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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.

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"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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"Muslim man sues Department of Homeland Security"

Akif Rahman, a Muslim man, is suing the Department of Homeland Security because he has allegedly been "searched and questioned four times while trying to re-enter the country from trips abroad, even though he had proper identification." In particular, "customs officials at a U.S. checkpoint in Windsor, Canada, last month held him for six hours and questioned him about the September 11th terrorist attacks."

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Rahman.

The complete article is available here.

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"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.


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Action Alert from United Sikhs on Right to Turban in France

United Sikhs issued a press release yesterday calling on concerned individuals to contact their U.S. Senators in an effort to "secure the support of the United States Senate to sign a letter to the French President expressing concern over the French ban on articles of faith in public schools and its impact on the Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities."

According to the media advisory, Senator Rick Santorum distributed a letter [.doc] to his Senate colleagues urging them to sign this letter.

United Sikhs offered the following instruction in its action alert: "Please state [to the Senator's office] that the French ban has resulted in Sikhs not being able to wear their turbans to schools. As a result of the French ban, Sikh students have been expelled from schools. The expelled students have started legal action against the French government. State that the turban is required by the Sikh faith and cannot be compromised."

"To find out more information about what United Sikhs is doing to fight the French ban on articles of faith, please visit: www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/" (capitalization removed).

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"Illinois governor signs hate crime bills"

The Washington Times is reporting that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed two new hate crimes laws.
  • The first "mak[es] housing discrimination against protected groups a civil rights violation. The law makes firing an employee who rents housing to a minority a violation. Using threats, coercion, intimidation or racial slurs to prevent someone from getting housing also is a hate crime."
  • "The second bill extends hate crime legislation to using electronic communication to harass someone because of his or her race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, sex or sexual orientation or physical or mental disability."

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Monday, June 27, 2005

"Burning Of Koran Investigated As Hate Crime"

A local news organization in Nashville, Tennessee is reporting that "someone burned the Koran, the holy book of the Islam, and left it at the door of the Islamic Center of Nashville Wednesday."

A police official stated,
“The community is rightfully outraged about it, and the police department takes it very seriously. We have specialized investigators who have responded to the scene to investigate this, and we will investigate it appropriately.”

For posts on a similar incident in Virginia, please click here and here.

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"Respect Difference"

According to the BBC, "police in Northern Ireland have joined in the wristband craze sweeping the nation in a bid to combat the problem of hate crime in the province."

The police are distributing "multi-coloured wristbands" to "school pupils from primary five to primary seven.... The message 'Respect Difference' is embossed on the band."

The police justified the idea and responded to criticism by saying "they hoped the scheme would help encourage children to respect everyone regardless of their 'creed, religion, race, colour or sexuality.'"

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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.


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Million Muslim March?

InsideBayArea.com is offering this piece on both the idea of the Million Muslim March and the splintered response from the public.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Comments Enabled

We have enabled comments to allow for readers to offer their own thoughts and opinions on the posted materials. We ask only that the comments be civil and respectful.

Generally, we will not respond to the comments themselves, however we have provided contact information on this blog for you to send us individual emails regarding the posts or the project itself.

With thanks,
DNSI

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Religious Intolerance Cited at Air Force Academy

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting [reg req'd] that Air Force investigators concluded that the "Air Force Academy has failed to accommodate minority religious beliefs and to set guidelines on acceptable forms of religious expression, but there is no overt religious discrimination on the Colorado campus."

In a previous post, we noted that Muslim cadets at the Academy alleged unequal treatment with respect to participating in religious exercises.

The report is available on the Air Force's Web site.

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"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?

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"Muslim woman sues after boss refuses to allow her head scarf"

Several news organizations are reporting that Danine Hammond, a Muslim woman, "is suing a Florida real estate company for religious discrimination after being told she could not wear a head scarf and long sleeves at work." Hammond was told, "You cannot work here dressed like that" and that "[e]mployees were required to wear a uniform - a short-sleeved shirt and pants - and could not wear head scarves."

