Pamella Geller and her fellow Islamophobes made headlines a few weeks ago with their vitriolic anti-Muslim advertisements in NYC subway stations and else where. Their message equated  Muslims to “savages” and “jihad” to terrorism. To respond to this bigotry , a remarkable group of Christians and Jews have started a counter campaign which encourages tolerance and love for Muslims.

Exemplifying the motto of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’, campaign organizers have leased out advertising space in subway stations to put up posters which counter the message of the anti-Muslim ads. One of them reads: “In the choice between love and hate, CHOOSE LOVE. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”  Another one says: “Hate Speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed”. The last one states quite simply,  “Love your Muslim neighbors”.

This outstanding initiative was headed by Rabbi’s For Human RightsSojourners – a Christian social justice group and United Methodist Women. Each of the three groups ran separate advertisements urging tolerance and denouncing the bigoted message of Gellar’s ads. The groups said their campaigns were coincidental. At some locations, their ads were placed immediately adjacent to the anti-Muslim posters. This juxtaposition is reflective the unique experiment that is America; the very good of its people and the very ugly, existing side by side.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs explained the purpose of his campaign, “I want to spread the message that 1800 rabbis– along with the majority of the American Jewish community–believes in partnership with our Muslim neighbors. We, of course, oppose all acts of terrorism. We will not, however, allow the actions of a small minority to be an excuse for dehumanizing an entire people.” Following the spirit of the of the Golden Rule, he further explained, “We know what it’s like to be a minority and we know what it’s like to be the target of discrimination, and that’s why, as Jews, because of that history, we have more of a responsibility to speak out when anyone is being discriminated against.”

The past several weeks have been challenging for American Muslims. The anti-American riots across the Muslim world and the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya  has lead to a great degree of apprehension in the community. From suspicious glances to clandestine conversations; Muslims were the talk of the town. Being inundated with stories like that of the Joplin Mosque which was burned down, one naturally begins to feel alienated and questions their standing in the public’s eye.

This campaign is enough reason to throw away those apprehensive feelings. Its a testament to the good of the American people, the vast majority of whom stand by their Muslim neighbors and will speak up to defend them. Stories like these need to be broadcast across to the Muslim world; this is what America is made of- not the pervert who produced the shameful movie debasing the Prophet.

Lastly, this campaign demonstrates the importance of exercising the power that rests in the moderate silent majority. These people could have very well decided to shrug their shoulders apathetically or perhaps just nod with disappointment like most of us. Why bother explaining that extremists like Geller don’t represent Jews? They could have complained about finances associated with leasing ad space and a million other things.

But No! They decided to speak up, to make their voices heard. They realized that the cost of remaining silent was not worth it. For them, making fellow citizens feel welcome in their own land was something important enough to invest time and money in  – and it should be for the remainder of us. This campaign is an important lesson for the Muslim community on the impact raising our voices can have. Faced too frequently with the negative externalities of religion, this episode reaffirms the generosity, goodness and goodwill that rests at the root of religious teaching and is urgently in need of revival.

 Actions Items: Call/Write to the campaign organizers thanking them for their efforts 

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
212-845-5201
Email: office@rhr-na.org

United Methodist Women
Harriett Jane Olson – Deputy General Secretary
212-870-3752
Email” HOlson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Sojourners
Phone: 202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474
E-mail: sojourners@sojo.net

 


On the second day of his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year. Three years later and as his first term approaches an end, the notorious detention facility, illegal by international standards, remains open with no signs of a closure.

Guantanamo Bay violates every possible standard laid out for an imprisonment facility; hence the rationale for building it on a naval base in Cuba. It denies prisoners protections guaranteed by the Geneva conventions, holds them indefinitely without laying charges and effectively bars them from having any chances at a fair trial.

Injustice and lies are the foundational pillars that hold up Guntanamo Bay. Prisoners at the facility are subjected to unprecedented forms of torture. This includes solitary confinement, forced feedings, sexual abuse, waterboarding and beatings. Many inmates have tried to commit suicide; six have so far have succeeded. Lakhdar Boumedine, who went on a hunger strike and was held for seven years without explanation, recalled: “Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me”.

Murat Kurnaz of Germany was captured while in Pakstian studying the religious sciences and wrongly detained for five years. He explained: ‘There were more beatings, endless solitary confinement, freezing temperatures and extreme heat, days of forced sleeplessness”. An FBI agent once observed that, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more”. What is sickening is that abuse at other U.S. detention facilities, such as Abu Ghraib and Bagram, is far worse.

Many of the ‘war combatants’ at the facility have been innocent civilians with no evidence of terrorist activities. They were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and were caught while fleeing the invasion of Afghanistan. The Tipton Three and many others fall in this category. Some were simply handed over to the Americans based on shady evidence in return for thousands of dollars. Kurnaz was an example of this.

