Islam: A Reactionary Religion? US Foreign Policy and the “Muslim World”

Original article:

I would like to start off by stating that there is no excuse and no justification for violence against innocent civilians. I am not here to act as an apologist for violence or criminal behavior of any sort whatsoever. This is an attempt to gain understanding of the supposedly inexplicable and largely violent reaction from so many Muslim countries in response to a badly made film on the internet.

The American Muslim community condemns the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff and expresses condolences to their families. Though they may claim it, those who participated in this crime are not true followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who taught forgiveness and mercy and lived his life as an example of these lessons. The only purpose of the film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was to incite hatred and violence. Unfortunately, this is exactly the reaction rioters in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen gave as a response to the film, although many countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan reacted with largely non-violent protests. Critics argue that the film in question is so terribly made that it should not even have seen the light of day, much less have caused such violence and tragedy. But could the film have been the only reason that so many Muslim countries felt enraged, protested and burned American flags? Or is the underlying answer a little more complicated, and is the truth a little murkier, as it always is?

Why weren’t there such far-reaching riots when Norway published cartoons portraying Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist? Or why aren’t the French embassies in the Middle East being attacked right now as a French magazine has published naked cartoons of the Prophet? Shouldn’t the creators of such disrespectful cartoons have faced the same outrage that the creator of “Innocence of Muslims” faced?

The truth is that much of the so-called “Muslim world” sees, specifically, the US government’s international interests and interventionist foreign policy as counter to the safety and well-being of its people. It sees drone attacks, which are supposed to target extremists as opposed to civilians, but rarely do, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. It sees the unconditional and unquestionable support the American government gives to Israel in the form of military and financial aid even when Israel commits war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians. It sees President Obama’s claim that Guantanamo Bay Prison will be shut down and the prisoners – many of whom are kept there without many constitutional rights or any hope of trial – will be released as ignored. It tries to make sense of the decades of baffling support for dictators in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and horror of horrors, Libya and Egypt – the two countries which saw the worst protests as a response to the film. It sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians who suffered unspeakable brutality, the destruction of their economy, infrastructure, and national psyche, and the installation of uncertain and shaky governments. Then, as a final straw, they see “Innocence of Muslims”, a trashy, low-budget and downright spiteful attempt at mocking their revered religious figure, their faith and their way of life.

It is not so difficult to believe, then, that countries around the world with Muslim majorities would confuse and conflate this film’s contemptuous message as a partner in crime to the aggressive military action and intervention the American government has utilized as part of its foreign policy. The above-mentioned countries, albeit wrongly, see the US government’s support of anti-Islamic rhetoric as predictable as they have already witnessed said government adopting questionable practices and policies in regards to the “Muslim world”. This is not to promote the rioters’ burning of public property, attacking civilians, or damaging their own infrastructure or to accept this violent response as practical. It is to attempt to understand the history of Middle Eastern-American relations which extends beyond “Innocence of Muslims”, as the film was only a nudge which caused the deck of cards to crumble.



CAIR-Chicago Attorneys Help Iranian-American Become Citizen after Years of Delay

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Massoud Nejad, an Iranian-born American resident, first came to the United States from Iran in 1978 to study at the University of Illinois. He became a permanent resident in 2000 and applied for citizenship in December, 2008.

“My first citizenship interview was in April of 2009 and Christina was with me throughout,” Nejad recalls. The United States Central Immigration Services, or USCIS, told Nejad that he would have to wait four months for the final decision on whether his interview was successful or not. If a candidate passes the Citizenship Test, U.S. law mandates USCIS to naturalize applicants within 120 days.

After waiting for more than a year and never receiving a reply from the USCIS, CAIR-Chicago filed a complaint in federal court requesting that Nejad be naturalized.  The court remanded the case back to USCIS to make a decision, only to result in USCIS denying Nejad’s citizenship application in October 2010.

The main reason given for denial was failure to report an arrest in 1978. Nejad confirmed that he had, in fact, reported the arrest and that the reason was made up as an excuse to further delay his case.

After continuous appeals by CAIR-Chicago to USCIS, the decision was finally reversed in October of 2011, when Nejad, who has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, was finally granted U.S. citizenship.

Throughout this time, Nejad faced countless judges, was put on probation for five years for being a political activist in Iran, was arrested several times, and harassed by the FBI. Nejad recalls how FBI agents broke into his apartment in 2008 and questioned his wife about his political past.

“I don’t know what I would have done if CAIR-Chicago was not there to help me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” Nejad said.

Litigation Director Vodak appreciated USCIS’s cooperation, “We are glad the USCIS made the right decision of granting Nejad citizenship, even if it took them three years to do it.”

In 2010, 22 Muslims attained citizenship through CAIR-Chicago’s intervention.  In the past four years, 494 such reports have been received by the organization, out of which 317 cases have been solved.


CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab speaks at AIC conference on Islam and Muslims in America

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The American Islamic College (AIC) in Chicago held its second conference on Islam and Muslims in America in association with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sept. 17, 2011. The conference featured Muslim leaders, scholars, and activists from around the nation and the world to discuss issues of relevance to Muslim Americans.

Participants discussed the relationship between American foreign policy and the Muslim world, the implications for democracy as demonstrated by the Arab Spring, Islam in the American context, and the future of Muslims in America and the world community.