"When Hammond refused to remove her head scarf and asked Sierra to check with a supervisor about accommodating her religious customs, Sierra told Hammond to go home."

At a news conference, Hammond said, ""I feel I have the right to work here in the U.S., and I shouldn't have to compromise my religion."

The complaint will be posted online when it is available.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Benefits of ID theft"

Ray Hanania offers this very interesting op-ed in an Israeli newspaper. Hanania reminds readers that identity theft is a major problem in "the United States, where nearly a quarter of Americans report their credit card information has been misused by strangers...."

To him, "identity theft would be a blessing. I’m an Arab American. The poor fool who steals my identity doesn’t know what he’s in for. Before the thief even knows what has happened, he’ll will find himself on the FBI’s 25 Most Wanted list. They’ll have trouble boarding planes. They’ll get pulled out of security lines for extra-special treatment more often than most others."

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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 .

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Muslim community divided in Lodi

Recently, two Pakistani-Americans from Lodi, California were arrested for lying to federal investigators about their involvement in terrorist training activities [see, previous posts]. Now, petitions are being circulated within the Lodi Muslim community regarding these two arrested Muslims.

Unfortunately, the petitions take opposite positions on the arrests, thus dividing the community into those who support and those who want to see the two Muslim men deported.

The article suggests that this situation reflects an ongoing rift within the Lodi Muslim community.

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"More U.S. Muslims aspiring to be lawyers"

Numerous news outlets across the nation are running an article on the suggestion that "More American Muslims are entering the legal profession."

"In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Muslims in America faced heightened scrutiny. Federal agencies began questioning and detaining Muslims. Some were deported. Many had a hard time boarding a plane. Others were too nervous to leave the country for fear they wouldn't be allowed to return."

A prospective Muslim-American lawyer noted, "Being Muslim in this country, with everything that happened, it just seemed like we needed Muslim lawyers and we needed to defend ourselves."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Japanese festival educates generations"

At the Santa Cruz Japanese Cultural Fair, Japanese-Americans discussed the WWII internment as well as the treatment that Arab-Americans and others have received after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Shig Tom Kizuka, a second-generation Japanese-American and "member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team" during WWII, joined the Army after the "harsh treatment" him and his family received after returning from the internment camps.

A third-generation Japanese-American researched her family's situation and noted, " "It was bad when they came back (from the camp).... Businesses wouldn’t sell to the Japanese. My uncle fished and hunted rabbit (to feed his family)."

Another attendee said, "Racist comments he’s heard about Arab-Americans have caused him to think about the similarities with treatment of the Japanese."

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"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."

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MTV Desi to Launch in July

The New York Times is reporting [reg req'd] that "MTV Desi, a new channel aimed at and named for second-generation immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, is expected to go on the air in late July."

According to the lengthy article, applicants for MTV Desi "thanked MTV for thinking of them as a demographic ready for a music-video channel all its own. 'It's so nice to be recognized,' said Tara Austin, a Sri Lankan-American from Los Angeles."

MTV will be launching MTV channels for Chinese-Americans and Korean Americans; "MTV Desi will serve as the prototype."

"MTV World's premise for these new channels was commonsensical: that young bicultural Americans have tastes different from those of youths in their ethnic homelands and therefore need, as it were, a customized MTV."

[Thanks to ContentSutra]

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Monday, June 20, 2005

"ACLU and United Airlines Announce Settlement of Case on Behalf of Plaintiffs Assem Bayaa and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee"

"The American Civil Liberties Union and United Airlines announced today that they have reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Assem Bayaa [an Arab-American] and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), charging that the airline discriminated against Bayaa by removing him from a flight," according to an ACLU press release.

"While United disputes Bayaa’s and ADC’s allegations, the parties agree that settlement of this claim is in the best interest of all. "

The suit stems from an incident in which Bayaa and the ADC claim that Bayaa was ejected from his flight solely on the basis of his race or national origin. The alleged incident took place after 9/11. The complaint is available online: Bayaa v. United Airlines, Inc.

