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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Court: Passengers can challenge no-fly list

Critics of the government's secret no-fly list scored a potentially important victory Monday when a federal appeals court ruled that would-be passengers can ask a judge and jury to decide whether their inclusion on the list violates their rights.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated a suit by a former Stanford University student who was detained and handcuffed in 2005 as she was about to board a plane to her native Malaysia.

The ruling is apparently the first to allow a challenge to the no-fly list to proceed in a federal trial court, said the plaintiff's lawyer, Marwa Elzankaly.

The decision would allow individuals to demand information from the government, present evidence on why they should not have been on the list, and take the case to a jury, Elzankaly said.

The ruling means that "someone who finds it's likely that their name has been placed on a government watch list will get their day in court," Elzankaly said. [Link]

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Clueless crossword

ALTHOUGH THIS is perhaps not the most pressing issue of the day, Saturday's [Boston Globe] crossword showed how far we still have to go in terms of awareness of other cultures and religions. The answer to the clue "Hindu sect member" was "Sikh." Sikhs are not members of a Hindu sect, any more than Christians are members of a Jewish sect (the relationships are similar).

Sikhism is a monotheistic and egalitarian religious tradition, with approximately 23 million to 25 million adherents around the world, placing it ninth among world religions.

Yet since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs have regularly been misidentified as Muslim, and have suffered from violence and harassment like Muslims. Identifying them as Hindus is no better.

Education is the key to understanding the many ways of being religious, whether here or in other parts of the world. Given the current world situation, this understanding is more crucial than ever for everyone, religious or not. [Link]


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This headpiece is a marker of the Sikh identity and a symbol of a religious belief system despite the desire to fit in, where as by creating the Khalsa (an order of the pure ones) to uphold universal brotherhood, Guru Gobind Singh gave the Sikhs the 5 K's in a baptismal rite: Kes (long hair), Kangha (comb to keep the long hair neat), Kara (an iron bracelet), Kachcha (shorts) and Kirpan (sword). These outward symbols were meant to remind them of their principles.

From the day I got old mature enough to know myself I got long hair on my head, and small Turban. That’s how I grew up and that was my belief as a Sikh. I used to go to the temple almost every day when I was a child. The temple priest was really good friend of mine and he taught me how to read Sri Guru Granth Sahib JI (Holy Book of Sikhs). I started wearing Turban. I was a happy person. Then 1989 I moved to Toronto Canada and started my high School. A new country, a new language and new people. Every day I faced new problems. Some of the white people started making fun of me by calling me paki, some of them touched my Turban, and at that time I got English-speaking problem. Few times I complained to my class teacher, but nothing happened. I felt weaker and weaker inside of me, I got fed up, tired from all the problems I was facing.

Finally I asked my cousin if I could cut my hair. So he took me to barber shop and cut my hair. I felt so sad, I cried, but it was too late. From that day my mind was never in peace. I felt like I am missing one of my body part. Missing something in my life. That started bothering me so much....

Finally the most important thing of wearing turban is following The Way of Sikhism. Since I am a Sikh I am proud of my Religion that taught me to be pure or being natural. Sikhism taught me to let my hair grow, and in order to keep my hair clean I have to cover my hair all the time that’s why I am a Proud Turbaned Person. And I am happy once again. [Link]

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Arabic Names a Hinder in Swedish Banks

When Ahmad Waizy from Lindome tried to complete an international payment transaction on Skandiabanken’s website, he was unable to complete the payment as the bank rejected his first name.

After ringing the bank, he was told that Skandiabanken’s online payments system has a bar against names that could be of Muslim origin. Over 4000 people have Ahmad as a first name in Sweden today.

The Ombudsman against ethnic discrimination (DO) has asked Skandiabanken to justify its policy. Skandiabanken’s head of press Lena Hök told Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that the bank was only following the European Union’s sanctions list. This means that certain common Arabic names such as Hussein and Mohammed are affected.

