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Friday, September 28, 2007

Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Portland Hotel

The owners of Portland’s Eastland Park Hotel are facing a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of a former employee.

In the suit, Ayan Farah, a Muslim, claimed her supervisor at the hotel would not let her pray during her break time. Farah said that when she complained, she was fired.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has taken up Farah’s case and filed the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Eastland Park General Manager Pete McNamee would not comment on specifics of the suit, but he said the hotel did nothing wrong.

McNamee told News 8, “The Eastland Park Hotel is committed to providing equal employment opportunities and a workplace free of discrimination to all of its employees and denies that it has violated any federal or state laws.”

The case most likely will end in a jury trial. [Link]

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Feds Sue Delco Prison Over Head Scarf Ban

Prison officials violated workplace discrimination laws when they fired a Muslim nurse who insisted on wearing a head scarf on the job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged Thursday.

The agency charged in a lawsuit that The Geo Group Inc., a private company that operates the Delaware County Prison in Thornton, refused to make religious accommodations for Carmen Sharpe-Allen and other female Muslim employees.

Sharpe-Allen, who had a good performance record, was fired in December 2005 after a meeting with Warden Ronald Nardolillo, the suit said.

"(The prison) has forced its Muslim female employees to compromise their religious beliefs by removing their khimars while on duty or risk termination," according to the federal suit. The prison instituted the ban on head scarves in early 2005, the suit said.

Calls to the Florida-based Geo Group and to Nardolillo were not immediately returned Thursday. [Link]

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Allen gives on-air mea culpa after meeting with Sikh and Muslim leaders

After a private meeting with Sikh and Muslim community leaders, a kinder, gentler Bruce Allen tried yesterday to defuse an escalating furor over his outspoken remarks about immigrants in a recent radio commentary.

The controversy might have been a local tempest in a teapot, except for the fact that Mr. Allen is a member of the creative team planning the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics, prompting many to call for his removal from the high-profile position.

In a lengthy taped response to the growing criticism, Mr. Allen agreed that he should not have told new immigrants to Canada to "shut up and fit in."

"Too harsh? Okay. At worst, the wrong choice of words," he told listeners on CKNW, where his original self-proclaimed rant was first broadcast.

Mr. Allen, manager of music luminaries Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams, also acknowledged some mistakes in his first commentary, such as referring to religious headgear for young Sikhs as a handkerchief when it is, in fact, a form of a turban called a patka.

"If I offended anyone, I apologize," he said. He blamed much of the controversy on the media "who needed a story" and malcontents playing politics. [Link]

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SALDEF Applauds Passage of Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Senate Bill will help protect victims of hate crimes

This morning the Senate passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA). The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, worked with a national coalition of over 200 civil rights, faith-based, law enforcement, and women’s groups working to ensure passage of this bill.

“Today the Senate sends a clear message that crimes motivated by hate will not be tolerated in America, and that such offenses will be prosecuted with vigor. As a nation dedicated to the ideals of equality and mutual understanding, we have a special responsibility to combat bigotry that takes the form of violence,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about the bill which passed with bipartisan support.

LLEHCPA will allow the federal government to assist states and local law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Doing so will make communities safer for people of different backgrounds. The law extends hate crime legislation to those states where current laws are inadequate. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Law enforcement seminar strips away cultural stereotypes

Removing a Sikh's turban in public is the same as a strip search. Not all Arabs are Muslim. A kirpan is not a concealed weapon.

Those lessons and others were delivered Wednesday to about 75 Pennsylvania law enforcement officers during a four-hour seminar at the Allegheny County Police Academy.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service, the seminar was designed to teach local agencies about Arab, Muslim and Sikh cultures, officials said.

"What do you think of when you hear the term 'Arab'?" Nawar Shora, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's Law Enforcement Outreach Program, asked attendees.

Initial answers were neutral: "Omar Sharif," "nomads," "camels." Only after Shora urged people to include stereotypes did one man respond with "terrorists."

"These are all common answers," Shora said.

Most Americans have negative images of Arabs and Muslims because our schools, pop culture and media promote such stereotypes, he said.

But, Shora said, not all Arabs are Muslim; 42 percent of Arab Americans are Catholic. Many famous Americans are of Arab descent, he said, including Ralph Nader, actress Shannon Elizabeth and pop mogul Paula Abdul.

"The odds are, you've reacted with Arabs. You just haven't realized it," he said.

But subtle cultural differences exist, Shora said, offering tips for police who might deal with Arabs in non-emergencies. For example, in the Arab world it's acceptable to stand closer to another person than in the United States. An Arab who gets too close to an officer might not realize it, Shora said. "They're not getting up in your face, they're not going for your gun."

Rajbir Datta, a Pittsburgh native and associate director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that although Sikhs speak a different language (Punjabi), practice a different religion (Sikhism) and generally come from a different continent (India), they often are mistaken in America for Arab Muslims.

Most men wearing turbans in the United States are Sikh, Datta said. If a police officer must search a turban, Datta urged them to explain why, to do so in a private setting, and to offer the Sikh something to cover his hair during the search.

"Turbans are very religious, very personal," he said. "Many men never reveal their hair in public, so making them remove it would be like a public strip search."

Datta said many Sikhs carry a kirpan, a 3- to 6-inch sheathed knife that symbolizes a Sikh's commitment to protect the weak and promote justice. An officer who has to confiscate a kirpan should explain why and handle the knife with respect, Datta said.

Pittsburgh police Detective Julie Stoops said the seminar was educational.

Stoops is one of three police liaisons who works with Hispanics. She said she hopes to expand the program to include Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs.

"Until today, I was completely ignorant of Sikhism," Stoops said. "I learned a lot. This was great, one of the best training sessions I've taken in a long time."

www.usdoj.gov/crs [Link]

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Citizens' rights need protection

Yes, the 9/11 attacks were committed by self-proclaimed Muslims. That is not in dispute.

But damning the millions of American Muslims for a crime committed by a few lunatics is morally reprehensible and logically crazed.

All religious and ethnic groups have blood on their hands. Yet many Muslims have been murdered since 9/11 in misguided acts of vengeance.

So have some who merely "looked Muslim," such as a Sikh gas station owner who was killed in Phoenix a few years ago for wearing a turban.

Hate speech - flowing across the airwaves and in far-right wing tracts by the likes of Ann Coulter - have called for revisiting the Japanese internment-camp system, if not worse.

Just recently, a group of imams including Omar Shahin, Tucson's former imam, a tireless worker for peace and a family friend who attended my Bar Mitzvah, were thrown off a plane for praying, as they are required to do five times a day, an act that was somehow interpreted as threatening....

This lack of concern for our neighbors' welfare is tragic in its own right.
But there is also a practical reason we all must stand up to protect the rights of gay and Muslim Americans: It could easily be us next.

Once we establish that denying rights to one group is acceptable, it becomes that much easier to deny them to someone else.

To quote a work from another time when people did not protest as others lost their freedom: " . . . and then they came for me, and by then there was nobody left to stand up." [Link]

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U.S. Senators Weigh in on TSA Turban Screening Policy

Working with Sikh Coalition, Senators Respond to Sikh Constituent Concerns

At the urging of the Sikh Coalition and their Sikh constituents, four Senators today sent a joint letter to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), demanding an explanation for the TSA’s new turban screening procedure. The letter urges the TSA to work with the Sikh-American community to address its concerns about a troubling new policy that allows America’s 43,000 TSA screeners to pull aside turban-wearing travelers for secondary screenings.

The letter, addressed to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, was initiated by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), and signed by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). This is the third Congressional letter sent to the TSA in the last two weeks that expresses apprehension about the TSA turban screening issue by our elected officials. Various members of the House of Representatives sent two such letters last week.

Citing the potential for religious profiling in today’s letter, the Senators wrote “We are concerned that this policy change could lead to disparate treatment of Sikh travelers, among others. Under the new policy it seems that travelers are being singled out for secondary screening solely on the basis of physical manifestations of their religious beliefs.”

Today’s Senate letter is a direct outcome of the Sikh Coalition’s campaign encouraging Sikhs across the country to contact their Senators. Nearly 3000 Sikh Americans emailed their Senators through the Sikh Coalition’s website, and countless others made phone calls and asked for in-person meetings.

"We are concerned that this policy change could lead to disparate treatment of Sikh travelers, among others," the Senators wrote to the TSA. "Based on the limited information available and the recent experiences of several Sikh travelers, it appears that they are being singled out for secondary screenings soley on the basis of physical manifestations of their religious beliefs."

In the coming week, Senate committee staff will also ask the TSA for a security briefing on the new policy. Senators are curious about why the TSA would implement a policy targeting headwear, when dangerous non-metallic explosives could be hidden elsewhere on a traveler’s body.

The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Senator Durbin and his colleagues for their strong leadership on this issue. Congratulations also to members of the Sikh American community who called their senators in response to our request. You have made your voice heard! [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sylvania Islamic school vandalized

Despite swastikas, incident not yet deemed hate crime

Federal agents are investigating whether vandalism at an Islamic high school in Sylvania early yesterday morning where swastikas and "white power" slogans were spray-painted on the property was racially motivated, authorities said.

