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Islamophobia in America: City's Muslims Report Harassment by Police

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  • Zafar Khan
    City s Muslims Report Harassment by Police http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/civilrights/20100104/3/3139/ Coming from a family with members who work in law
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2010
      City's Muslims Report Harassment by Police


      Coming from a family with members who work in law enforcement, Yasmin Nasser used to look at police officers as honest, upstanding and there to protect all members of society. Today, though, Nasser said, she feels uneasy when she walks by cops and, for a brief period, tried staying away from them altogether.

      The 20-year-old American citizen who resides in Saudi Arabia had come to New York City to visit family. Her trust in New York City's finest eroded the day she claims a police officer pulled her by the arm, told her to leave Rockefeller Center, where she had gone to see the Christmas tree, and called her a "terrorist." She was asked to provide identification to the officer, was subsequently accused of having phony identification and allegedly told, "Leave you terrorist, you shouldn't be here."

      "It's so hard for me to believe that a cop could do this," said the Muslim woman who covers her head with the traditional headscarf (hijab) worn by some women who follow the Islamic faith. "I couldn’t get over it. I was in shock," she said.

      Nasser has reported the matter to the Council of American Islamic Relations and plans on filing a report with the city Civilian Complaint Review Board once she returns to Saudi Arabia. She fears that making a complaint prior to her departure could disrupt her travel plans.

      Advocates say that Nasser's story is not an isolated incident. Monami Maulik, executive director of Desis Rising Up And Moving (DRUM), an immigrants' rights organization in Jackson Heights, said that she has heard many similar stories. Several other organizations say police harassment of Muslims is a genuine problem.

      Encounters with Police

      The Council of American Islamic Relations analyzed civil rights cases in 2008 by circumstances of occurrence. The group found encounters with police ranked sixth, following schools and prison. "Underreporting of hate crimes and police misconduct cases remains a real issue with American Muslims," said the council's New York civil rights director Aliya Latif.

      Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, law enforcement officials have worked on building a cooperative relationship with the American Muslim community in an effort to obtain valuable information related to terrorism and safety issues. Muslim groups worry that allegations of misconduct by law enforcement damage the fragile ties between the two groups. "We are concerned that incidents like these further alienate community members and contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust with law enforcement authorities," Latif said.

      Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, agrees. "The evidence of any problem with law enforcement undermines any cooperation they may seek from Muslims," she said. "Even if there is a perception of harassment, it very naturally leads individuals to be cautious and reluctant to seek help from law enforcement, let alone report any suspicious activity."

      A police officer, though, may see the situation differently. "Police officers may not always realize how they have come across to a civilian," said Graham Daw, a spokesperson for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the all-civilian board that investigates civil complaints about alleged misconduct on the part of the New York City Police Department. "Civilians are not always aware of the pressures under which police officers work or the powers with which they are vested in order to do their job."

      The New York City Police Department was contacted numerous times to comment on this issue but did not respond.

      According to DRUM, many Muslims have complained about being randomly approached by members of law enforcement in their own neighborhoods and apartment buildings and being asked about their whereabouts and about what they did for a living.

      Maulik said that her organization has received hundreds of accounts of cases regarding police misconduct since Sept. 11, many from blue-collar workers such as street vendors and taxi drivers. She also hears stories from youth.

      Slurs and Questions

      In 2006, DRUM and the Urban Justice Center Community Development Project surveyed 662 South Asian youths living in Queens, most of them Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims, about the impact of school safety policies on them. The report revealed that nearly a third of the youths reported having seen harassment by police officers or experienced harassment. The study defined harassment to include "verbal abuse or harassment such as racial slurs and names, yelling and cursing; physical abuse or harassment, including physical harm, grabbing, pushing, forcing to do something the person does not want to do; and intimidation, including asking for identification or calling over for no reason, threatening to report person or their family to immigration and bullying."

      "Since 9/11, there are a lot more security agents and police," said one young person. "They treat us differently."

      "There is more hatred against South Asians [post 9/11]. The police pay more attention to you; they think you are suspicious. They wait for you to screw up," said another.

      DRUM received a report on one incident in which a teenage girl who wore a hijab on the streets of Times Square was allegedly asked by a police officer if she was a terrorist.

