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Lessons from Our Past: CVE, Black American Muslims, and Social Justice

Margari Hill

Published

By Margari Hill

On February 5th, Muslim twitter responded to the Right Wing backlash over Obama meeting with Muslims leaders with hilarious tweets #MuslimMeeting. Although many of the tweets were light hearted, others were critical of the meeting largely due to its secrecy. “We want to know who attended the meeting?” While Dean Obeidallah released his statement right away, organizations such as American Muslim Health Professions, Muslim Advocates, and Muslim Public Affairs Council released separate statements. The White House issued a statement saying that “Among the topics of discussion were the community’s efforts and partnerships with the Administration on a range of domestic issues such as the Affordable Care Act, issues of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination, the 21st Century Policing Task Force, and the upcoming White House Summit on Countering Violence (sic) Extremism.” Despite the controversy on social media, numerous people noted the unprecedented gender and ethnic diversity of the meeting once all the attendees were identified.[1] And within that diversity, African-American or Black Muslims addressed their community’s concerns in a space where they had historically been excluded.

While diversity is often dismissed as a politically correct catchword, the lack of diversity in representation and opinion within the Muslim community when it comes to representing our collective concerns to administrative bodies has had a troubling effect on Black and Latino communities. A salient example of this is the pervasive CVE programming that has been created by Muslim organizations.This programming has ignored the complex and difficult history that Black and Latino communities have had faced with law enforcement and created a new set of mechanisms to criminalize and marginalize these communities.

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The US government has reduced its engagement with the Muslim community and increased focus on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs. By internalizing the security framework, Muslims are undermining their own empowerment and overlooking important lessons from our past. CVE programs arise from the 2007 Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (SIP.) According to Bloomberg ”A pilot program in the Department of Justice that started in mid-2013 sought to forge links between law enforcement and Muslim communities in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Best practices from those three cities will be discussed at the summit later this month.”[2]

While CVE programs may not be not nefarious in and of themselves, they represent many converging forces on the Muslim American community. The framing asks Muslim Americans to adopt the Islamophobic rhetoric where the good Muslims need to confront the bad Muslims. Haroon Manjlai, Public Affairs Coordinator of Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), explains, “Given the potential of CVE program to impact first amendment freedoms and protected activities and it’s potential of criminalizing the Muslim Community as being is a cause for concern and is something that CAIR does not agree to and sign off.”Kameelah Mu’min Rashad, Founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation and University of Pennsylvania Muslim Chaplain who had attended the closed door meeting with the President discussed her concerns about the CVE programs.

Pointing to Black American Muslims distrust of these types of program, she said:

We come with more skeptical born of historical reality. We come to these programs, asking how do these programs do damage to our community. There are people who are watching and reporting back to the government, we are very ambivalent about the stated goals of these types of programs.

For many Black American Muslims, CVE programs reminds them of the actions of  COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program), a program conducted by the FBI against civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. TIn essence, NAACP, Martin Luther King, NOI, and Black Panther Party challenged the status quo system of white supremacy. In the context of  American Muslims, Black History is our history. The intended effect of these programs included the following:

  1. Create a negative public image
  2. Break down internal organization
  3. Create dissent between groups
  4. Restrict access to organizational resources
  5. Restrict organizational capacity to protest
  6. Hinder the ability of targeted individuals to participate in group activities,[3]

As Rashad points out that organizations aligning with CVE might not “recognize how programs just like this have been used to undermine self determination and self identity of a community.” This has led to ambivalent feelings about the government and law enforcement agencies.   Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X’s FBI files provide some insight into the extent of surveillance.[4] It should be remembered that Malcolm X did not grow up in a vacuum, as his father who was a follower of Marcus Garvey met an untimely death and the US government worked to undermine Black self determination, from the time of Marcus Garvey to the Black Panther Party. Thus, these suspicions are not unwarranted. Black American Muslims have good reasons for looking at CVE programs not as partnerships between government and Muslim communities, but mechanisms of control. Yet, violent extremism seems to be the only platform that some Muslim groups are gaining traction in DC. This is causing further fragmentation within the American Muslim community along racial lines.

