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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

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

Does discrimination have to play a part in keeping America safe?

Update: The Obama administration rescinded its policy of mandatory secondary screening for people traveling to the U.S. from 14 countries considered either “state sponsors of terror” or “countries of interest”, a policy hastily introduced after an attempting bombing on Christmas day last year. It now going to focus on intelligence and behavior in subjecting people to secondary screening, no matter which part of the world they come from. Many critics felt the policy was discriminatory, and so while concerns of profiling will continue, there is relief among advocates that it is no longer the official stated policy.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

In a response to the December 25th bomb attempt on Northwest flight 253 to Detroit, the Transportation Security Administration announced a new screening policy that requires “enhanced screening” of passengers flying into the United States from 14 countries considered either “state sponsors of terror” or “countries of interest”. With the exception of Cuba, the rule targets passengers, including U.S. citizens, that are traveling from Muslim-majority or Middle Eastern countries. The additional screening procedures including full body searches, pat-downs, scans and luggage inspections, in addition to the normal processes undertaken at the airport.

Many groups have reacted strongly to the directive, which carries on the pattern of profiling and alienating members of certain communities since 9/11. But the discriminatory rule is also considered an ineffective security measure.

In a briefing aptly called Targeting Needles, or Adding More Hay?,

Jumana Musa from the Rights Working Group pointed out that in the 1990s, when law enforcement began monitoring suspicious behavior instead of profiling based on race, arrests of targeted suspects actually increased even though fewer searches were conducted.

The ACLU shares similar concerns.

Electronic strip-searching of innocent people, racial profiling and bloated, poorly managed terrorist watch lists do not stop terrorist attacks, but they do infringe upon Americans’ rights and waste valuable resources…We must invest our security resources in investigations based upon reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing so we can more effectively identify and stop attackers before they get to any airport.

These strategies are not only smarter but save valuable resources. And they avoid racial and ethnic profiling, an unreliable means of identifying criminal behavior. Similar examples have yielded no results, like the one cited in this advocacy letter.

These new procedures parallel the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS), put into effect shortly after 9/11. Despite tracking at least 83,000 individuals from Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries, the NSEERS program did not result in a single terrorism conviction. Neither NSEERS nor the new TSA standards, make us safer because they divert attention and resources away from legitimate leads and identifying suspicious behavior.

But there are other consequences besides profiling. According to the ADC,

During the past decade, similar racial, ethnic and religious profiling tactics and practices have time and again misdirected precious counterterrorism resources, damaged foreign relations with key allies, fueled the fires of extremists by giving them an excuse, stigmatized communities, and most importantly did not have any discernible impact on security. Based on precedent, these new directives will be no different than these past practices and their adverse consequences; and while such directives may appear to make us feel safer, the reality is that they discriminate against innocent persons and divert attention from real threats.

An editorial by Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates sums it up best,

President Obama has admitted that we didn’t connect the dots in the Abdulmutallab case. Federal authorities overlooked such clues as the alleged bomber’s improper attire for the Detroit winter, purchase of a one-way ticket, the United Kingdom’s rejection of his visa request and his own father’s efforts to alert authorities about his son’s recent extremist tendencies…We shouldn’t focus on what a terrorist looks like, but on what a terrorist acts like.

Photo courtesy of www.tsa.gov

POLL: Is the new TSA guidance an effective way to screen for potential terrorist threats?

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Take action on this historic opportunity to “Restore Fairness” to the Patriot Act

Picture 1On December 31, 2009, three provisions of the Patriot Act expired, creating a perfect opportunity for Congress to examine the Act and its infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens. However the House and Senate rejected an alternative proposal called the JUSTICE Act that would bring in more checks and balances and add long overdue civil liberties protections and instead renewed the expiring provisions for 60 days. Time is running out and so on February 3, 2010, a broad coalition of allies are going to D.C. and they would like you to join them in flooding the halls of Congress in protest of the Act.

Amid the climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, expanding the government’s authority to secretly search private records and monitor communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing. Many believe that the legislation threatened privacy, intellectual freedom, and sanctioned racial profiling. And more than seven years after its implementation, many more believe there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists.