The main focus of the conference was Islam and democracy. CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab, moderated a panel entitled “Winds of Change in the Muslim World: Implications for Democracy.”  Rehab also gave a speech in line with this theme. The purpose was to explore what is now known as the “Arab Spring” and its importance for the Arab countries striving for democracy.

Dina Rehab, AIC’s administrator and former CAIR-Chicago Outreach Coordinator said “As an academic institution, we feel it is our primary responsibility to educate the public on issues that relate to Islam and Muslims in America. The AIC conference provides a unique platform for speakers and guests to participate in these very real discussions.”

The event was a success, and brought together many prominent leaders from the interfaith community. “We heard a lot of very positive feedback this year,” Ms. Rehab recollected.  Many attendees drove in from out of state to attend.

Guest speakers included Kareem M. Irfan, Esq. Board of Trustees at AIC, Rashad Hussain, President’s Special Envoy to OIC, Hon. Jan Schakowsky, Congresswoman from Illinois, H. Excellency Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of OIC, Azeem Ibrahim from the Insitute for Social Policy and Understanding, John Edwin Mroz, President and CEO of the EastWest Institute, Jeffrey Laurenti of the Century Foundation, Muqteder Khan, Director of the Islamic Studies Program, Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director at CAIR-Chicago, Qamar-ul-Huda of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Richard W. Bulliet of Columbia University, Stephen Grand of the Bookings Institute, Zaher Sahloul, Chairman of CIOGC, Gadeir Abbas, CAIR National Staff Attorney, Imam Mohamed Magid, President of ISNA, Aisha Adawiya, President of KARAMAH, Hayrettin Yucesoy of the Washington University in St. Louis, Ayse Kadayifci of Georgetown University, Salam Al-Marayti, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Hannah S. Rosenthal, and Marica Hermansen, Board of Trustees at AIC and Loyola University with Rashad Darwish of RiseUp Radio Show as the MC.

The AIC and OIC plan to continue holding this conference annually.


Charting Islamophobia: Banning the Niqab

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Lawmakers around the world are taking up the question of what kind of religious dress, if any, should be allowed in public places. France memorably passed its controversial ban of the face-veil recently, and now we’re seeing more countries jump on the bandwagon. Here are a few of the most recent laws being passed.
A new bill in New South Wales, Australia’s largest state, demands that Muslim women who wear the niqab, or face veil while driving, remove it or be sentenced to a year in prison and fined 5,500 Australian dollars (roughly $5,800 USD). The bill, which is scheduled to be voted on by state parliament in August, has caused controversy and created misunderstandings between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations of Australia.
While supporters say that criminalizing the niqab is necessary for security and identification purposes, skeptics say the bill promotes racism and suspicion of Muslims. According to supporters of the bill, niqabi women who travel must show their faces to security personnel before boarding a plane. The women agree, but have asked that only female security be allowed to see their faces. As only about 2,000 women in Australia wear the niqab out of a population of 23 million, forcing the removal of niqabs seems to be an extreme measure.
The French government decided to ban the face veil on the grounds that no religion should “dominate” the public sphere. Despite the fact that Muslim women make up less than one percent of the French population, women who follow the Islamic dress code cannot wear the hijab in government buildings or the niqab in “public” defined as everywhere except one’s home, car, workplace or mosque. Yet Christian religious processions that require face-covering hoods are still allowed. The penalty for wearing a niqab is about $215 USD. Many women who have remained insistent upon wearing the veil have since faced blatant discrimination and even physical assault.
In Belgium the number of women who veil is even smaller: only twenty-four women in the entire country wear it, thus banning it seems like an incredibly unnecessary practice. Just as any woman has the right to wear a bikini, Muslim women should be able to wear whatever they want as well.

Even certain countries with a Muslim majority, such as Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt have tried to enforce a dress code upon Muslim women.
In 2010, the Canadian city of Quebec and the Spanish city of Barcelona banned the niqab in public buildings. Norway is currently in the process of taking similar action

But what does all of this mean?

If the point of banning the burqa/niqab is to give women the freedom to dress as they please, and if the supporters of the ban agree that most Muslim women are forced to wear the niqab and should have the freedom to take it off, why can’t the women decide what to wear for themselves?

Banning burqas/niqabs is essentially the same as forcing women to wear them in the first place. Both take away a woman’s right to choose. Instead of trying to control women’s appearances by giving them a dress code, the governments of the above-mentioned countries should prove that they are truly democratic and let women wear what they want.

If indeed, women were so terribly oppressed by the burqa/niqab wouldn’t they have been overjoyed at this proposed law? Instead there has been anger and defiant protests (by women) against these laws— and not one woman has reported to have taken off the niqab/burqa. Instead, the women are vowing to keep it on regardless of the penalties they will face.

These events are evidence that the majority of Muslim women in these areas who choose to wear the niqab do so of their own accord and are not acting on the orders of their families or other authority. Banning the niqab is not only arbitrary, it’s blatantly sexist, Islamopobic and discriminatory. It tells the Muslim community to hide their religious beliefs and practice them in silence, in the privacy of their own homes or mosques but never make them public. These governments are trying to shame Muslims into undermining their own Islamic values by attempting to make Muslims look barbaric and make themselves look civilized. The niqab/burqa ban should be overturned in Australia, as well as all of the countries who observe it, and all men and women, as free citizens of these countries should be able to wear what they want, regardless of their race, religion, or identity.