Muslim Americans for Palestine Event

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

muzammil-siddiqi
Muzzamil Siddiqi

The plight of the Palestinian people as they suffer under the boot of Israeli occupation is at the forefront of humanitarian concerns of people throughout the globe. Many individuals and organizations have addressed themselves to the Palestinian plight.

In December of 2009, as the world observed the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead and the devastation wrought then by Israeli forces on an already beleaguered land, a new organization pledged to help Palestine was introduced to the public.

Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP) is a project of the youth division of the Muslim American Society (MAS). Readers of The Muslim Observer will be familiar with MAP as its formation was announced at the MAS convention during the last weekend of the year. Its objectives are in many ways similar to those of other Palestine oriented group, yet it is also distinctive.

This past Saturday the group held its first formal event, a banquet and fundraiser at the Crowne Park Anaheim Resort in Garden Grove, Ca. Islamic Relief cosponsored the event and was the recipient of the funds collected. Islamic Relief will use the funds for their relief work in Palestine.

After prayers the evening began with a recitation and translation from the Holy Koran. Dinner followed.

During the early evening as people took their seats, two screens presented a video of MAP and its founding principles and goals.

The keynote speaker was Alison Weir, a human rights activist from Northern California. She spoke of the plight of Palestinians from her personal experiences and from the testimony she has received from eye witnesses, victims, and victims families. Her first trip to the oPt was in 2001 and was a fact finding expedition. What she discovered was the reverse of what she had been told by the media and her own government. Her organization, If Americans Knew, and her web site, www.ifamericansknew.org  are excellent and hard hitting sources of knowledge about Palestine.

As she spoke, her quiet voice and her presentation of facts and the inevitable conclusions these facts indicated, captivated the audience. Her emphasis was on the bias of the American media toward the state of Israel and against the Palestinian people. Ms Weir cited major news outlets: The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC Evening News and the Associated Press. “I am not talking about Fox News” she said.  She spoke of their unerring misreporting of deaths, always exaggerating Israeli losses and minimizing Palestinian ones; always manifesting a bias towards Israel with such consistency that it defied simple error or random chance. As she spoke, charts were shown on the two screens, statistical proof the accuracy of her claims. In addition cards were passed out to every guest with similar data.

Ms Weir included National Public Radio in her list of news outlets biased towards Israel.

Ms. Weir concluded by urging her audience toward action.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was another informative speaker. Dr. Muzammil’s leadership in the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC); the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC), to name but a few organizations, have made him a sought-after speaker. As a theologian and Islamic scholar he is also famous for his interfaith work.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi spoke of his trip to Palestine with interfaith leaders. The audience gasped when he spoke of the  650 checkpoints imposed on Palestinians by their Israeli occupiers..

“ I never imagined that there would be so many. How do you get through the day?” asked one young woman. As if in answer to her question Dr. Siddiqi spoke of the hardships wrought by these checkpoints on workers, students, and people in need of medical help.

Dr. Siddiqi urged people to visit the oPt and “see with their own eyes” the conditions there.

Dr. Siddiqi also spoke of the place of Jerusalem in the Islamic faith and referenced Koranic verses.

Attorney and human rights activist Reem Salahi spoke of the “Irvine 11”. A murmur passed through the audience with this familiar reference. These eleven students are threatened with expulsion or suspension by the University of California in Irvine (UCI) for exercising their free speech rights during the appearance on campus of Israeli Ambassador to the United State Michael Oren. In addition, the University has referred their case to the District Attorney in Orange County.

Ms Salahi was part of a delegation to Gaza a year ago, a delegation sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild. There the group found numerous violations of International law on the part of the Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead.

Ms Salahi said that to speak of the Irvine 11 was not off subject. They are symbolic of the plight of the Palestinian people. The Israelis are the occupiers and the oppressors. The presence of their representative at UCI is not acceptable.

In dealing with the Israeli/Palestine issue she made an analogy with a boat that should be parallel but is instead diagonal with Israel on top. Muslims want fairness for Palestine: they want to right the boat.

