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Norway killings reveal politics of hate

A 32 year old Norwegian man is behind the brutal killings of 76 people in twin attacks that have shocked the world. We mourn the loss of those that lost their lives in this senseless violence. And as the shock wears off, we are slowly beginning to learn the motives behind the attack, much of which has been linked to a hatred of immigration and multiculturalism.

The man, Anders Behring Breivik, left behind a 1,500 page manifesto where he talks about the need to start a revolution against multiculturalism, fueled by the failure of Norwegian politicians in protecting the country from the influence of outsiders, with a particular focus on Muslim immigrants. The main target of his attacks were government buildings and a youth camp run by the ruling Labour Party, symbols of the government he felt were the largest obstacles to his ideal society- one without any immigrants.

In many ways, the killings have focused attention on the anti-immigrant rhetoric voiced openly in Europe. As a BBC article ‘Norway and the politics of hate’ reports,

Some of Europe’s leaders, from Angela Merkel to David Cameron, have questioned multiculturalism. The danger, of course, is that such statements can encourage extremism. Others say that in Europe the debate needs to be had, openly and transparently about immigration and multiculturalism.

A Reuters article ‘Norway massacre exposes incendiary immigration issue’ explains an even more extreme version of this questioning.

Many far-right European groups have shifted away from overtly racist rhetoric and have instead focused their argument on stressing what they see as the incompatibility of Islam and European values….Anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties have gained traction in Nordic and Scandinavian countries in recent years, tapping public anxiety over the relatively recent phenomenon of mass migration, particularly of Muslims, to their region.

It goes on to explain the political scenario in Sweden where the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, despite having roots in neo-Nazi movements of the last two decades, were elected to Parliament for the first time. And although “there may be no direct link between violence and comments by politicians, the rhetoric creates a fertile environment for ethnically motivated attacks.”

The attacks also spotlight anti-Muslim thought in the U.S. as Breivik’s manifesto credits many American bloggers and writers who talk about the dangers of Islam to the west, with angry posts creating fear and hatred.

His manifesto cited Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture…Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik’s violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counterjihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of an individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of an international landscape that is often angry, divisive and intolerant. As the world churns with change, globalization has led to the shrinking of the world, often placing different cultures together. And yet, while divisive rhetoric thrives, little attention seems to be paid to the importance of diverse societies, the richness offered by immigration, and the necessity of their contributions to growing economies.

As the world reels from this violent tragedy, we must remember that the responsibility for not allowing the politics of hate to spread lies with each and every one of us. If anything, this tragic moment should become a turning point for a more honest conversation that uplifts each other and upholds the rights for everyone to live fairly with dignity and equality and justice.

Photos courtesy of nytimes.com

New reports document discriminatory government treatment of Muslims in America

Guest blogger: Amna Akbar, Senior Research Scholar & Advocacy Fellow at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-author of both reports mentioned below.

Cross-posted from Rights Working Group.

There are visible and less visible ways the government has targeted Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since September 11, 2001. With the death of Osama bin Laden, however, mainstream pundits, commentators, and lawmakers have attempted to push us to forget the damage and the grief this “war on terror” has brought to our communities—and to immigrant communities and communities of color more broadly.

The “war on terror” has provided a rationale and an argument for an augmentation of state power.  As in prior historical moments, the brunt of increased state power has fallen on vulnerable communities.

But it is important to remember and account for the ways in which our families and communities have been marked and have suffered.  To grieve for the ways in which we have had to change.

This past month, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) has released two reports documenting, remembering, and memorializing.  Both reports raise serious human rights concerns.

Under the Radar: Muslims Deported, Detained, and Denied on Unsubstantiated Terrorism Allegations– which we released with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)– draws on interviews with attorneys and community-based groups, court documents, and media accounts to identify five key under-documented patterns of how the U.S. government has discriminatorily abused the immigration legal system against Muslim immigrants.  The patterns we document include the U.S. government’s use of unsubstantiated terrorism-related allegations without bringing official charges in cases involving ordinary immigration violations.  These practices prejudice the immigration judge and place the Muslim immigrant in a precarious situation where he is unable to defend himself against the allegations.  As a result, he is often pressured to self-deport.

Another pattern we document is the U.S. government’s use of flimsy immigration charges.  For example, the government often uses false statement charges for failure to disclose tenuous ties to Muslim charitable organizations in a way that seems to target Muslim immigrants for religious and political activities and affiliations.