However, Hök said that Skandiabanken welcomed the official report to the Ombudsman as they need a clear directive on the current status. [Link]

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The multi-faith contingent

What can an American Sikh learn from the Jewish people's Zionist state for his own people's aspirations to set up an independent homeland in Punjab? What do Seventh-Day Adventists think of a renewed Jewish state in the Holy Land?
These were some of the questions batted around by members of an eight-member multi-faith contingent of US policy makers active on Capitol Hill that included, in addition to a Sikh and an Adventist, a Hindu, an Evangelical Christian and a Chinese-American.
The tour, which passed through Sderot as well as Arab villages, was organized by Project Interchange, an institute of the
American Jewish Committee (AJC) aimed at giving influential Americans a better understanding of Israel.
James Standish, who represents the world-wide Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the US Congress, the White House and the US's executive agencies, said that unlike most Evangelical Christians, members of his faith do not see the establishment of the State of Israel in theological or prophetic terms.
"For us it is more of a humanitarian event," said Standish.
"After centuries during which the Jewish people were stateless, after the Holocaust there were obvious historical and religious reasons for establishing a Jewish state.
"Obviously, we also hope that there will be a final settlement so that both the Jews and the Palestinian people will have a state."
Standish added that Seventh-Day Adventists felt some affinity for the Jewish people since they both shared the same day of rest.
"Just like Jews, Adventists don't work on the Sabbath. We also don't eat pork or shellfish."
Rajbir Singh Datta, national director of the Sikh American
Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), said that while Sikhs did not have an official stance on Zionism, "we do have something to learn from the Jewish people's challenges in reconciling religion with democracy," said Datta.
"People are not sure what a future Sikh state would look like and how religion would be a part of the governance of the state. Jews have already had experience with these issues."
Sikhs harbor an aspiration to build their own state in Punjab, a territory between India and Pakistan, that would have a Sikh majority and be run in accordance with the religion's principles.
Datta said that the Sikhs also shared the modern Jewish state's strong military ethos.
"Sikhs can definitely be considered a martial race. Although we make up about one percent of the population in India, we constitute between 10% and 15% of the standing army. During British rule the numbers were even higher at between 27% and 30%.
"Like the Jewish people we have had to fight to defend ourselves against our Hindu and Muslim neighbors."
Reverend Richard Cizik, the most senior staff member of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 43,000 churches with 27 million adherents, said that as an Evangelical Christian he felt a "familial" connection with the
Jewish people.
"Besides the fact that my paternal grandmother was Jewish, I feel a special love and connection with the Jewish people as a Christian," said Cizik.
"I am neither pre-millennial nor dispensationalist like some of my fellow Evangelicals. Nevertheless, I feel an intrinsic identification with the Jewish people because of my commitment to biblical truth, that people of other faiths might not have. After all, Christianity is an outcome of Judaism.
"At a personal level you can't love Jesus and not love the Jewish people, otherwise it is a violation of your Christianity. All the Christian bigotry and hatred directed against the Jewish people throughout the ages is a sad aberration."
Richard Foltin, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the AJC, who headed the multi-faith mission, said that Project Interchange worked very hard to give as many different perspectives as possible on the ongoing conflict between Israelis and their neighbors.
"We try to expose people on our missions to the 'big picture,'" said Foltin.
Some of the points on the mission's itinerary include briefings on the legal rights of ethics minorities, the Arab Israeli community, the impact of immigration on Israel's political system, the future of settlements, a tour of the security fence and a tour of Sderot.
"In addition to presenting the mission with a sophisticated and complex picture of Israeli society, we also try to put together a mission with a diverse mix of outlooks and perspectives.
"If the mission members don't leave here with more questions than when they came we have not done our job."


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Senate Judiciary Committee calls for delay of new FBI guidelines

US Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Monday, calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to postpone implementation of new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) guidelines until Congress has had a chance to review the changes. Opponents of the controversial guidelines argue that the changes, if adopted, could allow for inappropriate profiling and would allow agents to open terror investigations without evidence of any crime being committed. The senators wrote that Congress should be consulted because of the change in protocol regarding racial profiling in FBI investigations [Link]

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Documentary Film Inspires National Dialogue on Race and Religion During 9/11 Anniversary

Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath (2008), the first feature-length documentary film on hate violence following Sept. 11, 2001, will screen across the U.S. next month in a grassroots campaign for deep dialogue about racism, religion, and renewal in America.

Divided We Fall follows the journey of 20-year-old college student Valarie Kaur as she documents hate violence against Sikhs and Muslims in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 and examines the larger question of "who counts" as American. On a two-year international tour, the film has won more than a dozen awards and reached 150 campuses and communities in 90 cities across the United States. [Link]


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Monday, August 18, 2008

'We will kill your family'

He is here to treat people but now an Indian doctor whose nose was fractured in a racist attack in Lancashire says he wants to leave the UK.

The 32-year-old who does not wish to be named was subjected to racist abuse from a gang of teenagers as he tried to make his way to a late on-call shift.