Muslim Americans for Palestine has a three pronged approach to the Palestinian problem: Educate, Empower, Preserve. It is a grass roots organization dedicated to justice and self determination in Palestine. Recognizing the natural affinity between the American Muslim community for Palestine and recognizing also the pioneering spirit embodied in youth, MAP, in accordance with the Islamic faith. has been launched.

For further information, please access the MAP web site at: www.mapalestine.org

Islamic Relief may be accessed at its web site: www.islamic-relief.com.

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Community News (V12-I10)

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslim and Jewish comedy show

FAIRFIELD, CT–The Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Jewish student group KADIMA  at the Fairfield University in Connecticut co-hosted their first event Wednesday night, a comedy show called “Stand Up for Peace,” featuring Scott Blakeman, a Jewish comedian, and Dean Obeidallah, a Palestinian-American comedian, the Mirror student newspaper reported.

The two comedians have been performing since 2002 in an effort to bring Muslim and Jewish people together and promote peace and understanding between the two groups.  They began by performing shows for Seeds of Peace, an organization devoted to bringing Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together.

“When we found out about Stand Up for Peace a few months back, we thought, ‘What better way to do this than co-sponsor this with MSA?’” said Alison Goldberg ‘11, president of KADIMA.  She said that she and Nargis Alizada ‘12, president of MSA, had wanted the two organizations to put on an event for a while.

“We wanted to raise awareness to the fact that Jewish and Muslim students don’t hate each other,” Goldberg said.

Mosque redevelopment plans rejected by Lomita CA

LOMITA, CA–The Islamic Center of the South Bay was stopped in its tracks to redevelop its property. The Lomota Council unanimously rejected the Center’s proposed redevelopment plans last Monday.  It cited traffic concerns as the major reason behind the decision.

“Basically it just caused too much traffic on the streets in that neighborhood,” Mayor Don Suminiga said. “People are coming from all over to this area. The Islamic Center in Lomita is the only one around. People are coming from Orange County, San Pedro, Torrance.”

The mayor said that the mosque can likely be remodeled without increasing the number of people coming to the center.

Muslim claims NYPD discriminated against him

NEW York, NY–Said Hajem,a 39 year old Moroccan born immigrant, claims that he was not hired by the New York Police Department because of his faith and the fact that he was born outside of the United States. He is now suing the department for discrimination.

According to the New York Times Hajem took the police exam in February 2006 and scored 85.6 which is much higher than passing.

In June of the same year he received a letter of congratulations from Commissioner Kelly and began prepared to enter the force.

“I started dreaming of becoming one of the Finest,” Hajem told the Times. “As an important person who is going to save lives and stop terrorism.”

But in the four years since Hajem first started having those blue dreams, his application seems to have been stalled in a black hole.

Hajem, who has filed a lawsuit against the city, says that in July  2006 an officer reviewing his paperwork told him that he disapproved of people from “other countries” joining the NYPD, according tot he Times.

That officer, Ricardo Ramkissoon, allegedly also didn’t accept references from people with Middle Eastern names.

“He told me, ‘I need American names,’” Hajem told the Times. “He said, ‘You may be a terrorist.”

The city and police department for their part content that they have “successfully recruited native speakers of Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, Pashto and other languages,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. “Our linguist program is the envy of law enforcement worldwide.”

Lawyers for the city filed a motion asking that Hajem’s claim be thrown out, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Sullivan ruled on Jan 29. that there was enough evidence for the suit to go forward.

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This is Not a National Emergency

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Engelhardt

Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you’re not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI. In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire. More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society; 5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760 children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.

As for airplane fatalities, no American died in a crash of a U.S. carrier in either 2007 or 2008, despite 1.5 billion passengers transported. In 2009, planes certainly went down and people died. In June, for instance, a French flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared in bad weather over the Atlantic, killing 226. Continental Connection Flight 3407, a regional commuter flight, crashed into a house near Buffalo, N.Y., that February killing 50, the first fatal crash of a U.S. commercial flight since August 2006. And in January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, assaulted by a flock of birds, managed a brilliant landing in New Yorks Hudson River when disaster might have ensued. In none of these years did an airplane go down anywhere due to terrorism, though in 2007 two terrorists smashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane tanks into the terminal of Glasgow International Airport. (No one was killed.)