The incident is not being considered a hate crime - a conclusion that cannot be made until later in the investigation, authorities said.

Six windows of the Toledo Islamic Academy High School, 5242 McGregor Lane, were painted with red swastikas, and two windows were shot with what authorities believe was a BB gun.

Swastikas also were spray-painted on the school's entrance doors and on eight trees on the northeast side of the school. The words "white power" were painted on the side of a truck in the school's parking lot along with several green swastikas.

"To see something like this was disappointing," said Principal Aalaa Eldeib, who reported the vandalism to Sylvania police when she arrived at the school about 8:15 a.m.

"I feel like it was done out of ignorance." [Link]

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sikhs oppose new turban rules

Airport screeners are given more leeway to inspect head coverings.

New federal rules that give airport screeners more discretion to inspect turbans worn by some Sikh men are stirring anger in a California community that has felt unfairly targeted by security measures following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now Sikhs are gathering signatures to urge members of Congress to get the new security rules changed.

Screeners previously were allowed to inspect turbans only if a metal detector went off.

But new rules that took effect Aug. 4 give screeners broader discretion to examine turbans, even if the metal detector doesn't go off. It partially reverses a compromise that had been adopted after the Sikh community complained.

Harry Gill, a Sikh community leader from Caruthers, worries that screeners will be more apt to touch the turban under the new rules.

"This is a religious thing. Taking off or touching the turban is like a slap on the face," he said.

Gill said Sikhs in the San Joaquin Valley began circulating petitions about three weeks ago to seek a change in the regulations. The petitions are expected to be dropped off next week in the offices of Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

"We don't want that law put against the Sikh people. That's our religious symbol," Gill said.

Greg Soule, a spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration, said federal officials wanted to improve screening for explosives. The new rules, he said, apply to all head coverings, not just Sikh turbans.

"The greatest threat is explosives. While there is no specific threat to head coverings, it is an area we feel needs additional security measures."

Travelers who don't want their turban patted down and want to remove the turban can request to use a private screening area, according to the TSA.

Soule said the administration has worked with the Sikh community in the past and plans to listen to their concerns.

Balbir Singh Dhillon, president of the Sacramento Sikh Temple -- representing 1,500 families and about 5,000 people -- said members also have signed petitions opposing the indiscriminate searching of turbans by airport screeners.

"Sikhs have been in this country since the early 1900s, and we've never had this problem," Dhillon said. "We've been faithful to this country and haven't done anything wrong. I don't think there's a single case where anybody's been hiding anything in or under their turban."

Darshan Singh Mundy, a temple member, said Sikhs serve in all branches of law enforcement and the armed forces "and have sacrificed their lives in the U.S. Army in Baghdad, and Sikhs have nothing to do with 9/11."

In Fresno County, home to about 35,000 Sikhs, opinions in the Sikh community are divided.

Satinder Kaur, a cashier at India Sweets and Spices in northwest Fresno, said she doesn't believe someone loses respect by taking off the turban. Kaur's husband doesn't wear a turban.

"I think it's better. There's a lot of people on the airplane. ... If he gets checked, it's for safety," Kaur said.

Others, like 52-year-old Balwinder Singh, a Fresno taxi driver, said they had no qualms about the new rules provided Sikhs don't have to remove the turban in public.

"That is not good if you have to take it off in public. If it's a private room, it's better," he said.

But Parminder Singh of Kingsburg said the new rules amount to unnecessary scrutiny for Sikhs. Sikhs had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks in the United States, yet they are being asked to make compromises.

"We think it's disgraceful," Singh said.

For some Sikhs, the new rules pose practical problems, as well.

Marjinder Gill, who emigrated from India to Fresno about 20 years ago, said he doesn't like to remove his turban.

"It's hard to place it back on again. It's not a cap. ... It takes 5 to 10 minutes" to replace it, Gill said.

Sikhs became targets of hate crimes in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. One of the Valley's Sikh temples was vandalized in 2004 by graffiti that told congregants: "Rags Go Home" and "It's Not Your Country." Sikhs responded by launching an effort to educate the public about their religion.

Mundy said seven Sikh Americans have lost their lives in hate crimes throughout the United States since 9/11 because of being misidentified as Muslims.

In Sikhism, long, unshorn hair is a symbol of spiritualism and the turban a symbol of royalty and dignity.

The religion, founded by Guru Nanak in 1469, is an offshoot of Hinduism. The turban is mandatory for baptized Sikh men, and optional -- though uncommon -- for women who tend to wear head scarves, at least inside the temple.

The turban and the unshorn hair underneath together are considered sacred, said Gurinder Singh Mann, professor of Sikh studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mann said the turban also is seen as a cultural symbol.

He said touching the turban can be viewed as an insult, akin to challenging someone's religion, he said.

Sikhs have been willing to compromise in the past on some religious symbols, such as the kirpan, a ceremonial knife often worn by men after baptism.

Some of them agreed to place the knife in the checked baggage, while others wear a small symbol of it around the neck, Mann said. The kirpan is considered a symbol of divine justice.

Mann said Sikhs bear some responsibility for educating the general public.

"The issue is the mainstream has to understand who they are and they have to explain who they are. It's a mutual obligation," Mann said. [Link]

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Radio commentary draws fire from B.C. Sikhs

A leading figure in Vancouver's show business community has riled local Sikhs with comments about immigrants he made on a recent radio talk show.

Controversy erupted after Bruce Allen took at swipe at immigrants, including Sikhs, during his regular "Reality Check'' rant on CKNW radio.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say there has been a lot of immigrant bashing going on in recent months,'' Allen told listeners during a commentary that aired on Sept. 13.

He was referring to recent incidents that included complaints from the Sikh community after Passport Canada declined to issue passports to three Sikh children because they insisted on wearing religious headgear when they were having their pictures taken.

"If you're immigrating to this country and you don't like the rules that are in place, then you have the right to choose not to live here,'' Allen said during his broadcast.

"But if you choose to come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in … these are the rules. There's the door. If you don't like the rules, hit it. We don't need you here. You have another place to go: It's called home. See ya!" [Link]

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Police investigate possible hate crime against 2 Sikh men

Montgomery County police are investigating what they call a possible hate crime against two Sikh men.

The men were assaulted by a group of teenagers on Sept. 15 in Burtonsville.

The victims are a 75-year-old from Springfield, Va., and a 77-year-old from Burtonsville.

Police say the two were walking in the woods when they came across the group of six or seven boys, believed to be about 14 or 15. They say two of the teenagers punched the men in the face, causing them to fall to the ground.

Police say they have no information about the motive, but are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. [Link]

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Two Elderly Sikh American Men Suffer Vicious Attack in Maryland

FBI asked to probe possible hate crime; Community urged to continue reporting similar incidents

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights organization, filed a formal complaint today with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about an alleged hate crime in Burtonsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.

The incident occurred when two Sikh American men were walking near their home during the afternoon of Saturday, September 15, 2007. During their walk they were approached by a group of six young men.

As the group approached, one of the young men struck the first victim with a blow to the side of his face, causing him to fall to the ground and partially lose consciousness. When the other victim attempted to call the police, another young man took his cell phone and began assaulting him. The attackers continued their assault on the victims after which they fled from the scene.

As no valuables were taken from the victims, there are indications the attack could have been racially and religiously motivated. [SALDEF Announcement]

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Student's first amendment rights violated?

Michigan born student Mariam Jukaku studies communications and photography at SU with the aspiration of becoming a journalist. She's also studied Media Law and thought she was well within her rights as she stood on the public sidewalk in front of the V.A. hospital, snapping photos of the American flag.

Until a V.A. Security officer approached her.

"When I was turning to leave, a security guard, I guess they're V.A. police officers, kind of ran up to me and said, 'You can't take pictures here.� And I couldn't even respond when she demanded that I hand over my camera," Jukaku said.

One security officer turned into two. Jukaku says they deleted her pictures, asked for photo I.D. and led her inside the building. When the stunned student asked what she did wrong, she says they told her she couldn't take pictures of a federal building, even if she's standing on public property. And what's more, she felt she was being harassed.

"I don't think, I still don't see that as a reason to take a student�s pictures and take their camera and kind of intimidate them," said Jukaku....

"I don't know if they were profiling me or if it was discrimination. I hope it wasn't," Jukaku said.

The V.A. Hospital did not directly address alleged discrimination in its statement to us, but they say they followed the rules, based on accepted federal practices. [Link]

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Congressman Says 'Too Many' Mosques in U.S.

A top national security adviser to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said in an interview that there are "too many" mosques in the United States and urged a more aggressive law enforcement approach toward them.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who serves as the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday that his comments to the Politico website were taken out of context. [Link]

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Men deny 'hate crime' at Tempe mosque

The three men accused of harassing a Muslim imam at a Tempe mosque on Sept. 11 say the incident has been misportrayed as a hate crime.

