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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Australia: Police hunt turban bandits

SYDNEY police have circulated CCTV images of a Sikh having a turban ripped from his head while travelling on a public bus after he complained officers did not take the incident seriously.

Inderjeet Singh Dhaliwal said he was distraught when two young men stole his turban - of great religious significance for Sikhs - at Seven Hills as he travelled to work.

The men, who had possibly been drinking, ran off the bus, leaving an embarrassed Mr Dhaliwal to cover his head with a piece of cloth while another passenger laughed.

Mr Dhaliwal reported the attack immediately, but said police did not comprehend the religious significance of the turban or how traumatised he was.

"They said: 'It is not an assault - it is a minor theft,''' he said. "They asked how much the turban was worth.

"I was so disheartened when they talked to me.''

He said police had only taken the March 31 incident seriously after community groups raised the matter with his local MP, Nathan Rees, who in turn wrote to the minister.

Police had subsequently asked him to make a formal statement. "They said they had upgraded it from a theft to an assault or a race hate crime,'' Mr Dhaliwal said.

Police told him CCTV footage was being circulated in a bid to identify the young men.

However, the quality of the footage from the bus-mounted cameras - introduced to stop such attacks - is poor and has so far yielded little.

Mr Dhaliwal said he had also received a letter from Ministry for Police director general Les Tree, assuring him the matter was receiving attention. [Link]

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Joliet officer cleared of abuse claims

A Joliet police officer has been cleared of accusations he abused a local man.

Officer Ben Grant, who was accused of beating and using racial epithets toward a Sikh he was arresting, has been cleared by a police investigation.

Grant, who has been on the force for 18 months, was the subject of an internal 60-day investigation after the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund made complaints on behalf of Kuldip S. Nag.

Around 3 p.m. March 30, Grant was at Nag's residence, 3574 Buck Ave., after police received "an anonymous citizen complaint" about an inoperable vehicle parked in the driveway, which is against city ordinance.

"I put a (tow notice) tag on the car and was approached by Vera Nag. While I was talking to her, her husband came out and became angry a police officer was on his property," Grant said.

"He kept telling me I should get off of his property. I kept telling him his vehicle was violating an ordinance and he could be arrested for interfering with me," Grant said.

Nag reportedly pushed Grant, who responded by using his pepper spray on him.

"I kept telling him to put his hands behind his back. He was under arrest," Grant said. "He kept wrestling with me (as I handcuffed him)."

The defense fund said Grant used "his baton and violently struck Mr. Nag numerous times until he fell to the ground. While the assault ensued, the officer was ... saying, 'You (expletive) Arab! You (expletive) immigrant, go back to your (expletive) country before I kill you.'"

"I did not say any of those things," Grant said.

Police say three witnesses support Grant's claims.

"During our investigation into this incident, we interviewed neighbors and learned three of them saw and overheard the arrest," said Chief Fred Hayes.

"All of them supported Officer Grant's report completely and said the allegations in (Nag's) complaint were a mischaracterization of the events."

"We looked at the evidence and saw an officer using an appropriate amount of force, the minimum amount of force and keeping himself under control," Hayes said.

Nag was arrested on charges of aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting a police officer. As he was being booked at the police station, Nag complained of pain and was taken to Silver Cross Hospital.

Nag was hospitalized for five days with complaints of intense pain and head trauma, according to the defense fund. After leaving the hospital April 3, he was booked into the county jail and released on bond the following day....

Rajbir Singh Datta, a spokesman for the defense fund, said he was not surprised to learn the investigation had exonerated Grant.

"I wasn't expecting an internal investigation to go against the officer," he said.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

U.S. Muslims face threats to freedom and personal safety

Muslims in America are now battling for religious freedom and personal safety on two fronts: prejudice from without and extremism from within.

How well they - and we - address both challenges will shape the contours of freedom and security for all Americans in the difficult years ahead....

[C]onsider the story of Osama Al-Naijar, as reported by Reuters this month. According to a legal complaint filed by his family, Osama suffered years of harassment from teachers and students at his New York City school - apparently triggered by his name and religion.

Things got so bad that last summer, 15-year-old Osama attempted suicide. In December he legally changed his name to “Sammy,” hoping to avert more abuse.

Although the severity of Osama’s plight may be rare among Muslim students in America, it illustrates the dangers of rising Islamophobia - defined as a blanket condemnation of Islam that paints all Muslims as potential terrorists....

Whenever radicals use Islam to justify violence, all Muslim Americans are affected by the fallout. To cite the most recent example, last month’s arrest of six New Jersey men for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix led to at least one attack on a Muslim woman, a bomb threat against the mosque where the men had prayed, and other incidents that spread fear in the local Muslim population.

This is a vicious cycle: Terrorist plots in the name of Islam fuel Islamophobia which, in turn, alienates young Muslims and makes them more susceptible to radical ideologies. [Link]

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Routine border check or racial profiling?

Milgo Noor had an appointment at 3:30 p.m. this past Sunday to look at bridesmaid dresses in a Buffalo bridal shop. She never arrived.

When the young bride-to-be tried crossing the border with her three bridesmaids – two sisters and a cousin – the women were detained for more than eight hours and two of them were escorted back into Canada in handcuffs.

"I'm not a terrorist. I didn't have grenades strapped on my stomach," Noor told the Star. "I'm just an ordinary citizen going shopping."

Shortly after Noor, 26, showed her citizenship to a U.S. border guard at the Peace Bridge, more than a dozen customs officers "charged" at her vehicle, starting an ordeal that she said stripped her of her dignity.

All four women are Canadian citizens. The family arrived in Alberta from Somalia 17 years ago and Noor has lived in Toronto for the past five years. The women have all crossed the border before without incident. This time they drove a rented vehicle. All the women are practising Muslims, but none wear the hijab.

For three of the eight hours, Noor and her eldest sister Rukia, 32, were held in solitary holding cells. After asking repeatedly why they had been detained, they were laughed at by U.S. border officials. "You have no rights here," they were told. "You came to us."

Their rooms had a chair bolted to the floor, a wall-mounted surveillance camera and an alarm that sounded every 30 minutes. They were searched by border officials wearing gloves, the women said, as well as being fingerprinted and photographed.

"It's one of those bizarre things that you never think is going to happen to you," Noor said.

They were told it was a random inspection, she said.

Noor said they were held without food or water. Only when Rukia, who is anemic, asked for something to raise her blood-sugar level was she given a Kit-Kat chocolate bar. They sat while border officials ate pizza in front of them. "We asked for water and no one would even look at us. They told us to `Shut up and sit down,'" Noor said.

After eight hours, the four women were told they were being "denied access to U.S. soil." Noor and Rukia were then handcuffed and driven to the Canadian side of the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Kevin Corsaro confirmed that Noor was stopped and turned back at the border. But he said he couldn't discuss details of specific cases. He did say the agency does not engage in racial profiling.

Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said the incident does not surprise him. He says his organization receives about five complaints per week from Canadian Muslims who feel they have been treated unfairly at a U.S. entry point.

"They're brown and they have a Muslim name. There's two strikes against them," Elmasry said, adding that had the women been wearing the hijab it would have been three.

His organization advises Canadian Muslims to avoid travelling to the United States, and issues alerts before the annual Hajj pilgrimage urging Muslims to ensure their flights do not have U.S. stopovers.

On May 5, prominent Muslim scholar Munir El-Kassem was detained during a stopover in Detroit on his way to lecture at a multi-faith conference in Milwaukee.

El-Kassem, a professor and chaplain at the University of Western Ontario, said he was detained for four hours, was asked by U.S. officials if he had ever met Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, photographed and fingerprinted.

He missed his flight and arrived too late to deliver his lecture.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay met with El-Kassem to discuss Muslim profiling by U.S. border officials. An email to Elmasry from El-Kassem, who couldn't be reached, said MacKay asked "for specific cases of border abuse to strengthen his case with the Americans."

"Peter MacKay should have said one case is too many," Elmasry said.

When Noor was dumped back at the Canadian border, she said she complained to border officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. She said an officer told her this type of thing "happens all the time" and she should research what to do on the Internet.

Noor said her family plans to hire a lawyer. [Link]

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Manmohan Singh's daughter speaks out for Sikh Americans

Sikh Americans have found a supporter in high-profile Amrit Singh, daughter of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a New York-based lawyer herself, who has sharply criticised the Bush administration's alleged abuse of power and said that violent measures have resulted in some Americans feeling it is okay to racially profile South Asians, Sikh Americans and Arab Americans, whom they perceive as terrorist threats.
She termed the unprecedented rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against South Asians, including Sikh Americans, as "a huge problem," and noted that like most Asian Americans "there is a lot of fear about reporting," these incidents.

