Why I Have Hope For American Muslim Equality

At a time of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination, communities nationwide are coming together to push back. This is the first in a series of blog posts meant to highlight this fight for equality and religious freedom.

President Obama gave a milestone speech in defense of American Muslims and religious freedom at a mosque last week. And I had a hard time listening to it. 

That may seem counter-intuitive at a time when anti-Muslim hysteria, discrimination, and violence have reached such a crisis stage that The Huffington Post has decided to track a “deplorable wave of hate.” And indeed, it was important for the president to use the power of his office to acknowledge an essential truth:

Like all Americans, you’re worried about the threat of terrorism. But on top of that, as Muslim Americans, you also have another concern -- and that is your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few.

Blaming the bad acts of a few on any religious or racial community is the essence of bigotry. Sadly, it’s not new in our country. At various times in U.S. history, Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, and Japanese-Americans — to name just a few — have all been scapegoated as national security threats, and suffered as a result. I’m glad that the president reminded Americans of that past and talked about the history and diversity of American Muslims, starting from those brought here as slaves in colonial times, to the generations who helped build this nation, to all who are part of our rich, pluralistic society today. 

What was hard about listening to the president’s speech, though, was the disconnect between his powerful words and government policies that target American Muslims unfairly and foster our national climate of fear and discrimination.

Take so-called “countering violent extremism” programs as an example. The Obama administration has identified them as a top national security priority. Certainly, preventing violence is a laudable goal. But as we document, what little we know about these programs indicates they are overwhelmingly targeted at Muslims and aim to prevent violence by policing ideas and beliefs: Our government wants to charge teachers and social workers with monitoring and reporting to law enforcement the ideas and beliefs of schoolchildren. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these kinds of programs are corrosive, divisive, and wrongly stigmatize Muslims as inherently suspicious, despite the fact that a miniscule number of American Muslims have been involved in fatal attacks in this country.

We and other civil rights, interfaith, and community groups have repeatedly laid out our concerns about these programs to the Obama administration and received no concrete response. We then filed Freedom of Information Act requests with key government agencies seeking their justification for these programs, their funding criteria, and any privacy and civil liberties safeguards. Again, we received little or no response. 

To make much-needed information public, and to vindicate many of the things President Obama said in his speech about the rights of American Muslims, we sued his administration today.

The problems don’t end with these government programs, though. Surveillance programs target American Muslims without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Muslims are detained indefinitely  at Guantánamo. Blacklists disproportionately target Muslims. The use of lethal drones in majority-Muslim countries has violated international and domestic law. 

For well over a decade, programs and policies like these have sent a very powerful message: When it comes to American Muslims, our nation’s actions often do not match the principles of equal treatment and religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution. 

Know Your Rights: When Faced With Anti-Muslim Discrimination 

I do not lose hope, though. For me, a key source of inspiration comes from American Muslim communities and allies themselves. It comes from activists engaged in organizing, and from sophisticated conversations taking place all over the country about how discrimination impacts diverse American Muslim communities. It comes from interfaith and political leaders, and local business owners, who stand against anti-Muslim discrimination, like this initiative in Minneapolis. It comes from reading about Holocaust survivors who, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, decided to speak out against anti-Muslim demagoguery. 

And it came this week from an American-Sikh fashion celebrity. American Sikhs, sometimes mistaken for Muslims, have often borne the brunt of discrimination. Waris Ahluwaria was denied boarding on a flight back to the U.S. from Mexico after he was selected for additional screening and wrongly told to remove his turban. He decided to stand up for his rights and not fly until the airline agreed to changes that would benefit not just Ahluwaria, but others. “On this day, and each day hereafter we must remember that our struggle against fear and ignorance is fought with love. That is the only way forward for humanity,” he wrote.

Until love wins and our values are reflected in our government’s policies, we’ll be here fighting. 

View comments (15)
Read the Terms of Use

K. M. Lake

God bless POTUS

WAT

thanks for your work re: CVE

Anonymous

The president needs information on who catholics killed in this country.

Anonymous

Well there is always hope

Vicki B

Especially as long as there's life. My daughter's dad used to say it: "As long as there's life there's hope."
Mohammed Atta killed my daughter's dad and almost 1500 others in Tower 1.
Mohammed Atta called himself Islamic; that word actually means peaceful, but he believed he was Muslim.
So did Osama bin Laden, who went into detail and sent it out to families of 9/11 victims for why he did what he did. He said: "Everything I do is because I'm a deeply religious person."
You think it's not confusing to someone who lost a family member or friend? I'm utterly perplexed by it.

Anonymous

This is baloney that they're doing this and then claiming (or at least doing so by implication) that it's because of what happened to my daughter's dad and thousands of others is why they want it to be this way.
Donald Trump has never EVER cared about what happened that day for any reason other than that he lost major money on something. Him, Cheney, Bush and nameless faceless others.
Then they have the nerve to try to tell people it's because of what happened to our dead relatives when it's really that they're angry they lost the art of the deal.
Donald Trump is another one who can fall asleep and then be taken by the Angel of Death, who isn't going to care one WHIT about how much gd money he has; he can beg all night not to be taken but when they decide it's his turn to go HE'S GOING whether or not he likes it.
I was Republican until they started calling Trump and Cruz that. They're Plutocrats and always have been that.
I'd vote for Hillary Clinton before Trump or Cruz and I can't stand any of the Clintons.
I'll risk losing the Second Amendment before voting in any of the Plutocrats who are owned by some nasty brothers.
You can't vote for ANY "Republicans" until they stop telling them what to do and how to look when they're doing it. Case in point: John Kasich and Rob Portman's recent actions.

Vicki

What were ERIC'S rights? He didn't seem to have any at all. Him and thousands of others whose big fuckin' crime was to go to WORK and be killed while there.
It pisses me off that nobody thinks he had any right to live unless they're his family or friends. Everyone else, who said they cared what happened to him, doesn't give a damn anymore. If they ever did in the first place and I question it now.

Josh Katz

Hijab is obedience to sharia law. Which most muslims regard higher than our constitution. These are facts. I can support them with data. Why tolerate an ideology which wants to kill you? Why shit on the hard work Arab and Persian Atheists and X muslims risk their lives for? How is Islam NOT backwards and disgusting?

Anonymous

All I know is you better stop freakin' lying about it. Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mohammedou Slahi BOTH had evidence of the "planes operation" (for funding it) beFORE they were brought into Guantanamo and that's what they were brought in FOR. That's what an FBI agent AND the media told me. If they had evidence of paying for the operation, and KSM knew Osama bin Laden himself, EVERYBODY KNOWS GD WELL THEY DID SOMETHING! Almost 3,000 people are dead because of it, that's not a lie.
So you're either lying to everyone else or me when you say they've never been charged for any crime. Paying to have thousands murdered has never been anything other than a terrible transgression, and that's what they need to be tried for. If you let them go you'll be as good as a murderer yourself when they hurt their next victims. No remorse, no guilt = they'll do it again.

Shihad 4 The Le...

I'm a gonna do SHIHAD unless I git me some CVE gravy! I feel it! HELP ME! Give me the money! I'm weak! Battered because of my sax! I'm loooosing control over my gendered religiously motivated need for violence in the USA!

Pages

Stay Informed