Having lived in England for four years, two of which he spent in Southampton the doctor said he now wanted to leave the country for good. Over thirty percent of doctors working in UK hospitals are from abroad.

"My perception of England is totally different now. This is not the England I was told about. And I would advise any doctor thinking of coming and working here to think twice.

"Although I have received no abuse on the hospital grounds, every other day since I moved to the area I have got the odd comment about the way I look but nothing like this.

"I'm trying to move, not only out of this area but out of the country. My wife says she does not feel safe here and wants to get out as soon as possible.

"She feels there is no guarantee that this won't happen again.

"I have friends across the world in America, Canada and the Middle-East. None of them have had this happen to them."

The incident happened as the doctor was heading to a shift at the hospital at 9.50pm when he was approached by a gang of about seven men, close to a Day and Night shop in the old Blackburn Infirmary area.

"It began with comments like Where is your mosque?' and We are paying for your taxes to be here'. Soon it deteriorated with more racial abuse like You black bastard'. I am Sikh and people's ignorance here is beyond belief.

"I thought this was nonsense as I am a highly skilled professional and it was not difficult for them to see I was a doctor - I had a stethoscope and a hospital badge on my jacket.

"Little do these people know that my wife and I pay over £10,000 in taxes and national insurance to live and work here.

"Soon one of them said We will kill your family if you don't move out. We know where you live.' And then he headbutted me."

Police confirmed they are investigating the incident and are still keen to speak to anyone with information about the attack.

They can contact Crimestoppers anonymously 0800 555 111.

Police are particularly keen to speak with a woman in a red car who stopped and spoke with the victim and may have seen what happened. [Link]

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Arab-American Charities Still Wary After Treasury Meeting

Representatives of Arab-American groups attending a public meeting with U.S. officials today remained skeptical about assertions that Treasury Department and FBI efforts to shut down charities suspected of funneling money to terrorist organizations are not based on religion or race.

During a roundtable discussion with Arab-American charity and community leaders at the Treasury Department headquarters, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing Patrick O'Brien said the government was "committed to strengthening our relationship with Arab and Muslim-American communities." [Link]

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Post-9/11, faiths rallied to protect Muslims

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, leaders in New Brunswick, N.J., had an immediate concern: protecting their Muslim neighbors.

The city, a university and healthcare industry hub of 50,000, is on the commuter rail run into New York City, 30 miles away, and Middlesex County, its home, mourned 70 dead residents following 9/11.

Yet when an Episcopal priest warned the local police chief that hotheads might retaliate by attacking an Islamic society property, the chief replied that he had already sent officers to protect against any violence. Up against an environment of fear and grief, when some sought vigilante vengeance, New Brunswick instead rallied to protect its Muslim neighbors....

But [a] book includes the case of the Islamic School of Seattle, whose non-Muslim neighbors patrolled the sidewalks in case vandals attacked the school, and similar examples in other cities.

Elsewhere, when word spread on the Internet that Muslim women in traditional head scarves feared for their safety when they went shopping, neighbors offered to shop for them, according to Niehbuhr. In another example, employers encouraged Islamic employees to report harassment, promising to clamp down on it.

Indeed, interfaith cooperation preceded 9/11. By one estimate, 1,000 interfaith groups have formed since the mid-90s, spurred by growing religious diversity wrought in the country by immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said Niebuhr.[Link]


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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Op-ed: We must not abandon our legal system in response to terrorism

A military court convicted and sentenced Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, this past week in connection with terrorist activities.

Hamdan was charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, but he was acquitted of the conspiracy charge.

The court believed he didn’t know about plans for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States, but by driving and hiding bin Laden, he provided support for terrorism. The sentence, coupled with time served, could mean that Hamdan would be released by December this year, as he has been held at Guantanamo Bay by our government since 2003.

While this trial might not be the end of the legal road for Hamdan, it does represent an important milestone in the nation’s war on terror. It’s a milestone, however, that the nation passed before, long ago.

In this country, we don’t lock away people indefinitely without due process, trial and conviction.

If someone is suspected of a crime, we investigate, gather evidence, arrest, charge, try, convict or acquit, and sentence or release.

For too long the nation has held people in limbo at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or in secret prisons overseas.

This trial, before a six-member military panel, was seen by some as outside the bounds of our accepted and tested legal system, and it was. However, it did permit the hearing of evidence, permitted the accused to mount a defense, and it still provides the means to appeal to civilian courts and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court.