Amrit, PM Manmohan Singh's youngest daughter, is a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants Rights Project and one of the US's leading civil rights advocates.

In an interview with India Abroad news agency, later published in many Indian dailies, Amrit said these are largely law-abiding communities.

She said the US forces were resorting to techniques which were a case of stereotypes being resorted to in the absence of any concrete information to rely on. "The result is a massive sort of infringement of the victims' rights."

She said there was a connection "between the kinds of contact that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan and the kind of stereotyping that goes on within the United States with respect to people who are of a certain colour and background." [Link]

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Commemorating shame

George and Kim Semba were teenagers when they were hauled from their Washington state homes in 1942 and interned in the Idaho desert for their bloodlines, their last names, the shapes of their eyes.

Carried by trains, windows draped so passengers couldn't see where they were going, more than 10,000 Japanese Americans like the Sembas were trapped behind barbed wire during World War II at what became known as the Hunt Camp - a concentration camp in all but name.

After the war, the camp fell apart, returned to dust and sagebrush, and little was said about it. That's changing. The site became a historical monument by executive order in 2001. Since 2002, plans have been in the making to rebuild a portion of the camp, now called the Minidoka Internment National Monument, to its original condition.

Local historians, residents, even several American presidents say reconstructing the site is essential to remembering, to ensuring a place like the Hunt Camp never again exists on American soil. But not everyone agrees - including the Sembas, who were surprised to learn that several Idaho lawmakers introduced this spring a bill in Washington, D.C., to expand the camp.

For some of us, learning from history means looking it in the face. For others, the pain simply cuts too deep to revisit our pasts.

"I just want to forget about that place," said Kim Semba. Now, she returns to the site only to show curious friends the place she suffered so much misery. She never enjoys the visits - trips that spark painful memories of cramped living conditions, armed guards, white Idaho children on the other side of the barbed wire who hollered "Jap" whenever Kim came near.

A push to remember

Others insist on commemorating the site. The National Park Service, which now manages the camp, wants to nearly double the size of the monument and either move or reconstruct original buildings on the property. The NPS hosted 28 public meetings about the expansion since 2005, said monument superintendent Neil King, and most of the feedback has been positive. Even from former internees, many of whom flock to the site each year for an annual pilgrimage.

In March, Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson introduced legislation to expand the monument to include Bainbridge Island, Wash., where the first Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to internment camps such as Hunt Camp.

Earlier this month, the College of Southern Idaho hosted a civil rights symposium centered on the memorial's history. And most recently, the memorial was named one of America's most endangered historic places - because of a proposed animal feedlot nearby - by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in an effort to boost interest in the camp.

However painful, it's necessary to acknowledge history, said Russ Tremayne, a professor of history at the College of Southern Idaho.

"The monument is like a cemetery," he said. "It's historically significant." And despite the Sembas' reluctance to embrace the camp, "these are their stories," Tremayne said. "This is something that they've buried. But history doesn't get buried. Historians might, but history never does."

A push to forget

So why all the attention now, after the camp sat unnoticed for decades, crumbling back into dust?

"If you look at the dark, ugly depths of our history, those take a long time to come out," King said. "We're just now sort of bringing it out of the closet."

The Sembas would prefer that door stay closed. Rebuilding the camp will do little to quell racism, they said; it may even incite it. George and Kim, now both in their 80s, have lived a lifetime and are yet to understand why they were treated so poorly - why they're sometimes still treated poorly.

"We were American citizens," George said. "We'd never even been to Japan."

George's former high school buddies stopped talking to him after Pearl Harbor. Just one friend ever bothered to send him a letter after the war. After being released from the camp with only the clothes on their backs, the Sembas were migrant laborers, making less than a dollar an hour stooping in Idaho farm fields. They saved their money, and eventually bought a farm south of Twin Falls where they worked until they retired to town several years ago.

Even now, after so many years, the Sembas said racism is still palpable. "There are some people that understand," George said. "But there are still people who are sometimes mean to us."

Perhaps it's to shield themselves from a lifetime of discrimination that the Sembas now shy away from the Hunt Camp. They're tired of talking to reporters about it. Tired of taking visiting friends to the site. Tired of thinking about a time and place that defined their lives, perhaps for the worse.

"That place is terrible," said Kim. "There's nothing there for anyone." [Link]


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reuters: EEOC sues Merrill over alleged discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Merrill Lynch over the alleged discrimination of a former employee because of his Iranian origin and Muslim faith, according to a court filing on Tuesday.

Merrill Lynch discriminated against Majid Borumand by failing to promote him and terminating him because of his national origin and faith, the commission alleged in its complaint, filed in the U.S. federal court in Manhattan.

Borumand, who was a quantitative analyst at Merrill, was subject to a number of remarks that reflected animosity toward his origin and faith, the complaint alleged.

Borumand was told "the reason that you are not allowed on the trading floor is because you are from a country which has a high risk factor and a threat," according to the complaint. [Link]

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Charges Filed in Assault against Muslim

An Islamic civil liberties group called for a man to be charged with a federal civil rights crime for assaulting a St. Cloud man who is Muslim....

Phillip Joseph Massa, 33, was charged Monday in Stearns County court with obstructing the legal process and fourth-degree gross misdemeanor assault motivated by bias. Federal charges could still be filed, but Assistant Stearns County Attorney Shan Wang said he had not heard if that would happen.

Massa and another man approached a 26-year-old man Saturday afternoon and Massa accused him of being a Muslim terrorist, according to court documents. Massa threatened to kill the victim and then shoved him and elbowed him in the side of the head, causing the victim's glasses to fall off.

The man with Massa tried to stop him and the two ran away.

The victim was leaving a prayer mosque in the 600 block of Seventh Avenue South at the time of the attack. Wang said Massa and the victim did not know each other.

When police arrested Massa, he refused to walk, according to court documents. Massa broke free from officers and tried to hit them. Massa was subdued once officers threatened him with a Taser. [Link]

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Turkey: Headscarved students refused entry to national exam

The refusal by officials to admit female students wearing the Muslim headscarf into an examination for Turkey’s distance-learning schools garnered mixed responses, but mostly anger.

Headscarved students who were not allowed to sit the national Open Learning High Schools examinations in Manisa wait outside the exam building.
Many headscarved students were blocked by officials acting on a notice from the Education Ministry from entering exam rooms in schools across the country on Saturday for the national Open Learning High Schools, a state distance-education program, according to the version of the story published in conservative dailies Vakit and Milli Gazete.

The distance-learning programs, where classes are broadcast on state TV and radio channel TRT 4, offer girls who cannot go to regular state schools because of the headscarf ban the opportunity to get an education in the comfort of their own homes and alleviate the consequences of state-sponsored discrimination and social exclusion.

However, the mainstream Milliyet newspaper wrote that the Education Ministry had not sent orders to all schools, causing some schools to let in girls with headscarves to take the test, while others were forced to remove them at the door. Milliyet accused the Education Ministry of purposefully making it easier for headscarved students to take the test, despite a ruling from the Council of State stipulating that this is a violation of the law. [Link]

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

UK: Sikh regiment dumped over 'racism' fears

Defence chiefs have abandoned plans to raise a regiment of British Sikhs amid fears that the move would be branded racist.

The proposal to create the regiment, reminiscent of those that fought for Britain in the two world wars, was dropped by the Ministry of Defence after discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

Sikh leaders had informed Army recruitment officers that they could easily find enough volunteers to form a 700-strong regiment. However, despite the infantry being under strength by 3,000 soldiers, the offer was rejected.

Lieutenant General Sir Freddie Viggers, the Adjutant General with responsibility for recruitment, is understood to have accepted the argument put forward by race commissioners at the CRE that creating a Sikh regiment would be divisive and amounted to "segregation"....

Kuljit Singh Gulati, the general secretary of the Sikh Temple in Shepherd's Bush, west London, said: "The Sikhs have a long and distinguished heritage of serving with the British Army.

"I know there are many, many Sikhs who would join up and would serve wherever required. But if you want to get them in large numbers they need their own regiment, something they would take a huge amount of pride in.

"They would regard it as very prestigious. It is a shame that it now looks as though it will never happen."

Leaders of Britain's 500,000 Sikhs were supportive of the idea of a new regiment.... [Link]

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For Sikhs, reaching out is no easy task

Members of a local Sikh temple -- the women in vibrant tunics and some of the men in turbans -- had spread across the square last weekend to give away soft drinks and water to passersby and carloads of people stuck in construction traffic.

The responses ranged from a quick "No, thanks" to a skeptical "Nothing's free," and, most frequently, a curious "Free? But why?"