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"Muslim cadets allege unequal treatment"

According to the Rocky Mountain News, "Muslim cadets at the Air Force Academy were prevented from attending mosque services last semester because of school obligations, while similar duties were scheduled to avoid conflict with Jewish and Christian services, a Muslim student says...."

The article also mentions that, " [A] 'sanction committee' of staff and faculty approved the Muslim students' request, but then attached so many restrictions that it effectively blocked the cadets from attending services...."

"Jewish cadets.... told [Muslim cadets] that a sanction committee had excused Jewish cadets from some Saturday military training so they could attend synagogue."

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"Muslim student's rights violated"

The Attorney General for the state of New Jersey said that "Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck violated the civil rights of a Muslim nursing student by ordering her to remove a religious head covering during nursing rounds at" a local hospital.

"University officials told the student - identified in legal documents as Debra Mason of Jersey City - that her head covering violated a school policy requiring nursing students to wear uniforms during clinical rounds."

"Mason went without the head covering on two occasions before complaining to a nursing school professor that she felt uncomfortable not wearing it."

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"Oberto Sausage settles bias suit with Muslim employees"

The Seattle Times is reporting that "Oberto Sausage settled a discrimination complaint brought by six Somali Muslim women who said their employer refused to accommodate their religious practices."

The suit alleged that Oberto discriminated against them by refusing to allow the workers "to take an evening prayer break during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The women were fired when they walked off the assembly line anyway."

"[The] company agreed to pay $362,000 and change its policies regarding religious accommodation."

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Washington Post: Burned Korans Found Outside Mosque

The Washington Post has investigated an incident in which "partially burned copies of the Koran had been left in a shopping bag by the center's front door" [see previous post]. The Islamic Center of Blacksburg is the mosque in question.

A member of the police was reported as saying, "We are taking it very seriously and are looking at all possibilities," including whether this amounts to a hate crime. In addition to the involvement of the local police department, "The FBI's Roanoke office is assessing the situation."

Representative of Islamic advocacy groups are adamant that this incident was motivated by hate:

Laila Al-Qatami, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said "she found the Koran incident... 'shocking' and urged police and the FBI to determine whether it was motivated by hate." Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said "It's hard to see a scenario where it would not be bias-related."

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Possible Hate Crime Investigated in Virginia"

WTOP News, which covers the Washington, DC metropolitan area, is reporting on a possible hate crime in Virginia. WTOP's web site indicates that "members of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg arrived at the mosque to say their prayers Thursday morning, they found burned copies of the Koran in a shopping bag by the front door."

The story also notes that the local police department is unsure whether this is a hate crime ("investigators must be able to show the vandalism of the Koran prayer books was meant to intimidate or harass, but right now they don't have any leads on who burned the religious books.") although a member of the mosque begs to differ ("I think [the police] are fairly certain that ripping and burning pages from the Bible or the Torah would be considered at hate crime").

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"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:

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.

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."

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.

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Better Late Than Never...

In an article on a high school graduation ceremony in California, the Santa Maria Times reports that an "alumni attended the ceremony - to pick up the diploma he never received as a member of the class of 1945. Tetsuo Furukawa was one of the many Japanese-Americans held during the Japanese internment camps of World War II. In his red gown, Furukawa took his diploma and turned his tassel with the rest of the grads." Another local California news oulet contains a similar story regarding other interned Japanese-Americans who are only now receiving their high school diplomas.

As an aside, the Senate's decision to apologize for the lynching of African-Americans and others has prompted many news organizations to remind readers that the Senate formally apologized in 1988 for the internment of those of Japanese ancestry.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"What's in a Name?"

The Dominion, "Canada's Grassroots Newspaper", is featuring a story on a documentary film called "Being Osama." The article describes the film as "a close observation of the Arab-Canadian community in the aftermath of 9/11, told by six of its members who share the name 'Osama'."