Muslims and non-Muslim activists and civil liberties groups are concerned about the security framework for Muslim engagement with the government. Local and Federal law enforcement agencies often do not approach the Muslim American community outside of issues of national security or foreign policy. In essence, Muslims are criminalized and deemed foreign. Such approach also marginalizes the Black Muslim community and creates a dichotomy, which was applied during the colonial period: the good Muslim versus the Bad Muslim.

From a civil liberties perspective, Counter Violent Extremism programs and the Security framework is deeply troubling. The unease is especially tangible as Muslim Americans are still waiting for the decision of the appeals case is considering constitutionality of NYPD’s spying program, which targeted Muslim Americans simply for their religion. Although LAPD did not take the same measures as the NYPD in spying, the Suspicious Activities Reporting (SAR) program has raised similar concerns amongst civil liberties groups, such as the ACLU. Based on the type of activities falling under Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) individuals doing simple things such as taking pictures or asking directions can come find themselves under state surveillance.

This is exactly what happened to my husband, Marc Manley, while he was student at Temple University and Chaplain of UPenn. He took a picture for an art class, which resulted in the Philadelphia Police department and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) police de-training, searching and questioning him. A few days later two FBI came to his job. After talking with some friends, he contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided a lawyer who was present in the meeting with two FBI agents. and asked him questions about his ethnicity, origins, where his parents were from, notably they asked whether he was of a Middle Eastern background.   Following that initial meeting, then the FBI wanted to establish a relationship with them as a chaplain to work cooperatively as Chaplain of University of Pennsylvania. He stated, “It was never clearly stated about what that meant.”

According to the LA Times, the Obama administration has chosen LA as one of the pilot programs for CVE. I spoke with Garrison Doreck, a PhD student at Irvine who has worked on Muslim Rights, Mapping programs, and civic engagement. He attended a series of law enforcement outreach meetings as a participant observer. He explained that they were a series of public forums where the LAPD goes to different mosques to address various issues or themes. These meetings are powerful junctures where the community can voice their concerns, all the while feeling the watchful eye of the government. In October 2014, Sahar Aziz argued that these meetings could be intelligence gathering opportunities. While Aziz pointed to the profiling of Arabs and South Asians, increasingly Black American Muslims are under suspicion. Doreck pointed to the Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) audits, highlighting some of the racial disparities. Although Muslim groups in Los Angeles have pushed for more reform, the suspicions have shifted away from immigrant Muslims and increasingly towards Black Muslims, who are now disproportionately the subject of Suspicious Activity Reports.[5]

This points to several prominent Black Muslim community leaders, have called for Muslim advocacy groups in DC to be more representative of the diverse Muslim American population. So when MPAC gave Michael Downing an award, it reflected that disconnect with the Black and Latino community who were still reeling from police killing of Ezzel Ford. The petition that circulated before the event prompted MPAC to create hold a “Let’s Be Honest”panel at the MPAC 2014 conference moderated by Jihad Turk, and featuring Jihad Saafir, Hind Makki, Marwa Aly, Rami Nashashibi, and Khalid Latif. Many, have pointed to MPAC’s tone deaf choice for MPAC to name its CVE “Safe Spaces.” Safe space is a term where a marginalized group does not “face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalization” or people with shared political and ideological stances can express themselves openly. By being asked to report “Suspicious Activities,” this means that Muslims are supposed to internalize the CVE and report on each other.

Black American Muslim leaders are asking the government to stop viewing Muslim Americans as a problem, but as partners because many Muslim communities are involved in alleviating poverty, reintegrating the formerly incarcerated, recovery programs such as Milati IIlami, which is a 12 step program to support Muslims recovering from substance abuse. Muslim advocacy groups should promote policies that reflect Muslim American interests, and not just foreign policy or counter violent extremism. One example is ILM, a human development organization focusing on building “self-worth” through various humanitarian projects. ILM’s executive director Umar Hakim told me, “If we start where Malcolm X left off and gain political voice, we are going to have to start dialoguing to begin understanding one another, we need to identify each others’ self interests”

Like others, Hakim stated that he would like to see Muslim advocacy groups engaged in law enforcement outreach programs address police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime. The organization works to resist the de-humanization of Black Americans. Social justice groups have pointed to the criminal justice system and the mass incarceration of Black Americans. Many have pointed to how the criminal justice system dis-empowers formerly incarcerated individuals, depriving them of rights to vote or receive assistance for education, in addition to a record that creates barriers to education.

In California, activists worked on a Proposition 47 that passed this November, which made 6 non-violent felonies into misdemeanors. In addition to alleviating barriers to reentry in society, the programs save the state approximately $150 million to $250 million per year which would go to Safe neighborhoods and school.

Marcus Allgood, a community activist who was the Proposition 47  team captain in South L.A , noted that although Black Muslims are disproportionately affected by racial and religious profiling they receive little support. He said, “The consensus is that when it comes to the issues of social justice, we don’t see the participation of Muslims at all.” Marcus explained that it was the Quran’s message of social justice that attracted him to Islam.  He noted, “Yet, the imams in the local LA community were hard pressed to show their support.” Allgood explained after a lot of phone calls and discussions, many slowly became on board. This past week, he saw some progress:

I was just dealing with CAIR, they came to ACLU and 10 organizations including members of Black Lives Matter who were interested in dealing with definition of racial profiling trying to get LAPD to have a definition aligned with DOJ on their definition. We are working on drafting a bill with Senator Weber.

Hakim, Allgood and Rashad point to the need to address the conditions that cause the radicalization or destructive patterns in multiple groups. While people have looked to Islam as the problem or Black and Latinos as a problem, the very same conditions cause disaffected white men to join hate groups or become involved in drugs and gangs as well.

The PhD student, Doreck explains, “ the Muslim community has been put in a security box since the mid 90s with the 1996 secret evidence act and of course after 9/11. How do you break out of that box? Or, how do you broaden the discussion? There are muslims interested in education and health care that affect their lives more.”

Kameelah Mu’min Rashad hoped that Muslim national organizations followed Black American Muslim approaches to civic engagement and social justice work. She explained “The government engagement, civic work, and community involvement is different, the reach of Black Muslims usually extends to the community regardless of faith,” Umar Hakim affirmed this sentiment, pointing out that he is not just concerned about social justice as it relates to Muslims, but to the broader society. In other words, Muslim social justice issues should broaden to not just focus on Muslim specific issues, but issues that improve the overall conditions in society.

Manjlai of CAIR stated based on previous CVE discussions, meetings with Secretary Johnson, Department of Homeland Security and FBI, CAIR anticipates that the program which will be announced on February 18 CVE summit to have the same problematic aspects, exemplified by the infamous questionnaire which asks Muslims to rate families at risk of raising extremists. He said, “we are going to be proactive with masjid boards and community leaders to educate them on what CVE is and its potential impact on our community.”

The most important lesson learned from the Muslim meeting is that the Black American participants pointed to ways in which the government can engage with Muslims as partners in addressing social justice issues. Focusing on local efforts, Muslims have the most potential for change. Also centering Black/African American Muslims in this conversation is also critical to achieving a shift in civic engagement. One such issue is racial profiling, police brutality, and the Prison Industrial Complex. Muslim Americans must come together and take a stand, make a statement about 21st century policing in support of #BlackLivesMatter. We need our Muslim stakeholders, including imams, grassroots organizers, concerned citizens, community leaders, and civil service workers, to come together, create a roadmap, build coalitions and engage in a meaningful way. As national organizations such as CAIR and Muslim Advocates become more aligned with grassroots work against racial and religious profiling, they can become more inclusive, effective, and responsive to our community’s needs.

[1] http://www.isna.net/isna-president-at-the-white-house.html ISNA writes that the members who attended inclued: Dr. Sherman Jackson, the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC), Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, Imam Mohamed Magid from All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and former president of ISNA, Arshia Wajid, founder and president of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Farhan Latif, chief operating officer and director of policy impact with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute (AAI), Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, Rahat Hussain, director of legal and policy Affairs with Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), Diego Arancibia, Board Member and Associate Director of Ta’Leef Collective, Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation,and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a graduate assistant with Indiana State University’s women’s basketball team who played basketball while wearing the Islamic headscarf.?