The drinks are distributed to commemorate the death of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, a Sikh spiritual teacher from the 17th century, said Satvir Kaur, who teaches Punjabi classes at the Sikh Sangat Society Boston temple in Somerville. "It's also a way to give back to the community and to raise awareness about the Sikh faith," she said.

Sikhs have been reaching out to Greater Boston for several years. But the puzzled reactions last weekend showed that many of their neighbors are still not acquainted with the religion....

Last year, the Sikh community gave away 10,000 drinks in the Haymarket area, Kaur said. This year, at the less-congested Union Square location, they filled the back of a U-Haul van with 5,000 cans of soda, bottles of water, and jars of mango juice, chilled in enormous tubs of ice....

The Sikh community has had a presence in Boston since the 1960s, said Diana Eck, a professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University. But public perceptions took a downward turn after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"There were a lot of images of [Osama] bin Laden on television, and people were confusing Sikhs as linked with Al Qaeda," said Harpreet Singh, a 32-year-old graduate student at Harvard University.

Turban-wearing Sikhs were physically attacked, prohibited from boarding planes and trains, or taunted and insulted. On Sept. 12, 2001, a member of the Sikh temple in Milford was removed from a train because he was wearing a turban and misidentified as a possible terrorist.

Sikhs are still frequent targets for hate crimes and discriminatory remarks. The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy and outreach group, registers several violent attacks against Sikhs every month in its online database. According to Singh, it is "almost a given" that when he is out in public, someone will call him "Osama bin Laden," despite the fact that bin Laden is a Muslim.

In a study released by Cambridge-based Discrimination and National Security Initiative in 2006, 83 percent of Sikh respondents said that "they or someone they knew personally had experienced a hate crime or incident after 9/11."

Another 64 percent of Sikh respondents said that they were fearful for their physical safety after 9/11, compared with 15 percent of Indian Hindu respondents and 41 percent of Pakistani Muslim respondents.

Muslim women who wear head scarves and Sikh men who wear turbans directly experience "what it means to be a visible minority in America," Eck said.

"There is a sense in the community that one's visible difference can make you a target, but the Sikh response has been one of outreach, with campaigns to let people know more who Sikhs are," Eck said. "Part of what we're seeing with the distribution of drinks is a continuation of that effort."

While Sikhism is a distinct religion from Islam, Eck added, "Sikhs are very sensitive to the fact that saying they are not Muslim does not mean it's OK to discriminate against people who are Muslim." [Link]

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

WaPo: Cast of Villains: 'Reel Bad Arabs' Takes on Hollywood Stereotyping

A full house has turned out at the Directors Guild of America for the L.A. premiere of the new documentary "Reel Bad Arabs," which makes the case that Hollywood is obsessed with "the three Bs" -- belly dancers, billionaire sheiks and bombers -- in a largely unchallenged vilification of Middle Easterners here and abroad.

"In every movie they make, every time an Arab utters the word Allah? Something blows up," says Eyad Zahra, a young filmmaker who organized the screening this week with the support of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The documentary highlights the admittedly obsessive lifework of Jack Shaheen, a retired professor from Southern Illinois University, the son of Lebanese Christian immigrants and the author of "TV Arabs," "Reel Bad Arabs" and the upcoming "Guilty? Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11."

In his tireless quest for evidence -- any evidence-- of Arab stereotyping, Shaheen has viewed (and reviewed in his books) thousands of movies and TV shows. What he has found, the 71-year-old academic says, are the most maligned people on the silver screen. It is a diss that dates back to the earliest days of cinema and continues today with popular television shows such as "Sleeper Cell" and "24," which Shaheen calls the worst of smears, "because it portrays American Arabs as the enemy within, like, 'Look at the terrorist -- hey, he's my next-door neighbor!' "

In the documentary, Shaheen shows dozens of film clips to illustrate his point. Arab women? Hip-swiveling eye candy of the oasis or "bundles in black." If Arab men are not presented as buffoons, or smarmy carpet-dealers, or decadent sheiks (and oh, how the oily sultans are smitten with the blond Western womens!), then they are basically your bug-eyed hijacker-bomber....

In an interview before the premiere, Shaheen says that the OPEC oil embargo, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis all conspired to cast the Arab as film villain beginning in the 1970s. "We pray and we kill," Shaheen says of the depiction. Like other stereotypes on film -- of blacks, Jews, gays, Latinos, Native Americans -- Arabs are now in the crosshairs.

"The Arab serves as the ultimate outsider, the other, who doesn't pray to the same God, and who can be made to be less human," says Shaheen, who argues that movies and TV shows do matter -- that they shape public opinion at home and abroad. "Do you have any idea what it must be like to be a young person watching this stuff over in the Middle East?" he says. And if you ask Shaheen who even cares about an old Chuck Norris film, he answers, "Have you ever looked through a TV Guide? These movies are on television constantly. The images last forever. They never go away...."

In the Q&A session after his documentary, Shaheen explains that he is not advocating a politically correct scrubbing of all portrayals of Arab Americans and Arabs -- even as terrorists. The problem is balance, he says.

Meaning? Hollywood still shows black pimps and Latino gangbangers, but pop culture has also made some room for Will Smith and "Ugly Betty." "I've seen the Arab hijacker, but where is the Arab father?" Shaheen says. What we need, he says, seriously, is a sitcom called "Everybody Loves Abdullah." [Link]

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Australia: Call for religious item ban

RELIGIOUS items such as crosses, hijabs and skullcaps should be banned in state schools, a parliamentary inquiry into uniforms has been told.

Sikh turbans and ceremonial kirpan swords also have no place in classrooms, according to the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Secular Party of Australia.

The opposition comes as state school parents have raised concerns about uniform costs.

Atheist Foundation of Australia president David Nicholls said school dress codes should reflect Australia's secular status.

The Secular Party of Australia warned that allowing school children to wear crosses, hijabs, skullcaps or turbans was "unnecessary and undesirable".

But Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission CEO Helen Szoke said the submissions did not take into account Australia's diversity and the right to express religious faith.

"Things like crucifixes and the hijab and so on should be accommodated within the context of a school uniform," she said. [Link]

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Philadelphia Woman Pleads Guilty to Federal Hate Crime

A Philadelphia woman, Kia Reid, pleaded guilty today to committing a federal hate crime by sending a note threatening violence to her Arab-American supervisor at work, in an attempt to interfere with the supervisor's federally protected employment activity. The announcement was made jointly by Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan, for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24, 2007.

The single-count information charges that during the early-morning hours of Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, Reid left an anonymous threatening letter in her supervisor's office at the Sheraton Suites Hotel in Philadelphia. Reid had affixed words and phrases which appeared to be cut from publications, including the phrases "REMEMBER 9/11," "you and your kids will pay," "tie onto the fence," "strategically planned," and "death."

Under the Department's initiative to combat "backlash" crimes following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Division has investigated more than 750 backlash crimes involving violence and threats aimed at individuals perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Sikh, or South Asian. This initiative has led to numerous prosecutions.

"It is twisted to believe that threats or violence against innocent Arab or Muslim individuals somehow avenge the terrorist attacks of 9/11," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "Our system of justice will not permit threats against innocents. The Justice Department will remain committed to vigorously prosecuting these crimes." [Link]

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Friday, June 22, 2007

EEOC Says Retail Chain Store Abused South Asian Employees

The federal Equal Employmet Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of Sukhvir Kaur and other South Asian workers formerly employed by National Wholesale Liquidators. Mrs. Kaur matter was first brought to the EEOC's attention in July 2005 when the Sikh Coalition filed a charge of discrimination on her behalf with the agency.

According to the EEOC’s suit, South Asian workers at National Wholesale Liquidators, Inc.’s Long Island City location were subjected to constant taunts about their national origin and religion, such as “All Indians are nasty,” “Sikhs are thieves,” and, “I’m tired of seeing old Indian faces all the time.” The EEOC also charged that Sukhvir Kaur in particular was subjected to sexual and religious harassment. According to the EEOC's press release, Sukhvir was told by her manager to remove her turban because she “would appear sexier without it.” When she refused the manager’s repeated advances, the EEOC charged, he told her that she was not permitted to use the bathrooms and would have to wear a diaper to work. The EEOC says the company failed to take appropriate action to address and correct the harassment, even when employees complained.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s lawsuit (Civil Action No. 07-CV-2507) was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York on June 21, 2007, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. The suit seeks monetary relief, an order requiring the company to implement new policies and practices to prevent harassment, training on antidiscrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief.

“Apparently this employer didn’t mind hiring South Asians, but then turned around and subjected them to verbal abuse because of their national origin,” said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., Director of the EEOC’s New York District Office. “That’s not only illogical and cruel, but outright illegal. Employees have a right under federal law to be free from harassment and other forms of discrimination.”