The film's director, Mahmoud Kaabour, explains the origins of the idea for the documentary:

Months after 9/11 I was working at video store in Montreal, where my Italian boss not so politely asked me to change my name to Moe. His argument was that an Arabic name was not the best way to charm clientele during that period.... [I later] wonder[ed] how much more awful it must be to be called "Osama"....

Each [selected Osama] challenged an Arab stereotype in a way or another, and the juxtaposition of their realities next to each other seemed to be a good way to challenge the idea of a monolithic Arab experience.


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"Seattle FBI gets advice on Muslims"

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting that the FBI obtained an important training session in cultural sensitivity from a Muslim man, Jafar "Jeff" Siddiqi, at the agency's Seattle headquarters.

Siddiqi dispelled certain myths about Muslims and provided the agents with helpful guidance. His advice included:
  • "There is no single profile or Muslim personality.... Islam is very diverse. The practice of Islam in Malaysia is completely different from the practice of Islam in Saudi Arabia."
  • "Do not disrespect the holy book (Quran). Do not be too friendly to the women. Do not go into holy places (mosques) wearing shoes."
  • "The common man in Islam is no different than the common man here. The common man cannot bring terrorists to justice."
The session's goal was to "build a bridge between the law enforcement agency" and Muslims. A special agent attending the Q&A noted, "He was able to teach us about Islam.... Hopefully, I'll go out and teach people what the FBI is all about."

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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....

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.
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."

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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....

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.
[Thanks to the Volokh Conspiracy]

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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.

[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.

REMINDER: The series premiere of "30 Days" is tomorrow, June 15, 2005!

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"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.


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Sikh Youth Hoax -- In India as well

Sify.com is reporting on a story that is all too familiar for members of the Sikh community in North America: a Sikh youth fabricating his abduction or attack in an effort to explain why his hair has been cut.

This time, the incident involves Sukhwinder Singh, who said that he was kidnapped on June 11, and had his hair cut by his kidnappers.

A police official, however, noted that Singh "left the house on his own will and went to Jalandhar where he got haircut from a barber shop." In other words, "Singh actually wanted to have a haircut against the wishes of his parents."

Apparently this is not a problem that is confined to Sikhs in North America; Sikh youth even in India are having trouble communicating with their parents and coping with their religious identity.

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"Sikhs in the City"

Fauja Singh, a 94 year-old Sikh, completed the Edinburgh Marathon along with his non-resident Indian team, Sikhs in the City.

Singh said, "I am extremely honoured to have been invited to start this year's Edinburgh Marathon. By running as the oldest ever marathon relay team, I hope we will inspire young people to keep going and older people never to give up."

Singh gained international attention when he was featured by Adidas in its "Impossible is Nothing" campaign.

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Sikh Turbans -- Easy case in Employment Discrimination?

Professor Richard Thompson Ford of Stanford Law School has this jurisprudence essay online today at Slate in which he discusses the religious freedom of employees in the workplace. He concludes:
Shouldn't employers allow largely symbolic forms of religious expression, like Sikh turbans, and grant reasonable requests to accommodate religious observances, like an observant Jew's appeal to work on Sundays rather than Saturdays? Yes, which is why anti-discrimination law already requires employers to do so when the associated cost is relatively small. [The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2005] would make it easier for employees to demand scheduling changes and dress-code exemptions. But it would also make it easier for them to press the more troubling sorts of claims.

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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.

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"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."

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"Dearborn man sues MDOT over Muslim harassment claims"

The Detroit News, among others, is reporting that Mohammad Sani, a former employee of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), has filed suit againtst MDOT, "alleging he was subjected to verbal harassment about his Muslim faith."

Specifically, the suit claims that Sani was "repeatedly was subjected to verbal abuse, including assertions that he knew of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but failed to notify his co-workers. "

"Amid the harassment... rumors spread in his MDOT workplace in Detroit that he was a terrorist and he was approached by workers and asked if it was true. "

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"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.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Two Pakistani-Americans Arrested in Terror Case

As has been widely reported, a father and son, both Pakistani-Americans, were arrested "on charges that they lied to federal agents about undergoing terror training in Pakistan." According to the Washington Times, this case "highlight[s] the threat posed by 'second generation' Islamic militants."