      Ayesha Mahmooda, who works with DRUM, spoke to at least 100 South Asian families in Flushing during an outreach effort and found many reported experiencing harassment by law enforcement. She said that many South Asians described feeling scared while being questioned by officers. She mentioned the case of a Muslim man who was questioned by law enforcement officials inside his own apartment. They asked him numerous personal questions, such as where he was born, what his immigration status was and if he smelled anything funny in his building, an apparent reference to possible bomb-making activities.

      An alarmed South Asian woman asking Mahmooda why her husband was stopped and questioned by law enforcement on his way home from working the late shift. "I told her that it was because of the color of his skin, he is not white. He is a person of color," Mahmooda said.

      A Reluctance to Protest

      Those questioned are often afraid to protest, according to DRUM. Latif of CAIR, though, urges Muslims to exercise their right to have a lawyer present if questioned by the FBI or police. "Refusing to answer questions without an attorney present cannot be held against you and does not imply that you have something to hide," she said.

      Few Muslims take their cases to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Of the 14 allegations of offensive language based on religion reported to the board in 2008, only two involved Muslims or Islam, and the board was unable to conduct a full investigation in either case. One complaint was withdrawn by the complainant, and the complainant in the other case did not respond to requests to be interviewed by board.

      "100 percent of the cases that we've ever gotten, no one has ever called the CCRB," says Maulik. "We really don't have faith in the CCRB. It is not a mechanism that has worked for many years in New York, so for the most part, Muslim immigrants don't call the CCRB and file complaints.

      People do not think the board will hold police accountable for harassment or profiling, she said adding that Muslims who are undocumented immigrants are particularly hesitant to report any instances of misconduct to the complaint board. Instead, she said, they live their lives in fear.

      Daw said the board would be glad to make a presentation to the Muslim community to educate them about its work, but Monami has no plans of reaching out to them. She has been working on a project to create a formal complaint process with CUNY School of Law.

      Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council encourages Muslims to report all instances of misconduct to whomever they feel comfortable with, whether it be to Muslim organizations or city agencies . "Without individuals sharing their experiences, we do not have leverage to make change," she said.

      Meanwhile, Yasmin Nasser thinks about what happened to her on her most recent visit to New York. "People in Saudi Arabia ask if people discriminate in New York City, and I always say 'people are nice,'" said Yasmin Nasser. When she lands in Saudi Arabia this time, though, she may offer a different answer.

      Local Muslims Begin New Year With Hate Crimes Against Them
      By Matt Coker in A Clockwork Orange, Crime & Sex, Gimme That OC Religion


      This is no way to start the new year fresh: local Muslims are dealing with two incidents of anti-Islam hate targeting their community.
      A burned copy of the Quran was found during Friday prayers at the back entrance of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa. A burned Quran had been left in the same spot a month previous, and the mosque has been vandalized within the last three weeks. As shown above, vandals also defaced the Muslim component of an interfaith holiday display in Mission Viejo. A piece of paper stuck to the display, shown below, stated, "No Islamic Lighthouses in the U.S.A."

      Ironically, the Muslim portion of the display included a verse from the Quran encouraging unity of humankind:
      O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you.

      The Holy Quran, 49:13
      "Americans of all faiths, and leaders of all political persuasions, must repudiate those who would divide our nation along religious or racial lines," responded Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles Area office (CAIR-LA).

      Ayloush added that CAIR recently called on President Barack Obama to address an "alarming level of anti-Islam hate in our nation." Included were citations of a spate of vandalism cases at mosques nationwide.

      The CAIR official is also urging American Muslim individuals and institutions to review advice on security procedures contained in its "Muslim Community Safety Kit."

      UPDATE: CAIR, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo hold a "Town Hall in Response to Anti-Muslim Hate Incidents" at 7:20 tonight at the foundation, 23581 Madero Drive, Suite 101, Mission Viejo.

      Muslim Display Defaced: Photos


      College’s ban on veils draws flak
      By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff


      The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has established a policy banning people from covering their faces on its three campuses, in an effort to ensure public safety, a college spokesman said today.