The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived. Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York States 2008 traffic death toll of 1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them. It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with. But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis. It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

And yet here’s the strange thing: thanks to what didn’t happen on Flight 253, the media essentially went mad, 24/7. Newspaper coverage of the failed plot and its ramifications actually grew for two full weeks after the incident until it had achieved something like full-spectrum dominance, according to the Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism. In the days after Christmas, more than half the news links in blogs related to Flight 253. At the same time, the Republican criticism machine (and the media universe that goes with it) ramped up on the subject of the Obama administrations terror wimpiness; the global air transport system plunked down millions of dollars on new technology which will not find underwear bombs; the homeland security-industrial-complex had a field day; and fear, that adrenaline rush from hell, was further embedded in the American way of life.

Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria, fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in. Terrorism, not so much.

The few Americans who, since 2001, have died from anything that could be called a terror attack in the U.S. whether the 13 killed at Fort Hood or the soldier murdered outside an Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. were far outnumbered by the 32 dead in a 2007 mass killing at Virginia Tech University, not to speak of the relatively regular moments when workers or former workers “go postal.” Since 9/11, terror in the U.S. has rated above fatalities from shark attacks and not much else. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, it has, in fact, been left in the shade by violent deaths that stem from reactions to job loss, foreclosure, inability to pay the rent, and so on.

This is seldom highlighted in a country perversely convulsed by, and that cant seem to get enough of, fantasies about being besieged by terrorists.

Institutionalizing Fear Inc.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which had the look of the apocalyptic, brought the fear of terrorism into the American bedroom via the TV screen. That fear was used with remarkable effectiveness by the Bush administration, which color-coded terror for its own ends. A domestic version of shock-and-awe Americans were indeed shocked and awed by 9/11 helped drive the country into two disastrous wars and occupations, each still ongoing, and into George W. Bushs Global War on Terror, a term now persona non grata in Washington, even if the “war” itself goes on and on.

Today, any possible or actual terror attack, any threat no matter how far-fetched, amateurish, poorly executed, or ineffective, raises a national alarm, always seeming to add to the power of the imperial presidency and threatening to open new “fronts” in the now-unnamed global war. The latest is, of course, in Yemen, thanks in part to that young Nigerian who was evidently armed with explosives by a homegrown organization of a few hundred men that goes by the name al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The fear of terrorism has, by now, been institutionalized in our society quite literally so even if the thing were afraid of has, on the scale of human problems, something of the will o the wisp about it. For those who remember their Cold War fiction, its more specter than SPECTRE.

That fear has been embedded in what once was an un-American word, more easily associated with Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany: “homeland.” It has replaced “country,” “land,” and “nation” in the language of the terror-mongers. “The homeland” is the place which terrorism, and nothing but terrorism, can violate. In 2002, that terror-embedded word got its own official government agency: the Department of Homeland Security, our second “defense” department, which has a 2010 budget of $39.4 billion (while overall “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget reached $70.2 billion). Around it has grown up a little-attended-to homeland-security complex with its own interests, businesses, associations, and lobbyists (including jostling crowds of ex-politicians and ex-government bureaucrats).

As a result, more than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc. A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now ensure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic. These would include:

The imperial presidency: The Bush administration used fear not only to promote its wars and its Global War on Terror, but also to unchain the commander in chief of an already imperial presidency from a host of restraints. The dangers of terror and of al-Qaeda, which became the global bogeyman, and the various proposed responses to it, including kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), secret imprisonment, and torture, turned out to be the royal road to the American unconscious and so to a presidency determined, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others liked to say, to take the gloves off. It remains so and, as a result, under Barack Obama, the imperial presidency only seems to gain ground.

Recently, for instance, we learned that, under the pressure of the Flight 253 incident, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration position that a president, under certain circumstances, has the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen abroad. (In this case, New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar Aulaqi, who has been linked to the 9/11 plotters, the Fort Hood killer, and Abdulmutallab.) The Bush administration opened the door to this possibility and now, it seems, a Democratic president may be stepping through.