The thought that Muslims in America are plotting against the United States is surely distressing to average citizens, and one can perhaps expect, unfortunately, a higher level of suspicion to accompany many Muslims as a result.


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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.)

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Hindus and Sikhs Protesting France's Olympic Bid

ExpressIndia contains an article on the objections of Hindu organizations "a French manufacturer's refusal to remove a deity from its designer shoes." Specifically, "French manufacturer Minelli refused to respond to requests for withdrawal of the sale of designer shoes with images of Lord Rama." Among other things, these Hindu organizations are protesting against France's bid for the 2012 Olympic games, and are instructing sympathetic listeners to stop flying Air France.

These Hindus join Sikhs who are upset at France for instituting a ban on articles of faith, including turbans, in public schools.

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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.


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"No charges for Sikh teen who lied about attack"

According to the Globe and Mail, "The 17-year-old Sikh who fabricated a story that he was attacked by five Caucasian men won't be charged." Instead, the article notes that "the young man will meet with his parents, the RCMP and Sikh community members to talk about the problem and possible punishments within the restorative justice program."

Aside from a discussion of charges and the boy's actual punishment, the article also comments on the reaction from the Sikh community to the entire incident:
The allegations set off a firestorm in the Sikh community, first with leaders demanding justice, and then insisting the teenager face charges for embarrassing his community.... A Sikh community leader [said,] "He should have the courage to speak to his parents and not put this community on the spot..... He should apologize, and he should get some help, but he needs some punishment to learn a lesson. He put everyone through hell."

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"Plaza Hotel 9/11 backlash lawsuit settled"

Newsday is reporting that "A lawsuit alleging that the Plaza Hotel harassed Muslim and Arab-American employees after the 2001 terrorist attacks has been settled with the hotel's management agreeing pay $525,000 to a dozen workers and to offer additional anti-discrimination training to its staff."

"The lawsuit alleged that managers at the Plaza called Arab-American employees terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks, referring to them as 'Osama' or 'dumb Muslim.'"

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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.


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"Muslim Prayer Hall Burned to Ground in California"

Yahoo! is reporting that a "prayer hall, located at an Islamic cemetery in Adelanto, Calif., was burned to the ground" on June 3, 2005. "The same cemetery had been targeted by vandals in 2003."

As a result, "The Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today called on the FBI to investigate a fire at a Muslim prayer hall in that state as a possible hate crime."

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"Jobs scarce in Canada for skilled foreigners"

This article, appearing in Indian Express, mentions Gian S. Sangha, an immigrant Sikh who has a "doctorate from Germany, two published books and university teaching experience in the United States", but was unable to find suitable employment.

In fact, he "wanted to work so badly, he cut his hair and removed his turban when interviewing, even though it compromised his Sikh beliefs."

Sangha noted, "It’s a painful life.... I’m angry and frustrated. I never thought it would be like this in Canada.”

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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.

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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.

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"Bipartisan Hate Crime Legislation Introduced in House of Representatives"

civilrights.org is reporting that "A bipartisan group of legislators, led by Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., introduced hate crimes legislation adding protections for victims of gender, sexual orientation, and disability bias crimes last week."

The article also added, "A report compiled by the FBI documents 7,489 hate crime incidents in 2003. Law enforcement agencies identified 9,100 hate crimes victims. "

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PBS Special: "Sikh Saint-Soldier"

The Religion & Ethics Newsweekly (PBS) is featuring an informative video and write-up on the origins of the Sikh faith, central tenets in Sikhism, and the religion's traditions.

The article notes, "Being a Sikh is immensely spiritually uplifting. At the same time, it is also a challenge because you stand out in a crowd. But my faith helps me sustain, on a day-to-day basis, living a life of spiritual and physical discipline."

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Sikh Youth Lied About Having Hair Cut by Attackers

Several news outlets are reporting that a Sikh teen in Canada lied about being attacked by a group of Caucasian men and having his hair cut off by these attackers. We reported previously that there was a possibility that the teen lied; those reports have now been confirmed:
Analysis to follow....