The overall effect of these practices is that religious, cultural, and political affiliations and lawful activities of Muslims are being construed as dangerous terrorism-related factors to justify detention, deportation, and denial of immigration benefits.  The government seems to be targeting Muslim immigrants not for any particular acts, but on the basis of unsubstantiated innuendo drawing largely on their religious and ethnic identities, political views, employment histories, and ties to their home countries.

The patterns outlined in Under the Radar seem to be guided by racial and religious stereotypes, in a way that constitutes discrimination in violation of U.S. obligations under international human rights law.  The patterns also suggest the United States is failing to uphold its international human rights obligations to guarantee the rights to due process; liberty and security of person; freedom of religion; freedom of expression and opinion; and the right to privacy and family.   CHRGJ and AALDEF call on the government to put an immediate stop to the discriminatory targeting of Muslims through the immigration system, to provide greater transparency and accountability for immigration policies and enforcement.

Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’ critically examines three high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions and raises serious questions about the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in constructing the specter of “homegrown” terrorism through the deployment of paid informants to encourage terrorist plots in Muslim communities.  Focusing on the government’s cases against the Newburgh Four, the Fort Dix Five, and Shahawar Matin Siraj, the report relies on court documents, media accounts, and interviews with family members of the defendants to critically assess the government’s practices.  The report also, lays bare the devastating toll these practices have had on the families involved.

In the cases we examined, the government sent paid informants into Muslim communities, without any basis for suspicion of criminal activity.  The government’s informants introduced, cultivated, and then aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad, encouraging the defendants to believe that it was their duty to take action against the United States.  The informants also selected or encouraged the proposed locations that the defendants would later be accused of targeting, and provided the defendants with—or encouraged the defendants to acquire—material evidence, such as weaponry or violent videos, which would later be used to convict them.  The defendants in these cases have all been convicted and currently face prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life.

The families caught up in these abusive government practices have been torn apart. As a result of these prosecutions, they have lost their loved ones to prison, but they have also been branded as families of terrorists. They have lost jobs, family, and friends. Though many of them are organizing for change, the devastating impacts cannot be overestimated.

A number of cases around the country, raising similar concerns, suggest that these practices are illustrative of larger patterns of law enforcement activities targeting Muslim communities.  The report considers key trends in counterterrorism law enforcement policies that have facilitated these practices, including the government’s promulgation of so-called radicalization theories that justify the abusive targeting of entire communities based on the unsubstantiated notion that Muslims in the U.S. are “radicalizing.”  The prosecutions that result from these practices are central to the government’s claim that the country faces a “homegrown threat” of terrorism, and have bolstered calls for the continued use of informants in Muslim communities.

These practices are violative of U.S. obligations to guarantee, without discrimination, the rights to: a fair trial, religion, expression, and opinion; and effective remedy. The report calls on the government to stop discriminating against Muslims in counterterrorism investigations; to hold hearings on the impacts that current law enforcement practices are having on Muslim communities; and to revise the guidelines that currently govern FBI and NYPD activities and allow for such abusive practices to go unchecked.

Both reports raise serious concerns about the ways in which the U.S. government is marking Muslims and Muslim communities as particularly dangerous.  These practices have taken profound tolls on our communities.  The need to remember, and to remain vigilant, remains.

Photo courtesy of muslimmedianetwork.com

What does a world without civil liberties look like?

There are many examples of the steady dissolution of human rights in this post-9/11, “War on Terrorism” age in the United States. Racial profiling and the practice of preventive prosecution have disillusioned many who have traditionally seen the U.S. as a place where civil liberties thrive and the justice system is fair. Racial and religious profiling have become major causes for concern, and that is just one aspect of the web of increasingly stringent laws and security practices that have proliferated life in America since 9/11. The tragedy of that ill-fated day has translated into a continued state of paranoia, where basic values are ignored in the face of a potential or assumed threat.

One such story is that of Syed Fahad Hashmi, a U.S. citizen who has been through the worst of the American detention system after being accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. This “material support” involved letting an acquaintance stay with him, an acquaintance who later delivered winter clothing to Al Qaeda.