      But the new policy has drawn flak from a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, which wants the school to exempt Muslim women who wear veils over their faces.
      "It's a very strange policy. I don't know where it came from. The only thing we can conclude is that it's designed to specifically target Muslims," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      Michael Ratty, a spokesman for the college, which has campuses in Boston, Worcester, and Manchester, N.H. said the new policy was designed as part of a "periodic assessment of public safety policies" at the college.

      "It's no surprise that college safety has become a huge issue of importance in the past couple of years. This is another measure that public safety [officials at the college] wanted to implement to keep the campus safer," Ratty said of the policy, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

      The ban would cover anything that covers the entire face. In addition to veils, that could include ski masks and scarfs drawn over the face, he said.

      He said college public safety officials wanted to be able to identify people who were in college buildings. He also said the development of the policy had no connection to the arrest of a 2008 graduate of the school, Tarek Mehanna, last year on charges of plotting terrorist attacks.

      "Unequivocally, it has nothing to do with that case," he said.

      Ratty said the college had found two people who would be affected by the ban, officials had met with them, and they had agreed to comply with it.

      "We have faith that [the policy] is appropriate," he said.

      But Hooper said he had not heard of such a policy adopted at any other American school. And he argued that since the policy includes a medical exemption, it should include a religious exemption.

      "People should have the right to practice their faith as they see fit, not as others see fit," he said.

      Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the policy was "puzzling and possibly illegal."

      Founded in 1823, the private college has prepared more men and women for professional careers in pharmacy than any other academic institution in the world, according to the school's website. It has 4,300 students who pursue 30 programs in pharmacy and a variety of other health care-related fields.

      Mosque firebombing sparks outrage


      Shock and anger is spreading among Hamilton's 20,000 Muslims after the city's largest mosque was firebombed.

      "They tried to burn the mosque down," said Zakir Patel, 42, principal of the Islamic School of Hamilton, which is part of the mosque.

      Patel discovered the firebombing around 8 a.m. yesterday when he opened his office door. Attackers had used a large rock to smash a hole in a front window at the mosque and then lobbed in what police are calling an "incendiary device."

      Javid Mirza, past-president of the mosque, said the device was still smouldering when it was found, leading many to believe the attack had occurred a short time before..

      The Molotov cocktail did only minimal damage to the Stone Church Road East mosque.

      The Hamilton police hate crime unit and chief arson investigator Sergeant Tim Bower are leading the investigation. Police are not discussing any possible motives.

      Police would only say they discovered "evidence of vandalism at the property as well as an incendiary device" and pegged damage at about $3,000.

      Chief Glenn De Caire and Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse both called mosque president Mohamedkamal Gurgi offering their condolences and support. Gurgi said De Caire also said police patrols would be increased around the mosque.

      Premier Dalton McGuinty, Hamilton Mountain MP Chris Charlton and the Ottawa-based Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations were among those who condemned the attack. Gurgi also heard from representatives of the United Church and the Canadian Jewish Congress.

      "Ontario's diversity is our great strength," McGuinty said last night. "So when a mosque or other place of worship is desecrated, it is an attack on all Ontarians."

      The school has about 200 students from kindergarten to Grade 8.

      "This is distressing and disheartening that in the 21st century people are still dealing with others this way based on their religion," Patel said. "To attack a school of innocent children -- part of me is very angry."

      The incident has drawn national attention with the Council on American-Islamic Relations CANADA calling the attack “deeply offensive.”

      "An attack on any place of worship is deeply offensive and hurtful. Islam promotes social justice, peaceful relations and understanding with our neighbours - both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Ihsaan Gardee, CAIR-CAN executive director said in a statement.

      "Our organization calls on politicians and security officials in Hamilton to demonstrate leadership by standing firm against all forms of hate, racism and xenophobia,” said Gardee. “Such cowardly acts of vandalism, regardless of their scope, represent not only an attempt to cause physical damage but an attempt to divide communities by targeting visible and vulnerable minorities.”

      “While deeply disturbing, CAIR-CAN does not believe that such incidents represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Canadians, which is why we ask our fellow citizens of conscience to join us in condemning this regrettable act.”

      A brown glass bottle filled with flaming liquid had sailed over Patel's desk and smashed against the back wall of his office beside a brown plastic waste basket, setting fire to the carpet.

      The shattered remains of the glass bottle, pieces of burnt carpet and a lighter found outside the smashed window have been sent to the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto.

