Friday, December 04, 2009

Muslim civil rights report issued

Zahra Billoo, program and outreach director of CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area introducing CAIR's new report: "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights: 2009."

Thursday the national Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a study of complaints it has received of discrimination, anti-Muslim violence and harassment over the last year. In 2008, CAIR recorded 2778 complaints, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. The highest number came from California, Illinois, New York, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. Eighteen percent of incidents occurred in California of which over 200 were in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zahra Billoo has only worked in the Santa Clara-based CAIR-SFBA office for a few months. But she has noticed a pattern in her work. Many calls to her office concern problems Muslims experience in workplaces about negotiating time off for Friday prayers or wearing head coverings or beards. Muslim kids have reported their teachers in the schools saying insulting things about their faith.

But an additional category of apparent discrimination happens all too often. F.B.I. agents have been turning up at the doors of families in Muslim communities, without warning or warrants, and asking to come in and just talk. Since there can be dangerous legal consequences for immigrants and others from what seem like simple conversations, part of her work has been finding lawyers to advise these families and perhaps be present if they do talk with the F.B.I. People who want lawyers, or who don't want to talk with law enforcement at all, are within their rights, but people often don't know they have such rights.

The printed report's recommendations speak to this situation:

Law enforcement authorities have every right to follow up on legitimate leads in any investigation, but a "round up the usual suspects" approach will only serve to intimidate those whose cooperation is sought.

In a community subjected to much suspicion and hostility in the last few years, it is not surprising that many interactions with authorities feel like "religious profiling" unless prior trust has been established.

According to the national organization's press release:

...the report also offers recommendations for action by the Obama administration, Congress and American Muslim institutions.

The Obama administration is asked to 1) review and revise guidelines issued by then Attorney General Mukasey in late 2008 that allow racial and religious profiling, 2) to reduce the size of the watch lists, and 3) to implement effective means by which travelers who believe they have been profiled may seek redress. President Obama is also asked to visit an American mosque.

CAIR is recommending that Congress pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) and the Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely Redress Act of 2009 (FAST Redress Act of 2009), and not offer a 'legitimizing platform" to anti-Muslim bigots.

The full report can be downloaded as a pdf from CAIR.

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