IAJ News Blast

December 14, 2014

Welcome! This is a *weekly news blast with links to articles, both news and commentary, from last week about issues that concern Muslims locally, nationally and internationally - including news about countries with Muslim minorities and countries with Muslim majorities. You are getting this news blast because of your involvement in Islamic Alliance for Justice and/or your interest in the Muslim community. This news blast is only intended to raise awareness about important issues facing and concerning Muslim communities as well as to share critical commentary on the media and public discourse on Muslims. As many of us are too busy to read the news, excerpts of the articles are included, as well as the link to the full article. For questions or concerns, or suggestions on content matter, please email the Media Coordinator at oka4@cornell.edu. Thank You.

*Apologies for not sending this out in the last two weeks. Also, we will not be sending out any news blasts until the first week of the next semester. Please do keep up-to-date on the news until then.


Fashion and Religion Clash at Abercrombie

The Bloomberg View

The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch, started in 2008 when 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at the Abercrombie Kids store in the Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At Abercrombie, salespeople are called “models,” and part of the job interview is scored on how you look. Once hired, the “models” must comply with an Abercrombie “look policy” that governs how they dress.

Elauf knew the score. Before the interview, she asked a friend who knew the store’s assistant manager whether she would be able to wear a hijab on the job. The manager told her friend that because he’d worked with someone who wore a yarmulke at Abercrombie, he expected the hijab would be fine...
Elauf didn’t get the job — and the EEOC sued Abercrombie for religious discrimination. A federal district court thought it was an open and shut case and decided summarily for the EEOC. The 10th Circuit reversed. In a split decision, the court didn’t just send the issue to trial; it issued summary judgment for Abercrombie.

ADC Defends Right to Religious Accommodation in Supreme Court Case, EEOC v. Abercrombie

ADC Press Release

Washington, D.C. | www.adc.org | December 11, 2014 - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. In the brief, ADC supports the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position that employees have a legally protected right to practice their religion in the workplace by wearing articles of faith, including the Muslim hijab. ADC's brief can be accessed here.

ADC is the only national Arab American civil rights organization. Part of ADC's core mission is to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of Arab Americans by responding to instances of employment discrimination. ADC is joined in this brief by other organizations supporting the right to religious accommodation, including KARAMAH (Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights), Cornell University Islamic Alliance for Justice (IAJ), and Penn State Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).

... if the Tenth Circuit Court’s decision is affirmed, the law will effectively authorize employers to discriminate based on religion under the guise of “look policies" that effectively exclude Arabs and Muslims from employment. First, ADC argues that the Tenth Circuit’s decision undermines religious protections of the Civil Rights Act. Second, ADC argues that wearing the hijab is a religious practice of Islam. Third, ADC argues that the Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” is discriminatory. Lastly, ADC argues that permitting employees to wear hijab will not have a burden on Abercrombie’s business.

Why Ferguson is Our Issue: A Letter to Muslim America

The Islamic Monthly

Ferguson is a Muslim-American issue because we frequently appropriate Black imagery and ideas with no history of aligning ourselves with Black struggle. We quote Malcolm X to counter government surveillance of our mosques, and cite Martin Luther King, Jr. to relate the struggle of Syrians to an American audience.

Ferguson is our issue because, before Muslim-America was 'Arab' or 'South Asian,' it was Black. Enslaved Muslims constructed the first mosques, observed the inaugural Ramadans, and paved the streets and roads we drive atop today.

(read more at link above)

Racial profiling will still be allowed at airports, along border despite new policy

Washington Post

As the Obama administration prepares to announce new curbs on racial profiling by federal law enforcement, government officials said Friday that many officers and agents at the Department of Homeland Security will still be allowed to use the controversial practice, including while they screen airline passengers and guard the country’s southwestern border.

...President George W. Bush banned racial profiling in 2003, but the prohibition did not apply to national security investigations and covered only race — not religion, national origin or sexual orientation. All of those categories will be covered under the new policy, which will be required for Justice Department agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and will be considered guidance for local police, officials said.

...Even as the administration imposes what officials called historic limits on profiling practices, it is also set to allow the FBI to continue the policy of “mapping” — under which demographic data about particular ethnic groups is used to designate a particular neighborhood for possible investigations and to recruit informants. This exception could raise the ire, for instance, of American Muslims, who have had a sometimes contentious relationship with law enforcement after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Terrorist or … Teenager?


It didn’t occur to me that my teachers or neighbors might be cataloging my behaviors and beliefs to determine whether I was on a “pathway toward violent extremism”—or that they would consider referring me to the FBI. That would have been a bizarre response to my teenage angst. But that is what our government, in the name of “identify[ing] threats before they emerge,” is now encouraging.

Under a pilot program announced this fall, the U.S. government is tasking local American Muslim communities to monitor the opinions and noncriminal behaviors of their members, especially youth. Under the moniker of “Countering Violent Extremism,” communities are being asked to identify individuals who, based on factors including their political beliefs and behavior, could pose a threat. Some of these individuals will then be counseled or diverted to community-run social programs. Others could be referred to the police or FBI.

FBI investigating possible hate crime in fatal hit-and-run of Muslim boy in KC

The Kansas City Star

The FBI announced Friday it was investigating the fatal, and apparently intentional, hit-and-run incident that killed a 15-year-old Muslim Somali boy as a potential hate crime.

The boy, identified by police Friday as Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, was killed early Thursday evening as he was leaving the Somali Center of Kansas City at Admiral Boulevard and Lydia Avenue.

...In another release, the Kansas Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations cited Somali Center officials as saying a man had been threatening Muslims in Kansas City for months. It also said the vehicle involved in the boy’s death was seen months before bearing anti-Islamic message written on a rear window in broken English.

“We urge federal authorities to get involved in this case in order to send the message that our nation’s leaders will not allow American Muslims to be targeted because of their faith,” CAIR-Kansas Chairman Moussa Elbayoumy said in a news release on Friday.

“We urge federal authorities to get involved in this case in order to send the message that our nation’s leaders will not allow American Muslims to be targeted because of their faith,” CAIR-Kansas Chairman Moussa Elbayoumy said in a news release on Friday.

U.N. torture committee blasts U.S. over police shootings and Gitmo

Chicago Tribune

The report is the U.N. Committee Against Torture's first review of the U.S. since 2006. There was controversy in the lead-up to the U.S. testimony to the Geneva-based committee about how expansively the Obama administration would interpret the treaty, which the Bush administration had controversially argued did not apply to the U.S. military or to CIA prisons overseas. In the end, officials told the committee that the treaty's prohibitions on torture apply "wherever the United States exercises governmental authority," a definition that includes military facilities but not necessarily the kind of "black site" prisons the CIA operated on the sovereign territory of other nations during the Bush years. U.S. officials argue that this doesn't mean the there's wiggle room on torture, which in any case is prohibited under laws passed by Congress. Rather, they're just concerned about setting a precedent for the scope of other treaties with similar jurisdictional language.

The committee didn't buy it. The U.N. group was "dismayed" by the U.S. position, which, in the future, could "permit interpretations incompatible with the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment." While the U.S. is no longer using Bush-era techniques like waterboarding on detainees, the committee lamented "the ongoing failure to fully investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment" as part of the war on terror, as well as the failure to provide more information about the now-shuttered network of secret interrogation facilities.

The committee also expressed concern about "physical separation," an interrogation technique permitted by the U.S. Army Field Manual, which involves preventing a prisoner from communicating with other detainees. The manual stresses that this "must not preclude the detainee getting four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours." Some members of the committee argued that this constitutes sleep deprivation, though the testifying U.S. officials argued that four hours of sleep should be read as an absolute minimum rather than a recommendation.

The report also raps the U.S. for continuing to hold detainees without charge at Guantanamo. Just last week, the U.S. finally released Saudi detainee Muhammad Zahrani, the "forever prisoner," who had been held without charge since 2002. That leaves 142 people still in custody at the facility.

Waiting for Fahd: One Family’s Hope for Life Beyond Guantánamo

Produced by the Center for Constitutional Rights, “The heartrending documentary “Waiting for Fahd,” tells the story of CCR client Fahd Ghazy, a Yemeni national unlawfully detained at Guantánamo since he was 17 and who is now 30. Through moving interviews with his beloved family in Yemen, “Waiting for Fahd” paints a vivid portrait of the life that awaits a man who, despite being twice cleared for release, continues to languish at Guantánamo, denied his home, his livelihood, and his loved ones because of his nationality. Share the film with everyone you know:http://www.ccrjustice.org/fahd, with #FreeFahd.”

"Rectal Feeding," Threats to Children, and More: 16 Awful Abuses From the CIA Torture Report

Mother Jones

On Tuesday morning, the Senate intelligence committee released an executive summary of its years-long investigation into the CIA's detention and interrogation program. President George W. Bush authorized the so-called "enhanced interrogation" program after the 9/11 attacks. The United States government this week has warned personnel in facilities abroad, including US embassies, to be ready in case protests erupt in response.

The full report includes over 6,000 pages and 35,000 footnotes. You can read the executive summary here. Here are some of the lowlights:
1. The CIA used previously unreported tactics, including "rectal feeding" [i.e. anal rape with a tube] of detainees (p. 100, footnote 584)
2. CIA officers threatened the children of detainees (p. 4)

3. Over 20 percent of CIA detainees were "wrongfully held." One was an "intellectually challenged" man who was held so the CIA could get leverage over his family (p. 12)
4. One detainee, Abu Hudhaifa, was subjected to "ice water baths" and "66 hours of standing sleep deprivation" before being released because the CIA realized it probably had the wrong man (p. 16, footnote 32)
5. The CIA, contrary to what it told Congress, began torturing detainees before even determining whether they would cooperate (p. 104)
6. IA officers began torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "a few minutes" after beginning to question him (p. 108)
7. The CIA planned to detain KSM incommunicado for the rest of his life, without charge or trial (p. 9)
8. During waterboarding sessions, KSM made up a story that Al Qaeda was trying to recruit African-American Muslims…in Montana (p. 118)
9. In 2003, Bush gave a speech at a UN event condemning torture and calling on other nations to investigate and prosecute torture allegations. The statement was so at odds with US practices that the CIA contacted the White House to make sure enhanced interrogation techniques were still okay (pp. 209-210)
10. The CIA torturers told CIA leadership that torture wasn't producing good information from KSM. But CIA leaders didn't relay that information to Congress (p. 212)
11. A detainee was tortured for not addressing an interrogator as "sir"—and for complaining about a stomach ache (p. 106)
12. CIA officers cried when they witnessed the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (p. 44)
13. Within weeks of his arrival in CIA custody, Zubaydah was "on life support and unable to speak" (p. 30)
14. Bush Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who is now a federal judge, told Congress the torture of Al Qaeda detainees led to the US capture of Jose Padilla. That wasn't true (p. 207)

Amid Details on Torture, Data on 26 Who Were Held in Error

For eight years since Mr. Bashmilah, 46, was released from C.I.A. custody, Ms. Satterthwaite [a human rights lawyer] and other advocates had been trying to get the United States government to acknowledge that it had held him in secret prisons for 19 months and to explain why. In the phone call on Wednesday, she told him that the Senate report listed him as one of 26 prisoners who, based on C.I.A. documents, had been "wrongfully detained".
...Mr. Bashmilah had told them of being tortured in Jordan before he was handed over the C.I.A., which at times kept him shackled alone in freezing-cold cells in Afghanistan, subjected to loud music 24 hours a day. He attempted suicide at least three times, once by saving pills and swallowing them all at once; once by slashing his wrists; and once by trying to hang himself. Another time he cut himself and used his own blood to write "this is unjust" on the wall.
...While the gruesome details of torture and the dispute over its results have drawn the greatest media coverage, the Senate report also represents the fullest public account by any branch of government of the C.I.A.'s secret prison program. It exposes some of the mistakes made in the agency's rush to grab people with possible links to Al Qaeda in the first years after the terrorist attacks in Sept. 11, 2011.
Until 9/11, the United States had officially condemned secret imprisonment as a violation of the basic international standards of human rights. But like the prohibition of torture, it was set aside in the frantic effort to stop another attack.
...the agency [the C.I.A.] has admitted to a degree of chaos and blundering in the early months of the program. But its formal response to the Senate report argues that capturing someone who was sincerely believed to be dangerous should not be counted as "wrongful," even if the suspicions turned out to be groundless.
... Ms. Satterthwaite was not able to answer Mr. Bashmilah's question about apology or reparation. No apology was forthcoming from the C.I.A., which decline to comment on specific cases. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Mr. Bashmilah and others flown to prisons on C.I.A aircraft against an agency contractor, Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., was dismissed on the grounds that it might expose state secrets. Whether the Senates report's release will change such legal calculations is uncertain.

'Serial' brings healing to Syed family

Baltimore Sun

The home that had once been a lonely refuge for a family was buzzing with activity again this week. Another reporter had just left down the concrete steps after interviewing Shamim Rahman about "Serial," the world's most popular podcast, which has put her son's once-dormant murder conviction on the minds of millions.

... In her wildest dreams, Shamim Rahman said, she never thought "Serial" would attract as much international attention as it has, giving the family a sense of hope and comfort in a difficult situation.

"It kind of brought us back to life," Yusuf Syed said.
An offshoot of the nationally syndicated radio program "This American Life," "Serial" has spent the past 11 weeks exploring the conviction of Yusuf's older brother, Adnan Syed, a Woodlawn High School student, who was sentenced to life plus 30 years for strangling his ex-girlfriend and classmate, Hae Min Lee, 18, in January 1999. Baltimore prosecutors say Syed became jealous after Lee began dating someone else, and the state used cellphone records and the testimony of one of Adnan's acquaintances, who said he helped bury her body, to get a conviction despite the lack of eyewitnesses or physical evidence linking Adnan to the crime.
For 15 years, Syed Rahman, his wife, Shamim Rahman, and their youngest son, Yusuf Syed, had felt as if they were alone, grappling with the toll that comes from having a family member incarcerated for life. They said they felt socially isolated within their Pakistani Muslim community in Baltimore County and the focus of stares and whispers, real and imagined. The stigma of being related to a murderer was too much to bear, they said, and they became withdrawn.

Although Adnan and his family have maintained his innocence from the start, a conviction carries the stamp of guilt. Shamim said she felt society had no time to hear her concerns about the evidence that had been presented once the jury came back with a guilty verdict.

That all changed, she said, when Koenig started re-examining the case after a family friend brought it to her, pointing out a possible alibi that had been ignored, the shifting testimony of a key witness, a difficult-to-prove timeline and questions about the work of Adnan's defense attorney, who ultimately ended up disbarred.

An Open Letter to Non-Black Muslims

Coming of Faith

[This is a long excerpt]
I am writing this with explicit knowledge that I am a light skin child in diaspora. I often reflect that although my identity as a Muslim woman who is Pakistani and Moroccan may be marginalized, I have many privileges as someone who can sometimes pass into the white world.
I am also grouping non-black people of color with white people in this letter because I do strongly believe in regards to police brutality locally, we fall more within the same categories with white people than we do with black people. This letter will be both uncomfortable and unapologetic, because if we want to work towards more cohesion in our own communities, we have to face our complicity in anti-blackness that we often avoid.
I..[ac]knowledge that my people, my brothers and sisters, will never be Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, or any black man shot as a result of police brutality or black woman abused by a system that was not built to protect them. The Prison Industrial Complex in North America does not harm bodies like mine the way it harms black lives.
I am writing this letter in response to the derailment I have seen within my own community of an issue that is not ours. The criminalization of black bodies and black lives benefits our own existence and we are accomplices in that brutality.

...I am sick and disturbed by the amount of white and non-black people of color I have seen relating this issue to Gaza, and trivializing America’s ongoing genocide of black bodies. I am disturbed that in the Ummah, one where Muslims know that social justice is a backbone in our religion people, are using derailment tactics and co-opting in the same way our oppressors do during discussions of Islamophobia.

Over the last few months I have seen actions not reminiscent of solidarity but instead a manifestation of selfishness. I have seen non-black people in the Ummah who white people would love before a black person, say and tweet things as disrespectful as “Americans are upset about the little situation in Ferguson, look at Palestine.” How selfish can we be as non-black people to constantly insert our narratives and co-opt? How many black people need to die before we realize ourselves to be beneficiaries of this system? How many times are we going to cause erasure in saying this is entirely a people of color issue, when really it is not?

This is far from a little situation, with anti-blackness permeating every pore in our community. This “little situation” is the anti-blackness that extorted free labour and spilled blood on stolen land to give people like me, “model minorities”, an existence on this land. Imperialism may hurt us but right now is not the time to derail. This “little situation” is what you call the amalgamation of anti-blackness that has built an America where a school-to-prison pipeline thrives and every 28 hours, a black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the government. Let me know how many white and non-black people are being killed HERE while playing, walking down the street, sitting on a couch.

...I’ve witnessed concern trolling in the form of posting quotes from the Quran or Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the mere addition of #MikeBrown. This is egregious and violent in and of itself. This iteration of concern trolling is erasure and marginalizes black voices while trivializing their lives to a hashtag to add to someone’s religious agenda.

We Muslims who are non-black, and non-black people as a whole – we need to move away from constantly wanting to center and insert our own identities. I want to see solidarity with our black brothers and sisters be genuine and authentic. I want to witness non-black people unpack our benefits and complicity. I want to see us raise black voices in this discourse instead of inserting our own thoughts or letting every black individual relive trauma by presenting ourselves as special snowflakes.

...America may have problems with the “other” and we may fall into that as non-black people. However, what we don’t fall into, what does not impact our humanity, is America’s genocide of black people.