      Patel said he thinks the plastic garbage pail may have saved the mosque by melting extremely rapidly and smothering the flames.

      Gurgi said the mosque had not received any specific threats, but said it does receives the occasional "hate message" on its answering machine.

      He said they are mostly laced with insults and include pronouncements that "you immigrants" should go back home.

      The attack on the mosque comes six weeks after a racist threat against Spectator freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani had been found taped to a van belonging to Hamilton's Settlement and Immigration Services Organization.

      A note containing attacks against immigrants and numerous swear words had been left along with a copy of Hamdani's column in which the eyes in his logo had been X'd out. Police are probing the threat as a possible hate crime.

      The same mosque was damaged in 2001 when vandals destroyed its front lobby by smashing windows with beer bottles in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

      At the same time, the Hindu Samaj Temple in Hamilton was destroyed in fire that police said was set by an anti-Arab arsonist who drunkenly mistook the Hindu temple for a mosque. Charges against a suspect were withdrawn for lack of evidence.

      "Thank God there were no children in the school," said Gurgi.

      Gurgi said the mosque had applied for security funding from a special federal program last summer for a new building wide security system. Mirza said he was told in November to expect news at or after the Christmas holidays. The mosque is seeking $45,000 from Ottawa to help pay for $90,000 worth of surveillance cameras, new lights, signs and alarms.

      "That's urgent now," said Gurgi.

      Charlton said she would check what has happened to the mosque's application by contacting Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan today. She said "it certainly seems" the mosque should qualify.

      "This is so shocking," said Mirza. "I hope whoever is responsible turns themselves in."

      Hamilton Major Fred Eisenberger said he hopes the perpetrators are caught as quickly as possible.

      "This is a deplorable act against one of our places of worship. When one of us gets attacked in this way, no matter who it is, it impacts us all."

      Eisenberger said he hopes to talk to the Muslim community to talk about concerns and assure them of the city's commitment to being a sharing and caring community.

      "If there is a desire to meet, I would be certainly happy to go, and I would hope the police would do the same to give them a sense of comfort and understanding that the police are taking this extremely seriously."

      Police investigating burnt Koran


      osta Mesa police are hesitating to call a charred copy of the Koran found outside the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County on New Year’s Day a hate crime until they determine where it came from, officials said.

      About noon New Year’s Day, a member of the education center was headed inside for Friday prayers when he saw something bulky that appeared out of place in the parking lot, said education center board member Fatma Saleh..

      “The holy book is a cherished thing for Muslims. To be defiled in such a manner was upsetting,” Saleh said. “It was the first day of the new year. Not even halfway through the day and you’re already starting off the new year on a bad foot.”

      Sgt. Phil Myers said police need to rule out other possibilities before calling the finding a hate crime. For example, someone could have burned a box of books and just tossed this one into the parking lot, he said.

      “Before we wave the flag and call it a hate crime, we have to do some more investigation,” Myers said.

      But just a week removed from an alleged attempted bombing aboard an international flight headed into Detroit, Saleh said the message was clear to local Muslims.

      “There has to be some connection. To say otherwise is really ignoring the reality of things,” she said. “There always seems to be a backlash when things like this arise in the nation.”

      Police have listened to center officials and have increased patrols of the area in the short term, Myers said. The Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is pointing to the New Year’s Day incident as the latest in a recent spate of anti-Muslim incidents in Southern California.

      In Mission Viejo, the Muslim portion of an interfaith holiday display was vandalized with text printed over it saying “No Islamic Lighthouses in the U.S.A.,” according to the council’s website.

      Saleh said the burned text made many in the center nervous.

      “A lot of people were taken aback and aghast. People were crying. A lot of high emotions were running when that happened. It was pretty dramatic,” she said. “To have such a thing amidst the holy day when people come here for peace, solitude and for comfort in God, that was something that was too much for many to bear.”

      Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Down in California, Report Finds
      By Nick Schou in Gimme That OC Religion, The Hilarious HatersTue., Dec. 15 2009 @ 2:09PM


      Yesterday, the California Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released its annual hate crime report, "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights, California 2009." Despite the name, the report actually deals with incidents from the previous year, which are as follows:

      *A total of 480 hate crime incidents were reported statewide, which is a 13 percent decrease from 2007, when 553 reports were received.

