Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Clinton's Visit to Pakistan: Same Wolf, New Shalwar Kameez

This morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Her visit was primarily to, as she put it, "turn the page" on what has been, in the past few years, "primarily a security-anti-terrorist agenda." Her visit came after the rising anger in Pakistan over Pakistan's role in fighting Taliban in the South Waziristan and the recently enacted Kerry-Lugar foreign aid bill.

Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally for many reasons for a long time. Pakistan worked with the U.S. during the Cold War and played a key role in expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan. Also, as one of the largest Muslim countries by population, and the only Muslim country to have nuclear arms, it is very important that the U.S. keep good relations with Pakistan.

However, the U.S.'s strategy in Pakistan can only be described as "wham, bam, thank you ma'am." The U.S. has a history of engaging with Pakistan only enough to get what it wants, and then leaving, without providing any real aid to Pakistan. For example, after the Cold War, Pakistan was left to clean up the mess in Afghanistan and deal with the scores of refugees flooding in from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The worst part, is that the U.S. geuinely thinks Pakistanis are stupid enough to believe them. Clinton said today, "it is unfortunate that there are those who question our motives, who perhaps are skeptical that we are going to commit to a long-term relationship, and I want to try to clear the air up on that while I am in the country."

Today's visit is no different than anything seen before, however. The Kerry-Lugar bill, purports to give Pakistan billions in aid, but actually sends most of the money to make a new embassy and consulate within Pakstan. It also sets parameters for obtaining and keeping that money which are overly vague and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan.

In all fairness, however, Clinton does have many Pakistani friends, and enjoys wearing shalwar kameez!

To see an interesting take on the bombing that occured, please see this video.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Imams Win Victory for Civil Rights

"Three years after six Muslim men were arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities, the "Flying Imams" have reached a legal settlement they say acknowledges they were treated improperly because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds."

Read the entire story here.

Read the entire ruling here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Trajic Misuse of Freedom of Speech

by Hassan Shibly

Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders was recently allowed entry to Britain after over a year of being denied entry due to his controversial film about Islam.

"Wilders' film "Fitna," which was released online in March 2008, features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran, to paint Islam as a threat to Western society.

After its release, the movie drew complaints from the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as well as concern from the United States, which warned it could spark riots"

People throughout the world are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed when they attempt to exercise free speech. They wish to exercise free speech so that they can call out corruption and injustice. Yet we sometimes use free speech as an excuse, if not justification, to insult and defame the beliefs of others. We use free speech to propagate hate, fear, and bigotry, based on misinformation and lies. It is disheartening and disgraceful that people use freedom of speech for such unworthy causes when others are giving their lives as they attempt to use it for worthy causes.

We do a great disservice to those who died in the name of freedom of speech, by being fooled into believing that those who use freedom of speech to unjustly hurt others are standing for the same great freedom of speech that we so value and honor. We value freedom of speech because it is a means to promote truth, liberty, and justice—yet those who misuse it are seeking polar opposites of what it was initially a means to protect.

In order for freedom of speech to survive, it must have broad protections that even shield those who misuse it. Thus those who misuse it may have a legal right to do so. But it must be remembered that courts do not and cannot ordain whatever is best for society in each individual case. Rather, they ordain whatever is permitted. Hence, a court can (and should) protect someone’s right to a particular act, but it cannot impress upon the actor to exercise their right in the best manner. Hence, courts can protect someone’s freedom of speech, but cannot force the speaker to use their freedom in the manner it was intended: for the open and honest discussion of issues important to the speaker.

Thus it is simply up to us, not as lawyers, but individuals, to recognize that those who use “freedom of speech” as an excuse to divide our community and promote hate and bigotry are no real champions of freedom of speech but rather are using this noble right to spread open lies and half truths. We as Americans must make the decision not to stand for such hate mongering. We must peacefully take a stand and send a message to hate-speech advocates that “no, you shall not use this noble right for an act that is counter to the very essence of free speech.”

It is thus very saddening that when a world leader was given a right by a court to travel to promote a film which demonizes the faith and culture of billions of people through outright lies and bigotry, he claimed that the court decision was “a victory for the freedom of speech.” How shameful! The interests freedom of speech was intended to protect are polar opposites of the interests for which he made his bigoted film. Freedom of speech is sought because it protects truth and justice; his films promote lies and hatred.

In short, the next time you see someone using freedom of speech to promote bigotry, hatred, slander, defamation, or any other cause, tell them "shame on you for using such a noble term as a cover for such an ignoble cause."

Hassan Shibly is a second year student at the University at Buffalo School of Law. He is on the Law School's prestigious Student Advisory Committee to the Human Rights Center at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama's Premature Prize?

