Snitch San Diego – June 9, 2004
On being Muslim in America
By Calvin Milam
It’s tough being a Muslim in San Diego these days.
Pick up a pay phone and call home and you just might find yourself in a dungeon. That’s essentially the story of one San Diego man who placed a supposedly innocent call to Egypt.
“Now it’s this big problem,” said Omar Hassaine, a San Diego resident active with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He was referring to Youssef Hanifi, an Egyptian national in federal custody for more than 300 days. Hassaine isn’t about to vouch for Hanifi but, as near as he can tell, the man’s chief crime was speaking Arabic.
Late last month, federal authorities arrested Hassan Saddiq Faseh Alddin, 34, of Vista -- an alleged friend-of-a-friend of Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Al-Midhar, the suspected hijackers who lived in San Diego. According to attorney Randy Hamud, his client had no direct contact with the pair, and the case is simply one of guilt by association.
“The timing is suspect,” Hamud said, noting that Alddin’s arrest came two days after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s announcement about a possible terrorist strike this summer. “Somebody decided to sacrifice my client.” While Alddin may or may not be guilty of any involvement in terrorism, he’s still facing deportation because of convictions for battering his wife in 1998 and 2002. And because of the secrecy surrounding terrorism investigations – the government refused to even name Alddin’s ex-roommate (Hasham al-Atas) who supposedly was a “close friend” of the alleged hijackers – it is nearly impossible for otherwise well-informed Americans to distinguish average Joes from real troublemakers.
Alddin’s arrest came the same day British authorities nabbed Abu Hamza al-Masri on a U.S. indictment in a 1998 hostage-taking plot in Yemen. The Muslim cleric, accused of trying to setup a terrorist training camp in Oregon, once ran the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, an alleged hotspot for terrorists such as the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui.
A tally of hate crimes against Muslims doesn’t really tell the story. In the three months after 9/11, San Diego police recorded 33 offenses against people of Middle-Eastern descent, according to the state Attorney General. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department logged just one. About 100,000 Muslims live in the county. Most misdeeds ranged from firecrackers going off outside the Islamic Center in the days just after 9/11 to the distribution hate porn on the campus of San Diego State University last year.
In one of the most serious cases, Horatio Plascencia was given six years for a hate-crime attack on a Jordanian immigrant. The recent report by CAIR, which included more subtle forms of discrimination rather than just “hate crimes,” found a three-fold increase in anti-Muslim incidents in California in 2003 compared with the previous year. The study covered such things as housing discrimination and Internet harassment to outright violence and bias in the application of law. Most of the cases, 83 percent, came from Southern California. Thirty-two percent of the 221 California complaints reviewed by CAIR involved perceived mistreatment by government officials. The next most common form of abuse was verbal harassment, 19 percent.
“American Muslims are loyal Americans,” said Ra’id Faraj, CAIR’s civil rights director. “They love this country. They have families here. They are contributing, and this is their home country. They’re just like any other immigrant.” “I want to make sure ... American Muslims continue to enjoy basic rights and freedoms,” he said. Faraj said he fully appreciates that “these are difficult times,” but that “doesn’t mean a whole community should be held suspect.”
Most experts agree that anti-Muslim sentiment is borne out of ignorance. At any rate, all of the Big Three (Christianity, Islam and Jeweish) religions “believe in the oneness of God,” Faraj said. “Islam does not doesn’t view itself as separate, but part of the same Abrahamic family.” Faraj isn’t naive. He admits that zealots can be found in any religion, and Islam is no different. Muslims are now reaching out to mainstream America more than ever, Hassaine said.
Separately, the Muslim Public Affairs Council recently called on Muslims to root out extremists in their ranks. This comes, in part, in response to the hunt for a U.S.-bred, home-schooled convert to Islam named Adam Yahiye Gadahn of Riverside County. He is suspected of attending an al-Qaeda training camp.
The CAIR report on “The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in California 2004” identified five contributors to anti-Muslim incidents: the after-effects of 9/11; a sense of “hysteria” associated with the war in Iraq and ongoing conflicts in Israel; an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric, “often the result of negative media portrayals of Muslims and an overall lack of understanding about Islam; the Patriot Act and other restrictive immigration measures; and improved reporting by victims.
Chicago Sun-Times Letters to the Editor - June 9, 2004
Guilt by association
Daniel Pipes decries the criticism leveled at U.S. law enforcement for the Brandon Mayfield case [''Cleared U.S. suspect fit the terrorist profile,'' column, June 2]. That criticism was well-placed. Law enforcement officials should have double-checked their information before announcing the arrest and then having to retract it, damaging both their credibility and Mayfield's reputation.
What was mind-boggling, however, was reading about Mayfield's ''many connections'' to militant Islam. They are weak and fleeting at best. For example, Pipes writes that Mayfield worshipped at the same mosque as several individuals who pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiring to help the Taliban. So what? Are the people who worshipped at the same churches as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, both convicted terrorists, all terrorists? Absolutely not. Why, then, is Mayfield ''connected to militant Islam''?
Pipes cites Mayfield's opposition to the USA Patriot Act and his disagreement with certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy as fitting the profile ''of many disaffected, U.S.-hating terrorists.'' There are millions of Americans who disagree with U.S. foreign policy and are opposed to the USA Patriot Act. Hundreds of city and county governments across the country, in fact, have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act. In addition, the National League of Cities, which represents 18,000 cities with 225 million residents, passed a resolution at its annual meeting last year calling for the repeal of parts of the Patriot Act. Do all these people also fit the profile of ''disaffected, U.S.-hating terrorists''?
Also, Pipes quoted Ibrahim Hooper of the Council of American-Islamic Relations completely out of context. Hooper said, ''I'd be surprised if there's a mosque in the country that hasn't come under scrutiny these days. It becomes the whole Kevin Bacon game -- no Muslim is more than six degrees away from terrorism.'' Hooper was not saying that every single Muslim is connected somehow to terrorism.
It is quite obvious that Mayfield's ''many connections'' to militant Islam are nothing more than guilt by association.
Hesham A. Hassaballa,
Media Relations Committee,
Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago