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#Current Affairs

The Stories We Tell: Guantanamo Bay In Normative American History And The Present




OpEd By Maha Hilal

Two days ago, President Obama revealed his plan to finally close Guantanamo Bay.   Numerous critiques of his plan have emerged, including the continuation of indefinite detention that is embedded in his plan to move detainees into domestic prisons. While the fate of the prison remains in limbo, the narrative that has been and continues to be used by the American government represents a departure from what we know to be true about the US adherence to the rule of law among many others issues. In order to challenge these different “truths,” I offer some thoughts below which stem from President Obama’s speech on closing Guantanamo.

  • Guantanamo does not advance our national security and advances propaganda. In other words, we need not worry about the fact that human rights abuses targeting an exclusively Muslim male population have been evidenced time and time again. Muslims can never be legitimate victims because we have to fear that their victimhood will provoke anger. Thus, we cannot mourn their lives in captivity or their early deaths because whatever state we find their bodies in is only relevant to US security. They are subhuman collateral damage.
  • Guantanamo stains our reputation as a beacon of human rights. This statement is reminiscent of a Ghanaian proverb that says, “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.” This narrative has always been built by power. Where is the US seen as a true leader in human rights? In the US. If other countries followed our path of “human rights,” the world would never see a peaceful day again at anytime or in any place. The continued assertion of this claim is different than the actual fulfilling of it.
  • The United States is a country marked by the rule of law. Accountability is an essential component of the rule of law. Thus, you cannot at once have known individuals guilty of committing crimes and who evade legal accountability while still claiming a system based on the rule of law. This necessarily includes government officials from the Abu Ghraib scandal to torture and murder in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. If what we have in the United States is the rule of law, then the rule of law should be re-defined as a system of state violence sanctioned through the use of law. This was embodied in President Bush’s and now President Obama’s presidency; that is laws that are newly created and/or re-written so that abuses occur as legal actions. Thus, law is not broken, but more properly noted as corrupted; the former making it exponentially more difficult to challenge.
  • Bush wanted to close Guantanamo Bay. Well here’s the thing; his administration is the one that opened the prison. So when President Obama gave credit to Bush in his recent speech for wanting to close the infamous prison, he effectively promoted a war criminal who opened a facility designed to re-invent legal boundaries in the treatment of dehumanized Muslims. Government is the problem, not the solution.
  • We need to place significant restrictions on released prisoners to keep them from returning to the battlefield. Some of these “battlefields” were neighbors’ homes where communities began to turn each other in to receive bounties. Others were simply captured for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what’s the common link? Collective responsibility and the criminalization of the Muslim identity. Crimes get you into prison, but being Muslim can too. But never mind this point, because the US has demonstrated time and time again that Muslim countries are battlefields; well battlefields in the sense of US intervention that operates by invading, occupying and destroying lands. That’s how your neighbor’s home, your family’s farm, etc. become “battlefields.”
  • Closing Guantanamo Bay will close an unfortunate chapter in American history. Until Guantanamo Bay closes, the story won’t end. But neither will the story end if Guantanamo does close because the thing is that the book hasn’t ended. The book of US state violence spanning from Latin America to Africa will continue. The War on Terror with it nebulous and never-ending obtuse goals will never be over; at least not until the US isn’t consumed with gaining power, money, and global control. Many Guantanamo Bay prisoners will continue to be imprisoned, thus existing as a present reminder of the crimes of the War on Terror and those released will continue to exist as living collateral damage. These stories will effectively become the next chapter in the War on Terror, not the end of the book.
  • We need to apply the lessons we’ve learned in US history. For the casual observer, it may seem as though the US has genuinely become a country committed to human rights and committed to improving its record. To those paying close attention, the only lessons the US seems to have learned is to do better at hiding your tracks. Or to blame the victim for the violence they’ve incurred. After all, it was the fault of dead Afghans for provoking marines to urinate on their bodies. And it’s their fault that other Muslims got angry.

If you still think the story of Guantanamo ends here, it doesn’t. It may just be getting a new beginning using “lessons learned,” to manufacture a new narrative to sanction the next installment of egregious abuses in the War on Terror.

Dr.  Maha Hilal is the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, an organization dedicated to addressing civil and human rights abuses related to preemptive prosecutions and thoughts crimes in the War on Terror. She is also an Islamophobia consultant for the Team Baluchi Defense Team of the Office of the Chief of Defense, where she supports research on disparities in the legal system that Muslims face, such as selective prosecutions. Lastly, Maha is currently a Career Development Officer with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition where she helps survivors obtain meaningful employment.  Maha earned her doctorate last May from the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University in Washington, D.C. The title of her dissertation is “Too damn Muslim to be trusted”: The War on Terror and the Muslim American response.  She received her Master’s Degree in Counseling and her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked at a number of human rights/social justice organizations including the Center for Victims of Torture, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and the Government Accountability Project. Maha was previously a Christine Mirzayan Fellow at the National Academy of Sciences as well as a recipient of the Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship for Arabic study in Morocco. 


1 Comment

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  1. Avatar

    Helen Schietinger

    February 26, 2016 at 5:35 PM

    I appreciate Dr. Hilal’s clarity in naming the fallacies and myths behind the government story line. We hear the pat phrases about Guantanamo and the “war on terror” so often, from so many angles — mainstream media, politicians, government officials — that they become true to us no matter how irrational they first seemed.

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#Current Affairs

Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks

Hena Zuberi



In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.

The statement reads:

“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!

Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”

Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.

The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.

Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy.  Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam  Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.

“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan



Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source:

Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News

Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc

Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center

Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN


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#Current Affairs

Ben Shapiro Gets Wrecked on the BBC for Racism Against Palestinians and American Jews

Andrew Neil so thoroughly destroys Ben Shapiro that he has a snowflake meltdown and retreats in the middle of the interview to his own safe space, off-camera. 




The video plays at the 10:00 minute mark where Neil begins to break down Shapiro on his statements about President Obama, Palestinians, and American Jews.

Let’s set the context – popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, known for his aggressive debate style in the public square, visited the BBC to promote his new book.  The interviewer, Andrew Neil, after giving Shapiro a chance to introduce himself to the BBC audience, questioned him about the anger both the left and the right feel towards one another, and Shapiro’s own role in stoking that anger and polar opposition within the Republican party over many years.

The reason for this line of questioning is because Shapiro claims this to be a problem in American discourse and fails to consider his own contribution to the problem, and it is this hypocrisy that Neil confronts him about.  Shapiro attempts to respond, but is promptly crushed by Neil’s responses with Shapiro’s own quotes.  For example, he brings up the following tweet written about Palestinians which Shapiro agrees was wrong but hasn’t taken down:


Shapiro futilely attempts to respond, but Neil continues to quote Shapiro until he is left with no choice except to throw ad hominems at his interviewer, which were deftly turned back on Shapiro, leaving him to look even more petty for his attempted condescending remarks.  The end result is the man claiming earlier to welcome a spirited debate quickly found himself running away to lick his wounds.

Perhaps the greatest irony in this debate – Shapiro accused Neil of being an opinion journalist of the left-leaning variety, while Neil is a conservative and chairman of The Spectator, whose editorial outlook is conservative.

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