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Cloud of concern above Muslims in America

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   April 3, 2011 at 5:01 AM
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Radicalization. Freedom of religion. Home-grown terrorists. Religious persecution. All directed toward one segment of U.S. society: American Muslims.

Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Muslims in America have been subjected to derisiveness not experienced by one segment of American society since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, or in the years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II.

Followers of Islam have been painted with a broad brush as terrorists because of the actions of a few, whether in the United States or abroad.

In 2006, six imams were removed from a plane after passengers and flight crew said the imams were disruptive and formed a seating pattern similar to the one assumed by the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.

In Dearborn, Mich., Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah died Oct. 28, 2009, in a gunfight with the FBI, who alleged he was a leader of a Muslim separatist group involved in moving stolen goods. A refusal to release the autopsy report prompted the Muslim community to voice concern of a possible cover-up surrounding his death.

A New York cabbie was stabbed after he offered the Muslim greeting of peace.

To be sure, crimes have been committed for the glory of Islam and religious leaders have advocated death and destruction to non-believers.

Notably, Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical U.S.-born Yemeni cleric, and other so-called Internet imams have used their charisma to offer a persuasive message of faith and purpose to anyone willing to listen and ready to take the next step to jihad. Federal investigators looked into the likelihood Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to blow up the Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day 2009, had contact with Awlaki, who other investigators said exchanged e-mails with the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.

But Muslims have helped law enforcement agents track down radicals, died wearing a U.S. military uniform and died in the 2001 terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies said.

In March, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, conducted a hearing titled, "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Despite withering criticism, King didn't cancel the hearing because "to back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe should be the main responsibility of this committee, to protect America from a terrorist attack."

"[There] is nothing radical nor un-American in holding these hearings," King said in his opening remarks, noting later, "There is no equivalency of threat between al-Qaida and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al-Qaida and its Islamist affiliates are part of an international threat to our nation."

King said moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim community, noting the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are "outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country."

Some legislators questioned whether the hearings would alienate Muslims.

"We live in troubling times. I've heard today's hearings will stoke a climate of fear and distrust in the Muslim community," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said. "It may also increase the fear and distrust of the Muslim community for cooperation.

But the most dramatic testimony came from Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the only Muslim in Congress who choked up as he spoke about the death of a Muslim first responder who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Muhammad Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans," Ellison said. "His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or religion, but as an American who gave you everything for his fellow Americans."

Yes, violence is legitimate business for the committee to investigate, Ellison said, but increased understanding and engagement with the Muslim community is needed to keep America safe.

"This committee's approach to this particular subject, I believe, is contrary to the best of American values and threatens our security, or could potentially," Ellison said.

Last week, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., held a hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims, saying he wanted to address "anti-Muslim discrimination."

"Many of our nation's founders fled religious persecution, which is why our Constitution puts great importance on religious freedom." Durbin, assistant Senate majority leader, said in a statement. "Today, addressing anti-Muslim discrimination is an important civil rights issue of our time."

Some questioned the hearing's premise: "That we should protect the civil rights of American Muslims," Durbin said. "Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination."

Durbin said guilt by association "is not the American way" and Muslims in America are entitled to the same constitutional protections as other Americans.

He cited as inflammatory comments from a congressional member that "there are too many mosques in this country," a former House speaker saying the United States is experiencing an "Islamic cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization" and a religious leader who called Islam "wicked" and "evil."

And while those are few in number, "their bigoted conduct and remarks violate the spirit of our Bill of Rights," Durbin said.


One person's religious practice is another's illegal act

Shariah, the legal code of Islam roughly comparable to the Talmudic tradition in Judaism, is taking a beating in several legislatures across the United States.

A bill was recently introduced in Tennessee that would ban the practice of Shariah, and perhaps (by extension) the practice of Islam itself.

Bills are in the hopper in Missouri and Alabama that would bar state judges from applying Shariah to legal matters, the Web site Talking Points Memo reported.

One Oklahoma lawmaker also introduced a bill that would bar state courts from applying international law, including Shariah, in legal proceedings, an apparent effort to skirt a legal stay on a voter-passed initiative.

The Alabama bill, introduced as a constitutional amendment, would ensure "when a court exercises its judicial authority it will not consider Shariah when making its judicial decisions. ... The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Shariah."

The Tennessee bill, sponsored in the state Senate and House by the chambers' top Republicans, would allow the director of Tennessee's Homeland Security Office to offer a recommendation to the attorney general or governor to "designate" a terrorist entity and, basically, isolate the entity from support, The Murfressboro (Tenn.) Post said. Once designated, no material support or resources may be provided to the entity and people who knowingly provide such support can be prosecuted or fined.

It was amended to remove specific much criticized religious references and now "reflects our original intention to prevent or deter violent or terrorist acts, but does so without any room for misinterpretation regarding the language's effect on peaceful religious practices," Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron said.

As amended, the bill contains no references to Islam, but still would allow Tennessee to prosecute those who offer financial or material support to known terrorist entities.

"I think it's a victory for common sense and legislative restraint," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Tennessean. "This is a win for Tennessee's Muslim community."

In Missouri, a bill that would bar state courts from considering Shariah law was nearer to a vote in the Missouri House, KMOX-TV reported last week.

The bill's sponsor was quoted as saying Shariah law posed a threat to Missouri, but Greater St. Louis Islamic Foundation spokeswoman Ghazala Hayat said the measure was another example of "islamophobia" that perpetuates "negative talk about Islam."

The move to ban foreign laws, Sharia or otherwise, has been controversial since it received unambiguous backing from Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley earlier in March, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

"We believe that the laws of this country should trump any other laws regarding the citizens of our country within our borders," Tilley said at the time.

Despite a federal judge's decision blocking an Oklahoma ballot measure that would ban the use of international law in Oklahoma courts, a version of the measure was introduced in the Oklahoma House recently.

The law would declare any court action void if the decision was based on system that doesn't grant the parties "the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States and Oklahoma constitutions," ThinkProgress.com said.

Saad Mohammed of the Islamic Council of Oklahoma called the bill "a scare tactic and it's a form of racism."


To build a mosque or not to build a mosque? Or more precisely, not allow a mosque to be built.

In Illinois, a federal judge denied DuPage County's request to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by a group wanting to open a mosque and Islamic school near Naperville, the Chicago Tribune reported recently. The county board in January 2010 voted to deny a conditional-use permit sought for the Irshad Learning Center, proposed for a 2.9-acre site.

The county's development committee recommended approval for the project but the county's zoning board voted against recommending its approval.

Neighbors of the proposed project objected to the center, citing concerns about parking and late-night services.

The county board in March approved a conditional-use permit for a mosque near Willowbrook. Proposals for similar facilities near West Chicago and Lombard are also under consideration.

A few hundred miles to the east, backers of a mosque near New York's Ground Zero said they're considering a larger project that could be located at the current site or elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Executive Director Daisy Khan of the American Society for Muslim Advancement told the New York Times she and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, are exploring establishment of an interfaith cultural center larger in concept than what was originally proposed. The couple curtailed their original plans for 51 Park Place after a falling out with their real estate partner.

"Once we are ready to announce our new vision, we will talk to the property owner and see if it is the right location for us," she said.

Things are tenser in Tennessee, however.

Police suspect arson in last year's torching of construction equipment on the site of a planned mosque in Murfreesboro. Spray-painted "Not welcome" signs showed up on the mosque property, CNN reported. In Nashville, a Crusaders' cross was spray-painted on the side of a mosque next to the words, "Muslims go home."

In Williamson County, not far from Murfreesboro, plans to build a mosque were quashed after residents complained a turn lane into the building would be too costly.

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