Do we want a future where our religious faith makes us a target?

From our Restore Fairness blog-

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 also proved to be an unfortunate turning point in America’s socio-cultural dynamics. For a nation that’s built upon the principles of separating church and state, America’s multi-religious identity came to the forefront as specific groups, especially Muslims or Hindus and Sikhs (who were presumed to be Muslims), became the targets of mistrust and prejudice, both institutional and social. While Americans enjoy considerable religious freedom regardless of affiliation or faith, the increased polarization of the religious communities post-9/11 is a major cause for concern. This issue is addressed in Breakthrough’s multi-platform Facebook game America 2049 which, this week, takes players to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The future that America 2049 presents, and asks players to save, shows a country torn apart by hate and mistrust. Yet the scenario of the future isn’t too far from us today. The Gainesville Times recently published a letter to the editor that exemplified the extremities of religious and ethnic hate that exists in certain parts of the country. A reader, responding to the May 6 story of a Delta Airlines pilot refusing to fly with two Islamic imams onboard, said-

It is impossible to distinguish between Muslims who are anti-American and just waiting for a chance to do us harm, and those who are merely pursuing their religious beliefs in this country. The only way to be sure and safe is to exclude them all. Such action would not constitute bias or racism against a particular nationality just because they may be different from us, or the condemnation of a specific religion because it differs from our beliefs but the action is necessary to create conditions in which it is safe to live without a constant fear of terrorism.

Such blatant justification of Islamophobia is alarming and begs us to work towards much more comprehensive multicultural education. Such views are further bolstered with several states, such as Tennessee, looking to pass a state bill which would essentially ban the practice of Sharia law in the state. The letter received much criticism and supports the statistic put forth by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that since 2000, the number of organized hate groups has increased by 50 percent.

America 2049 provides players with an interactive scenario where this situation — which is already all too real — gets worse in the near future. Players also learn about the strong Anti-Catholic sentiments that pervaded America in the mid-1800s. Such sentiments gave rise to a political party called The Know-Nothings - so called because members swore to deny any knowledge of the party when questioned by outsiders. The Know-Nothings exhibited an extreme disapproval of the wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants to the U.S in the mid-1800s, often engaging in violence and pushing for stricter immigration and naturalization laws to restrict Catholic presence in the country.

In a classic case of history repeating itself — a point America 2049 aims to make - we are now witness to similar sentiments against Muslim or Arabian/South Asian immigration to the U.S. The recent uproar around the proposed construction of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in New York City serves as an apt example of this prejudice. America 2049 aims to address such issues of mistrust and blind discrimination by challenging players to make their own choices on how to confront religious profiling by contextualizing the entire issue across history. The crucial question, therefore, is - in a country that prides itself on freedoms of many kinds, do we want a future where our faith makes us a target?

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Our World has Changed Forever and It’s Not Coming Back

On September 1, 2001 a gaggle of terrorists – at least one of whom spent his last night on Earth drinking demon run while ogling strippers – caught the early flight out of Portland , ME. The rest, as they say, is history.

When the dust settled George W. Bush grabbed a megaphone, climbed atop some rubble, threw his arm around a fireman, and gave a fiery speech about truth, justice, and the American way. The good ol’ boy fireman hug was a bit over-the-top, but otherwise it was the perfect thing to rally a country on edge and staring into a bottomless pit of C4.

It also marked the last time I agreed with just about anything he said and the last time there was any semblance of civility in the political process.

At the time, every pundit and politician talked about how the attacks were game-changers. The most oft-heard phrase was, “Our world has changed forever.”

That sure turned out a gross understatement.

Wobble-Kneed Don Knottses
Since the skeevy bastards drove the planes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field, America became – not the Greatest Generation of heroes and fidelity to high-minded principles – but a country of wobble-kneed Don Knotts impersonators grasping at any straw, enhanced interrogation technique, or abridged law to feel “safe”.

When the most unterrifying terrorist imaginable set his lap on fire, we cried out for the protection afforded by 3 oz. shampoo bottles and forbidden nail clippers – “watch out, I’ll clip you to within an inch of your pinkie finger’s quick”. And for good measure, we meekly stripped naked and suddenly thought it was perfectly reasonable to allow government agents to stick rectal probes up our asses to verify those things in our throats were tonsils and not miniature thermonuclear bombs…no doubt built in Iraq.

Our latter day lunatic fringe is terrified at the tyranny of affordable health care, yet makes not a peep over unrestricted wiretaps, error-prone no-fly lists, and a host of other insults to the Constitution.

The small government champeens somehow see a conglomeration of 380 million individual decision makers as an effective form of government. But, what about the biggest government behemoth of them all – the Department of Homeland Insecurity? For some, it and the Department of Defense are the only two allowable functions of a tyranny-free government, except for the Bureau of Who You Can’t Marry and the Anti-Abortion Administration.

Our twin 30-day cum 10-year wars grind up bodies and trillions of dollars that we aren’t really losing because they’re financed off-budget. Plus anyone the President chooses can be outsourced to some incredibly evil off shored prison to be beaten and waterboarded with impunity. Actually, you’d think they’d be all for affordable health care after all that.

America: The North American Banana Republic
Our current government is as stable as a South American Banana Republic that can’t agree on which sash and medals the President can wear with his faux flight suit and codpiece.

And, your average American Chicken Little believes the President is a Communist Kenyan, the moon landings took place in a Houston TV studio, and Bush personally killed bin Laden with the pearl-handled six-shooters confiscated from Saddam … or the Pentagon attack was staged… or bin Laden’s whereabouts have been known for years and Obama just saved the killshot for political points… or, well, you get the point.