The 24/7 media moment: 24/7 blitz coverage was once reserved for the deaths of presidents (as in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) and public events of agreed-upon import. In 1994, however, it became the coin of the media realm for any event bizarre enough, sensational enough, celebrity-based enough to glue eyeballs. That June, O.J. Simpson engaged in his infamous low-speed car “chase” through Orange County followed by more than 20 news helicopters while 95 million viewers tuned in and thousands more gathered at highway overpasses to watch. No ones ever looked back. Of course, in a traditional media world thats shedding foreign and domestic bureaus and axing hordes of reporters, radically downsizing news rooms and shrinking papers to next to nothing, the advantages of focusing reportorial energies on just one thing at a time are obvious. Those 24/7 energies are now regularly focused on the fear of terrorism and events which contribute to it, like the plot to down Flight 253.

The Republican criticism machine and the media that go with it: Once upon a time, even successful Republican administrations didnt have their own megaphone. Thats why, in the Vietnam era, the Nixon administration battled the New York Times so fiercely (and my own guess that played a part in forcing the creation of the first “op-ed” page in 1970, which allowed administration figures like Vice President Spiro Agnew and ex-Nixon speechwriter William Safire to gain a voice at the paper). By the George W. Bush era, the struggle had abated. The Times and papers like it only had to be pacified or cut out of the loop, since from TV to talk radio, publishing to publicity, the Republicans had their own megaphone ready at hand. This is, by now, a machine chock-a-block full of politicians and ex-politicians, publishers, pundits, military “experts,” journalists, shock-jocks, and the like (categories that have a tendency to blend into each other). It adds up to a seamless web of promotion, publicity, and din. Its capable of gearing up on no notice and going on until a subject none more popular than terrorism and Democratic spinelessness in the face of it is temporarily flogged to death. It ensures that any failed terror attack, no matter how hopeless or pathetic, will be in the headlines and in public consciousness. It circulates constant fantasies about possible future apocalyptic terror attacks with atomic weaponry or other weapons of mass destruction. (And in all of the above, of course, it is helped by a host of tagalong pundits and experts, news shows and news reports from the more liberal side of the aisle.)

The Democrats who don’t dare: Its remarkable that the sharpest president we’ve had in a while didn’t dare get up in front of the American people after Flight 253 landed and tell everyone to calm down. He didn’t, in fact, have a single intelligent thing to say about the event. He certainly didn’t remind Americans that, whatever happened to Flight 253, they stood in far more danger heading out of their driveways behind the wheel or pulling into a bar on the way home for a beer or two. Instead, the Obama administration essentially abjectly apologized, insisted it would focus yet more effort and money on making America safe from air terrorism, widened a new front in the Global War on Terror in Yemen (speeding extra money and U.S. advisers that way), and when the din from its critics didn’t end, “pushed back,” as Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote, by claiming “that they were handling terror suspects much as the previous administration did.” Its striking when a Democratic administration finds safety in the claim that its acting like a Republican one, that its following the path to the imperial presidency already cleared by George W. Bush. Fear does that to you, and the fear of terror has been institutionalized at the top as well as the bottom of society.

9/11 Never Ends

Fear has a way of reordering human worlds. That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious. What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue,” in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world “from 9th Avenue,” or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time “news” channel, you see it phantasmagorically. Its out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions. You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn’t, what’s primary and what’s secondary. You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

People always wonder: What would the impact of a second 9/11-style attack be on this country? Seldom noticed, however, is that all the pinprick terror events blown up to apocalyptic proportions add up to a second, third, fourth, fifth 9/11 when it comes to American consciousness.

So the next time a Flight 253 occurs and the Republicans go postal, the media morphs into its 24/7 national-security-disaster mode, the pundits register red on the terror-news scale, the president defends himself by reaffirming that he is doing just what the Bush administration would have done, the homeland security lobbyists begin calling for yet more funds for yet more machinery, and nothing much happens, remember those drunken drivers, arsonists, and tobacco merchants, even that single dust devil and say:

Hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.

[Note: The figures on the 2010 Department of Homeland Security budget and “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget were provided by the National Priorities Project.]