EEOC Trial Attorney Margaret Malloy added, “No employee should have to suffer such degrading and unlawful treatment in the workplace. The EEOC will seek in this lawsuit to obtain compensation for those employees who were harassed and fired, but also to require the company to implement policies and procedures to prevent any future discrimination.” [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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UK: Witness appeal after violent assault

WITNESSES are being asked to come forward after a violent assault during which a Sikh's turban was knocked off his head.

A group of Asian men from the Sikh community were in Fort Gardens, Gravesend, when they were approached by a group of teenagers.

The teenagers were drinking beer and began playing football close to the men.

The football was then directly kicked towards the group, knocking the turban off one of the men.

The youths then started throwing stones, and when they were asked to stop, one member smashed a beer bottle and approached the men.

He punched one of them in the face, causing bruising and swelling to the victim's left eye.

The teenagers then shouted racist comments as they walked off towards the canal basin.

Police want to speak to anyone who witnessed the attack which took place on May 25 at around 5pm, or anyone who knows who the youths are.

The group is thought to be local and may have visited the gardens before.

They are all white and believed to be aged between 14-17-years-old.

Three girls and three boys made up the group and one of the girls was wearing a green top.

The boy who carried out the assault is described as around 5ft 6 tall and was wearing a white t-shirt.

Detective Constable Richard Debnam of Kent Police, who is investigating the case, said: "This mindless act of violence on law-abiding members of the local community will not be tolerated.

"Everybody should be able to enjoy the gardens and parks of Gravesend in peace without being subjected to this kind of harassment.

"I would encourage anyone who may have any information to contact us so that we can put a stop to this anti-social and destructive behaviour."

If you have information which may help police with their inquiries, or witnessed the incident, please call DC Debnam at Gravesend police station on 01474 565 282 or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555111. [Link]

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A hate-crime welcome?

A 31-year-old Cambridge reported he and his wife moved into a Clifton Street apartment June 12. At 11 p.m. that night, the victims heard a loud banging on their rear door but never answered it, according to police reports. The next morning, a maintenance worker found human feces and toilet paper on the door. The victim told Police Officer Stanley Gedaminsky he is concerned that the feces were put there to intimidate them because they are Muslim and his wife wears full Muslim clothing with veil, according to police reports. The victim told police he was at the apartment June 7 with a telephone company representative when a white heavyset man in his 30s with black hair approached him outside the apartment and allegedly stated, “Welcome to hell.” The victim told the officer that he believed that this male lived in one of the adjoining units. The victim told police the man allegedly said the neighborhood was “OK if you behave yourself and keep quiet.” [Link]

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Illinois students get lesson in Sikhism

A group of students from Illinois politely took off their shoes and had turbans wrapped around their heads as they entered the Baba Makhan Shah Lobana Sikh Center in Richmond Hill.

It was their first step in understanding the Sikh religion. They also prepared food for congregants of the gurdwara, or temple, and listened to Swaranjit Singh, a Sikh who said his mission is to teach the ignorant about his faith.

Singh, who lives in Bellerose, said people started to look at him and other Sikhs differently after the Sept. 11, attacks because they confused Sikhs with the Taliban because of their turbans. Shortly after the attacks, a young girl on the street asked him if he was going to bomb Queens. When he went to shake hands with one man, the man spit in his face and gave him the middle finger.

"Ignorance creates fear and fear creates hatred," Singh told the students, who numbered about 30. "Everybody thinks I'm a Muslim. People think 'Here comes Osama's first cousin.'"

Jeff Schwartz, the mayor of Downs, Ill., where the students attend school, said his village of about 800 is "somewhat in the throes of urbanization" and Asians are the fastest-growing segment of the population, many of them Indians. He said the growth is due in large part to State Farm Insurance recently setting up an office in the village, and he wanted the students to learn more about other cultures as more people come into Downs.

The students completed special projects on the weekends in order to be chosen for the trip, which came about after Mark Weiss of Operation Respect Ð a Manhattan non-profit Ð did a workshop in Illinois and asked Singh if he could talk to the pupils.

"You certainly want to promote understanding," Schwartz said. "We can learn so much from" the Sikhs.

Singh's talk to the students was part of that strategy as he pointed out the differences between Islam and Sikhism. For instance, he said Muslims do not generally wear turbans, which are a staple of the Sikh faith.

The students, and even some of the teachers, said the talk helped them understand Sikhism.

"I didn't know there was an actual Sikh religion," said 14-year-old Morgan Campbell. "I thought that religion and Osama bin Laden's were the same."

Maseante Walker-Lane, a 15-year-old from Bloomington, Ill., said he was amazed by the Sikh customs. "They show real good hospitality," he said, noting how the gurdwara opened its arms to the students by feeding them.

"I never knew the beard," said John Bierbaum, a teacher. "I knew they had beards, but I didn't know they couldn't trim the beards."

Another teacher, David Fortner, said Singh's presentation "goes to show how little we know." [Link]

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Witness appeal after violent assault

By Crime Reporter
WITNESSES are being asked to come forward after a violent assault during which a Sikh's turban was knocked off his head.
A group of Asian men from the Sikh community were in Fort Gardens, Gravesend, when they were approached by a group of teenagers.
The teenagers were drinking beer and began playing football close to the men.
The football was then directly kicked towards the group, knocking the turban off one of the men.
The youths then started throwing stones, and when they were asked to stop, one member smashed a beer bottle and approached the men.
He punched one of them in the face, causing bruising and swelling to the victim's left eye.
The teenagers then shouted racist comments as they walked off towards the canal basin.
Police want to speak to anyone who witnessed the attack which took place on May 25 at around 5pm, or anyone who knows who the youths are.
The group is thought to be local and may have visited the gardens before.
They are all white and believed to be aged between 14-17-years-old.
Three girls and three boys made up the group and one of the girls was wearing a green top.
The boy who carried out the assault is described as around 5ft 6 tall and was wearing a white t-shirt.
Detective Constable Richard Debnam of Kent Police, who is investigating the case, said: "This mindless act of violence on law-abiding members of the local community will not be tolerated.
"Everybody should be able to enjoy the gardens and parks of Gravesend in peace without being subjected to this kind of harassment.
"I would encourage anyone who may have any information to contact us so that we can put a stop to this anti-social and destructive behaviour."
If you have information which may help police with their inquiries, or witnessed the incident, please call DC Debnam at Gravesend police station on 01474 565 282 or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555111.
also posted on http://ethnicconfusionbritain.blogware.com/blog

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

SALDEF Meets with National Intelligence Agencies about Increasing Sikh American Engagement

Last week, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation's oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, took part in the first ever Intelligence Community Heritage Summit, hosted by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. The purpose of the Summit was to provide the Intelligence Community with an honest assessment of how they are viewed by communities including Arabs, Muslims and Sikh Americans.

SALDEF, the only organization representing Sikh Americans at this summit, was one of the select few organizations to meet with officials from a range of intelligence agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA) and others.

The Summit sought to strategize and develop new ways to ensure better recruitment and retention methods within communities that are critical to the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

In a prepared statement read at the event, SALDEF stated, “As a result of military uniform policies which prevent practicing Sikh Americans from enlisting in the armed services, the community has developed perceptions that this policy may be implemented across the board in all federal security agencies. Sikh Americans may therefore disregard and not pursue openings in the intelligence community, be it from the Army or even the FBI and CIA, until this perception is removed and official uniform policies changed to allow religious exceptions for the community.”

SALDEF also highlighted the long and proud military, security, and intelligence history of the Sikh community across the world, and advocated for the Intelligence Community to encourage more diversity training and understanding of other cultures and religions, including Sikhs. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Racial Discrimination Against Koreans Actually Occurring

In the aftermath of the bloodbath that 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho unleashed on a peaceful Virginia Tech campus only a few months before, American citizens were left to endure an unendurable tragedy and to deal with an ineffable grief that had enveloped all of America. But, mostly, they were left with a multitude of questions that needed answering: Did Virginia Tech do enough to protect its students after its authorities grew aware that a gunman was wreaking havoc on its campus? What was it, really, that finally drove a student to coldly and methodically extinguish 32 promising lives in what the New York Times called the "deadliest school rampage in the nation's history?"(1) How does any professor distinguish between a creative student who merely writes about violent acts and a student who uses his writing to communicate the presence of a psychologically unsound psyche? And, most importantly, how are we to prevent another Virginia Tech from occurring? All of these questions and more, I think, have been adequately discussed by the numerous news articles that have been published in the wake of what occurred at Virginia Tech.