Since most of the inmates at the facility are Muslims, religious persecution has been a complaint as well. There have been horror stories of Qurans being defaced and flushed down toilets. Prisoners have been reprimanded for praying in congregation. Some even reported attempts by guards to get them to renounce their religion.

Civil liberty groups rejoiced as Obama came into office, but his efforts to actually shut down Gitmo are laughable. The President has since signed executive orders that formalize the indefinite detention of prisoners at the facility. To top up the Patriot Act, he also added new provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that codify the indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. The NDAA also forbids the government from using money to build a new prison or to bring detainees to the U.S., even to face trial. This virtually ends any possibility of shutting down the prison and effectively builds on the detention scheme laid out by the Bush administration.

This establishment creates a two tiered justice system; one for the bad and one for the worst. The irony is, many times the evidence against the latter is so poor that it is insufficient to lay charges or bring them to trial. Guantanamo Bay is an apparatus that gives Americans satisfaction that the perpetrators of terrorism are being punished and their country is secure. This comes at the high cost of sacrifices in human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,not to mention the millions of tax dollars spent on it.

Once the beacon of freedom, liberty and justice; America is slowly losing her status as the bastion of democracy. Illegal wars, extra judicial killings, arrests of innocent civilians, opportunist and hypocritical foreign policies all add to the abuses going on at Guantanamo Bay. Ten years past 9/11 and after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are no signs of an end to this disgraceful institution.

Action Item:
Amnesty Internatinal Petition : End Detention at Gitmo

More information:

Guantanamo: By the Numbers
Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor


The bizarre Raymond Davis saga finally comes to a close. The CIA spy, who murdered two Pakistani’s in a busy street in Lahore in a fashion that would have resembled something from a James bond movie, was acquitted today by a Pakistani court. This comes after weeks of intense pressure from the Pakistani people to hang him and from the American government to release him on grounds of ‘diplomatic immunity’.

America as usual threatened Pakistan by cutting off the billions of dollars in aid, and the Pakistan government being a slave to this money obviously had to comply; so the release of Raymond Davis shouldn’t surprise anyone. What is surprising, however, is how quickly this man was released and the means employed in the process.

Although Pakistani law isn’t based on the Shariah (Islamic Law) in its entirety, aspects of it have been incorporated into it. The part of Shariah which came to the aid of the Americans is the concept of blood money in the case of a murder. Islamic law allows for the relatives of the murdered to pardon the accused in return for monetary compensation in certain circumstances. This is essentially what happened and families of the victims were reportedly paid out in the millions; whether or not they were compelled into this agreement remains uncertain considering they were isolated from their lawyers during the deal.

The irony of this outcome is that it happened at time when there is a huge anti-shariah movement in the United States. This movement which is rooted in ignorance has succeeded in introducing bills banning Shariah from a number of states in America. Little do the bigots behind this initiative know that about 95% of the Shariah deals with laws relating to things such as prayer, fasting, charity, dietary requirements and business transactions; banning the Shariah would essentially disallow Muslims from practicing their faith.

Another ironic aspect of this episode is that the religious right which lead the protests in Pakistan can’t really accuse its government of misappropriation since the settlement was based on Islamic law. Its a solution that appeases America and is inline with the principles the protesters supposedly stand for; who would have thought the Pakistani government could have wiggled its way out of this mess so smoothly.

One aspect of this incident that troubles me greatly is the motivation behind the protests that demanded Raymond Davis to be punished. One would think these people were seeking justice for the deceased but really they just wanted to avenge America and punishing a CIA spy was symbolic of it. Hundreds of innocent people are killed in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Pakistan regularly; where are these protesters when its comes to demanding that the government bring the instigators of these crimes to justice? Pakistan is a country of dichotomies and this is just one face it.


Edited version of this piece also posted at Suhaib Webb

Micheal Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, was invited to speak at UC Irvine last February on Israeli-American relations to a packed university auditorium of over 500 people. He was in the midst of his speech when a student bravely stood up and defiantly shouted out to him, ‘Micheal Oren! Propagating murder is not an expression free speech!!’. The ambassador continued speaking after this short disruption only to be disrupted again; and again; and again, for a total of eleven times.

The protesting students were escorted out of the building and arrested for “disturbing a pubic event”, though not charged criminally. An investigation later alleged that the Muslim Students Union organized the protest and the club was subsequently suspended for the term and placed on probation for two years. The student’s protest was of course to Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

About three weeks ago, three days shy of a year after the incident, the Orange County District Attorney decided to lay criminal charges on the 11 students, now referred to as the Irvine 11, for heckling during Ambassador Oren’s speech. This is sparked outrage across the Muslim community and beyond. Debates on freedom of expression and civil disobedience were ignited across university campuses. How can a non-violent protest possibly be labeled a criminal activity in a free democratic society?