Let us move forward with integrity and not a washed up version of pseudo-solidarity. Let us use our privileges to lift voices of black people. Let us understand where we fit in, our benefits, and leverage them to create a more equitable playing field. Let us call in members of our own community who continue to surveillance black people, Muslim and not. Let us understand that this is not about us.


Israel lifts age restrictions for Muslims at the Temple Mount


Israeli police on Friday dropped age restrictions at the Temple Mount, allowing Muslims of all ages to pray at the holy site.

But police said they would keep their "high alert status" at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The age restrictions were lifted after a Thursday night meeting in Amman, Jordan, between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordanian King Abdullah and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

...The Temple Mount has been a flashpoint for violence, and in recent weeks, entry has been limited to women and men above the age of 35. Authorities feared that younger men and teens would cause disturbances.

1.7m Syrian refugees face food crisis as UN funds dry up

The Gaurdian

More than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt are facing a disastrous and hungry winter after a funding crisis forced the UN’s World Food Programme to suspend food vouchers to hundreds of thousands forced into exile by the conflict.

Since the war began in March 2011, the WFP has brought food to millions of Syrians inside the country, and has used the voucher programme – which allows refugees to buy food in local shops – to inject about $800m (£500m) into the economies of those countries hosting them.

But after finding itself unable to secure the $64m it needs to support Syrian refugees in December, the WFP announced on Monday that it was halting the scheme. Severe funding shortfalls have already led the UN body to reduce rations within Syria, where it is trying to help 4.25 million people.

Its executive director, Ertharin Cousin, issued a blunt and urgent appeal to donors, asking them to honour their commitments and warning that the suspension would have a devastating effect on the lives of more than 1.7 million people.

Chechnya policemen killed in Grozny attack

Al Jazeera

Ten police officers have been killed in clashes with fighters who attacked a traffic post in the Chechen capital Grozny, and then stormed a building housing local media, Russian officials said.

...The bloodiest fighting in Chechnya for months erupted a few hours before President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in Moscow he would defend Russia against what he called attempts to dismember it.

"There are unconfirmed reports that the attacks were carried by Islamist fighters," Al Jazeera's Peter Sharp reported from Moscow.

Escaping China: the perilous journey of the Uighurs

Channel 4 News

Thousands of Uighurs have fled China over the last five years with the majority paying smuggling networks tens of thousands of dollars per person to move them south. One trafficker told this program that Uighurs are moved in short stages, from China, on to south east Asian nations like Thailand, before reaching the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. When I asked him if he paid bribes he said, “sure, to police officers, immigration (officials), that’s the nature of it.”
Kuala Lumpur acts as a sort of underground transit hub where they gather before trying to arrange onward travel by air. The vast majority want to travel to Turkey – a country which has a sizable Uighur community and it has shown it shown itself willing to take more.
But it’s not easy getting from the airport lobby to the departure gate. Some purchase fake passports to get through immigration, others approach the Turkish Embassy for assistance, and you can see more about this and the rest of their extraordinary 5,000 mile journey, in our exclusive report.
The 290-odd Uighurs from the mountain-top are did not make it Kuala Lumpur however. The men and many of the boys are still stuck in a series of badly overcrowded cells near the Thai-Malaysia border. Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot told me the Chinese authorities were currently assessing their nationality. “If they are Chinese they have to go back to China,” he told me in a matter of fact tone.
It is the type of statement that will deeply trouble civil rights organisations – Human Rights Watch says that forcibly returning Uighurs to China would subject them, “to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.

Merkel condemns racism as Dresden anti-Islam marches grow Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday condemned anti-Muslim demonstrations centred on the eastern city of Dresden, saying there was “no place in Germany” for hatred of Muslims or any other minority...
Earlier on Friday, Merkel's spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said: “In the name of the government and the chancellor I can say quite clearly that there is no place in Germany for religious hatred, no matter which religion people belong to.”

“There is no place for Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or any form of xenophobia or racism,” Wirtz said of the growing Monday evening marches in Dresden under the motto PEGIDA, standing for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West”.

Public expressions of anti-immigrant sentiment are largely taboo in mainstream German politics because of the Nazis' mass-murder of Jews and other groups in the Holocaust. Merkel argues that Germany needs immigrants to avoid a demographic crisis.

But local officials say they are struggling to cope with the largest number of asylum-seekers in Europe, with net immigration at its highest levels in two decades.

A backlash is being felt: this week Merkel's conservatives debated banning the burka, the full body covering worn by some Muslim women, and her Bavarian allies had to drop a proposal to oblige immigrants to speak German at home.

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