Hashmi’s story was recently retold in a compelling piece by his former Brooklyn College (CUNY) professor Jeanne Theoharis for The Chronicle of Higher Education. According to the account, Hashmi was a devout Muslim and very politically active, regularly voicing his criticisms of American policies in the Muslim world. While pursuing his master’s in London, Hashmi hosted an acquaintance – Mohammed Junaid Babar – who had brought luggage that he later handed over to an Al Qaeda leader in South Waziristan, in Pakistan. Hashmi was arrested on June 6, 2006 and held in custody for 11 months until his extradition to the United States. Hashmi was then placed in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, at first with some facilities. However, five months later, he was put under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a measure that severely restricts a prisoner’s contact with the outside world and removes all sense of privacy. Under SAMs, Hashmi’s detention was described as follows-

[Hashmi] was allowed no contact with anyone outside his lawyer and, in very limited fashion, his parents—no calls, letters, or talking through the walls, because his cell was electronically monitored. He had to shower and relieve himself within view of the camera. He was allowed to write only one letter a week to a single member of his family, using no more than three pieces of paper. One parent was allowed to visit every two weeks, but often would be turned away at the door for bureaucratic reasons. [Hashmi] was forbidden any contact—directly or through his lawyers—with the news media. He could read only portions of newspapers approved by his jailers—and not until 30 days after publication. Allowed only one hour out of his cell a day, he had no access to fresh air but was forced to exercise in a solitary cage.

The government cited Hashmi’s “proclivity for violence” as a justification for the measures, even though he did not have a criminal record, did not exhibit any signs of violence or have a demonstrated reach outside of the prison. Over the next three years, Hashmi’s lawyers appealed the SAMs over 30 times, being rejected each time for one implausible reason after another. On April 27, 2010, Hashmi agreed to a plea bargain, with the government, of one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison not just for luggage that someone else had brought into his apartment, but also because of his “anti-American jihadist ideology,” according to Judge Preska. Hashmi made his first public statement in four years, thanking everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims, for their support. Hashmi was later transferred to the federal high-security prison in Florence, Colorado and in March this year moved into its Supermax ADX facility, the most draconian prison in the federal system. Meanwhile, his once acquaintance Babar, who was the one to physically deliver winter clothing to Al Qaeda, was sentenced to “time served” (four and a half years out of a possible 70) for his “exceptional” service and because he “began co-operating even before his arrest.

While Hashmi’s true intentions – i.e. whether he was aware of his acquaintance’s Al Qaeda connection or if he had ever considered that route himself – are unknown, the outcry against his detention is more about the authorities completely denying him his right to basic human rights and civil liberites. This becomes even more deplorable especially since he is a U.S. citizen imprisoned in his own country. Hashmi’s case echoes other stories of racial and religious profiling that received much media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the stories was of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went missing on 9/11. Widespread speculation labeled him as a terrorist and an accomplice to those who carried out the attacks. However, a few months later, his remains were found near the World Trade Center wreckage and it became clear that he had died while being part of the rescue efforts.

Institutionalized racial and religious profiling deeply impacts the community at large and influences the public perception of specific groups that have been targeted by government and national security. In the ten years since 9/11, Arab-Americans and South Asians have increasingly become the targets of hate crimes around the country. In a recent instance, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down in a suburb of Sacramento without any provocation. The police indicated that there was a high chance of hate motivation for the crime.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), who had recently triggered much uproar about his Congressional hearings targeting Islam in the United States, has now added ethnic profiling to his earlier agenda. In a public television appearance on April 5, King stated that “a person’s religious background or ethnicity can be a factor, one of the things to look at.” This blatant push for religious and racial profiling instead of behavioral profiling is a foreboding sign that the issue will not be going away anytime soon. Until there is a change in this position, unfortunate stories of extreme incarceration, wrongful accusations and hate crimes will continue.

Hashmi’s former professor, Theoharis, sums up her thoughts on America’s tenuous handling of the terrorism threat, stating-

…Seeing that humanity is at odds with the political zeitgeist, where endless searches and small bottles of shampoo and fear-mongering subway posters have become the currency of national security. Where a growing obsession with homegrown terrorism means that we are again willing to chisel away the Bill of Rights in the name of protecting America.

This disintegration of the Bill of Rights for the sake of “national security” points to a future where the state of paranoia may quite likely run every facet of our lives. Such a dystopic future, where basic American values and human rights have been compromised, is the subject of Breakthrough’s ground-breaking new Facebook game, America 2049. In this alternate reality game, the player is tasked with the capture of a presumed terrorist and pushed to ask the question- What if? How close have we already come to America 2049? How can we work together—in real life—to build a better future? The game addresses issues such as racial profiling, religious intolerance, and sexual discrimination by presenting a scenario where wrong choices made today will adversely affect our future. And if the widespread cases of racial profiling and complete removal of civil liberties continue, as with the case of Hashmi, the virtual world of the future in America 2049 might come upon us much sooner than we think.

