The George Washington University Law School, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, today hosted two panel discussions: first, looking back; and second, looking forward--the former referring to the Post-9/11 Backlash and the latter, to the Remaining Challenges, Emerging Opportunities.
There was a disconnect between the conclusions that most Muslims are happy in this country but that Islamophobia is getting worse. How can this be? Let's go through the proceedings, which featured several prominent figures in the U.S. DoJ, plus academicians, clergy, researchers, and activists. How can we expect them to know everything?
Indeed, in his closing remarks, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, referred back to the nineteenth-century Know-Nothing Party, which warned against allowing Irish people to occupy government posts. They feared that they would attempt to impose the Church's canon law throughout the country.
The uninformed contingent in this country expresses similar concern about Sharia (Muslim law), whose meaning certainly diverges from the dictatorial stereotype perpetrated by the ruthless governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia [nowadays, Syria is a much better example than Saudi A.], among others (see my blog on Sharia, 26 July 2011, "What Sharia Is and Isn't").
Will we ever learn?
The event was introduced by the dean of the George Washington University Law School, holder of an endowed chair as well, Paul Schiff Berman, who immediately looked back to the interment of the Japanese Americans during World War II.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, second in command after Eric Holder, continued that thread farther back--what are the foundations of this country? Many ideals, but the first settlers were all fleeing religious persecution and this is inscribed forever in the First Amendment, the right to freedom of religion; said James Madison, this country will be an asylum [and often an insane asylum] and shelter from oppression.
Indeed, ethnic oppression rears up again and again throughout our history and throughout world history, but as long as we speak up, as Mr. Perez reminded us, these events will be put in their place--history.
And meanwhile, of course, diversity is the fabric that made this country great; we're more alike than different and have much to learn from each other.
9/11 changed this country in ways not anticipated and placed national security at the top of our priorities while human rights became a distant second. Prejudice against the Muslims, Sikhs, and South Asians rose quickly. They were to blame. Hate crimes proliferated.
As if Islam were the only distorted source of terrorism. Cole reminded us of terrorist outbreaks in Norway recently and Oklahoma in the mid 1990s. Extremism is polymorphic and springs from all peoples at some point or other in history.
It is the role of the DoJ to protect the human and civil rights of all: our mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, ashrams--wherever we worship to build trust and respect.
Cole expressed hope that in another ten years the mindset that gives birth to terrorism and hate crimes will be fully outdated.
The first panel was moderated by Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, who launched the hour-and-a-half-long discussion by finding hope at the bottom of the horrific debris of 9/11.
Ralph M. Boyd, former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, was first to speak.