"We walked inside the mosque. We were curious about what was in there, like any other church," said Brandon Garcia, one of the three men. "We didn't stop to cause any trouble or to be mean to anyone."

Garcia, Michael Estes and Armando Tolosa were near the mosque on a plumbing job when they decided to go in to learn more about Islam, according to their employer, Richard Yeates, owner of a Mesa plumbing company. [Link]

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Ban on Asian symbols: A Westside story of bias?

Does the wearing a burkha, nose rings or a mangalsutra undermine a modern secular society?

In England, a woman who worked at a catering services firm at Heathrow airport, was sacked for wearing a nose ring. London's Mayor Ken Livingstone says this is an attack on her right to express her religion.

Other western countries have gone a step further. France has banned the wearing of headscarves and turbans in school whereas in England a teacher was sacked for wearing a veil.

So, does the West overreact to Asian cultural symbols?....

From nose-pins to crucifixes to turbans and the burqa, across many western countries there seems to be a suspicion of the overt display of religious identity. A crack down on cultural and religious symbols has been brewing in the West for a long time.

A law banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols from French schools came into effect in 2004. The normally tolerant government of the Netherlands also banned the all-covering veil worn by fewer than hundred Muslim women in the entire country in 2006.

The same year Italy put forward legislation to ban-the naqab and the burka-the Islamic veil that covers the face.

Some German states have banned teachers in public schools from wearing headscarves.

In fact in October 2006, a British Muslim teacher, Aisha Azmi was sacked for refusing to remove her veil in class.

And the recent policy of US airports to screen Sikh turbans also led to a huge uproar among Sikhs in the US and in India.

Why is Western Europe banning symbols, which represent a "conspicuous" sign of religious affiliation? Be it the Islamic scarves, the Sikh turbans or the Jewish skullcaps?

For some it is a clash of civilizations. But considering the fact that British airways suspended an employee for wearing a crucifix in 2006 it seems to be part of a difficult drive towards secularization, in an increasingly multicultural Europe.

However you take it, wearing religious symbols in public is a burning issue across Europe. [Link]

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Radio Host Angers Sikhs by Disparaging Turban Comment

When Los Angeles right-wing talk radio host Al Rantel referred to a turbaned Sikh as wearing a "diaper" on his head last week, one local Indian American man decided that he'd had enough.

"If he does not correct himself, on the air, we're going to put pressure on him," Navraj Singh told India-West by phone Sept. 17. "I'm getting calls from around the country, and Sikh temples are collecting signatures," said Singh, adding that he was ready to lead a protest outside the radio station.

Rantel is a conservative host whose show airs on KABC 790AM every weekday in Los Angeles. During his Sept. 10 show, Rantel was discussing airport security, and said that if his own 80-year-old mother had to take off her shoes during a security screening, "... then why shouldn't a Sikh be required to take off the hat that looks like a diaper they wear on their heads?" recalled Singh.

Rantel's producer, Terri West, responded to an India-West reporter's list of questions with the brief comment, "Al says the discussion was taken out of context."

Singh describes himself as a semi-regular listener to the show, and says he himself is a conservative Republican.

In a strongly worded letter he sent to KABC Sept. 12, Singh challenged Rantel to an on-air debate. Rantel's team has not yet responded to him.

"I kind of like him, generally," said Singh of Rantel, "though I don't agree all the time. But I was astonished that he'd use a term like 'diaper.'"

Navraj Singh, 59, lives in Encino, Calif., and has been a solid member of the Indian American community for decades.

After a successful career as a decorated officer in the Indian Army, Singh immigrated to New York in 1974, and says he has faced discrimination as a turbaned Sikh in the United States. He says he was laughed at when he started a job as a door-to-door vacuum salesman that year (he later became the company's top seller, he said), and maintains that he was forced out of another successful sales job in 1979 because his boss was afraid of anti-Iran sentiment during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Singh opened India's Oven restaurant on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles in 1981; that restaurant was burned down in the 1992 riots, but he then opened another location in Brentwood, and later on opened the trendy Tantra restaurant in Silverlake, with his son R.J., and sold that restaurant around three months ago.

Singh is now preparing to open a hotel in Beverly Hills that he plans to call Sartaj, in honor of his other son, who died in March 2006 at the age of 24.

Al Rantel's Web site, www.alrantel.com, leaves no doubt that the career radio host leans to the far right in his political views. The site features endorsements of books by Ann Coulter and links to the Republican Party, the anti-illegal-immigration group the Minutemen Project, and an online poll asking "Who is worse for America: Ann Coulter, the Democratic Party, Cindy Sheehan or the Dixie Chicks?"

According to his official bio, "[Rantel] challenges listeners to think but does so with a humorous delivery. Al has created a dynamic and entertaining platform for his 35-54-year-old listeners and an open forum for lively discussion accompanied with a high dose of levity."

Singh sees no levity in Rantel's "diaper" comment.

"I'm grateful to God that I am a Sikh," he said. "Our religion is an open book. I want to tell Americans that we have to somehow maintain a nice tone when speaking to each other. Then we can understand each other better, and create a better world for all of us." [Link]

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shooting at the mosque gives us a chance to show support

It's not known whether Friday's shooting at a Corpus Christi mosque was intentional, but the incident illustrates the vigilance local Muslims must carry, even in a place of worship.

Corpus Christi police and the FBI are investigating the source of a bullet that pierced the front door of the McArdle Road mosque sometime Friday, perhaps early in the morning. Luckily, no one was hurt.

The incident coincides with Ramadan, a month-long religious observance of dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayer, reflection and giving to the poor. In pre-Islamic times, Ramadan was religiously significant as a time when warring Arab tribes observed a truce.

Now, the mosque's 600 members must be more cautious as they gather to pray and study, in a place where they should be safe to practice their religion as they wish without fear of bullets, stray or not. They are installing video cameras as a security precaution and members are being told to be more aware of their surroundings.

Clearly, this is serious business. Local Crime Stoppers is offering $1,000 for information leading to an arrest, with the FBI chipping in another $5,000. Authorities may never know for sure the source of the shooting or the intent, if any, behind it. But it's hard to believe that a bullet from a high-caliber weapon just happened to penetrate Corpus Christi's one mosque right after the Sept. 11 anniversary and at the beginning of Ramadan. Police Chief Bryan Smith believes the incident is a hate crime, not a random act.

As sad as it is, this experience is a chance for the community to show support for its neighbors, to reach out to local Muslims and let them know Corpus Christi is a place where freedom of religion not only exists but is welcomed. Osama Bahloul, spiritual leader at The Islamic Center of South Texas, has said he hopes the shooting was accidental.

Hopefully, he's right. Corpus Christi shouldn't become a community that reacts with violence based on ignorance and fear of a religion that is different from the majority's. If intentional, this shooting isn't just an attack on Muslims, but an assault on the decency of Corpus Christi residents, regardless of religion. [Link]

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Suspect arrested in 9/11 Tempe mosque incident

A Flagstaff man has been arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct after an incident at a Tempe mosque on Sept. 11.

Tempe Police said Michael Estes, 32, cursed at and made other negative comments to Ahmed Al-Shqeirat, an imam at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"He was asking a lot of questions and he used offensive language," said Brandon Banks, Tempe police spokesperson.

Al-Shqeirat told The Arizona Republic earlier this week that three men entered the mosque at about 3:30 p.m. that day. One of them entered the prayer hall on the second floor of the mosque and asked Al-Shqeirat what he hid in the room. The man was asked to remove his shoes before entering the prayer hall, Al-Shqeirat said, but the man repeated his question while the other two men with him laughed.

Because Al-Shqeirat believed the men wanted trouble, he said, he told them, "What we are doing here is not your business." Al-Shqeirat said he told the man who questioned him that he could call for an appointment if he wanted a tour, but then the man began cursing at him and making profane hand gestures. The men continued cursing before leaving and making negative comments about Muslim children passing by, Al-Shqeirat said. [Link]

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Muslim Groups Sue FBI Over Records

Advocacy groups sued the FBI and the Department of Justice on Tuesday for failing to turn over records they requested on surveillance in the Muslim-American community.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Muslim groups, alleges that the FBI has turned over only four pages of documents to community leaders, despite a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than a year ago. The documents were not related to surveillance.

The request sought records that described FBI guidelines and policies for surveillance and investigation of Muslim religious organizations, as well as specific information about FBI inquiries targeting 11 groups or people.

The lawsuit states that all the plaintiffs — who include some of the most prominent Muslim leaders in California — have reason to believe they have been investigated by the FBI since January 2001.

"It sends a message that Muslim-Americans have been, and continue to be, cooperating with law enforcement, but they're concerned there might be a disproportionate focus ... on their religious practices," said ACLU attorney Ranjana Natarajan. [Link]

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Chairs of Congressional Committees Say No to Mandatory Turban Screening Policy in 2nd TSA Letter in One Week

At the request of the Sikh Coalition, key Congressional Committee Chairs with oversight power over the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) released a joint letter today expressing deep concern with its new turban screening policy. The letter, addressed to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, calls for screening procedures that preserve both religious freedom and security.

