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2013: Another hard year for American Muslims

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Year after year we wrote about the eroding civil rights as the biggest challenge for the seven-million strong American Muslims in the post-9/11 America. However, after the Snowden revealations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting data on each and every US citizen, the civil rights of everybody now stand abriged.

In his year-end press conference. President Obama was in step with the intelligence community that the enmasse NSA surveillence was imperitive to "protect the US citizens." Not surprisingly, on December 28, federal Judge William Pauley III in New York City ruled that the NSA program that collects the telephone metadata for every call made in the United States and many of those made overseas is legal and constitutional. Dismissing a lawsuit against the NSA spying program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Judge Pauley lashed out at Snowden who was named "Tech Person of the Year" by the USA Today and Runnerup Person of the Year (after Pope Francis) by the Time magazine.

"The ACLU would never have learned about the (Patriot Act) section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden," he writes. "Congress did not intend that targets of section 215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 orders implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets--including the means and methods of intelligence gathering--could frustrate Congress' intent."

Tellingly, in a decision handed down on December 16, a federal district court judge in Washington DC, Richard Leon, came to the opposite conclusion. Describing the NSA program as Orwellian, Leon wrote, "I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate' and "arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval" Surely, such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."

Now what remains of privacy? The ultimate logic of Judge Pauley's ruling is that the only thing that is private is something you tell or share with no one. Every spoken word, every thought communicated to anyone else, becomes the property of the government.

Undoubtedly, the conflicting rulings increase the likelihood that the challenges could someday end up before the Supreme Court. However, at present every US citizen's civil rights are violated by the NSA surveillence programs. The American Muslim community joins the fellow Americans in the struggle to regain their usurbed civil rights protected by our constitution. Arab and Muslim groups have joined more than 50 organizations in an open letter to the Congress opposing the FISA ( Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) Improvements Act sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein which seeks to codify and expand the NSA's mass domestic surveillance programs.

To borrow Paul Craig Roberts, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration, today Americans are unsafe, not because of terrorists and domestic extremists, but because they have lost their civil liberties and have no protection from unaccountable government power. One would think that how this came about would be worthy of public debate and congressional hearings.

Exponential rise of Islamophobia

After the shrinking civil rights, Islamophobia was perhaps the biggest challenge for the American Muslim during 2013. Recent years have witnessed an exponential rise in Islamophobia which should be understood as a potent political tool that is used to exploit fear to gain political mileage.  

Many experts think Islamophobia should be recognized as a distinctive form of racism. For Deepa Kumar, the author of the book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Islamophobia is the name given to anti-Muslim racism. It is a form of prejudice. And it involves making generalizations about an entire group based on the actions of a few through this mythical understanding of what Islam is supposed to be.

For Steve Rose, a British journalist, the racism can manifest itself epistemically since this idea draws on the historical notion of non-Western 'inferiority' and 'savagery' due to a lack of intelligence and rationality.   As a result, only the West can be a moral force. Only the West can be democratic. Any thinking outside this hegemony invites suspicion, repression and exclusion from the debate. Muslims can only become accepted in this discussion if they agree to this Western-centric framework.

What is the impact of Islamophobia on the Muslim community?   The quarter-million Muslims live in the San Francisco Bay Area face ongoing, entrenched Islamophobia more than a decade after 9/11, according to a study released in May last. "The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Community and Identity"   found 40 percent of Muslims in the region have experienced personal discrimination and 23 percent have been victims of a hate crime. The discrimination against Muslims was particularly pronounced in school-aged children.  

Another survey of Muslim students ages 11-18 in California schools reports that half experienced some sort of social bullying along the lines of taunting or remarks, and one-tenth experienced physical bullying. The survey was released on December 19. Seventeen percent of girls who wear hijab said they'd had someone inappropriately touch or pull on their hijab. The new survey that tracks bullying directed at Muslim children and teens in California finds that half have at some point been subject to "mean comments and rumors" over their religion.

Islamophobia Network: The anti-Muslim sentiment in America is being generated by a cottage industry of Muslim bashers and Islamophobic groups. Some individuals, institutions and groups are at the center of pushing Islamophobia in America. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim groups received more than $119 million in funding between 2008 and 2011 according to a report titled "Legislating Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States."The 160-page report was released in September last by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).   The report pointed out that the U.S.-based Islamophobia network's "inner core" is currently comprised of at least 37 groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.

Anti-Sharia (read anti-Islam) bills

Anti-Muslim prejudice is now institutionalized at the state level, as well. Over the past two years, lawmakers in 32 legislatures across the country have targeted Muslims by moving to ban Islamic law, or "Shariah." Seven states - Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina   Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee - have signed the proposed ban into law, despite the inability of legislators to name a single specific case in which a court ruling based on Shariah law was allowed to stand.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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