This year, the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama. But with less than a year in office, has he really earned such an honor? One of the major reasons for his win, according to Stein T√łnnesson of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, was to "encourage his further work for peace" and finish initiatives he started. Among these initiatives: a "return to respect for civic and human rights," rapprochement with the Muslim world, Iran and North Korea and withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Then a big question is if he can find a way to be peaceful also with relation to Afghanistan."

But that's just it. He has yet to actually do anything. Although the Nobel Committee has "encouraged" others in the past for their efforts without yet accomplishing their goals, has Obama taken enough substantial steps even to be encouraged in this manner?

Muslim-Americans are among the many minority groups thankful that the Bush Administration is no longer in power. We see Obama as a breath of fresh air, and hope (key work here) that he will at least try to undue the damage the Bush administration has caused between the Muslim world and the U.S., as well as fight civil rights issues Muslim-Americans face. Lastly, we hope that Obama will be a voice of reason, speaking against the atrocities that the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis face every day.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director, Nihad Awad echoed how Muslims feel when he said in a recent press release “We are pleased that our president has been awarded one of the highest honors for any world leader. Under president Obama’s leadership, our nation is beginning to restore its international image as a beacon of peace and justice. As the Nobel Committee stated, President Obama ‘has created a new international climate.’ We hope this prestigious prize will strengthen the president’s ability to help bring an end to international conflicts through the ‘dialogue and negotiations’ mentioned by the Nobel Committee and to eliminate the threat nuclear weapons pose to all of humanity."

This is all true, but let's not count our chickens before they're hatched. Obama has yet to fulfill his promise of closing Guantanamo (the one year deadline is probably not going to happen), and just this month, has backed out of his promise to find a better way to hold suspected terrorists than the Bush Administration. Also, the president has not addressed the issue of targeting Muslim-Americans in the U.S. Lastly, Obama has yet to do anything for the Palestinians who live as second-class citizens in their own homeland. What is more, what he says about the issue does not give us much hope for change.

Congradulations, Mr. President, on getting the world's hopes up.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Muslim-American History Revealed!

Coming out next year, is the most comprehensive book, no, encyclopedia on Muslims in America. The general editor, Professor Edward E. Curtis IV was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and give us a brief overview of this important work!

Would you be willing to write a small note or article about your upcoming book for my blog?

Adapted from "Introduction to a History both Muslim and American," from Edward E. Curtis IV, general editor, Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2010).

The Encylcopedia of Muslim-American History, featuring the work of nearly 130 contributors who penned 330 entries, is the largest scholarly work ever produced on the Muslim-American experience. In addition to biographies of Muslim Americans and entries on Muslim-American groups, the encyclopedia offers information on Muslim-American participation in major historical events such as the Columbian Exposition of 1893 (the Chicago World’s Fair), critical court cases such as Fulwood v. Clemmer (1962), important sectors of the U.S. economy such as healthcare, and familiar organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It charts the impact of Muslim Americans on cities such as Atlanta and Cleveland and Muslim-American contributions to American jazz, film, poetry, and hip hop.

The encyclopedia also features the most comprehensive chronology of Muslim-American history ever published. This chronology should be especially helpful to students, teachers, community activists, and others who wish to incorporate Muslims into their understanding of U.S. history. It details obscure events such as the 1803 conversion of white Americans to Islam during the course of First Barbary War, the 1847 escape of Muslim slave and sailor Mahommah Baquaqua from his captors at the port of New York, and the 1910 arrival of Inayat Khan, the Sufi missionary and Hindustani musician who toured America. It also charts the opening of mosques in Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; and Ross, North Dakota. More well-known happenings such as the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 are noted as are cultural milestones such as Life magazine’s 1948 cover story on Muslim jazz artists and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s retirement from the National Basketball Association with the most points of any player in history. The encyclopedia also contains dozens of historical illustrations and photographs that help readers better imagine the people, events, and places that are part of the Muslim-American past. Finally, it concludes with a master bibliography, perhaps the most definitive compilation published sources on Muslim-American history.

As a whole, the articles, original documents, chronology, and images make it possible to recover the essential role of Muslims in U.S. history and to incorporate them into our common notion of who we are as Americans. Such a task is critical in our age. By conjuring these American ancestors and unearthing our shared past, the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History provides us all with new memories of who we have been and new hopes for what we might become.

1) When did you first come up with the idea of writing this encyclopedia?

I was contacted by Facts on File, Inc., and invited to be general editor of the project.

2) What kind of impact do you expect your encyclopedia to have?

Since Facts on File has a lot of success in placing their encyclopedias in high school and college libraries, my hope is that the encyclopedia becomes the first place to which students will turn when trying to understand how Muslims have been a part of U.S. history. Teachers of advanced placement courses will be able to incorporate original documents from Muslim Americans into their courses and integrate discussion of Muslims into their coverage of everything from the Civil War to U.S. foreign relations. On the scholarly level, I hope that it does its part to change the presentist bias in "Islam in America" studies; an historical perspective is generally lacking in this growing subfield.

