan differences, to be a possible medium for real exchange. As the interviewee, that meant that I had to take the risk of hearing and understanding views that oppose mine. For a person with deep convictions, this is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world.

And then a second thought seized me: The staff could have assumed from my name and accent on the phone that I was a white American. But when they would see my skin color and that of my director, would they still do the interview? Would they profile me and this film and worry that we intended to demonize the Councilmember (pictured)? Would they turn us away? When rang the bell, my stomach was knotted in fear.

I could not have been more wrong.

We were received with genuine warmth. The staff met us with wide smiles and hot tea and apologies for the wait. The Councilmember would be free in just a moment. I was a victim of my own assumptions.

Relaxing, I began to look around. The first thing I noticed was the 9/11 paraphernalia that covered the walls. There were photographs of Ground Zero, firefighters and families, Rudy Guliani standing tall, and recognition for the Councilmember’s leadership in the aftermath. I was beginning to find the language to speak in this man’s terms.

When we sat down for the interview, I did not ask JAMES ODDO (pictured) about the legislation he supported. I asked him about 9/11. His story brought the room to the verge of tears.

“When the second plane hit, like everyone else, I knew this wasn’t an accident. I was rushing out my apartment, fiddling with the lock, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a person in the hallway who screamed out. It was my neighbor Margaret. Her husband Adam worked in one of the towers. I ran down to her, and spent the next hour and a half with her trying to get in contact with Adam. Margaret was in the kitchen working the phone when the first tower fell. We saw this cloud of smoke on television. None of us had the courage to point it out to Margaret. It took her five minutes before she realized the building had collapsed. She started screaming, “James, what happened?!” I hopped in my car and met with police officials. Reports started coming in… We went to Staten Island Yankee Stadium in anticipation of an overwhelming number of injured people. No one came. That’s when we realized that you either got out or didn’t.

“After that, I went from wake to funeral to mass to wake. Sometimes we didn’t bury bodies, we just buried parts of bodies, and sometimes only pieces of their equipment or memorabilia. Staten Island was hit hard. We lost many firefighters, friends on the job, and people who worked in towers. The first thing you had to survive was your own anguish. As each day passed, you learned that another person you knew was gone. To this date, I pass the World Trade Center everyday on my way to city hall. I still look and can’t believe it actually happened.”

We took a moment. It was a moment of silence and solidarity. And then I had to ask him: Four years have passed and we still face the threat of terrorism. Tell me about the piece of legislation you have pledged to support.

“We want to create an anti-terror exemption that would allow law enforcement to do its job without fearing that they will be accused of racial profiling. Unfortunately, the media has framed this as a call for racial profiling. It is not the same. If we are going to engage in the searches in the subway, let’s do so in a more honest and effective manner. We have to factor in history; we can’t hide or run away form history. If you look at international terrorism in Europe and America, the terrorists have been young Muslim men. We never said only stop Muslim men or don’t stop white men; we just don’t see the common sense of stopping people randomly. The law that bans racial profiling places a seed of doubt in minds of men and women engaged in these searches. They think: ‘If I stop three Muslim men in a row and I stop a fourth one, is the ACLU going to accuse me of breaking the law?’ Law enforcement is reluctant to do its job out of fear that they will be accused of violating the law. Let’s take away that fear and allow law enforcement to do what is best… At the end of the day, I don’t know who will be stopped. I do know that stopping 75-year old ladies is silly. Let’s allow the NYPD the discretion they have every day of the year."

At this point, I could not help but challenge Councilmember Oddo. My calm interviewing turned into invested concern: What about the likelihood that law enforcement will abuse this power? What about the impact of this measure on people from targeted communities, people like… well… ME?

“I know there are good people out there who would be wronged in some way. But without taking steps like this, and putting people at risk, there’s likelihood that we would inevitably have another 9/11-like attack. I don’t want to alienate another generation of Muslims. And I can’t say it enough how horrible it is to feel compelled to come out and say this. I know that people will be unhappy.

"But when I balance this out – it started in my head, went through heart, and ended up in my gut – the risk not to do things like this is so great. The people I want to protect look lots of different ways. This is not a reaction of some right-wing Republican nut. This is a guy who saw his hometown bought to its knees, lost friends and neighbors, believes that this is the reality, the unwanted reality of the world we live in, that I wish we didn’t have.”

This was not the voice of a radical insensitive man. This was someone who was trying to protect his community, which included Sikhs and Muslims, who had weighed the benefits and harms of allowing racial profiling, and who concluded that it was worth the damage. This was difficult for me to hear precisely because it was so heartfelt and genuine.

On our way out, Councilmember Oddo pointed us to ANGEL'S CIRCLE (pictured below), a grassy island divider at an intersection that neighbors had turned into a memorial for community members who had died on 9/11. As we wandered through the memorial, the photographs and candles and angel statues, I thought about the pain in James Oddo, the pressure he felt to protect his community, his family. And what he was willing to risk.

Then I remembered the words of DEAN HAROLD KOH, who we interviewed the day before: It may be easy for people in power to risk the rights of OTHER people. But it is always wrong.

I am worried about the inclination for our leaders to sacrifice OTHER people’s rights in the name of a greater security. Especially when they do not attempt to understand the psychological and social violence this 'sacrifice' entails. And I am worried about how it frames entire groups of people as naturally suspect, encouraging people on the street to do their own 'profiling.'

Councilmember Oddo says that he is not supporting racial profiling. But I worry that removing safeguards that prevent the police from racial profiling leads to abuse of power. I say this as someone who has personally experienced abuse at the hands of NYPD officers. It is true that random security checks may not be incredibly effective. But neither is racial profiling. It is another way we choose to use FORCE, both at home and abroad, rather than address the root causes of terrorism.

At the same time, I am grateful for my meeting with James Oddo today. If we had never met, he would have never become human to me, and I would never have understood the terms of his worldview. Nor would I have ever understood how to SPEAK to him or the many people who agree with him. And if we are to make any progress in this deeply divided country, the first thing we have to learn is how to SPEAK to each other without yelling. Today I had my first lesson.
This concluded our New York adventure. We had to say goodbye to DALE SAINI, who came from Atlanta to be our production assistant in New York. Then we all boarded the vans and headed down to Washington, DC for the very last leg of film production

Support our endeavor.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

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About DNSI

The Discrimination & National Security Initiative (DNSI) is a research entity that examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of military action or national crisis.

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The Blog

Why a Blog?
The purpose of this web-log is to offer news and commentary in a fluid, dynamic format while our more substantive reports are forthcoming.

Recent Posts
Court orders UPS to pay Jersey City man for religi...
RCMP recruit wins support
Hard hat vs turban battle goes to hearing
EEOC and UNITED SIKHS Settle Lawsuit Against Secur...
'It was racial,' says attack vic
Groups say veil ban unlawful, unfairly targets Mus...
IRS Kirpan Case Heads to Federal Court
SALDEF and Pearson VUE Join Together To Increase D...
Bellerose man injured in hate attack
240,000 dollars awarded to man forced to cover Ara...

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Current Posts


Religious Diversity News-Pluralism Project

Into the Whirlwind
Human Rights in India
Ethnic Confusion Britain
Anil Kalhan
Sepia Mutiny

Feeds, etc.

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