MuslimMatters is pleased to announce the addition of yet another associate to our growing family of writers. Hebah Ahmed was born in Tennessee to Egyptian immigrants. Hebah is a social activist who works to dispel the myths about Islam and Women in Islam through community presentations and panel discussions. She also heads Daughterz of Eve, a local Muslim girls youth group. Her previous articles have appeared various publications, including CAIR-Chicago. Pls join us in welcoming Hebah to MM!
Recent efforts are underway in various parts of our country to legalize and expand the use of racial profiling with dangerous and far reaching consequences for U.S. residents including Muslims. Arizona Senate State Bill 1070 was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer a few weeks ago, allowing law enforcement agencies to detain anybody “if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants,” and requires legal immigrants to carry paperwork proving their status at all times. The new Arizona immigration legislation:
- Legalizes questioning and/or detention by local law enforcement of anyone they “suspect” is undocumented.
- Effectively requires all immigrants, even those who are naturalized, to carry identification proving their legal residency in the U.S., and grants police officers authority to enforce federal immigration law and arrest people who cannot produce identification.
- Criminalizes all undocumented immigrants as “trespassers” in the state of Arizona and would subject all undocumented workers and their families to arrest and conviction for misdemeanors, and in some cases felony charges for the new crime of “trespassing.”
- Allows police officers to arrest people without a warrant, thereby undermining constitutional safeguards under the Fourth Amendment.
- Allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.
This measure transfers federal powers directing into the hands of the local police force to use their personal and individual judgments to decide when to stop a person they perceive to be without legal paperwork. The reasons given for such extreme measures include lack of federal enforcement at the border, increased drug crime, and the financial effects on the local economy of having a black market of workers who accept substandard wages. Although the reasons given are valid and require appropriate solutions, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is not the answer. There is a profound fear in the civil rights community that the new measure will permit the practice of racial profiling by Arizona law enforcement personnel. In fact, what else can the police use to determine proper suspicion except racial profiling?
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Legal Director, Abed Ayoub, pointed out: “To allow the use of racial profiling in law enforcement practices is both dangerous and unconstitutional. The measure signed into law by Gov. Brewer has a profound impact on not only the Latino community of Arizona, but on all individuals living in the state. This law also illustrates the pressing need for Congress, and the Obama Administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
The law implicitly targets people of Hispanic origin although it is by no means limited to such. One has to ask why Arizona would prefer the local police force, who is already overwhelmed with domestic crime, to add immigration enforcement to their list of duties rather than stop the problem at the border. The inevitable outcome of such a law is to allow legalized harassment of the Hispanic population which currently makes up 20% of Arizona's population and is growing. They are seen as a ghettoized, cheap labor force that has created a subculture not considered to be “assimilated” into America society.
Interestingly, half way across the world in France, laws with similar outcomes have just been implemented. The difference is that France's laws are directly targeting Muslims instead of Hispanics, and they are using religious dress as a premise for harassment. Muslims are similarly estimated to be between 10 – 20% of the French population and are considered a ghettoized, cheap labor force that has created a subculture not considered to be “assimilated” into French society. France implemented the “Hijab Ban” several years ago, punishing girls who choose to wear the Hijab by preventing them from obtaining an education. Women are similarly discriminated against in government workplaces if they wear the Hijab. Recently, France passed a new law outlawing Niqab and assigning fines and jail time to women who choose to don the Niqab.
In both cases, the results are the same: the legalized harassment of a growing minority population, the disenfranchisement of a large voting bloc, and the increase of racism, stereotyping, and discrimination between average citizens. It seems that in these democracies, as long as the ruling class maintains the majority population, freedom and human rights are guaranteed for all. Once the ruling class' majority standing is threatened, protection of individual freedoms is usurped, and discriminatory laws are permitted in an attempt to scare minority populations away.
Unlike in France, the new law in Arizona does not define the guidelines law enforcement should follow to detain individuals. Therefore, a police officer has an open door of interpretation (and stereotyping) to stop anyone, anywhere based on their individual whim. This means anything that makes a person stand out as “foreign” is grounds for suspicion and makes Muslims a possible target of this law. Aside from our Hispanic Muslim brothers and sisters, the Hijab or Niqab, darker skin, a long beard, and “Arab” or “Desi” features all make Muslims vulnerable to questioning their presence in the United States. It also gives a carte blanche to Islamaphobic police officers to stop and harass a Muslim any time without having constitutional just cause.
After September 11, 2001 and up until this recent Arizona law, racial profiling was used on a large yet limited scale at airports, the borders, and in immigration cases by federal officials to directly target Muslims and citizens of Arab and Indo-Pakistani origin. The use of such racial profiling was done in secret and officials have been unwilling to confirm the scope of its use. This new Arizona law directly legalizes and sanctions the use of racial profiling and greatly increases the scope of its use. Rather than simply falling under federal enforcement, the new law has expanded the use of racial profiling to all levels of government and law enforcement. Rather than simply being used in airports and at the borders, the new law allows the use of racial profiling on every street and public building in Arizona, with several other states lining up to follow suit. The prospect of corruption, misuse, and legalized harassment is enormous. In a statement, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Arizona Chapter Chairman Anas Hlayhel said, “American Muslims have faced the detrimental effects of racial profiling and we stand against the broad and generalized application of this practice. Racial profiling is ineffective policing which will build distrust and fear of law enforcement in the community.”
MAS Freedom Executive Director Mahdi Bray has called for “a full national mobilization of the American Muslim Community in our position to Arizona's legalization of racial profiling. This misguided legislation will certainly unite millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds who recognize that what America needs is not racial profiling but a fair and equitable immigration policy.”
As Muslims, we should not wait until we are adversely affected by such laws to take a stand. Indeed standing up against injustice and for an oppressed people, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, is a requirement in Islam, is a means of changing the image of Muslims in America, serves as da‘wah, and ensures that we will have allies when we once again become the targets. This could be as simple as educating friends and colleagues about this new law and voicing opposition as a Muslim. Individuals and Muslim organizations could contact other community groups whose members are affected by this type of legislation and voice support, form coalitions, and co-author statements against the bill. It is only through this type of local outreach that the tide will slowly change.
I often ask myself if I was alive during the Civil Rights Movement, if I would have cared enough to march with my African American brothers and stand up against the inhuman practices of segregation when I was not yet the target. I am sure many Muslims did stand up but I wonder if we as Muslims had mobilized and done more then, would we be in such a weak position now? Would the image of Islam be so negative that large numbers of Americans view us as terrorists and oppressors? Only when we begin to care about the plight of others can we expect them to care about our plight and start to see Islam as the true Mercy to mankind.