This is the second letter to the TSA from Congressional leadership in a week. Last week Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), also at the urging of the Sikh Coalition, wrote to the TSA expressing concern with the policy.

Today's letter, initiated by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), was signed by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection; and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Civil Rights Taskforce Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“We shouldn’t encroach upon freedom in order to protect freedom,” said Congressman Mike Honda. “Turbans are an intimate part of Sikh religious identity. We would not order a western woman to bare her chest in public, so in the same manner we need to balance civil liberties with security concerns.”

The Sikh Coalition has been working tirelessly with members of Congress to ensure they are up to date on the Sikh community’s concerns about the new policy. “We are all Americans, and want to protect the United States. But at the same time we need to balance security with a measure of respect for those articles of faith that we consider sacred and intimate,” said Neha Singh, advocacy director at the Coalition, America's largest Sikh civil rights organization.

The joint letter urges the TSA to work directly with the Sikh American community to resolve its concerns. It also expresses concern that the new TSA policy will inevitably lead to religious profiling.

Representative Honda also pledged to speak directly with the TSA to express the Sikh communities concerns. “One of the biggest failures in the war on terror has been to win hearts and minds,” Honda said. “But at the same time I know the men and women of TSA are professionals who believe in their mission, and because of this I am confident we can reach an outcome that is both respectful and responsible. I am looking forward to my conversations with them.”

The Sikh Coalition commends Congressman Honda and his colleagues for their leadership on this issue of deep concern to the Sikh community. The Coalition also thanks Pritpal Singh, convener of the American Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee for work with Congressman Honda's office to initiate the letter. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Tempe mosque reports 9/11 harassment

On the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a Tempe imam said three men entered the downtown Tempe mosque and forcefully questioned him about his practices before cursing at him.

"It was fortunate no one was there. These guys came with the intention to insult, attack maybe, do whatever they wanted to do, and weren't afraid of any authority," said Mohammed AbuHannoud, civil rights coordinator for the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

According to Ahmed Shqeirat, the imam at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, one of the three men entered the prayer hall on the second floor of the mosque at about 3:30 p.m. and asked Shqeirat what he hid in the room. The man was asked to remove his shoes before entering the prayer hall, Shqeirat said, but the man repeated his question while the other two men with him laughed....

He said he told the man who questioned him that he could call for an appointment if he wanted a tour, but then the man began cursing at him and making profane hand gestures.

The men continued cursing before leaving and making negative comments about Muslim children passing by, Shqeirat said. [Link]

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Police probing 'all avenues' in bias attack

Nassau police continued searching Monday for two men wanted in a Locust Valley nail salon robbery they say was motivated not only by greed, but also hate, including an attack on the Iranian-born business owner, slurs and anti-Muslim graffiti.

The high-end Givan Nail and Skin Center at The Plaza was robbed about 6:30 a.m. Saturday. The suspects made off with jewelry, police said, and $2,000, according to the owner, Zohreh Assemi.

Assemi, 50, of Bayville, was accosted by the two men and forced inside the business, where they assaulted her. They slammed her head on a counter, shoved a towel in her mouth, repeatedly smashed her hand with a hammer and used a knife and box cutter to slice her face, neck, back and chest.

Last month, Assemi said she began receiving threatening phone calls from people calling her a terrorist and telling her to leave the shopping center, where her salon is located.

Det. Lt. John May, commanding officer of Nassau's Second Squad, confirmed Monday that reports of calls of aggravated harassment were taken at the Old Brookville Police Department and investigators are determining whether Saturday's robbery and those calls are linked.

Old Brookville police are reviewing the harassment call reports. Capt. Richard Smith, a spokesman for police there, didn't return messages Monday seeking comment.

One suspect was 5-foot-6, the other 5-foot-10 with a mustache and goatee. Both wore dark sunglasses and dark shirts.

During the robbery turned hate crime, the men used "anti-Islamic language" and wrote anti-Muslim graffiti on a mirror with a marker, May said. "We are investigating all avenues from the robbery to the assault to the bias incident," he said.

Assemi, who is a U.S. citizen and says she is not religious, said the men called her a terrorist and ordered her to close up shop. Though the business was not open Monday, Assemi said the salon will remain open. [Link]

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Muslims in military say ‘everybody belongs’

While serving their country, they find time to pray to Allah at least five times a day.

On Fridays, they recite their Jumah prayers in community worship, whether at the Camp Foster Chapel masjid on Okinawa or at a room set aside for them in the base chapel at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Like other members of faith groups in the minority among U.S. troops, their numbers at Pacific bases overseas are small. But their religion is center stage in the U.S.-led war against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Things have changed for Muslim servicemembers since Sept. 11, 2001 — not necessarily for the worse.

They get more questions from mostly curious — but sometimes sarcastic — colleagues about their beliefs, and some have searched their souls for answers on how their faith squares up with military duty in this current war.

But even as some American Muslims continue to report discrimination and other difficulties in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks, some U.S. Muslim servicemembers in the Pacific said they haven’t experienced any collective backlash.

They said they openly practice their religion without fear of ostracism or discrimination and report few, if any, incidents of unfair treatment.

“It’s never been an issue,” said Keith Cherry, a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant with the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Misawa Air Base. “I’ve always been forthright about being a Muslim.”

Cherry, 34, from Louisa, Va., recalls how the military reached out to support him after Sept. 11. He was stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Va. After the attacks, his chief enlisted manager, someone who didn’t share Cherry’s faith but often discussed religion with him, called him and said that if Cherry got so much as a bad look, “I needed to route it up to him,” Cherry recalled. “I never got any bad stares or anything.”

“We’ve got protection,” said Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Hafiz Camp, a building administrator for Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron One, First Marine Aircraft Wing, on Okinawa’s Camp Foster, and a practicing Muslim. “We’ve got equal opportunity advisers at each level of the command that closely monitor activities of discrimination. In the civilian world, it’s not that easy. It’s a very serious issue in the military, and it’s not tolerated.” [Link]


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Worship goes on after shooting

Corpus Christi's Islamic community cautiously continued Ramadan worship Saturday while investigators prowled the McArdle Road mosque's perimeter for clues to who shot through the door Friday.

Osama Bahloul, spiritual leader at The Islamic Center of South Texas, said he hopes the shots were accidental. Bahloul had a study class after lunch in his front office with seven colorfully draped young women.

"We hope this is the end of it," he said. "But we are genuinely concerned about our people. We have a large number of children here this month, and if he or she did this again someone could be killed."

The mosque's about 600 members are celebrating Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayer in mosques and giving to the poor, which this year began at sunset Wednesday. Members have been advised to be aware of their surroundings, and Bahloul said the center will install video cameras as a security precaution.

Initial witness information reported two gunshots fired Friday, but investigators have found evidence of only one shot hitting the mosque, Cmdr. Jesse V. Garcia said as he picked at a hole in the rock siding outside the office prayer study. Officers focused their search for the bullet's origin along McArdle Road.

The bullet pierced the top aluminum frame of a glass entry door between 3:30 and 5 p.m. Friday and shattered an exit transom window about 10 inches higher than the entry hole at the other end of the central hallway.

"We're sure it's a high-caliber weapon, based on the damage," Garcia said. Investigators have found pieces of the bullet for testing, although police had no suspects as of Saturday afternoon.

Garcia said Saturday police had not determined whether to consider the incident a hate crime. [Link]

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Muslim Beaten

The Muslim owner of a high-end nail and facial salon that caters to the likes of Jennifer Lopez was beaten and robbed yesterday in what Long Island cops called a bias attack.

The attack followed two weeks of phone calls in which Iranian-American Zohreh Assemi was called a "terrorist" and told to "get out of town," friends and family said.

She was opening her store in Locust Valley at around 6:30 a.m. when two men came out of a public bathroom and forced her inside the salon.

They smashed her hand with a hammer, sliced her with a boxcutter and kicked her before taking about $2,000 in cash and scrawling anti-Muslim slurs on her mirrors, sources said.

She was treated at North Shore University Hospital at Manhasset.

"I'm in pain. I can't talk," sobbed a shaken Assemi, 52, as she left her store late yesterday afternoon.

"They said, 'Your kind isn't welcomed here. You don't belong here,' " said Ginny Russo, a friend and customer. "You don't do that to people. That's so wrong." [Link]

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

U.N. racism expert warns of 'Islamophobia'

A United Nations expert on racism on Friday branded the defamation of religions - in particular, critical portrayals of Islam in the West - a threat to world peace.

"Islamophobia today is the most serious form of religious defamation," Doudou Diene told the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is holding a three-week session in Geneva.

Diene cited a caricature of the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a Swedish newspaper, a protest by far-right groups in Belgium on Tuesday against the "Islamization of Europe" and campaigns against the construction of mosques in Germany and Switzerland as evidence of an "ever increasing trend" of anti-Islamic actions in Europe.

