Islamophobia in America: Anti-Muslim images bring a fine
- Anti-Muslim images bring a fine
Man who posted them in St. Cloud will fight the decision.
By BOB VON STERNBERG, Star Tribune
Last update: January 23, 2010 - 10:26 PM
etting the stage for a showdown over free speech rights, a resident of Waite Park, Minn., plans to fight St. Cloud officials' decision to fine him for posting offensive anti-Muslim cartoons last month.
The city attorney's office last week cited Sidney Allen Elyea, 41, with violating a city ordinance that prohibits posting written materials on utility poles.
Elyea has admitted posting the cartoons, telling police he did so to educate city residents about Islam, said his attorney, Ryan Garry.
The cartoons, discovered Dec. 8, depicted images such as the Prophet Mohammed engaged in bestiality and sodomy, as well as an Islamic crescent with a swastika inside it. They were posted in front of a mosque and a Somali-owned store.
The city's complaint states that the cartoons "were placed in high-pedestrian traffic areas and were placed to target local Muslim citizens. The posters were designed to harass, and they had that effect."
Although some local residents pushed for Elyea to face criminal charges, prosecutors in Stearns and Benton counties declined to do so, saying the cartoons had to be considered free speech.
Garry agreed with Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall's description of the case as "classic First Amendment" issue.
Garry said the city's ordinance is overly broad, too vague and amounts to "discriminatory enforcement."
In an e-mail, Garry wrote, "the government is not punishing my client for posting a piece of paper to a telephone pole, but rather punishing him for offering an opinion on a religious and political issue that they disapprove of and find offensive."
He added: "I am not defending the content of my client's political and religious speech. However, the government should know that I will vigorously fight this case to the end to defend his right to say it."
The two civil charges filed against Elyea carry a maximum fine of $250.
Bob von Sternberg • 673-7184
Rally Supports Vienna Mother
Dozens of people rallied Wednesday night in front of Mathews High School in support of a Vienna mother who claims her children were abused by a school bus driver.
Carol Sassya claims the bus driver made her kids sit in a certain seat and called them terrorists because they are of Lebanese descent.
When the racial slurs got to be too much, she filed a police report in November.
The Arab American Community is supporting her cause and a representative from the Arab-American Community Center spoke in her defense at the rally.
"Kids don't come home crying. Kids don't show signs of depression. Kids don't act like they don't want to go to school anymore because nothing's happened," said Ray Nakley from the Center. "There's something happened, and we need to get to the bottom of it."
The bus driver, Kathy Kotanicheck, was suspended last week.
Mathews Schools superintendent Lee Seiple said, "The mother involved has filed charges with the court, so we are waiting to see what will happen with that, to help us make our decision with what we will do."
Arab-American group stages protest at Mathews meeting
VIENNA — A group of more than 40 people, members of the Arab American Community Center of Youngstown, protested before the Mathews board of education Wednesday night, alleging discrimination and safety issues for the district’s two Arab- American students.
Several carried signs, including one that read “Arabs are not terrorists.”
The group’s protest followed publicity over alleged discriminatory remarks made against the two students, both of Lebanese descent, by a school-bus driver who was suspended for three days last November after the incident and later reassigned to the bus garage.
The size of the turnout caused the board to move its work session from its small offices to the Mathews High School cafeteria across the street.
St. Cloud Town Hall on anti-Muslim cartoons
Farhad Mohammed and many of the roughly 500 people gathered at St. Cloud's City Hall Tuesday evening found the official response to a series of vulgar, anti-Islamic cartoons posted around town last month woefully lacking.
"Why is there no punishment?" the St. Cloud resident asked a panel of local officials at a town hall on anti-Muslim hate sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota and many local human rights groups. "This may encourage other persons to do the same thing or more, because they feel they won't be prosecuted."
Mohammed's concern, and Tuesday's forum, arose in response to a December 8 incident in which cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed engaged in vulgar sexual acts using religious symbolism were posted on utility poles and other locations near a mosque and a Muslim-owned shop.