[1] http://www.isna.net/isna-president-at-the-white-house.html ISNA writes that the members who attended inclued: Dr. Sherman Jackson, the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC), Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, Imam Mohamed Magid from All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and former president of ISNA, Arshia Wajid, founder and president of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP), Hoda Elshishtawy, the national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Farhan Latif, chief operating officer and director of policy impact with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute (AAI), Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, Rahat Hussain, director of legal and policy Affairs with Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), Diego Arancibia, Board Member and Associate Director of Ta’Leef Collective, Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania and Founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation,and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a graduate assistant with Indiana State University’s women’s basketball team who played basketball while wearing the Islamic headscarf.?

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-05/white-house-woos-american-muslims-as-obama-hardens-stance

[3] Mathieu Deflam (2008). Surveillance and governance: crime control and beyond. Emerald Publishing Group. pp. 184–185

[4] With the controversial claims that law enforcement agencies knew of the plot to assisiinate Malcolm X, but did not intervene, there is a petition to open his FBI files and remove redactions. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2000-05-14/news/0005140182_1_malcolm-x-kill-malcolm-muhammad; http://baltimoretimes-online.com/news/2014/dec/26/petition-launched-open-federal-files-malcolm-x/

[5] http://www.lapdpolicecom.lacity.org/031913/BPC_13-0097.pdf

Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and (February 2014- current) and Muslims Make it Plain (December 2014-current). She is also a volunteer at ICIE, an adjunct professor, blogger, editor, and freelance writer. After converting to Islam in 1993, her life experiences as a Black American woman have informed her research and writing on Islam, education, race, and gender. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in History from Santa Clara University in 2003 and master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006.

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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abdulhaleem Rasheed

    March 2, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    SubhanaAllah, very informative and uplifting. Your professionalism and Quranic guidance are excellent combinations.

  2. Avatar

    zaigham majeed

    March 3, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    aslam o alikum
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  3. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    March 6, 2015 at 6:24 AM

    This article is too long. It has grammar errors. I am not a perfect writer, but if Muslim Matters is going to give someone space, first the person needs to be concise and no grammar errors. Then there’s the substance….
    (and my turn to be too long)

    I spoke to a kid recently who told me he hates the police. He hates America. He is a warrior and it is his intention to drive the police out of the county where we live. He is unstable. He’s already been kicked out of another masjid in our area. There are unstable Muslim boys out there. We have had a generation of Muslims who are now elders who have gamed this religion and treated it like a joke and now are starting to reap the whirlwind. You want to hide and treat your religion like a secret cult, so as not to offend non Muslims. You don’t want to wear hijab, beard or come to the mosque, except for Eid.

    If the police want to spy on Muslims, they do not need our permission. They have done it before and they will probably do it again. We know the game.
    They walk up to you and say, “let’s go blow up something…” and if you are fool enough to say, “let’s go!” They will pull out handcuffs and away you go. Now if you are that foolish, I really want them to get you. That’s not our religion. The only way to reduce such spying is for our leaders to work with law enforcement to identity the problems in our masjid. We need to self-identify the radicals. This is not COINTELPRO. This is not the 60s.

    Further, we really need to get real when we talk about Black American Muslims. The Panthers read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and the last thing they did, after all the shootouts with the cops and death, were to become Muslims as older men.

    Malcolm X is the greatest black theologian in American History. His impact was so great that we confuse his legacy. He taught black liberation theology from a Muslim perspective. Today we have black American mosques in the heart of America’s ghetto’s and they have become castles and the drawbridge is up. They do almost no outreach, at least not the one in my area. They refuse to compete with churches, even in areas where the churches are failing black people.

    If you live in an area where blacks are killing each other at a high rate, the police are not the number one problem. Black on black crime is the real plague on black people. There is no epidemic of white policemen shooting black boys. You can’t count ten. Yet hundreds of crimes against blacks occur on a daily basis and no one cares because the criminal is not a white man in authority. This is not Islamic justice.