"We see the initiatives and activities of many groups and organizations which are working hard to bring about a war of civilizations," he said, adding that right-wing groups are trying to equate Islam with violence and terrorism. [Link]

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Muslims deal with stereotypes

Six years ago this month, nearly 3,000 Americans were killed when Islamic terrorists committed what some would call the ultimate hate crime.

Consumed by a heady mix of contempt for the United States and a twisted love for Islam, they commandeered planeloads of people and crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

Most of the people in the buildings who didn't escape were reduced to ash and DNA.

Collective shock and sorrow over the attacks soon turned into outrage. But for many, the outrage soon metastasized into hate.

Hatred toward anyone with olive skin and dark hair, bedecked in a head scarf or turban.

Hatred like the kind that caused a man in Mesa, Ariz., to drive into a Chevron station and fatally shoot its Sikh owner.

Hatred toward anyone who dared fly while being an American of Middle Eastern descent. Or Muslim.

It has been a struggle to get much of society to see past the cloud of suspicion that enveloped all Middle Eastern Americans and Muslims on Sept. 11, 2001.

But it's getting better.

"We are going through a phrase where a great deal of this paranoia occurred, but is now subsiding," said M. Ashraf Shaikh, a founding member of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, who also said that after Sept. 11, 2001, the center had to deal with picketers out front. "But it has also caused some members of the non-Muslim community to learn more about Islam.

"We also feel pain as Muslims, because those who perpetuated those acts call themselves Muslims ... [Islam's] image has been tarnished because of a few criminals, but instead of them alone being blamed, the faith that I cherish is being blamed for it."

But even though fewer bias crimes against Muslims are being reported, fears about Muslims are still being fed - mostly by people who have turned fear and hatred into a cottage industry.

There are the preachers who believe that glorifying Christ means vilifying Islam.

Yet as people remain fixated on Islam being the only fount of terrorism that threatens the United States, more such founts are threatening to erupt. And they aren't all coming from al-Qaida.

Mike German, a former FBI agent who specialized in domestic counterterrorism from 1988 to 2004, warned that homegrown extremism - extremism like the kind that killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing - is escalating.

In a 2005 Washington Post article, he wrote about how the FBI tends to classify terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who was behind the Oklahoma City bombing, as "lone wolf" terrorists.

But German said that "lone wolf" label ignores the fact that McVeigh spent quite a bit of time hanging out with militias and white supremacist groups, while Eric Rudolph, who set off a nail bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and bombed two abortion clinics and a gay bar, was reared in the Christian Identity Movement, a hate group.

And these non-Muslim, homegrown hate groups are everywhere.

The point here, of course, isn't to compare the capabilities of fanatics to use religion as a license to destroy rather than redeem or create. But whenever I hear of someone like Shaikh talk of how painful it is to hear his religion being constantly demeaned since Sept. 11, 2001, I think about the burden he and other Muslims have to shoulder when people single them out as potential terrorists rather than citizens.

I think about the pain of him having to hear pundits shriek about how Muslims should be put in internment camps basically for committing an act of religion.

And I have to wonder: Would those pundits have recommended the same thing for McVeigh? [Link]

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BBC: Sikh school sidesteps French ban

A Sikh school is opening its doors in a Paris suburb for the first time on Saturday in the wake of tougher French laws on religious dress.

The special school in Bobigny was set up after secularisation laws in 2004 prevented Sikh boys from wearing their traditional turbans in class.

Several boys dropped out of mainstream education in protest.

The Sikh school was built by a local entrepreneur whose son was excluded from a public school three years ago.

The boy had refused to remove his turban in class.

The French laws ban the wearing of prominent religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves or Sikh turbans in public places like offices or schools.

The Sikh school will start with fewer than 15 pupils but it is hoped that a Sikh college will open later in the year to allow older boys to take business qualifications.

Although the school will celebrate its inauguration over the weekend, it is unlikely to begin classes on Monday because it is still waiting for a final approval from the local education authority. [Link]

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Muslims and the Tale of Two Continents

While most of Europe's estimated 20 million Muslims are fully integrated, law-abiding citizens with little sympathy for radical views, others are frustrated with government policies that keep them on the fringes of the mainstream. Originally from poor, rural backgrounds, a high proportion of Europe's Muslims came to the continent to labor in coal mines and steel mills during the 1960s and 1970s and remained at the bottom of the economic pile, ignored by politicians and business leaders while facing discrimination in housing, schools and labor markets.

European governments' failure to tackle these problems, combined with tough counter-terror measures and the rise of xenophobic parties, have heightened the sense of alienation felt by many Muslims in Europe. Muslims' search for refuge in conservative Islamic values has prompted friction with Europe's traditional secular liberalism and, in some cases aided by foreign-trained radical imams, created fertile ground for the spread of extremism in Islamic communities.

Europe's predicament causes concern across the Atlantic. Many US policymakers accuse EU governments of ignoring the security implications of young Muslims' radicalization and suggest that Europe could learn from America's 7 million Muslims who, measured by educational and income levels, are far more integrated than their European counterparts.

Muslim communities in the US and Europe certainly share some similarities, and a transatlantic dialogue would be useful in promoting best practices on integration. However, American and European Muslims face different challenges, reflecting their distinct composition, history and experience.

After the devastating 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, Muslims in both the US and Europe fell under close scrutiny, a condition that binds the two communities together. Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic tackle hard-line policies of suspicious governments, combat public prejudice and counter criticism of their faith as repressive and cruel. This in turn has prompted an eagerness among Muslims in both the US and Europe to assert their "Islamic identity." Despite pressures to conform to Western appearance and values, women in both communities increasingly wear headscarves, and a growing number of young adults attend mosques. In addition, US policy in the Middle East is a constant, painful irritant for Muslims of both continents.

Despite their common struggle against prejudice, however, US and European Muslims live in two markedly different worlds, largely because of income. Most American Muslims are well-educated, affluent and politically active. “They are better off than the average US citizen,” notes Philippa Strum of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Almost 60 percent are college educated, 52 percent have an income of $50,000 or more and 82 percent of those eligible say they are registered to vote. In contrast, “Muslims in Europe belong to the underclass of Europe,” says Jocelyn Cesari, an expert on Islam in Europe.

Savvy American Muslims are way ahead of their European co-religionists in terms of social standing and political clout. More active as a community, they have access to enlightened leaders and engaged in energetic, often heated debate on reconciling Islam and modern America. As a result, they’re better equipped to fight discrimination and gain respect as a minority.

America's tradition of embracing immigrants has made it easier for the diverse Muslim community – including Arabs, South Asians as well as white and African-American converts – to become part of a vast melting pot of religions, cultures and ethnic groups. Europe's small, culturally homogenous nations still find it difficult to extend a warm welcome to immigrants who, for their part, tend to retain native languages and customs, clustering in small enclaves with compatriots.

Respect for minorities is just climbing up the EU's political agenda. The German government for decades treated its 3 million Turkish population as “guest workers” requiring no special attention and expected to return home. When disaffected young African and Arab youths in France took to the streets in the “banlieues” of Paris in summer 2005 to protest unemployment and discrimination, President Nicolas Sarkozy, then the country's interior minister, denounced them as “racaille,” or “scum.” A limited outcry met his comments. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is also the norm in once-tolerant Dutch and Danish societies.

For many Muslims, practicing their faith is easier in the US than in Europe. More religious than mainly secular Europeans, Americans are less uneasy about public displays of faith and religious symbols like headscarves, banned in French state schools and some German regional government offices. The debate over the role of women in Islam raging among US Muslims – with some women fighting segregation in mosques and using faith-based arguments to reclaim women's rights – has yet to reach Europe.

While starting to group together on a national level, Muslims in Europe have yet to forge an EU-wide alliance to match the clout of pan-American organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America, headed by Canadian-born Ingrid Mattson, or the Council on American-Islamic Relations. American Muslims may feel targeted by the October 2001 Patriot Act, which increased power of law-enforcement agencies to fight terrorism, but organizations lobbying for Muslims and other professional and civil-liberties groups ensure that Muslims have no need to withdraw from the mainstream.

Most significantly, under the watch of moderate, thoughtful religious and community leaders, American Muslims show little sympathy for radical views. In contrast, European security services have identified mosques as central in the spread of radical Islamist ideologies and the recruitment of homegrown and foreign-born terrorists in Britain, France and the Netherlands. One problem is that EU governments have traditionally allowed Saudi Arabia and other conservative governments to fund mosques and imams in Europe, and evidence suggests that Al Qaeda recruiters infiltrated some mosques. As highlighted by a recent BBC survey, a majority of imams in Britain, from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan possess limited English and fail to provide a modern interpretation of the faith suited to a Western multicultural democracy.

Given such divides, EU policymakers and European Muslims often insist they can learn little from the US experience. Certainly, America's tradition as an immigrant melting pot cannot be transposed to Europe. As evidenced by heated EU debate on membership of mainly Muslim Turkey, most Europeans are also unlikely to lose their chronic fear of Islam.

