"...Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
...Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?"
-- Bob Dylan, Blowin In The Wind
Voices of Fear and Ignorance
Many in the media and congress have become sponges to the pro-Israeli propaganda. Their reporting not only lacks critical thinking but is pure hype. Their reporting shares the reasoning of Gaston in the movie, Beauty and the Beast. It is a world where we act based on our fears and ignorance - dump critical thinking.
On November 2012 - while bombs were hitting Gaza, and over 160 people died – many of whom were children, the US House of Representatives in one minute gave its “vigorous support” and “unwavering commitment” to Israel. Both, the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip. These resolutions expressed no regret or mourning at the Palestinian loss of lives.
In response to the resolution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) disputed statements that the U.S. House of Representative unanimously endorsed Israel's “right to act in self-defense” in Gaza. According Rep Kucinich, the bill was introduced at 12:04 pm. The resolution was “agreed without objection” by 12:05 pm. “There was no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate. In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East,” said Rep. Kucinich.
In this current tragedy, the senate voted in the same fashion, 100 to 0 to support Israel's right to self defense.
Like Gaston, many blame the entire conflict on Hamas and Hamas is now the feared beast that we need to kill and destroy. No one knows the conditions that spawned Hamas, what their conditions to stop fighting are or why they are fighting. Destroying Hamas is a fruitless exercise — as long as the conditions that spawned them exist — Arabs will form new groups and re-emerge with a new resistance strategy to fight Israeli aggression and occupation.
Voices of Prejudice
Others engaged in logic embedded with prejudice using the "Us vs Them" argument, promoting Palestinians as subhuman who are violent like in the below clip from the movie 12 Angry Men.
As Fonda says in the clip, personal prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. Hence, we begin by investigating and verifying. Throughout its existence, Israel's psychology has been to avoid UN, avoid investigations and avoid the camera and rush to the public square using fear and prejudice to win the crowd over. As the Arab proverb says, he hit me and cried and raced ahead of me and hyped the crowd.
As I explained in the previous blog, this is not an Us vs. Them story.
It is an I vs We story.
The I group want security and life for Israel, and the We group believe every life is sacred, every life is precious and demand equal rights with the same human dignity before the law.
The I vs We Story
In times of conflict, tragedies and crises we face chaos of doubt, uncertainty, and fear that test our values. In the move 12 Angry Men, at the following segment: 29:40-37:40 - is a great conversation to help us reflect.
We can learn to face these doubts, uncertainties, fears and challenges and call ourselves to uphold our values and rule of law in dealing with the other or we can treat these values as hobbies. The aftermath is not healthy for society as we have seen in past tragedies and wars.
I wrote the previous two blogs on the current situation in the Middle East. The previous one, Fighting for survival, not destruction of Israel, has many references to research and learn more on the situation.
I hope to begin a series titled, Voices for Palestine. The series will introduce an Israeli leader to the public as well as introduce a voice standing up defending the human rights of Palestinians, whom have been dehumanized in the public square.
Arguing for security and life for me, myself and I, meet meet Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister.
In 2001, by his own confession, he was found guilty of beating a 12-year old boy.
SEE: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Shame by Neve Gordon
"Lieberman is an ex-member of Meir Kahane's party, Kach, which was outlawed due to its blatantly racist platform. Moreover, his views towards Arabs do not appear to have changed over the years. In 2003, when reacting to a commitment made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give amnesty to approximately 350 Palestinian prisoners, Lieberman declared that, as minister of transport, he would be more than happy to provide buses to take the prisoners to the sea and drown them there."
Why has our government sat down with Lieberman who lives illegally in the occupied territories while calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel proper? What is there to negotiate with such an individual - the timetable for the ethnic cleansing?
Every oppressed person desires a witness to hear, see and validate what they are experiencing. Because the oppressors regardless who they are, have learned the skill of not just physically controlling and abusing the victim, but also overpowering them mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. At times the oppression is so deep that the victim can only rage - as he or she is not aware of how to vocalize or put in words the oppression that he or she is experiencing. Oppression has a layer of brainwashing that needs to be understood.