There several questions, however, that have not yet been answered by the U.S. media; and these are questions that manifested themselves in the huddled forms of around 500 Korean Virginia Tech students who gathered in groups directly after the VA Tech shooting for fear that all of the anger, the sorrow, and the grief caused by Seung-Hui Cho would be directed at them in acts of violent retaliation. For many Koreans (and, often times, other Asians) currently living in the United States of America, some important questions that have not been addressed in the news are ones that they should not have to ask or think about, especially as citizens or residents of a nation that prides itself on its tolerance and freedom: How are Koreans to cope with the racial discrimination that might be directed at them after the Virginia Tech shootings? That is, how are they to brace themselves for the anger of some few Americans who might think of them as being equivalent to Seung-Hui Cho just because they, too, happen to be Korean? And, finally, why aren't there more non-Korean U.S. citizens speaking out against the injustices that are occurring?
The answer to the last question is exactly why this article is being written, so I will start with that first: Not many U.S. citizens are aware of what is going on.

The first reason for this lack of awareness is due to the incredibly saddening fact that, as far as I know, hardly any of the major American newspapers have addressed the issues of racial discrimination that Koreans have been facing ever since news of what happened at Virginia Tech was reported. Of course, this simply could be because discrimination against Koreans in the aftermath of Seung-Hui Cho has been scarce or practically non-existent. If this is true, then I believe that it is an accomplishment of which the United States should be extremely proud. Yet, that is not the case: Many international newspapers, including those that are not Korean. India's "The Telegraph," Korea's "JoongAngIlbo," Japan's "Japan Today” - to name a few - have run articles about South Korean discrimination in the U.S while our own media has remained relatively silent. The few articles that the U.S. media have published about the racism issue demonstrated that incidences of backlash against Koreans are numerous. If large media news organizations, such as CNN.com, have the time to report on how two parents recently became friends while bonding over the tragedies of their children, I don't understand why they can't have some sort of a discussion on this racial discrimination issue. As of now, almost every non-Korean person I've talked to has told me that there has been "no reports of backlash" - and that is a matter for concern.

The second reason as to why U.S. citizens remain unaware of this issue is because racial discrimination is inherently illogical when measured against the ideals of liberty and freedom that the U.S. holds in high esteem. Most people with whom I have spoken at Princeton seemed to dismiss the possibility of racial discrimination against Korean Americans after Seung-Hui Cho because of this "illogical" factor. When I, as a Korean American myself and also a student at Princeton University, asked several of my colleagues the above questions several weeks after the tragic incident at Virginia Tech, the majority of them seemed to think that I was, as they put it, "making a big deal out of nothing". After all, as two of my closest friends at Princeton pointed out, the fact that the Virginia Tech gunman happened to be Korean does not necessarily mean that all Koreans are on the verge of carrying out similar shooting rampages, just as Ted Bundy having been Caucasian does not indicate the fact that all who are of his race have a habit of murdering young women on a regular basis. And just as it would be not be justifiable to blame or punish the white populace for Bundy's crimes, it is simply not fair to place the blame for Seung-Hui Cho's actions on the Korean race as a whole. It's just a simple bit of logic, my Princeton colleagues say.

However, it is distressing that racial discrimination and hatred are not quite so logical. According to an article in The Telegraph, "Race Against Time," an unidentified man who called into a show on Radio Korea, Los Angeles revealed the fact that his son had been spat on at school (2). On Facebook, a popular online network for college students, a group called "Cho Seung-Hui does not represent Koreans" with members currently numbering around 530 was formed. The members of the group posted and shared stories about racial discrimination that they had seen or personally experienced due to the terrible tragedy Seung-Hui Cho brought to Virginia Tech. One non-Korean member from Virginia spoke of how a random person punched two of her friends in the face on her campus because they were Korean; another member, a high school student, talked about how some people threw rocks at Koreans in Bergen County, New Jersey; and yet another member who lives in a town called Centreville wrote that some "Korean spots" in his town and in some other states were vandalized. [Link]


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Sunday, June 17, 2007

The London chef who was forsaken for five years in Guantanamo

Ahmed Errachidi had never heard the story of Robert the Bruce and the indefatigable spider until this week.

But in the cell blocks of Guantanamo Bay, Inmate 590 learnt the same lesson as the Scottish King, in the same hard way.

Just as the Bruce took heart from the spider, the most inspiring moment in Mr Errachidi’s five-and-a-half years of internment came as he watched a solitary ant’s struggle for life.

The insect was trapped inside the fortified glass dome housing the security camera that watched Mr Errachidi’s every move in his isolation cell. It was trying to climb out, but kept slipping backwards again and again.

The tiny creature’s survival became, at that moment, the most important thing in the world. Mr Errachidi decided to intervene, taking a square of toilet paper, separating it into single ply and rolling it between his palms to form a thin thread.

He slipped the lifeline through a slim gap between the ceiling and the glass and hoped that the ant would find it.

To his delight, it did – climbing on to the paper and walking along it as Mr Errachidi pulled the paper out of the dome. In a matter of moments he had the ant in the palm of his hand and laid it down in a corner where other ants were feeding on the crumbs that he had left them from his meal. “I was so pleased, so excited,” Mr Errachidi said as he described the rescue operation to The Times in his first interview since he was freed from Guantanamo.

“When you’re alone for so long, when it’s only you, you do a lot of thinking. You see things that before you never paid attention to. I learnt a lot from the ants. They were another form of life and reminded me that there was hope. I used to get so angry with the guards when they killed the ants.”

In similar vein, a pebble that fell from the sole of a guard’s boot assumed huge significance when he was in the punishment block.

Apart from himself, the stone was the only nonmetal object in the cell.

It is just six weeks since Mr Errachidi, 41, a chef who worked in London hotels, restaurants and gastro-pubs for 16 years, was released from the camp, where he was interned without charge or trial, at the United States naval base in Cuba.

He was freed after the sole allegation against him – that he had been a senior figure at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2001 – fell apart. The claim came from an unidentified source and was proved false by lawyers from the London-based charity Reprieve.

According to payslips, witness statements and bank records, Mr Errachidi was a long way from Afghanistan during July 2001 – working in the kitchens of the Westbury Hotel, Mayfair. The US military eventually declared Mr Errachidi “approved to leave Guantanamo” – as close as it comes to proclaiming him innocent.

Even though the evidence that could have freed him years ago lay in Britain, and that British officials were aware of its existence, Whitehall had rejected appeals to help him.

Mr Errachidi, a Moroccan, had been a resident in Britain but never a citizen and the Government decided it had no obligation to negotiate his release.

Freedom came on Tuesday, April 24, with a brutal farewell present. Mr Errachidi was taken from his cell in his orange jumpsuit, his ankles shackled, arms cuffed to a waistband, ear-muffs, goggles and a muzzle clamped on his head.

“The mask was cutting into the corners of my eyes, it was hurting me and I couldn’t see so I tried to lift my shackled hands to pull it down,” he said.

“As I did that, they grabbed me and threw me against the wall, my head smashed into the wall and they started beating me. They tightened the shackles and gave me one last beating.

“I decided not to scream. I said to myself this is the last time, I’m going to take it.”

Mr Errachidi was then taken to the base’s airfield. As he approached the cargo plane on which he would be flown to Morocco, the mask and goggles were removed to allow a military film crew to record his departure. Once inside the aircraft they were replaced and remained on his face throughout the seven-hour flight.

The Red Cross had asked him before he left Guantanamo if he would not rather stay than go back to Morocco where there was a risk of torture. He found the question insulting and says that in his homeland the police received him with kindness, courtesy and mint tea. After seven days, he was sent home to his family in Tangier.

It has been hard to get used to liberty. For five years he has not been allowed to walk more than three paces – the length of his cell – unshackled.

Sitting in the shade of a tree at Cap Malabata, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, it is not long before he stumbles over memories of captivity that are too raw and painful to talk about.

There were 19 days in the Dark Prison at Bagram airfield near Kabul, permanently in chains; 26 days of torture; long, long periods of solitary confinement. The tears well up and the usually fast-flowing words are choked off.

“I am on the edge,” Mr Errachidi says after a pause. “I don’t want to fall off.” He is remembering how to cook, but learning again how to be a father to his sons, Mohammed, 11, and Imran, 7, is much more difficult.

He pretends to his family that he is OK, that he is a tough guy, that he has come through it all unscathed. Everyone is going along with the pretence for now, but no one is really fooled.

Mr Errachidi’s incarceration was worse than that endured by many other Guantanamo inmates because the guards decided he was a senior man in al-Qaeda. Camp Delta’s commanders nicknamed him “The General” because he seemed to wield an influence over the other inmates.