A concern is the length of time that it took to reach this juncture, and the fact that the Bush administration contends that the court’s sentence doesn’t make any difference — it can still hold Hamdan indefinitely as an enemy combatant as long as the war on terror continues.

Past wars have caused other presidents to take steps that were later regretted. The internment of Japanese Americans is one example.

We also will regret holding people without charge, or without trial, then continuing to hold them regardless of trial outcome.

As a nation, we must put more faith in the rule of law. Unlawful acts should be prosecuted, but we should not prosecute suspected acts that cannot be proven because of a lack evidence and thoughts that don’t lead to acts.

Judicial standards carved out over more than 200 years are worth protecting, not abandoning in moments of panic. [Link]

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

American Muslims may not be whom you’ve been led to believe they are

As the war in Iraq continues and as a man with a "funny name" (his words) runs for president of the United States, there is an undercurrent — fast becoming a riptide — of negative feelings toward Muslims based mainly on old stereotypes and renewed prejudices.

Egged on by the voices of right-wing commentators who constantly harangue against "Islamist extremists," real and imagined, more and more Americans find it easy to discriminate against Muslims in general as well as their fellow citizens who happen to practice Islam....

There is no surprise that many Muslims in this country expressed discontent with the country's war on terrorism since, according to 53 percent of them, it has become more difficult to be Muslim in America since 9-11....

Only one-fourth of Muslim Americans said they had been victims of discrimination in the United States, "while 73 percent say they have never experienced discrimination while living in this country," according to survey results. [Link]

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Japanese Americans remember internment apology

Scores of Japanese Americans gathered at San Jose City College on Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the day many of them never thought they'd live to see: the signing of legislation by President Ronald Reagan officially apologizing for interning them during World War II.

It may seem today that the apology was a given, but it took many years of lobbying politicians and convincing some of their fellow Japanese Americans who thought the ugly chapter was "best left in the dustbin of history," said Norman Mineta, an influential U.S. congressman at the time who later became U.S. secretary of commerce and then secretary of transportation.

"It happened because there was a group of people who demanded it must happen and because tens of thousands of our fellow citizens agreed that it must," said Mineta, who was interned in Wyoming as a boy. "It will always mean more to me than I can ever adequately express."

Mineta was one of 120,000 Japanese - some born in Japan and others born in the United States - who were forced from their homes by the U.S. government and into internment camps after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Japanese American families lost their homes and businesses and were not given the right to challenge their internment in court. [Link]


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Monday, August 11, 2008

Mosque's annual get-together reaches beyond the congregation

The idea of an annual Sunday get-together at a North Seattle mosque stemmed from an incident two days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A man splashed gasoline on cars in the Idriss Mosque parking lot and started to flee. When congregants followed him, he turned and fired shots into the ground. It was the first local hate crime after the attacks.

Neighbors stood watch at the mosque 24 hours a day. Thousands of people came by, flooding the congregation with flowers and cards to show them not everyone was filled with hate.

As part of an ongoing "thank you," mosque director Hisham Farajallah and others organized a neighborhood barbecue, inviting everyone with hopes they'd break down stereotypes. The first year, about 100 people showed.

On Sunday, the Muslim community welcomed more than 800 throughout the afternoon, including hundreds from outside their congregation.

"This is our goal," said Farajallah, a Boeing engineer by day. "To get people to know and understand each other." [Link]

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Op-ed: Laptop seizures - hello, Fourth Amendment?

For at least the last six years, federal border agents have been taking travelers' laptop computers away from them to be searched without any evidence of the travelers' wrongdoing. Border officials have been able to share copies of the laptops' contents with other agencies - and to prosecute travelers for crimes based on what they've found on the illegally searched and seized computers.

Anyone's computer (or flash drive, hard drive, iPod, cell phone or pager) can be seized, and has been seized. According to a recent survey by the Association of Corporate Travelers, 7 percent of business travelers report having their laptops searched by the federal government. One of the reasons why the public is finally learning about this program is that businesses were starting to get worried about their trade secrets leaking out to rivals. It's an unfortunate way to learn about this infringement upon our Fourth Amendment rights. [Link]

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South Florida Muslims gathering to urge involvement in communities

Muslims in South Florida plan large event to promote understanding through involvement in communities

South Florida's Muslims have decided it's time to raise their profile.

For the first time, Muslim leaders from Broward, Palm Beach and other southern Florida counties will gather for a summit that will allow them to socialize, share safety concerns and find ways to make their voices heard in local civic life. Muslims from Miami, Homestead, Key West, Fort Myers and Naples are expected to be among those who attend.