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"First Muslim Women Climb Mt. Everest"

Ms Magazine is reporting that "Laleh Kashavarz and Farkhondeh Sadegh became the first Muslim women to climb Mount Everest earlier this week." Aside from being the first Muslim women to complete this amazing task, they were also " the 101st and 102nd women [overall] to complete the mountain."

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Political Milestone for South Asians

The Christian Science Monitor offers this profile of Mohammed Afzal Khan, dubbed "the first Asian mayor of Manchester, England."


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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....

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CAIR Launches Volunteer Initiative

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has launched "Muslims Care", an initiative "designed to promote volunteerism in the American Muslim community." The program "offers Muslims the resources and information they need to help improve the communities in which they live."

According to Rabiah Ahmed, CAIR's Communications Coordinator , "We believe this important effort will not only help those served by the volunteers, but will demonstrate in a concrete manner that American Muslims care about and want to improve their local communities."

A press release on the initiative is available here.

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"Flap Over Muslim Firefighter's Beard"

Philadelphia's ABC affiliate is reporting that "A Phliadelphia judge says a Muslim firefighter who refuses to shave his beard on religious grounds should keep his job for now while his legal case unfolds." The judge issued the temporary injunction on Monday.

The firefighter, Curtis De Veaux, "has been a practicing Muslim for about five years. He agreed to shave when he joined the department two years ago. But he says as his faith deepened, he decided he was no longer willing to compromise the point. "

De Veaux stated, "My duty to follow my beliefs outweighs my duty to the fire department."

De Veaux is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and is suing under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act (PRFPA). An additional press report indicates that this case marks the first legal challenge invoking the PRFPA.

UPDATE: ABC has picked up the story. Here is their report.

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Muslim Mayoral Candidate Courts Minority Votes

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder offers this profile of Farheen Hakeem, a Muslim woman who is running for mayor of Minneapolis. The article notes that Hakeem values the "Black vote" and "is quite passionate about fighting institutional racism." According to Hakeem, institutional racism
is completely linked to poverty, and the other problems that exist in our city right now — unemployment, underemployment, etc. I’m really passionate about it, because not only have I had to fight that for myself, but I’ve also had to fight that at the grassroots level, in many communities.
For more information on Hakeem’s campaign, visit www.hakeemformayor.org.

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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."

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sikh Youth's Hair Cut off in Possible Hate Crime

According to CBC:

Richmond RCMP are investigating the attack on an Indo-Canadian teen as a possible hate crime.

The 17-year-old boy was walking through a field at Grauer Elementary School last Thursday afternoon when he was attacked by five men in their twenties.

It started when one of the men made a racial slur. The teen ignored the taunt and walked away, but the suspects ran after him, punching him several times in the head before knocking him to the ground.

The victim told police the attackers held a small knife to his neck and his wallet was stolen. Then one of the suspects grabbed the victim's turban and cut his hair off.
The complete article is available here. Other news reports on the alleged incident include:

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"Southern Baptist Pastor Apologizes for Anti-Muslim Sign"

Beliefnet.com is reporting that "A Southern Baptist pastor apologized for posting an anti-Muslim sign at his church in North Carolina, following criticism by leaders in the Muslim-American community."

The sign in question read: "The Koran needs to be flushed."

The pastor said in a statement, "I apologize for posting that message and deeply regret that it has offended so many in the Muslim community."

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Wisconsin Prisons to Change Religious Headwear Policy

Before the holiday weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Wisconsin State "Department of Corrections will change its policy to allow visitors to Wisconsin prisons to wear religious headwear."

The change in policy occurred just one day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Cynthia Rhouni. The suit alleged that "the department and two male prison guards... forc[ed] her to remove her scarf, or hijab, before a prison visit." Rhouni noted of the incident, "I just felt totally naked. I was really, really hurt."

According to a state official, a ban on hat and headwear was instituted for safety reasons.

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