The provisions that are set to expire relate to roving wiretaps that allow authorities to monitor an individual instead of a particular phone number, a business record provision that allows investigators to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation, and the “lone wolf” provision that allows authorities to monitor terrorism suspects not connected to any specific foreign terrorist group or foreign government. But there is hope that this moment can be used as an opportunity to amend other parts of the Act. According to the ACLU this must include,

National Security Letters (NSLs): NSLs are secret demand letters issued without judicial review to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons.

Material Support Statute: This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Intended as a mechanism to starve terrorist organizations of resources, it has actually undermined legitimate humanitarian efforts such as asylum claims and charitable contributions.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act of 2008: Originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information, Congress changed the law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails in the fight against terrorism.

Even with it cloaked in secrecy, government reports reflect a rapidly increasing level of surveillance and Department of Justice Inspector General reports have revealed misuse of NSL and other aspects of the Act. Moreover, several federal courts have found parts of the Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Add your voice to the demand that Congress uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of its citizens.

Photo courtesy of www.reformthepatriotact.org

Human Rights First report tells us that broad immigration laws label bona fide asylum seekers as “terrorists”

AsylumReportAccording to a Human Rights First report released last week, since 2001, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers who pose no threat to U.S. security have not received protection from the U.S. government due to the overly broad provisions of Immigration law, and the expansive way that they have been interpreted by federal immigration agencies. The report, entitled, ‘Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law’s “Terrorism Bars” on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States’, outlines the pervasive, unintended consequences of the “terrorism” provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and provides some recommendations for swift and comprehensive solutions to the problem.

Out of the 18,000 cases, 7,500 are in limbo after having been put on hold or delayed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most of these are people who are already in the U.S. and have filed for permanent residency. However, the delays are thwarting efforts of these people to bring over their family members, many of whom remain in stuck in very dangerous and difficult situations in their home countries.

While this situation can be traced back to provisions instituted in the 1990s, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the 2005 Real ID Act expanded the scope of laws dealing with “terrorist organizations”, “terrorist activity” and “material support” in ways that ensured that thousands of men, women and children who comprised of people who were abducted by rebel armies, who fought for democracy in their countries, and doctors who provided medical care to the wounded in accordance with their occupational obligation, were denied asylum even while they had fought for causes that the U.S. supports.

At the center of the report lie personal stories of those affected by these provisions. The most striking is that of a young girl who was kidnapped by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, forced to take part in armed conflict, and threatened for her work against the use of children in armed conflict. Her application for asylum has been on hold for a year because of her previous involvement in armed conflict.

In another case, a refugee from Burundi was detained in U.S. county jails for 20 months because DHS and the immigration judge that heard his case decided that he had provided “material support” to a rebel group when the rebels had, in fact, forcibly robbed him of 4 dollars and food. Sachin Karmakar, a Bangladeshi man who advocated for religious minorities and was facing persecution for his work, was granted asylum but not permanent residency because he was involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 fight for independence from India.

Calling for reform, the report details that although DHS has been trying to deal with this situation by granting discretionary waivers, it has been piecemeal and is clearly not enough. They suggest that Congress amends the notion of “Tier III terrorist organizations” and the definition of “terrorist activity” to be more specific and appropriate.

The INA’s sloppy definition of a “Tier III terrorist organization” is causing groups that the U.S. does not treat as “terrorist” in any other context to be defined in this way…refugees who pose no threat to the U.S., and are not guilty of any conduct for which the U.S. would legitimately want to exclude them, are being denied the protection they need or are unable to obtain permanent residence or reunited with their spouses or children. Any non-citizens who do pose a threat to the U.S. or who are guilty of actual terrorist acts or other crimes are already covered by other provisions of the immigration law, so that the “Tier III” definition is being used overwhelmingly against people who were not its intended targets.

Moreover the Human Rights Watch report demands that DHS -

adopt a more effective and fair approach to granting “waivers”, one that allows people initially applying for asylum, refugee status or other relief to be considered for waivers based on an individualized assessment of their actions, that permits prompt adjudication of the large mass of applications for permanent residence and family reunification of people…and that ensures that no refugee is deported without being considered for a waiver if eligible for one under law.

Anwen Hughes, the author of the report, says that the speed at which Congress and the Obama administration is dealing with situation is disastrously slow. She said that change is critical in order to ensure that the immigration laws are no longer used to exclude legitimate refugees from the protection the U.S. is committed to offering them.

Photo courtesy of www.humanrightsfirst.org