    Blacks do need more of a voice in the American Muslim discourse, but then organizations like the Muslim American Society have to get serious and stop the closed minded thinking. CAIR only wants to fight with the federal government (only the FBI). Many modern black American organizations only want to fight with the police. We need to stop with the old school politics and work for our young people. First on the list is we do all we can to make sure they do not end up in Syria fighting for Da’esh. A big reason this happens is because our boys see too much watered down Islam coming from the parents, so they end up going overboard, trying go beyond the lip service some of us give the great gift God has given us.

    If blacks American Muslims were not in the Obama meeting, it is because we don’t have black kids going overseas to fight in Syria and that is the way it should be seen by black American Muslim leadership. Blacks and immigrants need to have more unity. But more important is that we unite on what is right.

    We need to focus on our youth, purifying our religious practice and standing up for who we are as we partner with law enforcement, rather than the present norm where we use our cross cultural experiences as an opportunity to talk down to one another with the same old tired cultural agendas.

    May Allah guide us.

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

Published

As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

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Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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#Current Affairs

Why Boycotting France is the Wrong Response

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Published

“I don’t think it’s safe to come visit you in France with your Aunt…she wears a hijab, and she will have trouble getting around”, my mother nervously quipped as we discussed travel arrangements for their trip. 

“Of course it’s safe! How could you say that? There are women wearing hijab all over this country!”  I protested, as I tried to assuage her concerns.

I was living as an expat in France when my family was planning their visit to the country last year. I was surprised to hear the reservations from my own folk; it went on to highlight the pre-conceived notions Muslims often have about the French. “They hate Muslims!” “They are racists” “They insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)!”. The list goes on.  

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Having spent a considerable amount of time in France, Quebec and Suisse-Romande, I’ve developed an affinity towards the French culture, language and people. I’ve never felt marginalized in these lands because of my dark skin, my Muslim faith, or my never-ending struggle with French conjugation. Yes, I am privileged in many ways, but that doesn’t negate the validity of my experiences. 

I was thus naturally taken aback by the recent calls to boycott France in light of the opportunistic and contemptable actions of Emmanuel Macron. If these boycotts made me uncomfortable, I can imagine how much more offended the average French person would have been. Macron’s decision to first politicize an unspeakable crime, and then to insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a deplorable move. It exposed his true colors and showed us that he is just another disdainful politician who seeks to divide, rather than build bridges. 

As pitiful as Macron’s actions are, is the Muslim response calling for boycotts of France justified? Is it fair to hold all of France guilty for the comments made by its President? Are we not only advancing the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative that extremists on both sides want? No one holds all of America responsible for the ridiculous comments that Trump makes – why a different standard for France? 

Collective guilt is a serious disease that we must overcome. We need to stop holding a people accountable for the actions of a few. We need to stop blaming a people for the actions of their ancestors. French corporations, that employ thousands of Muslims across the world, did not insult the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – so why take them to task? French Muslims have not called for these boycotts, so why are we advocating for them?  If we collectivize and boycott all of France, how are we any different from those who hold all Muslims responsible for the violence perpetrated by a few? 

We need to abandon the ‘Us vs Them’ mindset; this parochial idea of ‘Islam vs the West’ or ‘Islam vs France’. We need to adopt a post-nationalist worldview where we look at all people as one, as our own. There is no ‘Them’ – it is all ‘Us’. It is ‘Us’ against hatred, bigotry, divisiveness, and racism. It is ‘Us’ against those in power, on both sides, who seek to exploit ‘Us’ for political and personal gain. 

As one people, we should never advocate for boycotts which seek to create divisions and animosity between ‘Us’. Blanket consumer boycotts are short lived and have a minimal impact regardless. What lives long past the boycott are the feelings of resentment, hatred and enmity directed towards an entire nation. Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is a prophet to all people, to the French people – our people. We must not partake in actions which alienate our kin from being receptive to his message.  

Know that paltry cartoons will not take away from the rank of the Chosen One. One of his miracles in these modern times, is that those wishing to disparage him have been unable to succeed. His enemies have caricaturized him over and over again, but none of their images have stuck around or gained acceptance. Despite all of these attempts, the only descriptor with which he continues to be universally recognized is that of prophethood. You read a headline: ‘Artist makes images of the Prophet’, and you know instantly who ‘the Prophet’ refers to regardless of who you are. Unqualified, the word always brings to mind the thought of one man!   

