With the escalation of Washington’s war on terror, America’s
Muslim community is increasingly demonized and its basic civic rights
threatened. This is the main message from a recent symposium on "Discrimination against Muslim Americans in a Post-9/11 World."
This would not have been a surprising conclusion from some big city liberal
institution, but it is all the more significant coming from the Law School of
Washington and Lee University, a small, elite Southern institution in
Lexington, VA, proud of its heritage and traditions.
"Discrimination against Muslim Americans is just part of the larger picture
of discrimination against minorities in this country," said Monica Tulchinsky, a
third year student in international human rights and one of the student
organizers of the forum, explaining why they had chosen this theme.
The first trial ended in 2007, without proving any links between the foundation and Hamas. In a retrial, however, based on testimony from secret sources and hearsay, five Holy Land officials were convicted of sending more than $12 million to charities allegedly controlled by Hamas. The defendants were sentenced to 15 to 65 years in prison. On Oct. 29, 2012 the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal; the next step is to file a writ of habeas corpus.
“The case brings shame to the American justice system,” Hollander said, comparing it to the Supreme Court’s 1944 decision on Korematsu v United States, which upheld Executive Order 9066, which sent Japanese Americans to internment camps. That ruling eventually was voided as being based on false information.
In a panel on “Muslims in America Today: Where We Are, Where We’ve Been,” Daniel Cox, co-founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, presented a grim picture of American perceptions of Muslims from recent surveys. Nine-in-10 Americans know nothing or little about Muslim religious beliefs and practices, and only atheists are viewed more negatively. Seven- in-10 Americans have little or no social interaction with Muslims—on a par with Mormons. While 81 percent believe Muslims in America hold strong religious beliefs, nearly 7-in-10 feel they are not respectful of women. Four-in-10 Americans say Islam encourages violence more than other religions, and 63 percent of Republicans (66 percent Tea Party) and 40 percent of Democrats say Islam is at odds with U.S. values. Finally, nearly 6-in-10 Americans acknowledge that Muslims in the United States face a lot of discrimination; only gays and lesbians are said to face more.
Providing context to these numbers, Haris Tarin, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, DC, listed world events that have led to the “trauma” in U.S.-Muslim relations: the oil embargo and Iranian revolution in the 1970s, bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s, the first Gulf war in 1990-91, and 9/11/2001, when a group of Muslims declared war on the United States. Initially, Americans had been supportive of the Muslim community, but over time there was an increase in hate crimes, discrimination in housing and employment, and rhetoric against mosques, shariah law and Muslims in general. Tarin cited reports by the Center for American Progress which found that far right-wing groups have poured $50 million into “an anti-Muslim political agenda.” (See November 2011 Washington Report, p. 18.) Noting there are only about four million Muslims in the U.S., he said that more than personal interaction is needed to rebut an anti-Muslim campaign. Tarin called for more pushback from the political leadership, saying, “When public leaders step in, things change.”
Amara S. Chaudhry, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) representative in Philadelphia, focused on the government’s increased criminalization of Muslims since 9/11. She specifically referred to enhanced surveillance by the FBI and New York Police Department of mosques, organizations, cafes, universities, airports and borders. Pointing out that FBI guidelines bar the use of race in profiling, she emphasized, “and so they target Muslims—not North Africans or Middle Easterners.”
Hamid M. Khan, of the United States Institute of Peace recounted how shariah has been distorted from its original meaning as “a path” to become a political football “no longer controlled by academics but in the hands of politicians.” In the U.S., the anti-shariah movement played a significant role in the 2010 midterm elections and the Republican presidential primaries. Chaudhry said anti-shariah militants have presented 78 bills in 31 states, but only five states have adopted the legislation. A Pennsylvania court declared the anti-shariah bill “inherently unconstitutional,” and Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment barring shariah was challenged in a federal court.