But to avoid further alienation and violence, EU governments and Muslims in Europe must step off the beaten track and chart a new course for speeding Muslims' integration into the mainstream. This may require discussion of the so-far taboo question of affirmative action for Europe's Muslim minority. More importantly, instead of turning to Arab and other Islamic nations to discuss European Muslims, EU governments should examine how the US government, society and business tackle the challenge. [Link]

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Women of Birminghamabad find identity

No symbol of cultural difference is more emotive in modern Britain than the headscarf. To many non-Muslims it represents the refusal to integrate, resistance to UK foreign policy and the oppression of women. But to wearers, the hijab has as many meanings as an onion has layers. It can even serve as a symbol of self-determination. So it is appropriate that Muslim women, hijab-wearers among them, are emerging tentatively into public life after years of invisibility within the UK's highest-profile minority.

Superficially not a lot has changed since September 11 2001 in the predominantly Muslim district on the east side of Birmingham, Britain's second largest city. The wares of the mini-markets – exotic fruit and vegetables, pots and pans and racks of clothes – still spill out on to the pavements along with the bhangra music. The men dress as they always did, in suits, sportswear or long shirts. The real difference is the proliferation among the women of hijabs, and beyond that niqabs (veils) and burqas (the all-enveloping black garment with mesh over the eyes).

Welcome to "Birminghamabad", as the locally raised comedian and writer Shazia Mirza calls it. Muslims constitute one-fifth of the city's population and their origins in rural Pakistan mean their attitudes can be conservative, even extremist. Men who allegedly plotted to murder a British soldier were arrested here. Moazzam Begg, another local, was held at Camp X-Ray in Guantánamo Bay. The city boasted a President Saddam Hussein Mosque, until a name change became expedient.

Yet east Birmingham's most recognisable Muslim figure is not a fire-breathing imam but a slight, university-educated woman who is politically radical but religiously moderate. Salma Yaqoob, 36, is a councillor for Sparkhill and a member of the leftwing anti-war Respect party, led by the controversial MP George Galloway. She wears a hijab but takes issue with the idea of Muslim women as "timid wallflowers who need rescuing". For her, the garment "is a feminist statement, showing I do not have to conform to fashion or make myself appealing to men".

Although bitterly critical of UK participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Ms Yaqoob says, "Britain is a great place to be a Muslim. Difference is accepted and you can have a complex identity. I'm much more pessimistic about [continental] Europe because intolerance is so strong there." Many of her battles have been within the Muslin community. The conservatives among them have accused her of "shamelessness" for speaking in public. But the mood is changing, she says, and some mosques now offer her a platform.

Naz Koser, a singer and arts entrepreneur, is another Muslim woman in search of venues. The main stage at the Glastonbury rock festival, one of big events of the British music calendar, would do nicely. Her pop group, the Divine Aubergines, presents the novel spectacle of women in headscarves singing in public. The name is multi-layered: "divine" because the lyrics are religious and "aubergines" because, according to Ms Kozer, eggplants "came from the east and were treated with suspicion at first". Also, women in burqas are some­times nicknamed "aubergines", being dark and rounded.

Ms Kozer does not wear a burqa or a hijab. Instead, she has facial piercings and a poetic line from the Koran tattooed on her forearm. "Doing public shows is really important," she says. "They give people a better understanding of Muslim women." Performances can be doubly controversial because some Muslims disapprove of music itself , as well as of women performing it. Ms Kozer says the fiercest criticism comes from observant women, such as the niqab-wearer who disrupted a show.

"Would the Prophet, peace be upon Him, have behaved in that way?" asks Ms Kozer, 31, "No. He would not have judged me in five minutes. He would have listened."

The struggle for British Muslim women is to forge an identity that is not imposed on them either by religious zealots or a British cultural mainstream some see as consumerist and immoral. Ms Kozer says: "My feelings vary day to day. A lot of young Muslim women really rock. But when you meet a 36-year-old who has to ask for permission to visit the shops, you feel pessimistic."

Baroness Uddin, a Labour politician, equal rights campaigner and sporadic hijab wearer, talks of the "triple discrimination" faced by Muslim Asian women in the UK. The barriers range from traditions of obedience to men in the home through to prejudice in the jobs market and public life.

Yet she says Britain is "heaven" compared with France, where the hijab has been banned from some institutions, or Islamic countries where sexism is rampant. Monica Ali's best­selling novel Brick Lane ends with a Muslim woman putting on skates and stumping cheerfully on to a public ice rink crowded with other Britons. Her real-life counterparts feel they are making progress towards acceptance too. It is just slow and wobbly going to begin with. [Link]

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Lawsuit Filed On Behalf Of Muslim Woman Fired From Job

A Florissant woman said she was fired for the way she dressed and now a lawsuit has been filed on her behalf.

The company, St. Charles-based Client Services, Inc., said it has a dress code.

The woman, Mariam Soultan, said it's a matter of religious freedom.

"I felt really comfortable during the interview," Soultan said about the day she thought she had found a part-time job that was the perfect fit.

The job involved she had previously done and would also allow her to stay home most of the day with her three-year-old child.

"I was hired right then and I accepted the position," Soultan said.

On her first day of work as a phone operator for the company's collection center, she was pulled aside and questioned about her attire.

"He said will the head scarf be a problem with the head sets," said Soultan referring to the hands-free headset she was required to use.

"I said, 'It shouldn't be a problem. I've had experiences before with headsets and they fit fine on the head scarf," she said.

Soultan, a Muslim, wears the scarf as part of her religious beliefs. She doesn't go out in public without it.

Soultan said she was told the company has a dress code that doesn't allow scarves, hats or other head covering.

She also said the company told her she couldn't continue working there unless she gave up the scarf.

"I think if I give up my scarf this time for this job, who knows what I would give up next time," said Soultan.

She said she stood her ground and Client Services followed through by telling her not to come back to work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now filed suit against the company.

"It isn't as if the employer doesn't have some ability to decline an accommodation if it's an undue hardship, but here there's no evidence in the EEOC's opinion of an undue hardship." said Rebecca Stith, EEOC senior trial attorney.

An attorney for Client Services declined comment, only to say "all the facts would come out in court" and that "the company has done nothing wrong."

Soultan said she wants justice for herself and freedom from discrimination for all.

"That's what the United States is about that's why we are here in this country," she said.

The EEOC is asking for back pay for Soultan and an undisclosed amount of punitive damages.[Link]

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9/11 Brings A Return Of Vandalism For Family

For Samira Hussein and her family, the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks began at 6:45 a.m. yesterday when they noticed that six tires on their Astrovan and Lincoln Continental had been slashed outside their Gaithersburg home.

Like many Americans, Hussein said, they knew the anniversary would bring sad memories. As Muslims of Palestinian descent, she said, they were frightened but not surprised that they would be targeted on such a day.

"For most people, when you say Sept. 11, they don't think of Muslim Americans" as victims, said Hussein, 52.

Gaithersburg police are investigating the incident as a hate crime based on the Husseins' beliefs that they were targeted because of their religion, Sgt. Rudy Wagner said. Police had no suspects, and no similar incidents were reported in the city yesterday, he said. [Link]

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Screening turbans has angered Sikhs

Like all practicing Sikhs, Gurpreet Singh Tuteja wears his turban as a sacred symbol of his faith and its values of discipline and austerity. Every morning, the suburban business consultant winds a long bolt of black or saffron cloth tightly around his uncut hair, where it remains until he returns home. He has worn the turban on hundreds of business trips, without incident.

But several weeks ago, when he was boarding a flight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to return to Washington, Tuteja, 24, said he felt shocked and humiliated when a Transportation Safety Administration screener pulled him aside to "pat down" his turban as part of a new policy, even though he had passed through the metal detector without incident.

"For us, the turban is a sign of respect for God. It is not like a cowboy hat. It was very uncomfortable having someone touch it," Tuteja said Friday. "I am all for the security of the United States. I am an American, too. But it should not come to the point where civil liberties are denied. I want the airways to be safe, but I also want my rights."

The new TSA policy, enacted Aug. 4 along with other rule changes, gives airport screeners additional discretion to search passengers' headgear, including turbans, which could conceal plastic or other nonmetal parts of explosive devices. Agency officials said the policy is not meant to single out any groups.

"We were looking at where people can hide" bomb components, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said in a recent interview. "Whether it's a cowboy hat or a turban, this is what it is. And it was not directed at any one type of person or religion. It was directed at keeping bomb parts off of airplanes."

The measure set off an uproar in the country's well-organized Sikh community, whose members are on guard against being unfairly suspected as terrorists. To many, the new rules seem to cross a line from inconvenience to insult, from prudence to prejudice. [Link]

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Lantos Warns TSA Against Religious Profiling, Insensitivity

Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote today to Administrator Kip Hawley of the Transportation Security Administration to express deep concern about a new policy encouraging TSA screeners to pull aside and search airline passengers wearing religious head coverings.

“I have the greatest respect for your mission to secure our nation’s transportation systems,” Lantos wrote. “But unfortunately, it seems that this policy change has prompted TSA employees to engage in rampant religious discrimination and profiling. I hope you agree that such practices are not only illegal and inconsistent with American values, but also ultimately detrimental to national security.”