Even those that don’t believe in him call him ‘the Prophet Muhammad’ – lips refuse to utter his name with anything other than his noble epithet. So, fear not about the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) rank – for the one being praised by angels in the Heavens cannot be belittled by lowly men here on Earth. 

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#Current Affairs

OpED: Sri Preston Kulkarni’s War on Facts

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“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” — Dorothy Allison (American Writer)

By Ghazala Salam, Founder & President, Muslim Caucus

Elections are a time when stretching the truth is the norm rather than the exception, and “fact checking” an imperative for anyone who wants to make an informed decision about their vote. However, nowhere has the narrative collided as head on with the truth as in the campaign of Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democratic candidate for the Texas Congressional District #22. Such is the brazenness of Kulkarni’s lies that multiple groups that have vowed to vote President Trump out of office believe it is in the best interest of the district and the country if Kulkarni loses his second bid for a place in the US House of Representatives, his purported commitment to the Democratic platform notwithstanding.

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Many are understandably curious about the reason for so many Democrats turning against a candidate from the party they normally support. To be clear, it is not so much Kulkarni’s campaign narrative, as the conflict between that narrative and the truth. To many voters of District 22, Kulkarni’s campaign ostensibly stands for human rights and religious freedom, and against fascism and nationalism. Unfortunately, and as multiple exposes that are now going viral have demonstrated, Kulkarni’s association with fascist and nationalist elements both in India and the US run deep, and indeed are the key drivers of his candidacy.

Kulkarni is no ordinary immigrant success story, having come from a family with deep connections to India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is one of the world’s largest militia, and the ideological fountainhead of Hindutva, a fascist and supremacist ideology that seeks to turn India into a Hindu state, where Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities are relegated to the status of second-class citizens with few rights. In the last two decades, front organizations of the RSS in America have fielded multiple candidates for political office, some of whom have gone on to make significant contributions to advancing Hindutva’s agenda in Washington, DC. It is no surprise therefore, that the RSS’s American affiliate, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), are among the primary backers of Kulkarni’s candidacy. The irony of a man who claims to stand against racism, fascism and nationalism, being backed by the same forces that assassinated Mahatma Gandhi is something Kulkarni would prefer voters don’t pay attention to.

However, the connection with RSS is based on more than just mutual benefit. Kulkarni is the nephew of the late Pramod Mahajan, a highly influential Indian politician and minister, who was an RSS veteran and the BJP’s chief strategist. He held several important cabinet positions including Defense, and until his murder in 2006 by another uncle of Sri Kulkarni, Mahajan was considered the “heir apparent” to the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. Mahajan was among the key organizers of L. K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, a campaign that finally led to the criminal demolition of the Babri Mosque and the subsequent killing of over 3,000 people in sectarian violence across India.

What is striking about Kulkarni’s candidacy is not just these RSS connections that are now falling out of the proverbial closet, but Kulkarni’s silly attempt at feigning ignorance about the RSS, claiming he did not know it was an organization until two years ago. This is rich, coming from a man who claims to have been a career diplomat, and whose next posting before he quit the Foreign Service was going to be in New Delhi. Kulkarni has gone on record to say that Ramesh Bhutada, the Vice-President of HSS, was “like a father,” to him, and his son Rishi Bhutada was among those without whose support the campaign itself might not have been possible.

Another relative of Sri Kulkarni is the well-known Indian politician Gopinath Munde, who married Mahajan’s sister. Munde was a member of Modi’s cabinet before his death in a road accident, and was once in charge of the RSS branches in the city of Pune. Kulkarni’s cousin Poonam Mahajan, currently a member of the Indian Parliament, was once the national President of the BJP “Youth Wing” and the Secretary of the BJP in 2013.

Much to Kulkarni’s discomfiture, his fascist friends are actually flaunting their connection to him, starting with BJP ideologue Subramanian Swamy, hailing Kulkarni’s candidacy as “Hindutva’s hope in Houston.” Yet, Kulkarni wants voters to believe him when he claims ignorance about the RSS.

