Successful Convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

MPAC-initials-white-on-blkWith the phenomenon of Islamophobia on the rise and now the province of Presidential candidates, thoughtful Americans welcome organizations which confront this problem and work toward solutions. The United States cannot truly fulfill its democratic destiny until the issue of Islamophobia is consigned to the dustbin of history. In addition, many other problems – perhaps trumping Islamophobia in impact – call out for Islamic participation with the concurrent application of Islamic values. The Arab Spring and what America’s role should be, and the Islamic movements outside of the United States are but two. 

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) successfully examined these issues during its 11th Annual Conference, rising once again to the challenge inherent in its founding principles. The Convention took place this past Saturday in Los Angeles and was titled: “Spring Forward: America’s Role in A Changing World”. The Convention consisted of two parts: three work sessions and an evening banquet with speakers.

During the welcome by MPAC President Salaam Al Marayati, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca spoke about Islamophobia and praised the Los Angeles Muslim community in general and MPAC in particular for their cooperation with law enforcement. His presentation might well have been the prologue to the second workshop session. In a direct approach, Sheriff Baca reminded his audience that the United States Constitution grants religious liberty. There should be no interference in the construction of a church, synagogue or mosque. He said that he, like all law enforcement officers, took an oath to defend the Constitution. If there are officers who for reasons of deep seated bigotry are unable to reconcile their positions with their oath, they should leave the office. He received a standing ovation.

The first session,  Plenary I ,  featured Dr. Nayyer Ali, a member of the MPAC Board, as moderator and was titled: “US Foreign Policy: Potentials and Pitfalls”. A diverse panel considered the question of US foreign policy towards the nations of the Arab Spring. While there were answers as diverse as the participants, the results were a mixture of optimism, pessimism, and a wait and see attitude. There was consensus that an American Muslim role is imperative. D Ali gave a summary that perhaps best describes the work of the session.

He said that what we see in the Arab world is the end of the post colonial slumber period much like 1989 was for East Europe. Pay attention to the input of Islam, he continued. It will play a large role and will be integrated into democratic governments.The message of the Koran is a perfect guide as it calls for justice, religious and political freedom, and consensus. Injustice is un Islamic. While the Koran is not a political document, it lays the framework for a just society. The concept of Shura intrinsically prevents dictatorship. “The Arab spring will evolve into something we find admirable”. 
“I feel as if I have attended a graduate level political seminar” said one young woman.

A second session followed a luncheon break. This session was titled: “The Industry of Hate in the Public Square”. Edina Lekovic, MPAC’s Director of Policy and Programing, was the moderator.  She described a whirlwind of activity with emphasis currently on Lowe’s stores withdrawal of sponsorship for the TLC show All American Muslim.

Before the session began, each attendee was given a publication by the Center for American Progress. The book is titled: “Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America”.
One of the authors, Wajahat Ali, was the first presenter. Mr. Ali is also a playwright, journalist, attorney, humorist, and blogger. “Congratulations. The Muslim agenda is in place”. He cited, facetiously, a Muslim beauty queen and stealth halal turkeys. Mr. Ali spoke of the recent decision of Lowe’s stores to remove their sponsorship of the widely acclaimed television series, All American Muslim. He surprised his audience by telling them that the pressure on Lowe’s to withdraw its support was initiated by the work of one man. He identified this man as David Canton, virtually the lone member of the highly touted Florida Family Association, and a man with a history of bothering corporations. He continued by saying that even Mr. Canton’s web site was poorly done. Yet, like the effect of a megaphone,  the efforts of one man was presented as a large group effort.

“Its like watching a balloon deflate” whispered one audience member.

He cited bloggers Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for their role in taking this issue and publicizing it. He referenced the book he co authored and told his audience to read about the money trails, the donors and the amounts they have contributed, the beneficiaries with their organizations and/or web sites.  The book is truly encyclopedic and a valuable weapon in confronting and defeating Islamophobia.

Attendees were given an opportunity to fill out sign up sheets indicating their willingness to work with MPAC in this crucial venture.

Steven Rohde, a well known civil rights attorney and activist, spoke next. He recited a poem which he had written which paraphrased the famous work of the Reverend Martin Niemoller about the German intellectuals’ reluctance to speak up against injustice because they were not not initially targeted. In this version, the Muslims were the miner’s canary.

Mr. Rohde expressed his willingness to stand with Muslims and fight with them against any injustice turned their way. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

Aziza Hasan was the last presenter. She is MPAC’s Director of Southern California Government Relations. She said that we are commanded by the Koran to stand up for truth and to speak up against injustice. She told her audience to anticipate and to build. We can reasonably expect that Islamophobia will get worse by the election of 2012. We can prepare for that battle. We will build alliances and work with those already in place.

The final session, Plenary II, was titled: “Islamic Movements: Help or Hindrance”.  Haris Tarin who is the Executive Director of MPAC’s Washington, D. C. office was the moderator. Will political movements, suppressed for decades, be able to lead the people in a government that is democratic and pluralistic?

Salaam Al Marayati introduced Haris Tarin and complimented him on bringing the MPAC Washington, D. C. office to new levels of influence. In the Arab world, he noted, Islamic groups were able to organize against the dictators in power.