Lantos contacted Hawley after being alerted to several incidents involving the civil liberties of Sikh American travelers at San Francisco International Airport, which is in his congressional district. Travelers reported that TSA employees incorrectly informed them that secondary screening was mandatory for any passenger wearing a turban. Sikh Americans were ordered to remove their turbans, which represent a fundamental article of their faith, in full public view. More than 50 such incidents have been reported nationwide since the new policy was instituted August 4.

“It is apparent to me that these incidents demonstrate how the inconsistent application of this flawed policy has led to religious profiling and discrimination and the humiliation of ordinary Americans,” Lantos’ letter reads. “Furthermore, such practices feed public stereotypes that erroneously equate members of the Sikh American community with terrorism. Provoking a sense of fear against innocent American citizens simply because they wear turbans is a dangerous precedent that our government should take extensive care to avoid.”

Lantos complimented the TSA for its work with religious and community groups after September 11, 2001, and raised questions about how the agency could apply a discriminatory policy toward members of a group it had worked so closely with just six years ago. He requested a formal reply from Administrator Hawley, including information about actions that will be taken to inform TSA employees about accurate implementation of security policies and the possibility of trainings to prevent religious discrimination.

“As a victim of religious persecution myself, I abhor the idea that a U.S. government agency is engaged in a practice that isolates and humiliates ordinary Sikh Americans solely because they choose to wear the turban as an article of their faith,” Lantos said. “I hope that TSA will act quickly to enact changes which will ensure no future discriminatory practices are imposed on travelers.”

Lantos is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. He is the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

The text of the letter follows:

September 12, 2007

Administrator Kip Hawley

Transportation Security Administration
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4220

Dear Administrator Hawley:

I am deeply concerned about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new approach to screening airline passengers’ head coverings. I have the greatest respect for your mission to secure our nation’s transportation systems. But unfortunately, it seems that this policy change, which went into effect on August 4, has prompted TSA employees to engage in rampant religious discrimination and profiling. I hope you agree that such practices are not only illegal and inconsistent with American values, but also ultimately detrimental to national security.

I am very skeptical that a policy targeting particular religious head coverings, such as turbans, can be effective. And I am alarmed about the way this policy has been abused and inappropriately implemented by Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). Of particular concern is the fact that out of the more than 50 reported incidents that have occurred since the institution of this new policy, the most egregious abuses of civil liberties as a direct result of this new policy appear to have occurred at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is in my congressional district.

In one recent incident there, a TSO told a turbaned Sikh American traveler that a secondary screening for anyone wearing a turban was mandatory. This comment was in direct contravention of TSA’s revised policy, which calls on TSOs to use their discretion. The TSO then made the traveler take off his turban and proceeded to pat down the gentleman’s hair, all in broad public view. As a trained TSO would know, a Sikh’s turban is an article of faith and not an ordinary piece of cloth to be removed in public, which made this offense all the more outrageous. Another incident at the San Francisco airport left a Sikh American traveler so disgruntled and disgraced that he has decided to book future travel from other nearby airports so that he does not have to face such mistreatment at that airport again.

It is apparent to me that these incidents demonstrate how the inconsistent application of this flawed policy has led to religious profiling and discrimination and the humiliation of ordinary Americans. Furthermore, such practices feed public stereotypes that erroneously equate members of the Sikh American community with terrorism. Provoking a sense of fear against innocent American citizens simply because they wear turbans is a dangerous precedent that our government should take extensive care to avoid.

The lack of religious sensitivity and inconsistency in implementing this revised policy is astounding and disturbing. How could an agency that took pride in working with religious and community groups after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 be so cavalier and discriminatory in its policy that affects those same groups just six years later? The consequence is an abuse of power and the deliberate degradation of everyday Americans.

I would like to know what actions TSA will undertake to ensure that these kinds of incidents no longer occur at SFO airport. In particular, I would appreciate the following:

· An explanation of what policy guidance was given to TSOs at SFO airport, and why they seem to have been involved in a disproportionate number of religiously discriminatory incidents since the institution of this revised policy;

· An explanation of the criteria that is to be used by TSOs at SFO airport when determining whether a secondary screening should take place, on the basis of clothing or dress, even after a traveler passes through a metal detector without setting off an alarm;

· An explanation of how TSA will prevent this policy from being used as a method of religious discrimination, profiling, and humiliation against Sikhs and other religious groups who wear religiously proscribed dress, especially at SFO airport where some of the most egregious offenses have occurred;

· An explanation of what actions TSA will undertake to amend the current policy, appropriately train TSOs, and/or perform outreach to the public to better advise revisions to the policy; and

· An explanation of why head coverings, and specifically turbans, have been singled out for secondary screening when other articles of clothing could also be used to conceal threat devices, and whether you believe this has led or could lead to religious discrimination and/or profiling.

As a victim of religious persecution myself, I abhor the idea that a U.S. government agency is engaged in a practice that isolates and humiliates ordinary Sikh Americans solely because they choose to wear the turban as an article of their faith. I hope that under your leadership, TSA will make the appropriate and necessary changes so that no future discriminatory practices are imposed on travelers. I look forward to a response at your earliest convenience.



Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs

Member, U.S. House of Representatives

California, 12th District

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Sikh American Groups Meet with TSA about Turban Screening Policy

TSA Commits to First Steps; Erroneous New Policy Remains in Effect

On Monday, representatives from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS, met with officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding the Sikh American community’s concerns about the TSA’s recently revised headwear screening procedure. While our organizations are encouraged by remedial steps proposed by the TSA, we remain concerned that the new policy that singles out head-coverings, specifically the turban and equates it to other forms of non-religious head-coverings, remains in effect.

SALDEF, the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS appreciate the steps that the TSA is taking to remedy the situation. Our organizations are committed to working with the TSA to find a solution to the Sikh American community’s concerns, while keeping all Americans safe. However, we remain concerned that:

* The new TSA-issued screener guidance specifically cites the turban as an item that should be subject to secondary screening;
* The new procedures grant screeners too much latitude to subject a Sikh to additional screening, a turban pat-down, or to remove the turban; and
* The new policy endangers all Americans by focusing critical security resources on headwear when threat items that can be found anywhere on the body.

In preparation for the meeting, the three Sikh American organizations submitted a joint memorandum to the TSA late last week. The memorandum discussed the impact of the new screening procedure, introduced on August 4, 2007, on the Sikh turban. The memorandum proposed measures to revise the procedures with the objective of eliminating its disproportionate impact on the Sikh turban. At the meeting, a high level TSA official stated: “I want to apologize for not getting information out about the [policy] change on head coverings specifically out to [the Sikh American] community before the roll out. We will get better, I promise you.”

During the meeting, the TSA promised to take the following steps, in response to our concerns:

* The TSA will require all officers to offer private screening to anyone undergoing secondary screening of a head covering.
* The TSA will distribute a fact sheet for airline travelers to explain the new airport head-covering screening procedure.
* The TSA will conduct cultural sensitivity training for all airport screeners, including in person and online training about Sikh Americans featuring the On Common Ground training video. The TSA will also redistribute the “Common Sikh American Head Coverings” posters to all airports.
* The TSA will revise its public-facing website to make it easier for air travelers to file discrimination claims.
* The TSA will continue to review the guidance to the Standard Operating Procedure to determine whether its current procedures are necessary to ensure the public’s safety.

TSA also explained that persons who clear the “puffer machine” are not ordinarily subjected to secondary screening. Unfortunately, this technology is currently only available at select terminals at one-tenth of the nation’s airports.

SALDEF, the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS recommend that the Sikh American community take the following steps when traveling:

* If requested to undergo a pat down, accept the TSA officer’s offer of a private screening area.
* If available, request to go through a “puffer machine” rather than a pat down.

Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, Sikh Dharma, and the World Sikh Council. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The lessons of Sept. 11

America changed forever on September 11, 2001. Six years after the attacks, 9-11 is a demarcation date, one synonymous with December 7, 1941.

It is this generation's Day of Infamy, defined by the images of commercial jets slamming into the twin towers in New York City's financial district. In the initial aftermath of the attacks, as the unthinkable became the undeniable, people looked for an answer to the madness swirling around them. For the briefest of moments, social tensions among city residents dissolved; but these bonds soon gave way to a sense of distrust that continues up to the present.

The subsequent fallout created by 9-11 had immediate and long-term effects on the city and its residents. New York, once considered the nexus point of America's celebrated "Melting Pot," rapidly became a boiling cauldron of hyphenated Americans whose languages, religious beliefs and garb served as focal points of distrust.

Along Woodhaven Boulevard, one of the busiest commercial areas in the borough of Queens, numerous small businesses staffed by "Arab looking" employees shuttered their doors in fear of retaliation. "Real" Americans, with an overdeveloped sense of xenophobia, physically and verbally attacked followers of the Sikh religion, whose male members wear turbans as a sign of their faith. New York City, an urban matrix nuanced by millions of people from every race, ethnic background, political persuasion and religion became a closed society dominated by mistrust. [Link]

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Muslim students share what 9/11 means to them

On 9/11, hijackers crashed two airliners, the United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the George W. Bush administration declared a war on terrorism. As the nation began its campaign to punish the people responsible for the estimated 3,000 civilian deaths, the image of Muslim Americans was besmirched.