Photo courtesy of racism.conocimientos.com.ve

How ‘Un-American’ are Peter King’s Congressional hearings?

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponents of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings here:

Photo courtesy of www.upi.com

POLL: Do you support the Peter King hearings?

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Time to counter hate and intolerance

Even as hate filled rhetoric continues to pump the airwaves, there are a number of initiatives calling to counter the intolerance.

Today, on August 28th, forty-seven years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial. His message gave voice to the voiceless and his vision promoted a just, equal, diverse and compassionate country. This year, as Brave New Films reminds us, a very different message is going to be spread from the very ground on which King once stood, where TV host Glenn Beck and Ex Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin will hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

The racist tenor of Beck, Palin and the Tea Party movement is in direct contrast to the noble vision of Dr. King.

Take the pledge to

stand with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a just, diverse and equal society and not stand with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their attempt to destroy and distort King’s vision.

Meanwhile the continued elevated controversy over the so called “ground-zero mosque” is evidence that almost a decade since the 9/11 attacks we haven’t communicated, therefore, we haven’t grown. Unfortunately, many Americans still associate Muslims and Islam directly with terrorists. The Unity Productions Foundations has started www.groundzerodialogue.org, a new website where you can view several of their award-winning PBS films online in their entirety speaking directly to the issues.

Films include: Talking through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque United a Community, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. And with UPF’s “20,000 Dialogues,” project you can host your own dialogue and bring people of different faiths together to watch films on the issues and then afterward open it up for discussion, so that the voices and opinions of everyone can be heard. To expand the reach and the power of the films UPF is working with PBS stations around the country to rebroadcast these films.

A quote from the movie Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet addresses a commonly wrongly made connection,

The acts of terror violence that have occurred in the name of Islam are not only wrong, they are contradictory to Islam.

Initiatives like these use the power of film to address the common goal of peace and tolerance. The great thing about America is that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, however it is important that it comes from a place of understanding and knowledge, rather than ignorance and hate.

Ground zero and the mosque — does the court of law have it right?

Welcoming a new mosque near the site of 9/11 attacks is seen by those opposed to it as a symbol of terrorist victory and a weak U.S. On the other hand, supporters see the openness and tolerance of this act as a powerful bridge to interfaith interaction and peace. But, plain and simply, to the court of law religious tolerance isn’t up for debate.

This week  New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission faced a lawsuit after they refused to give the building that will be the future home of the new mosque historical landmark status, on the basis that status should be given because the the building stood strong during the 9/11 attacks. Approved plans to tear down this building and build an Islamic mosque in its place led Republicans and the nation’s most prominent Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League to join the American Center for Law and Justice in a heated battle against the decision to let Cordoba Initiative undergo its $100 million project to build the mosque. While the controversy over the measures of historical significance for this landmark made its way to courts, the bigger controversy underlying this court case did not. Before the court hearing Wednesday, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said,

What we’re looking at is whether the building has the architectural and historic significance to the city of New York to merit landmark designation.

In other words, its members were not asked to consider the planned use of the structure or site.

Despite the institutional refusal to debate over patriotic legacy v. religious tolerance, citizens continue to argue about whether or not the decision was un-American. For example, the Wall Street Journal published a letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (city panelist who appeased to the building of the mosque). He wrote:

While we continue to stand with you and your right to proceed with this project, we see no reason why it must necessarily be located so close to the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Those attacks, as you well know, were committed in the name of Islam… We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim ‘military’ victory — a milestone on the path of the further spread of Islam throughout the world.

While the legacy of the September 11 attacks remains in the heart of America, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick points out that

The sooner we separate the peaceful teaching of Islam from the behavior of terrorists, the better for all of us.

Patrick is the state’s first sitting Governor to visit a mosque.

If the U.S. were to single out one faith from New York’s greater cultural melting pot, it would be promoting intolerance and hatred.

Republicans say the mosque does a dishonor to the 3,000 lives lost by the Islamic terrorists in 2001’s Sept 11 attacks. However, the citizenry debate bottles down to a clash of religions, as evident when C. Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild died on the United Airlines flight 175, said,

I think it’s a tragedy for the United States. It’s another sign of weakness that we’d allow a victory mosque to be built next to what most of us is holy ground.

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Independent, said Tuesday,

The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves, and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans, if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Developers say the mosque will serve as a hub for interfaith interaction, as well as a place for Muslims to bridge some of their faith’s own schisms.

Oz Sultan, spokesman for the planned Islamic center, said,

We want to create a model that shows the world that you can develop moderate Muslim communities. We would admonish people to, at least, give us a fair shake.