He did, but only because he spoke English, understood what the guards were saying, got bored easily and was prepared to challenge the petty rules. It was Mr Errachidi who, after three-and-a-half years of arguing, convinced the commanders that toothpaste and toothbrushes were not “comfort items” and achieved an increase in the allocation of toilet paper from ten sheets per day to thirty.

It rankles, however, that he was not able to have the inmates recognised as people. Mr Errachidi said: “Even the name detainee was not given to us. We were called packages because we were in identical jumpsuits and wrapped up in chains.

“Two guards would escort you everywhere, they would radio their control room and say, ‘Package has been picked up’ and outside the interrogation room they would contact the interrogator and say, ‘Package is at the door’.

“If you ask why you are called a package, why you can’t be called a person they say, ‘This is the procedure’.” The same procedures forbid the guards from telling the inmates what day or month it is. [Link]


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Judicial view of detainees still evolving

It's approaching six years since the 9/11 attacks but, as two recent sets of judicial rulings illustrate, America is still at odds with itself over its war on terrorism -- and how to treat captives.

Is the globe America's battlefield? Is al Qaeda ideology and the war on terrorism like Soviet communism and the Cold War, meaning an American president can someday declare victory?

Or, in the view of U.S. law, is it more like the drug war -- with no end in sight -- picking off alleged criminals one by one?

And, most critically, there is still no consensus about whether to treat U.S.-held captives as alleged criminals afforded a presumption of innocence or as enemy combatants allowed no recourse in federal court.

In other words, when does the Bush administration get to treat those it brands as ''terrorists'' as criminals? When are they warriors?

Legal scholars say the federal judiciary has traditionally deferred to presidential authority in time of war. And that has more or less been the case since the Sept. 11 attacks. But the latest rulings suggest that the pendulum may be swinging back to the courts.

Last week, a conservative federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., decided 2-1 that the clock ran out on the president's designation of Ali al Marri, 42, as an enemy combatant. He has been in a military brig in South Carolina since June 2003.

Marri and his family arrived in the United States Sept. 10, 2001, ostensibly to attend graduate school in Peoria, Ill. But the Bush administration claims he is an al Qaeda ''sleeper agent'' who met Osama bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

'Put simply, the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing in the United States and detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them `enemy combatants,' '' wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz in a 77-page decision.

The Justice Department said it would appeal to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, one of the most conservative circuits in the country. Unless the U.S. transfers him to a civilian proceeding, releases him or deports him, one side or the other is likely to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Former Bush administration deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, an architect of the policy, said the matter of how to handle detainees designated enemy combatants should have been already settled.

Twice the Supreme Court sought to give certain rights to detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba as a result of the war on terror. And twice, Yoo said, Congress and President Bush overruled them, with the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, which stripped non-U.S. citizens designated by Bush as enemy combatants of the right to challenge their detention in federal court through habeas corpus.


He called the appellate court decision an ''outlier'' by judges who don't agree that America is engaged in a global war on terrorism. He expects the full Fourth Circuit to overrule them.

The judiciary defers to the executive and Congress in a time of war, he said, and as he sees it, America is at war with al Qaeda, not battling a criminal enterprise.

''It's completely bizarre. Under this opinion, none of the 9/11 hijackers were enemy combatants,'' Yoo said by phone from Berkeley Law School in California, where he is a professor.

Suppose the passengers aboard the fourth airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field in 2001 had wrestled control of the plane from the hijackers and landed it safely? he asked.

``According to this opinion, the hijackers on that plane could not be enemy combatants. They would have to be given lawyers, Miranda warnings and a jury trial.''

Precisely, say opponents of enemy combatant policy who argue the executive branch got it wrong by assuming the power to have the military detain -- indefinitely, without charge or trial. In the instance of Marri, in fact, without any review.

A Defense Department spokesman said as long as the court appeal was under way, the Pentagon would not be staging a so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunal in which U.S. military officers, not judges, simulate a battlefield status hearing to determine if there is reason to hold him.

That very process was at the heart of a dispute that saw not one, but two, U.S. military judges dismiss charges against a Canadian and Yemeni at Guantánamo.

Neither Navy Capt. Keith Allred nor Army Col. Peter Brownback III, the judges, dispute that they are at war. In fact, their roles presiding at the military commissions are conditioned on the assumption. But they said the Pentagon's own processes had -- so far -- failed to distinguish between captives who were legitimately on the battlefield, and therefore ''lawful enemy combatants,'' and those who either fought unfairly or didn't have the right to be there -- ``unlawful enemy combatants.''

The overarching issue reflects an evolving process across the years on how to categorize and hold captives, and a continuing debate on whether they are to be treated as criminals or combatants, said constitutional law scholar Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University.


Before 9/11, he said, there was no law that would govern a war on terrorism that ranged across the globe. ''It was largely undeveloped and unstructured before we confronted it, and it's only beginning to take shape now,'' he said.

That's why it's no coincidence, he said, that the Supreme Court this year left to lower courts to grapple with the latest challenges to the war tribunals and habeas corpus stripping provisions.

Tradition and precedent has allowed the president vast powers in times of war.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and used military tribunals -- only drawing a Supreme Court rebuke in 1866, once the war was over. During World War II, the justices upheld Franklin Roosevelt's executive order authorizing the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans -- and it took until 1988 for Congress and a president, Ronald Reagan, to apologize. [Link]

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Feds shift civil rights focus to religion

Justice under Bush has taken on fewer cases involving race

In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government's role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the area of race.

Paralleling concerns of many conservative groups, the Justice Department has argued successfully in a number of cases that government agencies, employers or private organizations have improperly suppressed religious expression in situations that the Constitution's drafters did not mean to restrict.

The shift at the Justice Department has significantly altered the government's civil rights mission, said Brian Landsberg, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and former Justice Department lawyer under Republican and Democratic administrations.

"Not until recently has anyone in the department considered religious discrimination such a high priority," Landsberg said. "No one had ever considered it to be of the same magnitude as race or national origin."

Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement that the agency had "worked diligently to enforce the federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on religion."

The changes are evident in a variety of actions. They include:
  • Intervening in federal court cases on behalf of religion-based groups like the Salvation Army that assert they have the right to discriminate in hiring in favor of people who share their beliefs even though they are running charitable programs with federal money.
  • Supporting groups that want to send home religious literature with schoolchildren; in one case, the government helped win the right of a group in Massachusetts to distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ.
  • Vigorously enforcing a law enacted by Congress in 2000 that allows churches and other places of worship to be free of some local zoning restrictions. The division has brought more than two dozen lawsuits on behalf of churches, synagogues and mosques.
  • Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone's civil rights. The resources for these traditional cases have instead been used to investigate trafficking cases, typically involving foreign women used in the sex trade, a favored issue of the religious right.
  • Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that may dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight during a comparable period in the Clinton administration.
Along with its changed civil rights mission, the department also has tried to overhaul the roster of government lawyers who deal with civil rights. The agency has transferred or demoted some experienced civil rights litigators while bringing in lawyers, including graduates of religious-affiliated law schools and some people vocal about their faith, who favor the new priorities. That has created some unease, with some career lawyers disdainfully referring to the newcomers as "holy hires."

The department's emphasis has been embraced by some groups representing Muslims, Jews and especially Christian conservatives, who have long complained that the federal government ignored their grievances about discrimination. [Link]

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fighting a label

After 9/11, family battles racial discrimination

After seeing turban- wearing and bearded Osama bin Laden take credit for the Sept. 11 attacks, some people have become suspicious of anyone who looked like him.

For Manjit Singh, who lived in the U.S. for seven years at that point, Sept. 11 was both a sad day for the country and the start of a scary time for his family.

Singh, Brownsville resident for four years and owner of the Place Inn Hotel on Alton Gloor Boulevard, is a Sikh. He wore the ceremonial turban and kept his beard long, but after Sept. 11 he faced the label of “terrorist” by strangers.

“‘Terrorist’ has become our n-word,” explained Valarie Kaur, a 26-year-old documentary filmmaker and a third generation Sikh-American.

She produced the film “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath” to let people know what Sikhs have gone through over the past seven years and inspire unity in the small community.

“The whole idea is to draw from this courage and continue to fight, not with a sword but through talking and writing and standing up,” Kaur said.

Since Sept. 11, a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment has developed in some Americans, which has affected immigrants from India or the Middle East and their families.

“Sikhs are the only ones who wear turbans as a religious garment,” Kaur said. “In other cultures the turban is worn as a cultural attire.”

Turbans and uncut hair are associated with the Khalsa, the five articles that Sikhs are expected to wear as written by Guru Gobind Singh, a guru. He also granted the name “Singh” (lion) to all Sikh men and the name “Kaur” (princess) to all Sikh women. This meant caste should not separate Sikhs, according to Sikh doctrine.