There have been numerous incidents of harassment and hate crimes reported against Middle Easterners and other Middle Eastern-looking people, particularly Sikhs. This is because Sikh males usually wear turbans, which are often associated with Muslims living in America.

Taji Abdullah became more aware of his identity as both an African American and as a Muslim after the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

"Sometimes you just see people looking at you, your name (if you have an Islamic name), or if you're wearing Islamic clothing," said the 23-year-old CSUN senior who is currently majoring in real estate and business law.

"I have a lot of respect for Muslim women who wear the hijab, covering their hair and dressing modestly, because they are subjected to this everyday," Abdullah said. "Men can mesh into society for the most part unless they have a huge beard."

People are more open-minded in Los Angeles because of the city's rich culture, Abdullah said. But because other people are misinformed about Islam, they believe terrorism is Islam, and this has negative connotations.

Agents from the FBI raided Abdullah's house in 2003. "This was a traumatic event in my life," he said. "I'll always remember that."

FBI agents questioned him and his stepmother, but they were really interested in his father, Abdullah said. His father is a lawyer, part African American, Native American and white, though he has been mistaken to be Arab. And his beard doesn't help stop the racial profiling.

"We believe the beard is mandatory," Abdullah said. "So he's not going to cut it off. He's not going to compromise his religious beliefs."

Detained for a few months, Abdullah's father was placed in San Bernardino, among other places.

It was "very disheartening to see my dad in an orange jumpsuit, seeing my dad go through that," Abdullah said.

Afterwards in the '80s, his father set up a nonprofit organization he called Holy Land Foundation that was suspected of being involved in acts of terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The organization's founders are currently on trial for such charges in Texas.

"Incidents like that take your innocence away," Abdullah said, referring to the FBI raid and his fathers' detainment. "Growing up as an African American, you are already the underdog and at the same time you are Muslim."

This situation brought Abdullah's family closer.

"You may have your parents today, but that doesn't mean that you'll be blessed to tell them you love them tomorrow," Abdullah said.

Some of the people working for the FBI are sympathetic and accommodating, but they need to do their job, Abdullah said They said, "'Sorry, this must be hard for you,' as they were putting him in handcuffs," he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they were watching me ... my dad. ... my family, or any other Muslim in America," Abdullah said. "I'm American. I can do things with confidence. I'm not afraid to be kicked off. I don't have the insecurity to assimilate into the American culture. I'm not hesitant or insecure about my nationality or ethnicity."

"I'm not doing anything illegal. It's not like I have anything to hide. If I'm comfortable, then I'll do it or wear it," Abdullah said. "It's a free country. I can do what I want, but within American and Islamic contexts."

Since the time of slavery, Abdullah's family has been here.

He's a first generation Muslim, as his father converted from Catholicism to Islam at the age of 25. His mother, however, was a devout Protestant.

Abdullah grew up in two different households when his parents divorced. He was in a Protestant household five days of the week and his mother tried to instill her religious beliefs in him by taking him to church and watching Protestant broadcasts. He visited his father's Muslim household on the weekends, where his father would talk about the fundamentals of Islam.

"It was confusing, but by the time I was 12 or 13, I knew what I wanted to be," Abdullah said. "Islam made more sense to me."

Another CSUN student who experienced firsthand how the world changed after the 9/11 attacks was 22-year-old Syeda Mudassarm, a CSUN junior majoring in economics, who was in Pakistan at the time.

In Pakistan, there's a difference in thinking, culture and religion seen in the region's clothing, and the role of women in society is all more conservative, Mudassarm said.

Mudassarm experienced how Pakistanis were unable to procure their Visas so they could be able travel to the West for the summer and winter holidays. On 9/11, she said she heard that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by religious extremists and that Pakistanis would have no part in it.

"In Iran, women have to cover up. In Pakistan, it's your choice," Mudassarm said. "The fundamentalists want you to cover up head to toe. They were even kidnapping non-Muslims and Chinese in Pakistan."

Mudassarm said, "I was so scared because they said that wearing jeans and shirts is non-Islamic. And if they saw a girl wearing it, they would kill her."

"This was not about Islam. This was about war ... about very scary things," Mudassarm said. "Everyone is supporting the same thing, against terror."

It's not just the West that's threatened, Mudassarm said. The organization called the Ral Masjid is creating problems for Muslims and non-Muslims.

"They're killing their own brothers and sisters," Mudassarm said. "They target young boys and girls. And it's working because the kids believe what they're told and they are from poor areas."

At CSUN, Mudassar lives in the dormitories and said she's never experienced such problems.

"It's very multicultural and they want to know what Islam is about. People accept me as a part of the American society," Mudassar said. "But I know the type of thinking that goes around that ignorant people think. I try to correct it, but there are so many."

"We are all normal people just like any Christian, any Jew, any Catholic," Mudassar said.

Every year after the infamous day in which terrorists attacked brings about memories of what happened when so many Americans were suddenly silenced.

Taiba Kator Mulk, 21, senior biology major at CSUN, said she remembers what her uncle told her on 9/11. "'The American government is going to go after Iraq.' I didn't know what that meant at the time, but now, six years later, I do," she said.

No personal attacks have been experienced by Kator Mulk since 9/11 because she said she knew the people around her very well. But she did hear about Sikh men who wore turbans being beaten because people they were though to be Muslims.

A change Kator Mulk noticed was that "people would ask me where I was from and then have follow-up questions about the political and social situation."

"I'm a pretty religious person. What bothered me was that the lines between religion and religious fanaticism became blurred," Kator Mulk said. "It offended me that people were calling this Islam." [Link]

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Mesa remembers Sept. 11 attacks with ceremony

The nation's tolerance was tested when more some 3,000 people died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania six years ago.

Mesa was no different, [Mesa Mayor Keno] Hawker reminded the Citadel residents, particularly after Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead outside his east Mesa gas station four days after the attack. Singh's convicted murder, Frank Roque, reportedly mistook Singh, a Sikh, for an Arab.

"He was gunned down for no other reason than he looked Middle Eastern," Hawker said.

But Hawker said he was heartened by the community's response to the murder, and the face of tolerance Mesa put forth after the nation's first hate-crime murder following the terrorist attacks.

"The City of Mesa embraced different cultures to learn more about the world," Hawker said. "And to learn more about the people out there." [Link]

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Vandals Damage Local Muslim Activist's Car

A local muslim activist reported her two vehicles were damaged again by vandals Tuesday morning.

Samira Hussein of Gaithersburg, told authorities that vandals slashed the tires on her car and her son's van sometime Monday night or early Tuesday.

Gaithersburg police said the vandals inflicted the damage with a double-edged knife.

Hussein, a Palestinian-American, and her family have been targeted by hate a number of times in recent years. According to reports, an 18-year-old man was arrested and charged with a hate crime for vandalizing two cars owned by Hussein's family in 1998. Other incidents included family vehicles being marked with graffiti such as Nazi swastikas, "go home" and "pig." [Link]

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Personal contact with minorities helps break down biases: survey

Does familiarity breed contempt? Not according to a new survey of post-9/11 attitudes toward three cultural minorities in Canada, which shows unambiguously that the more people get to know members of the country's Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities, the more they like them.

"It's very clear that exposure to others breaks down stereotypes," said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, which released results of the poll to CanWest News Service on the eve of Tuesday's sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. [Link]

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TSA targets headdress wearers, including Sikhs

A local man said his religion is being targeted by the Transportation Security Administration because they wear a head-dress called a turban.

Now that man and thousands of other members of the Sikh religion are asking the TSA to take a second look at a new security policy.

A man named Devinder Sing [sic] Bains said the TSA is embarrassing his religion in public. This comes after TSA tightened airport security in early August.

Members of the Sikh religion said their turbans are a sacred religious extension of their body. They said if somebody asked them to remove it in an airport security search, it would be equivalent to asking them to strip naked in public.

A recent revision of a TSA security policy said any head coverings must be removed if TSA agents believe it could contain a threat to security.

Bains said the TSA needs to be more respectful of their religion.

"We’re not [saying] that the security is not a good thing to have ... We are all for the security, but not at the cost of somebody's faith,” Bains said. “That's what this country stands on is freedom of speech and freedom of religion."

No one from TSA was available to speak on camera, but they did release a statement saying: “This new requirement applies equally to any individual wearing any head covering that could conceal a threat item. Examples include cowboy hats, berets and turbans. This regulation is in place to ensure the security of the traveling public and is in no way specific to any religious group.”

TSA said anybody asked to remove a head covering would be offered a private screening area.

The Sikhs said they would still like a better option.

The Sikh Coalition has begun a petition asking the TSA to reconsider the policy. [Link]

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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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