Twenty-eight Muslim leaders are expected for the brunch meeting today at Pembroke Lakes Country Club in Pembroke Pines. The leaders will fill out a survey that will answer questions about their mosques, their schools, their interfaith activities and voter registration drives. The meeting . . . is intended to motivate Muslims to increase their participation in public life. [Link]

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Lifeguard files rights complaint after YMCA tells her she can't wear hijab

A Montreal lifeguard has filed a human rights complaint against a local YMCA after the club told her she couldn't wear her hijab on duty.

The 21-year-old woman has been swapping her traditional Muslim headscarf at the poolside for a "burkini," a swimsuit that covers everything but the face, hands and feet.

The Montreal YMCA said the hijab puts lifeguards at risk from the grabbing hands of panicked swimmers in rescue situations. [Link]

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Man Is Found Dead Near a Sikh Temple in Queens

A man who was known to have begged for cash on street corners in Richmond Hill, Queens, was found dead about 5:40 a.m. Friday on a sidewalk next to a Sikh temple on 97th Avenue near 118th Street, the authorities said.

The man had suffered head injuries, and investigators said they found a stone and a stick near the body that might have been used in the killing. On Friday night, two traffic cones and a barrel linked by yellow police tape marked the place where the body was found, near the Sikh Cultural Society, which doubles as a community center and a prayer hall for the neighborhood’s large Sikh population.

The man, who appeared to be in his 50s, carried no identification, and the police did not know his name as of late Friday.

The man was familiar to people in the area, though the police said that residents interviewed on Friday did not know his name, where he lived or whether he had a home. At least one resident said that the man had a wife and children in India, and that he was probably from northwestern Punjab State because he spoke the language of that region.

That resident, Jasminder Singh, said that the man prayed at the Sikh temple twice a day, but that he did not wear a turban, as other Sikh men do. [Link]

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sikh athletes to don turbans at Games as 'celebration of Canada'

Some Canadians might not agree with the notion of altering or adding to the national team marching uniform for an Olympic opening ceremonies. Yet after listening to Canadian field hockey player Ravi Kahlon's eloquent explanation, you at least understand the reasoning why he and three fellow Indo-Canadian players will wear turbans when marching into the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Games on Friday.

The four players - Victoria's Kahlon, Bindi Kullar, of North Delta, B.C., Gabbar Singh of Surrey, B.C., and Ranjeev Deol of Mississauga, Ont., - don't wear turbans in everyday life and don't ever intend to. So why now, on this mammoth stage, with the world watching?

"I want to challenge the identity issue," said Kahlon, who admitted the other three players, and assistant coach and former Canadian Olympian Nicki Sandhu, were reluctant when he first broached the idea with them.

"I want to show that you can wear a turban and still be Canadian," he added. [Link]

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Fog of War-Crimes Trials

Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson opened the proceedings at Nuremberg not with a list of Nazi atrocities but with a tribute to the war-crimes court itself: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”

The ensuing trials, though not without their flaws, largely fulfilled this lofty promise, standing as a monument to the rule of law and the very idea of conducting public trials for war criminals. As civilized people, we have a natural desire to see criminals held responsible for their actions. The desire is that much stronger in the case of large-scale crimes like genocides or terrorist attacks, which seem to demand not just accountability but a reaffirmation of the moral order — a public enumeration of what is right and what is wrong — that can be delivered only in a courtroom.

The hope once was that military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay would meet this need — if not provide closure on the Sept. 11 attacks, then at least enable a collective participation in the trials of their perpetrators. There were practical reasons to opt for tribunals over the federal courts, which were not designed to try combatants captured on the battlefield: a soldier couldn’t very well be expected to read a prisoner his rights. But there was something else, too. Trying terrorists as war criminals would send a powerful message to the world.

And yet the tribunals that just opened hardly have the feel of history in the making. They haven’t merited much discussion in the presidential campaign; nor are we a nation riveted by the trial of the first defendant, a former driver for Osama bin Laden named Salim Hamdan. Instead of a landmark case, one that serves as a resonant reminder of the gulf separating us from our enemies, we have detachment and ambiguity — not just about the extent of Hamdan’s guilt but also about the wisdom of the entire tribunal process as well as many other aspects of the prosecution of the war on terror....