Whether or not the method employed during this protest was justified is arguable. No doubt that disrupting the speech of an ambassador is rude and inappropriate. However, there are times when people need to be dealt with harshly and perhaps the actions of Israel warrant such treatment. Perhaps the students could have employed less disruptive means such as holding banners, but then again, their voices would have not reached as far were other methods to be used. Either ways, I think we can all agree that disciplinary actions by the University were enough to reprimand these students and laying criminal charges is going too far.

Speaking of insulting foreign dignitaries, one must not forget that back in 2007 President Ahmedinejad was invited to speak at University of Columbia in New York. He was introduced on stage by the President of the University, Lee Bollinger. Bollinger’s introduction was essentially a verbal assault on the Ahmedinejad during which he said, among other insults, that, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated”. These are the words used by the president of a world-renowned university to introduce the leader of another nation! Who’s to blame students if teachers set out such an example.

Iran is not nearly as affluent in its injustices as is Israel. Sure, President Ahmedinejad makes outlandish and absurd statements denying the holocaust and expresses his wishes to destroy Israel; but when it comes to action, its Israel that is on the ground busy with the genocide of defenseless of Gazans. The Ambassador of Israel is certainly more worthy of such treatment than the President of Iran in my opinion. Also to note, as pointed out on Irving11.com, disrupting speeches has been used as a means to protest on campus in the past and no criminal charges or arrests were ever made. It makes one wonder if these charges were laid because of the importance of the speaker to America or because of the faith of the students protesting.

Regardless of the validity of the methods employed by these students, I must commend them for their courage and gallantry. Risking something as valuable as your entire university career to protest a cause you strongly believe in is the epitome of activism.

As morally conscientious people it becomes our responsibility to stand behind these brave individuals who have been wrongfully charged for defending the oppressed and saying that which is just. Please visit Iriving11.com to learn of ways you can support them.


American Idol, American Apparel, American Idiot, America this and America that. Why is there never a Canada something? ‘American Eagle’ is pretty popular in Canada; but how come no ones opened up a store called the ‘Canadian Beaver’? Would such a store be popular amongst Americans? Why is the 1st of July not celebrated with as much pride as the 4th of July? Why did a Canadian not think of writing ‘Born on the 1st of July’? (Pamela Anderson could have written that one…)

I am trying to point out the fact that Canadians aren’t as patriotic as the Americans. I hope I don’t offend anyone, but I think it’s true. A lot of people aren’t even sure what Canadian really is. So why is it that way? People would say because a big percentage of the population descends from immigrant parents or are recent immigrants. It is true, early Canadians (excluding First Nations, who btw in my opinion are the ‘Real Canadians’) emigrated from parts of Europe and later Canadians from parts Asia. One might argue that it was due to this mix of ethnicities that people failed to come together to create a Canadian identity. Perhaps it was not possible for them to pledge allegiance to two nations at the same time. However, this argument does not work because the American population has a similar history as well. In fact, America has a larger immigrant population and has historically attracted more immigrants than Canada. If anything, their population is more diverse as, unlike in Canada, they have a larger black population as well.

The other reason might be because Canada is not as old as America. Its true, America is approximately a hundred years older than Canada. However, Canada is still a 141 year old country…that is a pretty old. There are countries which are a lot younger than Canada, but the people are more patriotic than the average Canadian. So that argument doesn’t work either.

So what is the real reason Americans are more patriotic than Canadians? WAR! That’s right. After a lot thinking I have concluded that the reason why Americans are more patriotic is because of the numerous wars they have fought. It sounds sad, but this violent and dreadful activity is actually what helps give the Americans their identity. They take pride in how their forefathers died in the War of Independence or during the World Wars defending their country. Numerous books, movies and songs deal with this subject matter and help instill patriotism amongst its American citizens. In fact, I would go as far as saying that war is what helps bring out patriotism in any country. It is a part of a country’s cultural heritage and the lack of it leads to a weaker culture.

Canada doesn’t have that. No war had to be fought for Canada’s independence; it was formed as a result of a series of meetings. And even after it was formed, it had strong ties with Britain and was part of the British Empire. Canada didn’t even have its own flag until 1965 i.e. 98 years after confederation. Every time Canada’s been to war it has never fought for its self, but for some one else. During the World Wars it participated because of Britain and it’s in Afghanistan due to American pressure. So I think it is the lack of bloody wars due to which the average Canadian isn’t as patriotic. If you think about it, what are some of the things Canadians take pride in? The War of 1812 and Vimy Ridge! So there you go, I think my theory checks out. Canada is a great nation and I am proud of the fact that it is a peaceful country, but I guess peace comes at a price too. (Modern peace keeping is a Canadian invention!)