My family laid its roots in this nation during the late 1800s when my paternal great grandmother was born in Michigan City, Ind., while my maternal great grandfather came to Michigan, establishing his foundation in 1902. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army and I have several family members who have served and some who continue to serve. When will we, as a national community, begin to recognize and understand that American Muslims are an integral part of the fabric of this nation? When will we have the courage to stand up in the face of adversity and against discrimination and injustice? When will we be allowed to have our voices heard and our human rights preserved?
Today, innocent residents of this nation express fear leaving their homes, traveling to other cities, or conducting business across state lines. The fact that some Americans have lost their sense of propriety, spewing hateful and ignorant comments as if based on factual information about a community in this nation, is appalling and disturbing. When do we rise above this type of ignorant behavior and say, enough is enough?
Countless acts of discrimination are committed against people of various ethnic and minority communities, many of which go undocumented and unreported. Scores of American citizens seeking opportunity, liberty, freedom, and simply, the right to exist in a nation that was established to afford basic human and civil rights to its citizens, struggle daily to live in a nation that has made anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim rhetoric a part of the cultural norm through politics, media, and social activities.
With dangerous hate-spewers campaigning for the highest office in this nation, speaking with hatred and ill-will towards Muslims and the Islamic faith and culture; advocating for “carpet-bombing” people into oblivion; sharing false stories of Muslims being killed with bullets “dipped in pigs blood,” (as if pork products and pigs blood are kryptonite to Muslims). It all leaves me wondering how long these hateful people will be given a public stage to be so dangerously, inappropriately, dishonestly stupid. It’s overwhelming.
I still try my best to remain positive and have more faith in my fellow Americans, believing there is more good than bad in society. hough incessant news stories of hate crimes and discrimination against an American community raise the question as to why these poor excuses for leaders and the band of fools who follow them and hang on their every word as if it is the gospel, have such a large soapbox to stand on? What possesses people to lose their common sense?
In recent news, African American Muslim US Army Reservist, Raja’ee Fatihah, was removed from a recreational gun range near Tulsa, Oklahoma because he was Muslim. Although Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range is open to the general public, in July 2015 the owners posted a sign near the front entrance announcing that Muslims are not allowed in the facility; it was advertised a “Muslim free establishment.” Similar signs and policies have also cropped up across the country at gun stores and ranges.
This is, simply, appalling.
In an interview with Rana Elmir, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, she speaks to us on the case of Raja’ee Fatihah, anti-Muslim backlash, and the work the ACLU is doing to protect American Muslims.
MuslimGirl: An Oklahoma gun shop refused service to a Muslim serviceman. What premise does the ACLU have to file a lawsuit against a business owner who chooses to place a sign on his property stating that he refuses to serve Muslim customers? How often do you hear of these types of occurrences? In your opinion, why is this matter one that is worth fighting?
Rana Elmir: Last week the ACLU of Oklahoma, ACLU and CAIR-OK sued the owners of the gun range on behalf of Mr. Fatihah because of a simple concept – Businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms, and refusing to serve people based on their faith is unlawful discrimination. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the gun range owner’s policy violates Oklahoma’s non-discrimination law as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids certain places of business from denying service to customers based on their race, color, religion, or national origin.
We believe that nobody should be turned away from a business, refused service by government officials, or evicted from their home, just because of who they are or what they believe.
This case is not just about defending the rights of an individual American Muslim, but it’s about fundamental fairness and freedom. Fifty years ago, businesses were allowed to refuse to serve people based on their skin color, and as a nation, we decided that was wrong and un-American. It is just as wrong and un-American today.
MG:Given the fact that the ACLU serves the entire nation and lawsuits are filed addressing a wide range of matters, do you see Islamophobia or discrimination towards Muslims to be on the rise with the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the last few years? Does the ACLU have any statistics on how many lawsuits were filed on behalf of Muslims or addressing issues pertaining to the American Muslim communities post 9/11?