The enduring legacy of Nuremberg was an international movement to outlaw crimes against humanity — a movement that has gone a long way toward keeping order in a violent world. What will the legacy of these war-crimes trials be? [Link]


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America celebrates twenty years of righting a wrong

Sunday, August 10, marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. government's apology to Japanese Americans for internment during World War Two. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and live in detention camps after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942.

It took more than 40 years for the U.S. government to apologize for its wrongdoing, but Japanese Americans say the American Civil Liberties Act is a symbol of America's progress.

Although internees admit it is difficult to share their experiences, survivors say future generations need to know what happened to make sure America doesn't repeat past mistakes.

Japanese Americans say its important to remember their struggle, but more important for all ethnicities to protect their rights. They say racial profiling would be an insult to to the interment experience. [Link]


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Monday, August 04, 2008

Rights groups object to terror profiling

A new program by the U.S. Department of Justice targeting Muslim men of Arab descent for surveillance is unconstitutional, civil rights groups say.

The new "terrorist profile," set to be unveiled as early as this week, is meant to keep tabs on such men who frequently travel abroad and maintain extensive international contacts, the Detroit News reported Monday.

Under the measure, the men may be subject not only to stops at the U.S.-Canadian border, but also to wider investigations that could include electronic surveillance and detentions, whether or not they are suspected of wrongdoing, the newspaper said.

"What is dangerous is that they've moved away from reasonable suspicion of criminality into the area of what they are calling suspicious behavior," Michael German, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the newspaper. He said the group is preparing legal challenges to the initiative.

"Our people contribute economically and culturally in all aspects of American life, and this is like a slap in our face," said James Allen of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce in Detroit.

The guidelines won't circumvent constitutional limitations on the use of race, a Justice Department spokesman told the News. [Link]

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Rights groups fear feds' new terror profile

U.S. says some Arab, Muslim men who regularly travel abroad may face more scrutiny.

Border guards recently began detaining Wissam Charafeddine every time he crosses from Windsor into the United States. Without explanation, he has been handcuffed in front of his parents and held apart from his pregnant wife for hours in isolated detention.

Charafeddine says he has done nothing wrong, "not even a driving ticket." But authorities, who always release him, say there is no remedy. Charafeddine is among a large group of Arab-Americans and Muslims who are detained for undisclosed reasons whenever they cross the border.

So far, Charafeddine is affected only when he goes to Canada. But as early as this week, the U.S. Department of Justice says it will announce a "terrorist profile" by which Muslim men of Arab and Pakistani descent who frequently travel abroad and maintain extensive international contacts may be subject not only to stops at the border but also to full-fledged national security investigations, which may include electronic surveillance, detentions, searches and interrogations, regardless of whether they are suspected of wrongdoing. [Link]

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Tulsa teen's discrimination complaint not A&F's first

Abercrombie & Fitch, the mega-clothier accused of not hiring a teenage Muslim because she wears a religiously-mandated head scarf, has a history of discrimination complaints.

The unnamed Tulsa teen, who has not responded to requests for an interview, filed a complaint with the Oklahoma office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Oklahoma City. [Link]

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Feds want kinder, gentler border guards

The federal government is putting border officials at Mississauga's Pearson International Airport through sensitivity training so they can more appropriately deal with Arab and Muslim passengers.

The Canada Border Services Agency is contracting out training sessions for up to 500 of its border services officers, stressing the need for those who screen passengers to "effectively perform their enforcement responsibilities in a respectful manner" at Canada's busiest hub.

Groups representing Canadian Arabs and Muslims are welcoming the sensitivity courses, scheduled between this September and March 31, 2009, as necessary and overdue.

"After 9/11 we became all potential terrorists without doubt, and we still have some examples of people being picked up from the line because they wear long beards or the hijab," said Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation. "It still happens on a regular basis."

He said his organization has held meetings with several government departments, including the federal border agency, to raise complaints of profiling and discrimination, and even delivered training kits to the CBSA last fall.

"That sort of proactive act, or measure, didn't come out of the blue. We had to lobby very hard with them to realize that you cannot (target certain groups) because you have preconceived perceptions or because there are all sorts of clichés out there."

Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said training courses are an "excellent idea" that are in line with the seminars and speeches that he has delivered to federal employees, including with the Canadian Air Transportation Safety Authority, over the last two years.

But he still hears complaints of Muslim and Arab passengers returning from certain Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Syria being subjected to greater scrutiny than Muslims and Arabs returning from European countries.

Those travellers are also more likely to have their luggage searched, to be questioned about their activities and purchases abroad and to have their passport information taken down, Elmasry said. [Link]

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