The Muslim world entered modernity through colonialism and therefore entered it as subjects, said panelist Haroon Mogdul, an Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches, a Senior Editor for The Islamic Monthly, and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Dr. Jasser Auda said that the landscape is complex. For example, the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood is closer to liberal youth than to the senior leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Auda is an Associate Professor at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies. He continued by saying that the Salafist youth are separate from their Imams. Youth are developing the idea of a civil state with an Islamic reference.

Invited guests for the evening banquet were Dr. Cornel West, Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of “Race Matters” and Ebrahim Rasool, South African ambassador to the United States.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council has worked since 1988 to promote an American Muslim community which will enrich American society through the application of Islamic principles. These principles are Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom and Equality. MPAC has become the go to group for media and government officials. American Muslims have come to accept it as a spokesgroup on their behalf.

MPAC’s programs include: an Anti-terrorism campaign; a Hollywood Bureau; Government Relations; Countering Islamophobia; Young Leaders Development, and Interfaith Outreach.      

The foregoing is but a small portion of the work of MPAC. To learn more about the group, to contribute, and to volunteer, please access their web site at: www.mpac.org.

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Pamela Geller, Unindicted Co-conspirator of the Oslo Massacre

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The $43 Million Islamophobia Machine

by Julianne Hing

Thursday, September 1 2011, 10:05 AM EST Tags: Muslim

Is President Obama a secret Muslim? Is Sharia law the radical scourge that’s threatening the very fabric of U.S. democracy? Contrary to the saying, a lie repeated often enough won’t make it true. But that doesn’t mean anti-Muslim activists, armed with millions of dollars of foundation support, won’t stop trying.

It turns out a handful of seven donors have given nearly $43 million over the last decade to fund a close network of right-wing intellectuals and scholars who’ve concocted and fanned Islamophobic hysteria to push an anti-Muslim political agenda.

According to “Fear Inc.,” a new report released by the Center for American Progress, those millions have gone to a coordinated network of anti-Muslim thought leaders: Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy; David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence; Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum; Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America and Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

This network, with millions of dollars behind it, has moved an agenda that seeks to pit Islam against the West, that imagines Muslims as untrustworthy and dangerous, that has painted Muslims as a looming threat who are out to undermine American democracy and national security. And with the help of activists, right-wing bloggers and a platform from a more than obliging cable news system, these fringe ideas have become more and more mainstream.

“There is a coordinated, strategic, deliberate, interconnected agenda here, which has very detrimental effects on fellow Americans and our communities and which really poisons the well of civil discourse,” says Wajahat Ali, the lead author of the CAP report.

“We’re living in a post-9/11 environment so what the network does is very cynically exploits fear, hysteria and misinformation and ignorance for the sake of profit, and for the sake of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of allegedly combating radical Islam and protecting our national security,” Ali said.

It’s in this post-9/11 climate that the most absurd statements have become commonplace in the mainstream political discourse.

“Arabic is not just another language like French or Italian, it is the spearhead of an ideological project that is deeply opposed to the United States,” Pam Geller wrote in February on her right-wing blog Atlas Shrugs. She is closely connected with David Horowitz, whose anti-Muslim group the David Horowitz Freedom Center has raked in $8.3 million in the last decade. Or, in the words of Bridgitte Gabriel: “[Muslims and Arabs] have no soul. They are dead set on killing and destruction.”

It’s the kind of extremist thought leadership that has paved the way for Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings on the supposed Islamic radicalization of the country. They’re the authors whose anti-Muslim rants were cited dozens of times in the Oslo, Norway shooter Behring Breivik’s manifesto. These are the people who’ve singlehandedly brought anti-Sharia laws to over a dozen statehouses. They’re the machine that’s given rise to the idea that Obama might secretly be Muslim, and that were that true, it’d somehow be a terrible offense.

Ali says that the success of this messaging rests in part on the fact that 60 percent of Americans claim not to know any Muslim person, and so people rely for on mainstream media and the words of political leaders for information.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric firing across the airwaves and in congressional hearings has real-life impacts, too. It’s provided the political cover for a whole slew of policies that have targeted Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities. An AP investigation published last week uncovered a years long domestic surveillance program that the NYPD had undertaken to gather information on Muslim communities. The invasive surveillance measures meant that New York police had broad powers to monitor, harass and racially profile New York Muslims.

But the manufactured threat has been overblown, experts say. A 2010 study from Duke University found that the imagined threat of Muslim fundamentalists committing acts of terrorism was exaggerated. The study tracked 139 known radicalized Muslim-Americans who had attempted to carry out acts of terrorism or had been prosecuted in connection with suspected acts of terrorism—they are just a handful of the nation’s 2.6 million Muslims.*

“Muslim-American organizations and the vast majority of individuals that we interviewed firmly reject the radical extremist ideology that justifies the use of violence to achieve political ends,” David Schanzer, an associate professor at Duke and the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said in a statement at the report’s release.