Whether you vehemently oppose abortion, protest every capital death sentence, believe in euthanasia, or think Obamacare consists entirely of a Death Panel and hypodermic needle, chances are you see bin Laden’s killing as a richly deserved punishment for a cowardly, suburban-dwelling bully dressed in funny clothes and unable to get more than 10 feet from a dialysis machine. And, you’d be right.

Resolved: the man was a worthless piece of shit who didn’t deserve to live. Now, America can chant “USA… USA… USA!”and unite around something again. It’s a good thing that a brave team of our best warriors killed the man in cold blood – there is no question. However, the unity started to fray as the chants fell quiet. People are already arguing over every scrap of information or cockamamie fantasy they harbor. Pundits are pontificating and politicians are preening. In short, the nation is quickly reclaiming its false bravado and Don Knotts tremor.

Those folks were right nearly 11 years ago. The world will never be the same again because we’ve handed the terrorists a victory of continuous self-induced terror, exactly what terrorists want.

And, killing Osama doesn’t change that a whit.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

What does a world without civil liberties look like?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

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

Behind the Mosque Controversy, a Rich History of Both Coexistence and Conflict

Cross-posted at River Twice Research. This article first appeared in The Atlantic.

Over the past two months, the planned construction of a Muslim cultural center in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site has become the fulcrum of an acrimonious debate about religion, freedom of expression, and the place of Islam in the United States. You would have had to be living off-the-grid somewhere not to have noticed the hundreds of opinion pieces, thousands of blogs, and considerable airtime on television and radio. As characterized by Newt Gingrich, the planned center is no less than the latest chapter in a war of civilizations: "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization."

There's more...

Where Will the Line Be Drawn on Anti-Muslim Remarks?

(Crossposted on FDL Seminal)

Take Note: This post is inspired by the September 17th episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. In the show, Maher broaches the question "Do you think people like Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell do or don’t want a war with the Muslims? Because I think they do."

The question itself seems like it should be more of a joke than a serious question, especially coming from a comedian like Bill Maher. However, stop and think for a second what this actually means.

The religiously motivated right (i.e. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, etc. The list is numerous) aren’t afraid to show their feelings about where God stands in relation to governance in this country. The bible thumpers and Evangelical Christians are quick to label this a "Christian Nation" because of our founding fathers. Those who claim this, however, generally tend to neglect the fact that not all of the founding fathers were Christian. Oh yeah…and then there’s that thing in the Bill of Rights about Freedom of Religion. This, of course, also means freedom from religion if one so chooses.

In the recent years, and especially since Barack Obama came into the mainstream picture, Muslims have been falsely branded as an enemy to Christianity (among other things). In this day and age, when a Islamic mosque/community center can’t be built near ground zero without a horrendous national uproar by people like Palin, is it really that outrageous to pose the question mentioned by Maher?  . . .

My answer to that is no. Need a more physical example? Have a look at this campaign advertisement for Renee Ellmers, Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina (It’s important to mention that she is endorsed by holy crusader Sarah Palin herself).

(via Huffington Post)

Candidates like Ellmers are using the age-old GOP tactic of fear-based campaigning and putting a new spin to it. Post 9/11 has seen an increase in anti-Arab sentiment, and specifically targeted to the Muslim religion in general. This has opened the door for candidates to exploit the irrational fears of a gullible population in order to get more votes. Not only is Ellmers’ campaign ad an embarrassment, it’s riddled with assumptions. Playing on the token term "victory-mosques" Ellmers has falsely characterized the entire Park 51 Cordoba mosque situation. This effectively sways voters and leads them to believe these falsehoods, and thinking that a vote for the other candidate is a vote for terrorist victory.

Ellmers uses terminology suggesting that she characterizes all Muslims as terrorists. "The terrorists haven’t won, and we should tell THEM in plain English No, there will never be a mosque at Ground Zero."

This makes me think that Ellmers views the people wanting to build the Park 51 center as terrorists. To go to such great lengths to get a vote, this shows a clear lack of rationality as well as intelligence regarding the entire situation she is describing. Not only does this alienate an entire population, but it grossly misleads a whole other population.

The part of this entire controversy that is the most heartbreaking to me are the Muslims who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks and their families. Due to such a blown up controversy, the near 60 Muslim Americans that perished that day are being overshadowed by Anti-Islamic sentiment from people like Renee Ellmers and Newt Gingrich. These people are Americans too, just like the Christians, Jews, Atheists, etc. that also lost their lives on that day.

The New York Times did a story of a woman widowed on 9/11 that happened to be a Muslim. Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré’s husband was a cook at the Windows of the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. In this excerpt she describes praying to Allah at Ground Zero.

When she prays, she calls God Allah. Mrs. Traoré, 40, says praying in the pit feels entirely natural, even if some of those standing with her — widows and widowers, parents and children — blame her religion for the destruction of that day.

“That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not because of Allah that these buildings fell.”

Mrs. Traoré is the widow of one of roughly 60 Muslim victims — cooks, businessmen, emergency responders and airline passengers — believed to have died on 9/11. It is a group that has been little examined, and no precisely reliable count of their ranks exists. But their stories, when told, have frequently been offered as counterweights in the latest public argument over terrorism and Islam.

(Source: NYT)

"It’s not because of Allah that these buildings fell."

A statement so simple, yet so powerful. A statement that many refuse to believe. It’s time to stop this blatant hatred towards the Islamic culture and the Arab world as a whole. Generalizing an entire population because of a few radical extremists goes against what this nation was founded upon, the principles of freedom and equality for all regardless of who/what you pray to…if you do at all.

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