Suit by Alleged Informant Says FBI Endangered His Life

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Craig Monteilh, who says he worked undercover in Orange County as part of anti-terrorism efforts, accuses the bureau of abandoning him after mishandling a case. Action also names the Irvine Police Dept.

An Irvine man who says he worked as an undercover informant for the FBI, most notably as a Muslim convert in an anti-terrorism case, filed a lawsuit Friday accusing his law enforcement handlers of violating his civil rights and endangering his life.

Craig Monteilh, 47, says he worked as an informant for the FBI from 2004 through 2008, providing information and assistance in narcotics, bank robbery and murder for hire investigations before being asked to go undercover as part of an anti-terrorist effort in Orange County, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Monteilh alleges that the FBI essentially cut him loose after a supervisor bungled an operation that would have led to the discovery of “bomb making materials” in a Tustin mosque. Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, his FBI handlers reneged on a promise to implement an “exit strategy” that was to include back pay and severance pay and help with beginning a life with a new identity.

Monteilh also accused the FBI of breaking a promise to clear up a grand theft conviction he says was the result of his work as an informant in a 2006 steroids distribution case. His suit also names the Irvine Police Department and the detective who investigated the case. “The government will have the opportunity to defend the lawsuit in court,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a prepared statement. “However, the accusations appear to be desperate attempts by Mr. Monteilh to personally benefit at the expense of law enforcement officers and the Muslim American community.”

Monteilh says in his lawsuit that his work for the bureau at times placed his life in jeopardy. At one point after his cover was blown, he said, Muslim extremists “ordered a `fatwa’ “ against him and the Romania Mafia, Mexican Mafia and a white supremacist group all wanted him dead.

Monteilh said he warned the FBI of the threats against him and asked to be placed in protective custody while serving a 16-month state prison sentence for the grand theft conviction, but that his request was ignored and he was left in the general population of Wasco State Prison. He said he was attacked several times while in prison, including an April 2008 incident in which he was allegedly stabbed multiple times in the legs by members of a white supremacist group called Public Enemy Number One. The assault, he said, left him with permanent scars and reduced mobility.

Monteilh said the FBI recruited him to infiltrate drug trafficking groups shortly after his 2004 release from prison, where he was serving a sentence for forgery. That led to stints with the bank robbery and murder for hire squads, according to his lawsuit. His most sensitive assignment began in 2006, when he said he was approached to work under a program called “Operation Flex,” in which he assumed the identify of a Muslim convert and went undercover to identify extremists and gather intelligence.

Under the direction of his FBI handlers, Monteilh assumed the identify of Farouk Al-Aziz and claimed to be a new Muslim convert of French and Syrian descent, his suit alleges. Monteilh said he was given the code name “Oracle” and instructed to spy on the Islamic community.

To support his cover, Monteilh said he learned to read, write and speak Arabic, became well versed in the pillars of the Islamic faith and began dating Muslim women. After his successful immersion in the Muslim community, particularly at the Islamic Center of Irvine, Monteilh said he was approached by extremists who attempted to “radicalize” him. He says the information he provided led to the indictment of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi last February. According to an FBI agent who testified at Niazi’s bail hearing last year, Niazi was secretly recorded by an informant while initiating jihadist rhetoric and threatening to blow up abandoned buildings. Monteilh says he was the informant who made the recording — a claim the FBI will neither confirm nor deny.

Niazi, who was born in Afghanistan, has not been charged with terrorism. Rather, he was charged with lying on his citizenship and passport applications for failing to disclose that his brother-in-law is a close associate of Osama bin Laden. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Monteilh first went public with his charges in February, upsetting members of the Muslim community and some civil libertarians who were critical of the practice of informants being placed undercover in mosques. Those concerns were inflamed in April when Monteilh told The Times that he also lured Muslim men to Orange County gyms, where agents allegedly seized video of them coming and going as part of their probe.

Monteilh’s claims of working for the bureau in some capacity were confirmed in December when he persuaded a judge in West Covina to unseal court records showing that his probation in a theft case was terminated early at the behest of the FBI in 2007.

A transcript of a hearing in the case revealed that a prosecutor told the judge that Monteilh had provided “very, very valuable information” that had proven “essential” to a federal prosecution.

scott.glover@latimes.com

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