Although the Sept. 11 attacks were organized by Muslim extremists, the public perception that terrorists wear turbans meant many people who had nothing to do with the problem would get caught in the crossfire.

On Sept. 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down in Mesa, Arizona, by fellow Americans looking for revenge after the attacks.

“When Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed, although I didn’t know him personally, I had a connection to his family,” said Kaur. “It turns out he was the first of an estimated 19 people murdered in the year after 9/11, but it never really made national news.”

Sikhs around the country were targeted for their appearance, some violently, some with angry words.

Manjit Singh was working at a convenience store in Covina, California, and was used to the polite smiles and comments of his customers. Everything changed after that Tuesday morning.

“After that day everybody looked at me like ‘you did that,’” Singh said. “It was a different feeling. At that time everyone was getting angry.”

Worried about his wife and young children, Singh spoke with them about how to avoid conflicts.

Ultimately, they decided to move to Brownsville, where they have lived for four years. Shortly after arriving, Singh made the choice to shave his hair and beard.

“I never shaved in my life,” he said. “Here, everybody confronted me about where I came from. Now (without the hair) they ask if I know Spanish.”

Kaur said Singh was not alone in his decision.

“It is a deep and personal action to cut your hair, and that shows how deep the problem is,” Kaur said.


Seeing a lack of public knowledge, Kaur joined with director Sharat Raju and a team of filmmakers to produce Divided We Fall.

Kaur witnessed different generations reacting to prejudice differently. Kaur said third generation Americans like herself have found a new reason to embrace their Sikh heritage and stand up for their beliefs, while first generation Sikh-Americans are sometimes inclined to follow their beliefs in private ways to better assimilate into the American majority.

After watching Divided We Fall, audience members have told Kaur they were once scared of Sikhs, mistaking them for Muslims. While she appreciates the greater understanding of who Sikhs are, Kaur stressed no religion should be the subject of hate or fear.

“An attack upon anyone is egregious, whether or not they were misnamed,” she explained.

Singh, who has not seen the documentary yet but hopes to when it goes to DVD next year, said public awareness of Sikhs has increased since Sept. 11, and he and his family have become part of their new community.

“I like it here,” he explained, adding about 22 Sikh families live in the Rio Grande Valley. “It’s very easy going. Mexican culture and Indian culture are very similar. The food is similar and families are always together and families care for the elderly. It’s the same as India.” [Link]

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Civil rights complaints rose in 2006, Muslim group reports

The number of civil rights complaints by Muslims in the United States jumped 25 percent in 2006, mainly because of a surge in immigration and citizenship problems, a leading US Muslim group said yesterday.

In its annual report on civil rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it processed 2,467 complaints last year, up from 1,972 in 2005.

Discrimination complaints against federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, more than doubled to 890 filings from about 380 in 2005 and accounted for more than 36 percent of civil rights complaints.

"This is the first time since 2004 that government agencies represented the highest percentage of complaints," the council said in the 40-page report, "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States."

"This increase was due primarily to the number of cases related to major immigration issues such as citizenship and naturalization delays," the report said.

Hate crime complaints, including physical attacks against individuals and mosques, rose 9.2 percent to 167 in 2006, compared with 153 a year earlier, the Washington-based advocacy group said in the report.

But hate crimes also declined as a percentage of all complaints, as did other discrimination categories, including racial or religious profiling and verbal harassment.

Independent polls have indicated rising unease of US Muslims about national government policies since the Sept. 11 attacks .

An April report by New York University Law School's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice said post-Sept. 11 US counterterrorism efforts had "institutionalized" discrimination by adding tighter security checks to immigration and citizenship procedures.

A nationwide Pew Research Center poll last month also suggested that 53 percent of Muslims living in the United States believe their lives have become more difficult since the 2001 attacks because of discrimination or government surveillance. [Link]

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Panel to contemplate hate-crime film

he documentary “Divided We Fall” will be screened, with a panel discussion about religious tolerance to follow, at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Tivoli Theatre.

“Divided” is about the hate-crime murder of a Sikh man in the wake of 9/11 and a college student’s search for the meaning of being an American.

The screening coincides with the meeting of the International Interfaith Academies for Religious Leaders here this month. Panel participants, some from that organization, include Tarunjit Singh Butalia, John Thatamanil, Yehezkel Landau, the Rev. Peggy Thomas, the Rev. Vern Barnet and Star religion columnist Bill Tammeus.

Admission is $8. For more info go to opencircleonline.com. [Link]


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'Amu' looks back at deadly New Delhi riots

"Amu," the ambitious debut feature by Shonali Bose, wears its political heart on its sleeve and is unafraid to tackle big topics: identity, history, truth, injustice.

The film, which begins as a gentle comedy of clashing cultures, follows Kaju Roy (Konkona Sen Sharma), an Indian-American visiting relatives in Delhi. Searching for what she calls "the real India," Kaju, orphaned at 3, is searching for herself and, soon, interrogating the past. And a bloody past it is.

Bose's real concern here is the riots that broke out in 1984 after India's prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Thousands of Sikh men and boys in Delhi were murdered, and as Kaju learns, families were dispersed, and justice has been delayed and denied....

Near the end we glimpse a newscast reporting that communal violence has erupted in Gujarat, a reminder that the ugly spirit of 1984 persists. [Link]

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Sikhs sue to wear turbans in ID photo

Sikhs asked Europe's human rights court Monday to support their call for the right to wear turbans in ID photos in France.

France's highest administrative court has ruled that for public security reasons, Sikhs must remove their turbans when photographed for driver's licenses. France has also banned wearing conspicuous religious apparel in schools.

Shingara Mann Singh, a 52-year-old French national, was twice refused a replacement driver's license unless he removes his turban for the photo. On his original license, which he said was stolen from him, he was pictured with the turban.

"I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair," Singh said.

The complaint was filed with the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights on his behalf by the United Sikhs organization.

Sikhs are required by their religion to have their hair covered at all times by a turban.

"Sikhs wear their turbans throughout the day, when driving and when at work. Asking them to remove their turbans for a photo ID is absurd and shows an absolute lack of respect and sensitivity," said Neena Gill, a British member of the European Parliament. [Link]

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Judge Upholds Ban On Muslim Officer's Headscarf

A federal judge ruled that the city's police department did not violate the civil rights of a Muslim officer when it forbade her from wearing a Muslim headscarf on the job.

Kimberlie Webb, 44, who has been on the force more than 10 years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in October 2005 after the department said she could not wear a khimar at work because the religious symbol violated uniform regulations.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday sided with the city and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the police department did not discriminate or retaliate against Webb.

"Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia," Bartle wrote. "Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the city an undue hardship if it had to allow (Webb) to wear a khimar."

In February 2003, Webb told her supervisor she that her religion required her to wear the scarf, which covered her hair, forehead, neck, shoulders, and chest. When her request was denied, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

While that complaint was pending, she decided to challenge the policy. She showed up wearing the khimar and was sent home several times. She was suspended without pay for 13 days in March 2004.

Her challenge came shortly after Commissioner Sylvester Johnson amended department policy to allow men to wear short beards for health or religious reasons.

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said there is a significant difference between being allowed to grow a short beard -- which may not be longer than a quarter inch and must be neatly trimmed -- and being allowed to wear a religious symbol.

Wearing a khimar would hurt the department's nonsectarian image, Diaz said. "We want people to be comfortable that the police department has no sectarian interests," he said.

Lance James, an attorney who represented Webb, said he was surprised that the judge ruled against his client.

James pointed out that the Department of Justice had given support to Webb's cause, ruling that the police department appeared to have violated her rights.

This is the not the first time headscarves have sparked controversy. France has banned headscarves in schools. Earlier this moth, a school girl in Australia had her headscarf airbrushed from a school photo. [Link]

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Teen apologises for attacking elderly Indo-Canadian Sikh

A teenaged boy has apologised for viciously beating up an elderly Indo-Canadian Sikh in a park in British Columbia two years ago. The victim died a month after being attacked.

'I am really ashamed of myself. I have no excuses and I should be punished. I can't say enough. I'm sorry,' said the boy who can't be named under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The accused apologised during his hearing in the British Columbia Supreme Court Wednesday. He had attacked Mewa Singh Bains, 83, with a baseball bat in a park washroom in Surrey (British Columbia) in 2005....

The prosecution wants the teenager be given a sentence of six to nine years. The defence is asking for four years, minus the 23 months the youth has already spent in jail. [Link]

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Multi-faith support for Sikh teen victim

t a recent multi-faith gathering, religious leaders offered support to Queens Sikhs, following an alleged hate crime at Newtown High School where a Sikh teen’s hair was chopped off.

Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu leaders, as well as Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilmember David Weprin and George Gibson, local head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), spoke at the event, held at the Punjabi Palace on Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill on Wednesday, June 6.

“As many of you may know, the parish of St. Benedict Joseph Labre here in Richmond Hill, which I have been honored to serve as pastor for 14 years, has had a warm relationship with the local community of Sikhs,” said Monsignor John H. O’Brien, speaking on behalf of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “Respect for one another’s beliefs, culture and traditions are absolutely necessary if we are to maintain our vibrancy and cohesiveness.”

Two weeks earlier, 17-year-old Pakistani student, Umair Ahmed, from Newtown High School allegedly forced a 15-year-old Sikh classmate, Vacher Harpal, into the school bathroom and cut his hair. Police believe that a “Yo, mama” insult may have been the instigating factor in the attack. Ahmed was charged with a hate crime and faces seven years in prison if convicted.

“I’m very sorry about what happened to this young man,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. She later added, “We don’t like it [discrimination] to happen to anyone, let alone our youngsters.”

Several Sikh leaders explained to the crowd the importance of hair in their religion.

“As a Sikh, if you could come to me and hit me in the face with a baseball bat, I could eventually forgive you, but if you cut my hair, I don’t think that I can personally forgive you,” said Tejinder Singh, the lawyer for United Sikhs, which hosted the event in conjunction with The Interfaith Center of New York. “The last prophet asked us as a sign of faith to keep our hair in its natural state. It’s our identity.” [Link]

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Indian-American Sikhs sue employers

NEW YORK: Angry over non-payment of wages and exploitation at workplace, a group of Indian-American Sikh construction workers have filed a lawsuit against their employers in a city court. In the complaint filed on Tuesday, the workers, all members of New York Construction Workers United (NYCWU), a worker's body, alleged that even after putting in long hours of work in dangerous conditions they were not fully paid and often discriminated against. "I was paid only $1,000 by my employer. Sometimes we have to work with our bare hands because the contractor won't give us equipment. And there is so much discrimination in who gets hired so we don't always get steady work," Kalvinder Samra, one of the complainant said. Samra added that physical threats and harassment on the job are common. He hoped that other workers would see his coming forward as a sign that they must also protest injustice. "We have to fight together for justice and real change in our industry," he said. Similarly, Jaswinder Singh, Gurdev Singh, and Darshan Singh, all Sikh immigrants from India, worked on contract basis at a hospital in Queens. Their employer paid them for less than half the days they worked, IndoLink, an ethnic magazine reported. Another Sikh, Balvinder Singh said he performed steam cleaning, pointing, and roofing work at a large residential building in the Bronx area over the course of two months in 2005 and 2006. Although he was promised over $15,000 for his work, he was paid only $3,000. The New York State minimum wage is currently $7.15 per hour
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

FBI in public appeal to Muslims, Arab-Americans

The FBI has enlisted comedians in a drive to spruce up its image with Muslims and Arab-Americans damaged by a wave of arrests and searches since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"It's so nice to be standing in front of the FBI and not be handcuffed," quipped Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed, one of the performers at an FBI-sponsored comedy show during an American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee convention.

"Today's FBI. It's for you," said posters promoting the law-enforcement agency at the annual event attended by 1,000 people in a ballroom at a Washington, D.C., hotel on Saturday.

Sponsoring the show was also part of a campaign to recruit agents for a service that is seriously short of Muslims and Arab speakers at a time when U.S. security services fear attacks by Middle Eastern groups. [Link]

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ADC convention highlights difficulties encountered by those of Arab heritage

When she was working as a nurse at a Washington, D.C., hospital, Samar Al Rayyis of Saudi Arabia recalls that a patient abruptly asked her, "Are you a terrorist?"

Al Rayyis told her story today at a panel titled, "From the Victim's Mouth," which was part of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's annual convention being held in Washington through Monday.

"I am taking care of you, for God's sake, the whole day and you are asking me if I am a terrorist," Al Rayyis recalled of her first thought.

"I said, `Excuse me, I am not a terrorist,'" said Al Rayyis, who earned her nursing degrees in the United States and is living in Virginia.

She told about her ongoing difficulties in renewing her work permit, despite the critical shortage of nurses in the United States.

"I am sure this is because I am from an Arabic descent," she said, adding that she hasn't even been able to get an interim work permit while waiting.

The tie-up, she says, prevents her from accepting one of several nursing job offers from hospitals. " I can't work. And I haven't done anything illegal," she said.

The ADC held the panel to highlight difficulties encountered by people of Arab heritage or who are Muslim. [Link]

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BBC: Sikhs fight French law on turbans

Sikhs have gone to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to challenge a French law banning the wearing of turbans for ID documents.

The United Sikhs organisation filed a complaint on behalf of French national Shingara Mann Singh, 52, who was refused a replacement driver's licence.

By law applicants have to remove all headgear for security reasons.

A French law adopted in 2004 also bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in state schools.

Several Sikh boys have been expelled from schools in France for defying the ban, which also applies to Muslim headscarves.


Mr Singh was twice refused a replacement driver's licence - in 2005 and 2006 - because he insisted on wearing his turban for the photograph.

He has been a French national for more than 20 years.

"I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair," he said, quoted by United Sikhs.

His licence was stolen two years ago, he said, and "before the robbery, at no time was I asked to substitute the photograph with one showing me without a turban".

The Sikh religion requires males to wear their hair unshorn and covered at all times by a turban - a key aspect of their identity. [Link]

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Monday, June 11, 2007


It's not easy being Osama.

For a Staten Island teenager, it has meant torment at the hands of his teachers and classmates - some repeatedly referring to him as "bin Laden."

"I thought you were in the back of a cave somewhere," a gym teacher at Tottenville HS once said to Osama Al-Najjar (photo right) during roll call, according to a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court claiming racial and religious discrimination.

When Al-Najjar, 16, enrolled in the prestigious school three years ago, he was an honors student with a "peaceful" demeanor, said his mother, Suad Abuhasna.

But when his ninth-grade math teacher started calling the Muslim teen of Palestinian descent "bin Laden" - and a security guard told him "we don't want bin Laden's son in our school" - his cheery outlook began to change, she said.

When she asked him what was wrong, Osama said his teachers thought he was a terrorist.

Abuhasna alerted school officials, but they ignored her, she said, and things got worse.

His new math teacher, "Ms. Isola," said he might as well stop coming to class because he would never pass, the suit says. She refused to call on him, and always referred to him as "bin Laden," the court papers say.

Osama was beaten up at school by two students, and an assistant principal told Abuhasna to put her son in an Islamic school, the suit states....

In March 2006, Osama cut out of school and disappeared.

Then, in July, while talking to his mom, he suddenly broke a CD and began slicing at his wrist. While his mother called a psychiatrist, Osama tied a cord around his neck and threatened to kill himself, the suit says. [Link]

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French Sikhs take turban ban to EU court

French Sikhs have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over a ruling that they must remove their turbans for driver’s licence photographs.

Last year, France’s highest administrative court upheld an earlier ruling against Shingara Mann Singh, a French citizen forced to remove his turban in 2004.

It said the order was justified on the grounds of public security and was not a restriction on freedom of faith.

But representatives of the French branch of United Sikhs today launched a legal challenge to the ruling, appealing to the Strasbourg-based European court to intervene in the case.

Speaking at a press conference in the European parliament on Monday, British Socialist MEP Nena Gill also appealed to the EU to help raise awareness of the “plight” of French Sikhs.

“Sikhs wear their turbans throughout their day, when driving and when at work. Asking them to remove their turbans for a photo ID is absurd and shows an absolute lack of respect and sensitivity,” said Gill, president of parliament’s India delegation.

She said that Sikhs in Belgium had also reportedly been told they could not be considered for jobs in public administration if they wore turbans.

“I would ask France and other EU member states, such as Belgium, to reflect upon the British model. In the UK those wearing articles of faith including turbans are treaty equally.

“Many turban wearing Sikhs are police officers, army officers and judges as well. Therefore, I would ask French authorities to reconsider their position and treat Sikhs as equal members of society," said Gill.

Her comments were echoed by Claude Moraes, another UK Socialist MEP and president of parliament’s all-party group on anti-racism and diversity.

“As a member of the committee for citizen’s rights, I support all attempts to build a European society based on the respect for their fundamental rights laid down in the EU’s treaties which include the right of religion and conscience and expression of culture.”

United Sikhs argue that the French ruling makes its small community of several thousand in France the victims of “indirect discrimination”.

Sikh males are required by religion to allow their hair to grow and most wear a turban, a symbol of Sikh identity, to keep their hair under control. [Link]

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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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