3) What can we learn most about the Muslim Americans of the past?

Muslims have been part of the American story from before the republic was founded and have shaped the unfolding of U.S. history. They were multi-ethnic and multi-racial and subscribed to various forms of Islam from the beginning, too. Rather than seeing Muslims as separate from U.S. history, the encylcopedia's most important contribution is to integrate Muslims into the stories that make us Americans.

4) Was there a story/article you found most interesting?

There were so many! I did not know that thousands of Muslims had served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary war to World War I. I also discovered that Muslim Americans have been vitally important for the last hundred years to the history of American jurisprudence, so the entry on law is really important. The history of Muslim contributions to jazz demonstrates how Muslims changed American culture. And I found even more evidence that our common narrative of Islam among African Americans is all wrong. It didn't start with the Nation of Islam. The Nation was only one of several black Muslim organizations competing for converts before World War II.

5) Did you find that the Muslim-Americans faced the same challenges Muslim-Americans face today?

Most Muslim Americans in 1820 were enslaved, so of course circumstances have changed since then. Muslim Americans who moved from Syria to North Dakota in 1900 struggled to stay warm in the winter, especially when they had to use the outhouse, but today, with the exeption of homeless Muslim Americans, there are few Muslim Americans who do not have heat and indoor plumbing. Muslims still face some of the same stereotypes that they did in 1800 and first generation Muslim immigrants, like the European, South Asian, and Arab Muslim immigrants who came before World War I, are still hard-working members of their community who contribute their culture and know-how to cities such as New York and Cedar Rapids, Iowa--both of which have entries in the encyclopedia.

6) Were the Muslim-Americans of the past politically active? If so, how? If not, why not?

Again, we have to reference slavery. Slaves did not have the right to vote, so most Muslims in the colonial, Revolutionary, and antebellum eras could not participate formally in governance. Muslims have always played an irreplaceable symbolic role in U.S. politics, however. In addition, if you define politics in its classical sense--that is, the search among community members for an ordered life together--Muslims have always been active. One of the first prominent black men to visit the White House was a Muslim. Abdul Rahman Ibrahima met John Quincy Adams in the 1820s.

In the 20th century, it was a different story. Muslims were politically active in the Dakotas, where they sent their boys to join the American Expetionary Force in World War I and joined political parties and agricultural associations. In the 1920s, Arab American Muslims in New York formally organized against Zionism, and drew hundreds to a protest in Brooklyn. Several African American Muslim leaders were sympathetic toward the Japanese in World War II; they considered the Japanese to be fellow people of color. But many Muslim Americans, African American and immigrant, once again supported the United States by joining the army. By the 1960s, of course, there was no more important voice in debates over civil rights and Vietnam than Muslims such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

Dr. Edward E. Curtis is the IVMillennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and is a Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. His homepage is

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Report on the Wordwide Muslim Population

This month, the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life published their report on the World Muslim Population. They found that approximately 1.57 billion Muslims live in the world today, making up approximately 23% of the world's 6.8 billion people. Approximately 87-90% of the Muslim population is Sunni, while approximately 10-13% of the Muslim world is Shia. The report also found that only about 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, while a whopping 60% of the Muslim population is in Asia.

In a telephone interview with CNN, Reza Aslan (author of "No God but God") explained "When it comes to issues of outreach to the Muslim World, these numbers will indicate that outreach cannot be focused on the Middle East. If the goal is to create better understanding between the United States and the Muslim world, our focus should be on south and southeast Asia, not the Middle East."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This blog is meant to discuss Islam's role in American law and politics. As the Muslim population grows in the United States, issues of when, where and how Muslims can practice their own religion while being upright citizens (as Islam teaches us to do) are on the rise. Women wearing hijab (the traditional headscarf) or niqab (face veil) and men wearing a beard and a kufi (head covering) are looked at as strange, evil and backward. These view often have legal and political ramifications.

Also, Islam has both legal and spiritual components to it. Hence, many rights and duties Muslims are religiously obligated to perform may come into conflict with American laws. For example, do the Islamic rulings regarding marriage and divorce conflict with American law? Can there be a resolution if there is? How do Muslims make a shariah-compliant will that is recognized my U.S. courts?

Lastly, there are many legal and political issues Muslims face that have no direct connection to the religion, but affect Muslims as a society. The U.S. government may implement policies which are counter to Muslim-American interests and views. For example, Muslims immigrate to the U.S. everyday. What trials do they face? How do they overcome them? Where can they get help? Secondly, how do Muslims deal with the USA Patriot Act? The U.S. is the strongest ally Israel has.What effect, if any, does that have on American Muslims?

This blog welcomes all academic views on every one of these topics and much more. Enjoy!