Saturday, June 17, 2006


By William Fisher

This week, four American Muslims will begin an eight-day, three-country tour of Europe. Three more teams of Arab- and Muslim-Americans will travel in the coming months to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the South Pacific

These “civilian ambassadors” have been recruited by Karen Hughes’s Public Diplomacy shop at the State Department to carry the message that “the United States welcomes all religions and rewards immigrants who embrace its democratic values with opportunities and freedom beyond their dreams.”

They will attempt to refute the widespread view abroad that the Muslim-American community is under attack from the United States.

Nothing could be less true, according to one of the new ambassadors, a Syrian-American who immigrated to the United States in 1972. And Arsalan Iftikhar of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest U.S. group representing Muslim- Americans, says the American-Muslim diaspora is the most economically and politically empowered Muslim minority in the Western world and that information needs to get out so people will stop thinking that the United States is anti-Islam.

No doubt these Muslim-American ambassadors have done well in the U.S. Nor is there much doubt that Muslims are better integrated into American society than are their counterparts in Europe.

Still, this is going to be one hell of a hard sell.

Think about it. The U.S. is waging two wars on countries that have overwhelmingly Muslim majorities. And it has launched a “global war on terror” (GWOT) that largely targets Muslims.

The targets of the GWOT became apparent in the weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when some 1,000 men – mostly Muslims -- were hysterically rounded up by our Bible-thumping, hymn-singing Attorney-General, John Ashcroft. They were imprisoned, often in solitary confinement and without charges and, in most cases, without access to lawyers, and, according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, subjected to harsh and abusive treatment. Four thousand more were rounded up and jailed subsequently. Some were deported for visa violations, but not a single one was ever criminally charged and tried.

According to Constitutional law scholar David Cole of Georgetown University law school, “Many of those arrested admitted that they had violated their visas and agreed to leave the country, but they were kept locked up for months so that the FBI could investigate them. They were not allowed to go until they were "cleared" of any connection to terrorism. In a complete reversal of the American system of
justice, they were treated as guilty until proved innocent.”

Cole represented those rounded up in a class action suit against the Department of Justice -- Turkmen vs. Ashcroft, in which the detainees argued that the government denied them equal protection of the law when it rounded them up on the basis of their race and religion, and violated their due-process rights when it kept them after their immigration cases were resolved.

In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson ruled that it is constitutionally permissible to round up foreign nationals on immigration charges based solely on their race, religion or country of origin. He said foreign nationals could be detained indefinitely, even after they have agreed to be removed to their home countries.

Cole wrote, “In essence, he authorized a repeat of the Japanese internment — as long as the internment is limited to foreign nationals charged with visa violations (a group that at last count numbered about 11 million people).”

In another part of the GWOT, U.S.-based charities that raise money to help people in needy Muslim areas have become targets in the government’s war on terror financing.

According to OMB Watch, “drastic sanctions in anti-terrorist financing laws are being used to shut down entire organizations, resulting in the loss of badly needed humanitarian assistance around the world and creating a climate of fear in the nonprofit sector. Despite sweeping post-9/11 investigative powers, authorities have failed to produce significant evidence of terror financing by U.S.-based charities. Questionable evidence has been used to shut down the largest U.S.- based Muslim charities.”

So far, there has been only one criminal indictment, and that case has yet to come anywhere near a trial

There’s more. The FBI has reportedly bugged mosques and planted spies in Muslim communities. In the trial of a Pakistani immigrant convicted of plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station, Muslims in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, learned that two police agents had been planted in the neighborhood and were instrumental to the case. They learned that an Egyptian-born police informer had recorded the license plate numbers of worshipers at a mosque. And they heard that an undercover detective, originally from Bangladesh, had been sent to Bay Ridge as a "walking camera."

Many Muslim-Americans say the police tactics unveiled in that case proved that the authorities — both in New York and around the nation — have been aggressive, even underhanded in their approach to Muslims.

Moreover, many U.S. human rights groups have produced credible evidence that, while the Homeland Security and Justice Departments claim they aggressively trying to reach out to Muslim-Americans -- police officers now introduce themselves at Ramadan dinners and town hall meetings and Federal agents sit on committees with Muslim activists and hold workshops with imams -- units like the Joint Terrorism Task Forces are just as aggressively practicing racial and ethnic profiling.

I’m sure that Karen Hughes’s new ambassadors have suffered from none of these miscarriages. I’m sure that, as one of them put it, they have lived out the American dream. I’m also sure they sincerely believe President Bush when he says the U.S. is not making war on Islam.

But I suspect it’s going to take a lot more than “changing the messengers” to persuade the world to take the president at his word.