The struggle with facts continues, with Kulkarni claiming without proof, a lineage from the famed General Sam Houston. Short on facts are also Kulkarni’s claims of expertise on issues of national security, as he has provided almost no details of his tenure in the Foreign Service. Kulkarni’s complete refusal to acknowledge his campaign’s connections to RSS should also be seen in light of the fact that the RSS’s nationalist and Islamophobic agenda finds a natural ally in the Republican Party, particularly in Donald Trump. It is no surprise therefore, that Prime Minister Modi was welcomed in Houston by President Trump and prominent Republicans at a massive “Howdy Modi” rally in September 2019. The same Rishi Bhutada who helped Kulkarni launch his campaign was one of the main organizers and spokesperson for the event. Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Modi broke protocol in giving President Trump a rousing endorsement for reelection during the latter’s visit to India.

None of these would have been uncomfortable truths for Kulkarni, had he been running as a Republican. However, Kulkarni’s candidacy as a Democrat flies in the face of facts, and the support he is getting from many of the district’s Democrat voters is more the result of revulsion against President Trump than a proper vetting of Kulkarni’s politics.

If Kulkarni makes it to Capitol Hill, expect stonewalling on issues of human rights and religious freedom by right wing forces around the world. With Kulkarni as their representative, South Asian voters can forget about any accountability for India, for its egregious violations of human rights and religious freedom. In a “letter to the Muslim community,” apparently conscious of the growing disquiet about his candidacy among Muslims, liberals and progressives, Kulkarni brags about having taken a stand on the “violence in Delhi” and the “situation in Kashmir,” as evidence of his commitment to human rights and religious freedom. In truth, both statements by Kulkarni are ritualistic expressions of standing for peace and human rights, while failing to call out the role of ideologically driven violence against religious minorities. The perpetrators of such violence are widely known to be proponents of the same ideology whose affiliates in the US are among his donors. Such statements are actually a disservice to the victims of sectarian violence for they seek to obfuscate the role of Hindu nationalism in driving such persecution.

Kulkarni’s has apparently promised to take a public position against the use of India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to strip citizenship away from India’s Muslim citizens. Absent from Kulkarni’s narrative is any mention of how the CAA and NRC are discriminatory in their essence against people of the Muslim faith, and a clear violation of India’s secular Constitution. Clearly Kulkarni is not on the same page as respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. How Kulkarni is expected to be vocal about civil rights in the US, while actively shielding those who are eroding these very rights abroad defies explanation.

Similarly, Kulkarni has issued a statement on the “situation” in Kashmir that does nothing to shine the light on the historic betrayal of the Kashmiri people represented by the revocation of Article 370, and the enormous human suffering caused by the Government of India’s tyrannical curfew and lockdown, imposed long before Covid-19. In this regard, Kulkarni apparently does not want to displease his RSS supporters by condemning the unprecedented human rights catastrophe in Kashmir, something many prominent Democrats have done, in the form of statements and House resolutions. For Kulkarni to call out the role of the India’s Hindu nationalist government in causing such suffering on Kashmir’s civilian population is unthinkable. In fact, Kulkarni is loath to even call out the Indian military’s tyranny in Kashmir, and instead prefers to advise the Indian government “behind closed doors,” through the “ladder of diplomacy.”

The truth about Sri Kulkarni’s campaign is closely tied to the money trail. Kulkarni has accepted in excess of $80,000 from just 10 families linked to RSS affiliates in the United States. Despite repeated demands by voters in his district to return such tainted donations, Kulkarni has instead doubled down, attacking those raising concerns as “nefarious actors,” while claiming he was unaware of the RSS as an organization.

It is possible that Kulkarni is genuine in his advocacy for the environment and his concern about gun violence. However, his janus-faced campaign is being weighed down by its own internal contradictions and his refusal to come clean on important facts that affect his prospective constituents. Among all the lies of the 2020 elections, Kulkarni’s claim that he is against fascism and nationalism must rank among the most brazen.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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