After members of the St. Cloud area's Muslim community, many of whom are Somali refugees, reported the cartoons to the police, a resident of nearby Waite Park admitted putting them up, Police Chief Dennis Ballantine said. But the Benton and Stearns County Attorneys' offices declined to file charges of obscenity or defamation, saying the man had engaged in protected free speech.
St. Cloud City Attorney Jan Petersen's office issued administrative fines totaling $500 against the man for violating a city ordinance that prohibits posting material on public fixtures, after deciding charges of disorderly conduct and criminal harassment did not apply.
Posting the cartoons represented "hate spewed at an entire population," said Zahra Aljabri, Civil Rights coordinator for CAIR-MN. She compared it to the 2008 Blaine arson of a Muslim-run store and other acts targeting Muslims in Minnesota and said the overall effect is to create a climate of fear.
"This is a pattern of things that are happening," she said. "They may seem small, but when you put them together, it leads to bigotry."
Americans Have Negative Islam View: Gallup
WASHINGTON – Americans still largely have a negative perception of Muslims and Islam despite growth in positive Muslim-American political and social activism and interfaith organizations in the past decade, according to a new report from the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
"More than 50 percent of Americans said they had unfavorable opinions of Islam, while 29 percent of those reported a strong degree of prejudice towards Muslims," concluded the report, "Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of US Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam.
It questioned 1002 interview subjects about different aspects of Islam and Muslims over a month-long period last year and married the results with those found in the Gallup World Religion survey, which surveyed Americans’ opinions on Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam and their followers.
Of the faiths, Islam and Muslims elicited the most negative perceptions.
Other findings from the survey reveal that there is a great public prejudice towards Islam as a faith than Muslims as adherents of that faith.
Senior analyst Dalia Mogahed, who is the Executive Director for the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, noted that though more than half of respondents said they knew someone who was Muslim, that didn’t deter from having negative attitudes towards Islam.
"While not knowing a Muslim is significant into falling in that extremely prejudice group," she said, "knowing a Muslims is not enough to keep someone from not being prejudice."
Mogahed said that correlation is indicative of how Americans tend to separate an individual from a group.
"We found that it’s possible to know someone in a group and make them the exception, to say, ‘Sure, so-and-so is a good Muslim. But most Muslims are not like him.’"
Though 70 percent of surveyed Americans said they believe Muslims worldwide want peace, 66 percent said Muslims are not accepting of other religions.
Some 68 percent said there is little in common between Christianity and Islam.
Despite numerous efforts by Muslim American organizations and individuals to inform the public about Islam, a whopping 63 percent said they have either no knowledge (23 percent) or very little knowledge (40 percent) of Islam.
The report is co-produced by the Muslim West Facts Project (part of Gallup) and the Coexist Foundation.
The findings did not surprise Mogahed.
"Though Muslim-Americans are positively involved in the fabric of American life, it’s difficult to see that in light of the media coverage of things like Fort Hood, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the troubles in Pakistan."
But she asserted that all the negativity revealed by the survey was disheartening to see because there has been so much hard work done by Muslim-Americans and Muslims worldwide to inform the non-Muslim public about the beauty of Islam.
"When the public tide can be turned towards having a positive view of Islam, then that will help negate all the prejudices."
The problem stems from media coverage of Islam, according to Media Tenor, a research firm that monitors and analyzes media coverage.
The report stated that not only is Islam the most frequently mentioned religion on the news networks in the US, but "a significant share of this coverage is negative."
An analysis of all statements made by television news between January and August of 2009 revealed that 36 percent of statements on religion is about Islam, and the tone of those statements is twice as likely (40 percent) to be negative than that about Christianity (20 percent).
Gallup’s survey surmised that the media coverage of the "fringe elements" of Islam "may shape Americans’ unfavorable attitudes towards Muslims."
"Muslims are different from one to the next. We live our lives differently, our world experiences are different and that shapes us," Mogahed said.
"But the one and only uniting factor of the group is Islam. And while acts of violence must be covered, perhaps what would help is for the media to pay attention to how it frames those stories."
FBI got 2,000 phone records with fake terrorism emergencies: report
The FBI illegally collected 2,000 phone records between 2002 and 2006 invoking nonexistent terrorism emergencies, according to a report in The Washington Post.