      *California and a handful of other states, as well as Washington DC, were responsible for 79 percent of the 2,728 hate crime reports received nationwide, a number that shows an overall increase in hate crime incidents nationwide.

      Here in Orange County, CAIR documented a total of 16 hate crime attacks or incidents in 2008, says Munira Syeda, CAIR-Southern California's communications manager, who added that the Orange County Human Relations Commission documented another five hate crimes. Syeda provided details on the two most serious incidents.

      A phone call was made to the office of Irvine resident, attorney and Muslim convert Todd Gallinger who was running for Irvine City Council. The perpetrator had read a newspaper article that day which labeled Gallinger a "born again Muslim" and said "Todd should have his head cut off like all the other Muslims."

      The other incident involved a Buena Park man who was dropping off his wife at work when a n impatient driver behind him yelled "Fucking Arabs!" The perpetrator then got out of his car, called the victim an "Arab cunt, piece of shit, terrorist," demanded he exit his vehicle and when he did so, he knocked him unconscious.

      You can read the entire report here (http://ca.cair.com/losangeles/civil%20rights/)

      Church sign raises objection

      Pastor says intent was not derogatory

      By Lisa Trigg
      The Tribune-Star


      TERRE HAUTE — A sign at a Terre Haute church bearing a message that many people would deem “intolerant” has raised an objection from a concerned teenager who could not let the message go unchallenged.

      Saagarika Coleman submitted a letter to the editor of the Tribune-Star (see page A8) stating that she was “hit with a wave of shock. I was horrified” when she saw the sign at Bible Baptist Church as her father drove her to school Monday morning.

      The sign stated, “Jesus died and rose and lives for you. What did Allah do.”

      To Coleman and others, the message seems to challenge or belittle the Muslim faith. At best, such sentiments strike some people as an un-Christian approach to tolerance of other beliefs.

      “I just think God’s love is wider and deeper than that,” said Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, when asked for comment about the sign’s message.

      “We believe and operate from the assumption that God is known in many different ways by many different people in many different cultures,” Wilkinson said of the Catholic tradition. “And the ways God speaks to people is bigger than any one faith or belief..”

      The use of the word “Allah” in the sign may seem to challenge Islam, but Pastor Bob Parker of Bible Baptist Center at 25th Street and Margaret Avenue said the intent was not derogatory.

      “People are making it a political statement,” said Parker when asked about the meaning of the sign’s statement.

      “It just means the founder of Christianity still lives,” Parker said..

      He pointed out that the statement about Allah did not have a question mark behind it, so he did not think it was an attack. However, Parker also said the church does not have punctuation lettering for the sign. A church member had suggested the message to him, and he approved it.

      As of Wednesday, Parker said he had received three comments about the sign, and he is willing to talk to people about it.

      By Wednesday afternoon, the message on the sign had changed. But Parker said the message changes weekly, and it was just time to make the change.

      “I’m not concerned,” he said of the comments about the message’s negative connotation.

      Al Mansor, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Center of Terre Haute, said some people confuse the prophet Mohammed with Allah. “Many people are ignorant about the word Allah,” Mansor told the Tribune-Star when asked about the church sign.

      “Allah means God. God is the Creator. Allah,” he said, agreeing that Jesus is the Son of God, as Christians believe. Muslims also believe in Jesus, he pointed out.

      “We have to believe in Jesus. If we don’t, we’re not Muslim,” Mansor said.

      Terre Haute is a diverse community, with many people of the faiths of Judaism, Islam and Hinduism residing, working, raising families and being active in the community. However, the dominance of Christian churches and worship centers may give the impression that Christianity is the only organized religion in the area.

      For Hindus, the nearest temple for worship is in Indianapolis, but weekly visits to a temple are not required for worship, unlike Christianity, which urges regular attendance at worship services.

      For Muslims, worship is supported by the Islamic Society of North America, which has its headquarters in Plainfield.

      In the days following the symbolic tearing down of the “Wall of Hate” event at Indiana State University, the church’s message seemed ironic to the teenage letter-writer.

      The child of a Hindu mother and a Catholic father, Coleman wrote in her letter, “Who are we, as mere humans, to question the workings God or even to try to convince other people that only our way is correct?”

      Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@....
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