And this week a new report from the Pew Research Center found that American Muslims are concerned about the exact same things everyone else is: they take national security seriously and are distrustful of extremism in many forms, even as they report being unfairly seen as suspect themselves. American Muslims overwhelmingly have both, Pew reports, “mainstream and moderate” attitudes.

Nevertheless, in the last decade, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians and those who’ve been confused for any of the above, have been the targets of a marked rise in job-related discrimination, hate crimes and biased-based bullying.

“Fear is a two-way street,” said Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. “It’s created fear within the community too.”

Billoo said that since September 11, it’s not uncommon for American Muslims to be confronted by anti-Muslim incidents in their daily life, the the utter frequency of which have begun to normalize Islamophobic rhetoric in even her community members’ eyes.

“Some sort of hate is manifested but it doesn’t rise to the level of a hate crime,” Billoo explained, “where someone calls me a terrorist, or someone looks at me funny, or someone yells something from their car at me.”

“It’s happened for so long that many people have taken it in as their reality and stopped complaining when it’s not okay, whether it’s happening to them or anyone else.”

Ali urged people to put the current debates within a historical context. “What’s happening right now is simply a remake. The characters in the past were Jews, Irish Catholics, and Japanese Americans,” Ali said. “And the scapegoating of those minority communities represents in hindsight the worst of America.”

Ali said he hoped the report would give these funders an opportunity to assess their political priorities and distance themselves from the obvious fearmongering that they’ve funded. He said that the U.S. needs to learn from its past mistakes and regain its moral compass to bring some moderation back to the national discourse.

“What’s inspiring is that America usually does find its way back,” Ali said. “Sometimes grudgingly, and sometimes after making mistakes along the way. But we’re a resilient nation, eventually we find our way.”

* This article has been updated since publication.

Wajahat Ali Tackles Islamophobia

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt O’Brien

wajahat-aliPlaywright, lawyer and humorist Wajahat Ali is known to fellow Fremont residents as a man of many projects. As we meet for an interview downtown, a passer-by interrupts to ask Ali, in Urdu, “What are you working on now?” One answer is scripting an HBO pilot, with novelist Dave Eggers, about a Muslim cop in San Francisco. Ali, 30, has made a career of writing about ordinary Muslim Americans with humor and candor. Another project marks Ali’s first big dive into political advocacy, with a report (due out this week) he has co-authored with researchers at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Ali says it exposes how a small network of anti-Muslim activists transformed a fringe movement into a mainstream cause.

Q So your report hasn’t even come out yet, but the anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller has already called you a “stealth jihadist.” Are you offended?

A Not at all. Pam Geller attacked me because I pretty much exposed her and her agenda on a radio station in New York, because she and her allies were mentioned more than 200 times in (Norwegian mass shooter) Anders Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto. … He was ideologically inspired by people like her and her allies.

Q What made you get into this political project?

A My whole life I’ve been the unintentional token spokesman for all things Muslim and Pakistani. It was not by choice. I call myself the accidental activist. When I was a young kid I was, like, the only open practicing Muslim, and I knew a lot about my Pakistani roots. So inevitably I gave dozens of impromptu lectures about all things Muslim and Pakistani. And (for) a lot of my friends in the Bay Area, I was their only Muslim or Pakistani friend. So they were like, Hey, Waj, what’s up with Pakistan? … The Center for Progress thought, why not go to a non-D.C. guy and think outside the box. I realized, as a student of American history, the current boogeyman is American Muslims.

And I wanted to help turn the tide toward civil discourse, in which we wouldn’t divide Americans based on ethnicity and religion.

Q What do you think of the depiction of Muslim Americans on TV?

A It’s usually framed through the lens of national security, terrorism, violence and fundamentalism. A recent report says Americans have a negative image of Muslims (for) two reasons: ignorance, in the sense that a lot of Americans say they don’t know a Muslim; … and they say the media frames their perceptions of Muslims. … The hope is to move beyond that frame, to show the nuances. We need authentic Muslim American storytellers telling authentic Muslim American narratives.

Q On a blog post you mentioned the Ramadan State of Mind. What’s that?

A On the blog I try to remove what I call the “ascetic monk lens” from which both Muslim Americans and average Americans view Ramadan — Muslims being this spiritual, superhero monk type who have this insane biological system that allows them to fast without water and drink.

We’re like Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV,” right? It’s very inhuman almost, the presentation of Ramadan and Muslims fasting. … I just try to talk like a normal person, to expose my whiny-ness, the fact that sometimes it sucks being Muslim. Sometimes I’m spiritually elevated, sometimes spiritually defeated. Sometimes I just want to eat food.

Q You’ve talked about how kids who grew up in the shadow of 9/11 are helping to push a new narrative. What is that narrative?

A The narrative is: “I am both Muslim and American; one cannot coexist without the other. My values from both identities complement one another and intersect. I am living proof that there is no conflict between the West and Islam. Proof that there needs not be an Armageddon or a clash of cultural values.” Just go talk to these people. They fast during Ramadan and listen to Jay-Z’s latest album. They eat their mom’s dal but then they also eat pho. Their best friend is African-American or Vietnamese-American, and they’ll invite them over for Eid. That’s as American as apple pie, or maybe as American as falafel and hummus.

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