The court hearing did not include a debate on the legacy of 9/11 v. religious tolerance because any debate of the sort would, without a doubt, lose to the constitutional right of the freedom to practice one’s religion as well as the division between Church and State. Republicans who filed technical legal suit for landmark measures did so because they knew they needed a legitimate reason to reach court.

After the board’s unanimous vote, its chairman, Robert B. Tierney, said the structure, which previously home to a Burlington Coat Factory, “does not rise to the level of an individual landmark.”

This is just one opinion. What are your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Jason Benjamin Paz on www.blogspot.com

Transportation Security Administration clearance a cloudy process

Guest blogger Azadeh Shahshahani published in Atlanta Journal Constitution.

I first met Adnan Tikvesa back in December when I spoke at a symposium on human rights and Islam at the Al-Farooq mosque in Atlanta.

The focus of my talk was the fundamental rights and liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, including every person’s right to due process of law.

I was on my way out when I saw a young man, looking apprehensive, approach me and ask that I take a look at the document in his hand. It was a letter he had received from the Transportation Security Administration.

Adnan is a 25-year-old resident of Atlanta and an American citizen since 2003. He first arrived in America in 1994 as a 9-year-old refugee fleeing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Mostar, a city in the former Yugoslavia.

Adnan has worked for Delta since October 2004. He was granted clearance in November 2004 for access to the secured areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. His security clearance was renewed in 2006 and again in 2008.

Adnan is part of a family that is proud to work for various employers in the Atlanta airport: his father works for Delta and his mother works for Delta Global Services; they both hold the security clearance. His sister works for the airport customer service.

Adnan has never been convicted of, or even charged with, any crime. He is well-respected by his co-workers and supervisors for the quality of his work.

So why was it that on Nov. 12, 2009, TSA suddenly decided to suspend Adnan’s security clearance without telling him why? To this day, no one knows.

“I asked, but why, what have I done? But they just handed me the letter and said I can appeal if I so choose. I said but what can I appeal when I don’t know what I have done?”

He received no responses to this plea. His badge was also confiscated.

Adnan felt humiliated by this treatment, especially in front of his co-workers. He was also confused about what exactly was happening and why.

Adnan wrote to TSA a few days later to say that he was unaware of any reason for the suspension of his security clearance and to request any information as to why this decision was made.

In January, TSA issued a grossly inadequate response to Adnan’s letter.

None of the documents produced provided any notice of the reasons underlying TSA’s decision to revoke his security clearance. The 10 pages of documents that were provided were also heavily redacted.

As a result, TSA once again failed to provide notice or a meaningful opportunity for Adnan to correct any misinformation or to contest the basis for TSA’s decision to revoke his security clearance.

TSA’s action had a profound impact on Adnan’s ability to earn his livelihood, as Delta placed him on immediate suspension without pay from his job as a baggage service worker.

None of this was easy on Adnan, who was used to living a busy life. It was not easy to have his parents and sister go to work every day and be faced with questions about when Adnan was coming back to work. Even more taxing for the family was facing the questions that were not asked: What was it exactly that Adnan had done?

For Adnan, the fight to gain his security clearance back became more than a battle to re-earn his job. It became a pursuit to redeem his name. In his words:

“I’d just like to let everyone know that I’m innocent.”

In March, the ACLU appealed TSA’s decision to suspend Adnan’s security clearance and called on the agency to tell Adnan the reasons for the decision and give him a real opportunity to respond.

In May, TSA notified Adnan that it had reversed its decision. But TSA still did not provide any explanation why it had decided to revoke Adnan’s security clearance in the first place.

TSA’s reversal is indeed good news for Adnan. But the fundamental problems with TSA’s process of suspending security clearances have not gone away.

Since the letter from TSA gives no reason for the agency’s initial decision to revoke Adnan’s security clearance or for the reversal of this decision, Adnan remains confounded as to why TSA suspended the security clearance.

There is also no indication of any meaningful safeguards in place to keep TSA from doing this again to Adnan or other workers.

After eight months in limbo, Adnan returned to work last week. His co-workers greeted him enthusiastically and even threw him a welcome back party.

But the injustice faced by Adnan has not been erased. For a Muslim-American Delta worker and a refugee from systematic injustices abroad, due process of law, a fundamental tenet of the American justice system, was denied.

So long as TSA refuses to restore due process to this system, chances are that he will not be the last.

Azadeh Shahshahani is National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Photo courtesy of www.tsa.gov