By Tom A. Peter / January 19, 2010
The Federal Bureau of Investigation used false terrorism emergencies to illegally collect more than 2,000 phone records between 2002 and 2006. A series of e-mails and memos obtained by The Washington Post details how FBI officials violated their own procedures and strained their communication analysis unit with non-urgent requests. In many instances, approval was granted after records had been collected to justify the FBI’s actions.
Later this month, the Justice Department is expected to issue a report that will find the FBI violated regulations many times with its terrorism-related phone record requests. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III did not know about the problems until late 2006 or early 2007 when they were brought to light by an inspector general investigation, reports the Associated Press..
The memos do not reveal whose phone records were collected by the FBI, but Bureau officials say that nearly all instances were related to terrorism cases. They added that agents were working under the stress of trying to stop potential terror attacks and did not intentionally violate the law.
The FBI, which previously admitted to illegally collecting phone records in 2007, has begun to publicly acknowledge this latest phone record collection abuse. In an interview with The Washington Post, Valerie Caproni, general counsel for the FBI, said that the bureau had violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in collecting the 2,000 phone records in question.
"We should have stopped those requests from being made that way," she said. The after-the-fact approvals were a "good-hearted but not well-thought-out" solution to put phone carriers at ease, she said. In true emergencies, Caproni said, agents always had the legal right to get phone records, and lawyers have now concluded there was no need for the after-the-fact approval process. "What this turned out to be was a self-inflicted wound," she said.
The FBI never obtained the content of telephone conversations through the program. Additionally, the Bureau has already taken steps to ensure that nothing similar will happen again, FBI spokesman Michael Kortan told Reuters. He added that no one in the FBI had used these methods to for “reasons other than a legitimate investigative interest.”
Previously, FBI agents required a grand jury subpoena or a “national security letter” related to a terrorism or espionage case to collect phone records. However, after Sept. 11, the Patriot Act loosened the restrictions required to obtain phone records. Lower-level FBI officials were given the authority to request phone records, but the Press Trust of India reports that the program soon expanded beyond the intent of the loosened restrictions with phone records possibly unrelated to terrorism cases being collected by the FBI.
Main Justice, a news agency devoted to covering the Department of Justice, reports that although this is not the first time the FBI’s improper collection of phone records has come to light, the e-mails and memos collected by The Post reveal the internal controversy behind the program
Police consider torched Quran a hate crime
COSTA MESA Costa Mesa police are officially investigating a recent finding of a torched Quran at a local mosque as a hate crime.
Police initially hesitated to call the New Year's Day incident a hate crime though officials and congregants at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa say the Quran-burning was clearly motivated by bigotry.
"As (detectives) mull over the case and they make the determination, it fit the elements as a hate crime," said Costa Mesa police Sgt. Phil Myers.
Educational center representatives, including Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini, met with law enforcement officials Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey on Thursday to explain their concerns.
Fatma Saleh, a board member at the center, said they walked out of the meeting satisfied "knowing that they're taking it seriously as a hate crime."
On New Year's Day, a congregant spotted the burnt Quran in the parking lot and brought it into the packed mosque, which was in the midst of prayer. The man took the Quran up to the Imam at the pulpit as congregants gasped and cried at the sight of the torched book.
Saleh said the incident, denounced by The Council on American-Islamic Relations, was obviously part of a backlash that occurred after a Nigerian's alleged attempt to blow up an international flight on Christmas.
On the same day, a Muslim component of a holiday display was found defaced in Mission Viejo. A display that included a verse from the Quran was vandalized with what appeared to be red spray paint.
The Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo incidents do not appear to be linked.
About 100 members of the Muslim community and interfaith representatives gathered at the Orange County Islamic Foundation for a town hall meeting Friday evening to learn about how to respond following both incidents.
Residents were encouraged to be proactive in reporting hate crimes and taking responsibility for their own images in the community by getting involved.
Deadly FBI raid in Dearborn prompts concern over informants
Muslims, civil rights advocates decry tactic
BY NIRAJ WARIKOO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
He called himself Jabril. Two years ago, a white man who claimed he was an ex-con and convert to Islam started attending a predominantly African-American mosque on a run-down street in Detroit.
He touted his Islamic ways while offering poor members of the mosque cash for odd jobs at an auto shop on the city's west side. He told tales of sick family members and brought a young boy to the mosque who he said was his son.
Jabril soon became a brother in faith and a confidante of the mosque's fiery leader, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who was killed in a shootout during an Oct. 28 raid by FBI agents to arrest men suspected of dealing in stolen goods.
Members now believe Jabril was an FBI informant who infiltrated their mosque.
"He built up trust in the community," said Omar Regan, 34, one of Abdullah's sons.
The case -- one of several in the past year involving informants in Muslim-American communities -- has prompted growing concern among Muslims and civil rights advocates about undercover surveillance in religious institutions.
Federal officials say they don't send informants into congregations without reason. But last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, called upon the U.S. Justice Department to review its policies on using informants in houses of worship.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are seeking a protective order to shield the identities of three informants used in the case.
With tattoos on his neck and a full beard, the newcomer arrived at the Detroit mosque in 2007 with stories of turning to Islam while in prison.
"He had this hard-life story," recalled Regan, a son of the mosque's imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah.
For two years, the man known as Jabril to many at Masjid Al-Haqq ingratiated himself with members of the mosque, according to Abdullah's followers. They accepted him as a brother in Islam.
On Oct. 28, Regan said Jabril asked mosque members to help him move some goods in a Dearborn warehouse. Authorities said the men were there to deal in stolen items.
Once inside the warehouse, Jabril reportedly told the mosque members: "I'm going to go get some water, a drink of water," Regan said in an interview with the Free Press.
Jabril then disappeared.
Moments later, federal agents stormed inside. Abdullah, 53, was shot dead by FBI agents after an exchange of fire during the raid.
Jabril was never seen again by members of the mosque.
The story of Jabril's alleged infiltration offers a rare look into the use of FBI informants in Muslim-American communities in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Members of the Detroit mosque say they believe Jabril was a key undercover informant in helping the FBI build a case against Abdullah and his followers.
Muslim advocates say there's a growing problem of improper use of informants, particularly in houses of worship. Some accuse the informant of luring Abdullah to his death in the fatal shooting, which has raised questions about excessive force.
FBI agents' actions defended
But the FBI and federal prosecutors have said that agents acted appropriately in trying to apprehend members of a criminal operation led by Abdullah. They said the group preached violence and hatred against law enforcement and non-Muslims.
Abdullah and his followers were not charged with any acts of terrorism. The charges against the 11 men arrested include dealing in stolen goods such as laptops and fur coats, firearms violations and tampering with vehicle identification numbers. The criminal complaint, however, highlights the radical views of the group. "America must fall," Abdullah once said, according to the complaint.
While some Muslim leaders have expressed concern about civil rights, federal officials say informants are vitally needed, especially with the recent surge in domestic terrorism.
The FBI would not comment on whether Jabril was one of the three informants in the case. But the recollections of Jabril by mosque members interviewed by the Free Press match parts of the 43-page criminal complaint filed against Abdullah and 10 others. Mosque members say, for example, that the complaint's descriptions of car trips to Virginia and Chicago with an informant named S-3 jibe with their memories of rides they and Abdullah took with Jabril.
Mosque members said they believe S-3 is Jabril, though the criminal complaint only identifies S-3 as "an FBI confidential source who has proven to be reliable and credible in the past."
Last week, federal prosecutors filed a motion in which they expressed concern about the safety of the informants used by federal agents in the investigation. Prosecutors appeared particularly worried about S-3, saying the defendants have discovered his identity.
They are seeking a protective order barring the defense from releasing undercover audio and video because they are worried about S-3's safety. Prosecutors note that the criminal complaint includes references to threats by Abdullah -- reported by S-3 -- that he would kill any informants. According to the complaint, Abdullah told S-3 in June 2009 that he suspected there was an informant in his mosque, saying "that if somebody is trying to gather information on him, he would kill them himself or have them killed."
Muslims, and some civil rights advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have raised concern that using informants in mosques infringes on the constitutional right to free assembly and worship.
Other cases involving informants in Muslim communities in California, Ohio and New York have surfaced over the past year, alarming some who say mosques are supposed to be safe places where people can be free to speak their minds.
Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI office, said his agency doesn't target anyone based on religion.
"Without predication, without reason, we cannot send informants into a religious institution just to see what is going on," Arena said. "That is illegal. On the flip side, if there are individuals involved in criminal activity, and they are trying to hide behind a religious institution, that's not going to fly."
He said informants are used in a wide range of investigations including "mortgage fraud, gangs and public corruption -- and counterterrorism is no different."
In recent years, the FBI has increasingly used human intelligence in the United States. After Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI told all of its field offices across the U.S. to increase its use of informants as it made terrorism its No. 1 priority. Keeping an eye on Islamic extremism became a priority and remains so -- as highlighted by the Dec. 25 failed bombing attempt suspected to have been carried out by a Muslim man on a Detroit-bound airplane.
The increase in reported cases of informants comes after the Justice Department gave the FBI more leeway a year ago on when the agency could use undercover sources in terrorism cases. The new rules allow the FBI for the first time to use informants and undercover agents in preliminary investigations and to spy on suspects without clear evidence of wrongdoing.
In July, the ACLU said in a report that the use of informants has had a "chilling effect on congregants' rights to association, speech and religion."
And last week, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat and chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he review the policy of using informants inside mosques, saying that "our traditions, and our constitution, simply do not permit undercover fishing expeditions in our nation's houses of worship."
But some terrorism and legal experts disagree.
"Radicalization and recruitment to terrorism does take place here," and so using informants can be helpful and legitimate, said Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp. who studies terrorism. But he said it needs to remain under tight controls.
Ultimately, an open court system must be used to let a judge and jury decide whether any informants were used legitimately in particular cases, he said.
Some legal experts say the use of informants in mosques doesn't violate the Constitution.
"There is nothing in the ... First Amendment that would preclude the FBI from using informants at a mosque," said Robert Sedler, distinguished professor of law at Wayne State University who teaches constitutional issues.. "A true informant is not going to have any chilling effect, so there is no constitutional objection to the FBI using informants within a religious organization because it doesn't interfere with the religious practices of the people. The service at the mosque goes on even when you have the FBI" informant listening.
"It doesn't affect what the imam is saying."
Informant prodded violence
Tensions over the use of informants in Muslim communities came to a head last year after reports that the FBI had used an informant in Orange County, Calif., who had acted as an agent provocateur by trying to get Muslims to wage violent attacks against Western targets. In Michigan, Muslim leaders said in April that agents were pushing some local Muslims to act as spies inside their mosques.
"It's brought paranoia in the community," said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Some are now wary of coming to the mosque."
The controversy over Abdullah's death has been heightened because his autopsy results have not been released by Wayne County, which says that Dearborn police have requested a delay pending their investigation. Authorities maintain that Abdullah opened fire on federal agents, and he was killed when they returned fire. The family contends he was shot 18 times.
A close friend of Abdullah, Akil Fahd, 40, said he remembers the imam as peaceful and focused "on calling people to Allah."
'Stuck out like a sore thumb'
When Jabril showed up in 2007, Masjid Al-Haqq sat on a rough stretch of Joy Road in Detroit. It has since relocated to Clairmount.
Most of its members are African American, some of them former convicts looking to improve their lives through Islam. Because of their felony records, some had problems finding steady employment.
So, Jabril's job offers made him popular despite the fact that he "he stuck out like a sore thumb, a white guy among all these black people," said Abdullah's son, Mujahid Carswell, 30. Carswell is among the 11 indicted in the case.
"When he started offering the brothers jobs, that's when he got close to my dad," Regan said.
But the federal complaint suggests that it was S-3's offer of cash through criminal activities that drew him close to Abdullah. The criminal complaint, for example, shows Abdullah and S-3 talking multiple times about how to deal with a stolen Dodge truck.
In the nearly three months since the imam's death, talk about Jabril has swirled throughout parts of the African-American Muslim community. Those who met him say they never suspected Jabril.
One of them, Mikail Stewart, 34, of Detroit remembers Jabril as a cordial man who always shook his hands and said "As-salamu Alaykum," the traditional Muslim greeting that means "Peace be upon you."
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO: 313-223-4792 or warikoo@...