Elmir: After 9/11, a wave of anti-Muslim bigotry washed over the country. Its intensity has sustained for more than a decade, and, in many ways, it’s stronger and more deeply entrenched today. The essence of this bigotry – any bigotry – is the desire by some to erroneously ascribe the crimes of a few to all others in our diverse Muslim communities. And in recent years, this bigotry has taken a more violent tone. American Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim have been violently assaulted; and scores of mosques and Islamic Centers have been vandalized, with attacks ranging from racist and anti-Muslim graffiti to arson and firebombing. In addition, unwarranted surveillance and unlawful profiling continue, and exclusionary immigration policies targeting people based on their faith, nationality, or national origin are on the rise.
The only other noticeable spike we’ve seen in recent years was caused during the misguided furor over the Park 51 Islamic Center in New York. In addition, while the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI fell in 2014 in most categories, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes rose, with American Muslims experiencing five times the number of hate crimes today than they did before the Sept. 11 attacks.
But we don’t need these numbers to tell us that there’s been an uptick in violence and discrimination caused by Islamophobia. As American Muslims, we feel it, we see it and we experience it. The fear and trauma is present in all we do and, most recently, has been fueled by a heated presidential campaign in which some candidates use attacks on American Muslims as a campaign platform to score political points with voters.
While we believe it is the responsibility of our government to push back and redouble its efforts to protect and preserve the rights of targeted groups when public hysteria and intolerance reach a fever pitch, we know that this hysteria is also fueled by failed and discriminatory government programs and legislation that entrench discrimination and stigmatize entire American Muslim communities.
The ACLU works in every state at all levels – the courts, and local, state and federal governments – to hold officials accountable and to uphold the rights of all Muslims. In the last 15 years, we’ve been involved in nearly every fight to protect Muslims’ rights in America. Some of these efforts include:
* Opposing discriminatory immigration policies that target refugees and travelers with any tie to Muslim-majority countries
* Rejecting bans on Sharia and international law, and successfully challenging those bans in court
* Supporting mosques and community centers, whether they are targets of vandalism or discriminatory campaigns to stop new construction or expansion
* Protecting the rights of Muslim students to practice their faith and be free from discrimination
* Combatting discrimination against Muslim women who wear hijab, Muslim men who would like to grow their beards, and discrimination against Muslim prisoners
* Challenging widespread law enforcement infiltration and surveillance of mosques and Muslim communities
* Litigating, with our partners, a challenge against the New York City Police Department’s discriminatory surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers, in which a strong settlement was recently announced
* Litigating a challenge against the FBI for illegal surveillance in Southern California’s Muslim community
* Congressional testimony against hearings on the so-called “radicalization” of American Muslim communities
* Fighting the unconstitutional administration of the “No Fly List” (in a lawsuit in which all of our clients, who include military veterans, are Muslim)
* Uncovering the FBI mapping of local communities and businesses based on race and ethnicity, and the FBI’s use of community outreach to gather intelligence
* Fighting anti-terrorism financing laws that interfere with American Muslim’s ability to perform zakat
* Fighting back against invasive questioning and racial profiling at US borders and airports
* Litigating challenges to unlawful indefinite detention without charge or trial of Guantanamo prisoners, including Mohamedou Slahi, whose best-selling book Guantanamo Diary, was published last year to worldwide acclaim, and working to close Guantanamo
* Seeking accountability for US torture victims and shining a light on the US torture program through FOIA litigation that exposed the full extent of the Bush administration’s program
* Challenging the US’s targeted killing program, which has killed thousands of people outside armed conflict zones in majority Muslim countries, and operates without meaningful oversight
* Challenging the secrecy of the US’s Countering Violent Extremism program, which overwhelmingly targets Muslims and polices constitutionally protected ideas and beliefs
MG:Many are unaware of how long the legal processes can be and how time consuming some battles are…can you tell MG readers some of the other cases that the ACLU is working on (that pertains to American Muslim communities) and how long some of these cases last?
Elmir: As the proverb goes: “the wheels of justice turn slowly, but exceedingly fine.” The ACLU’s game is the long game. While some less complicated cases can be resolved in a few months through settlement or mediation, other cases, particularly against the federal government, can take longer to resolve.
The federal government has thwarted attempts at accountability by consistently claiming that our lawsuits related to the US’s programs of torture, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and targeted killing should not even be heard by the courts.
We still persevere. For instance, earlier this month, in response to a decade-long lawsuit against the Department of Defense for records relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners in US detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department released an additional 198 photos of abused prisoners. Because of this litigation, the government has released more than 100,000 pages of documents concerning the abuse and torture of detainees by the CIA and Department of Defense. However, our lawyers think the most damning evidence of government abuse – 1,800 more photos – remains hidden from the public, including photos related to the case of a 73-year-old Iraqi woman allegedly sexually abused and assaulted by US soldiers.
We’re not stopping until we have complete transparency and accountability. In fact, next month our lawyers will be in court on another case related to the torture program.
This time we’ll be asking an appeals court to find that the complete and final report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s investigation into the program must be publicly released. The report not only describes the horrific human rights abuses by the CIA, it also chronicles the agency’s lies to Congress, the White House, the media and the public. The full torture report is the most comprehensive account of the torture program to date.
With several presidential candidates vowing to reintroduce torture if elected, it’s critically important that this report see the light of day to help ensure that torture as official US government policy never happens again.
MG:There are many in our nation who face discrimination, daily, whether in their communities, employment, academic institutions, or at border crossings…what makes a situation important enough to contact the ACLU?
Elmir: In the face of the rising Islamophobia and discrimination, the ACLU consolidated and released “Know Your Rights” materials to help Muslims understand their rights in many important areas. Readers can find these resources on the ACLU’s website.
We have ACLU affiliates in every state that individuals can contact to file complaints. While we may not be able to litigate every issue, it’s important for us to hear from people and make sure we understand the scope of anti-Muslim discrimination on a variety of levels as we advocate for and support communities across the country.
We usually become involved in cases either by representing a party or submitting a “friend of the court” brief when we believe that we can advance civil liberties or civil rights through a legal challenge to a violation of law, or a change in law or policy. And, since the Constitution is designed to protect people from abuse of power by the government, the ACLU primarily challenges the government, rather than private organizations or individuals. Of course, we also may get involved in employment discrimination or public accommodations issues, particularly as they relate to discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
MG:What tips can you give our readers to protect themselves from defamation and discrimination? What are some key points that people must remember in order to file a claim with a civil rights organization?
Rana Elmir: We must never resign ourselves to this notion of a new normal in which American Muslims are targeted, surveilled and discriminated against with impunity. The key is to remember that there is no such thing as being too vigilant. We must report and document discrimination, violence and profiling against our communities. For a variety of reasons, too many hate crimes and instances of discrimination go unreported. Filing a complaint with the ACLU or other civil rights organizations is an important step to building a movement for change whether that’s in our courts, legislatures, school districts or prisons.
If you believe your rights have been violated remember to write down everything you remember about the encounter as soon as possible, including the names of witnesses. If you’ve been injured, take photos of your injuries after you’ve sought medical attention.
If you believe your rights have been violated by a law enforcement agent try to remember or write down names of agents or officers, badge numbers, patrol cars and other details. Most importantly, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
Elmir made it abundantly clear in closing this conversation:
Anti-Muslim discrimination is not new — it did not start on 9/11 and it was not created by Donald Trump or Ben Carson. Instead it is a pernicious cancer on our American ideals. Whether it’s a bill to ban Sharia law, a ‘Muslim-free’ establishment sign, a zoning technicality to reject a mosque, or a Muslim child bringing a clock to school, the ACLU has repeatedly proved that arguments for treating Muslims differently are excuses to entrench religious discrimination. Whenever and wherever anti-Muslim discrimination has found a foothold, the ACLU has challenged it, spoken out against it forcefully, and stood in support of targeted communities. As an American Muslim, I am proud of the ACLU’s work and proud to count myself as a card-carrying member.
Now, that is a card worth carrying <3