Psychotherapist Elyce M. Benham, M.S., says: "The techniques of brainwashing are simple: isolate the victim, expose them to inconsistent messages, mix with sleep deprivation, add some form of abuse, get the person to doubt what they know and feel, keep them on their toes, wear them down, and stir well."
For years, Palestinians have asked for international observers to come and witness the suffering they are going through. But the Israeli government has successfully isolated the Palestinians from the rest of the world. Journalists and politicians were routinely invited to Israel and exposed mainly to the Israeli narrative.
What was omitted was the Palestinian suffering.
Arguing that security and life is a right for all, meet Dr Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Please watch the video as he discusses the current situation and context.
"When understanding is demented, destruction is near." -- Sanskrit proverb
I was preparing an article to respond to the current violence in Gaza when I realized that recent history is repeating itself. Thus, I looked at previous articles and decided to simply update an article I wrote in 2012 about that year’s Israeli attack on Gaza. It seems to me that “peace”--to some--means a hope that the Palestinians will just disappear and stop seeking their rights protected under international law. Meanwhile, Palestinians are fighting for their survival, not for the destruction of Israel.
The process of peacemaking is a process that begins first with establishing healthy boundaries that protect both sides from each other, and then restoration and reconciliation takes place to heal wounds and promote forgiveness and healing.
It is a process that humanizes the oppressed in the eyes of the oppressors, who often live in a bubble and have no empathy for those other than their “own.” It also teaches the oppressed the meaning and value of grace.
Peacemaking embedded in forgiveness is not a process that compels the victims to deny their reality, identity, and their needs. Peacemaking with forgiveness is a process that requires validation, acknowledgement of the abuse, and nurtures the victim to let go as a choice. For peace to begin to take root between Israelis and Palestinians, the facts and narrative of the Other, the price paid by Palestinians must be told.
Let me respond to the questions floating in cyberspace.
Israel’s Right to Exist?
Which Israel and on which boundaries? In order to answer this question, it is important to understand how Israel was created.
Before the creation of Israel, many Zionists’ plan was to ethnically cleanse the land of its Arab natives. In 1895, Theodore Herzl, Zionism’s founder, wrote in his diary:
“We must expropriate gently the private property on the state assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying employment in our country...the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.”
When Israel was created, immediately following the passage of the Partition Plan in November 1947, the Jewish forces, Haganah, and the terrorists groups (Stern Gang and Irgun) launched their infamous "Plan D," aimed at capturing as much territory as possible inside the proposed Palestinian state. In the book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes:
" ... on 10 March 1948 ... veteran Zionist leaders together with young military Jewish officers, put the final touches to a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine."
Fast forward to 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied by Israel. What does occupation mean to Palestinians?
See: Occupation 101
The Occupation opened more doors for a continued “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. This was done mainly with the theft of Arab land, Arab-only home demolitions to build Jewish-only settlements, and connect them to Israel proper (pre-1967 borders) with Jewish-only bypass roads. All of this is done in a culture which recognizes Jews with rights, while Arabs with no rights before the law. Israel has no constitution that allows Arabs to challenge the system to fight for their rights. Rather, it has basic laws that elevate Jews above non-Jews. Hence, settlers are armed and protected by soldiers and Arabs are left unprotected.
Israel's right to exist cannot come through massacres, deadly force, and the humiliation of Arab residents. It cannot come through starving 1.7 million Gazans unless they accept submission to Israel. It cannot come through carpet-bombings of civilians in Gaza and Lebanon. It cannot come through the expulsion of Arabs from their land, Arab-only home demolition, and construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements. It cannot come through violating International Law. It cannot come through allowing Israel the right to act without any sense of boundaries or accountability to any rule of law. Israel must earn its way to legitimacy and make amends for the history of terror and violence in the region as well as the numerous massacres and war crimes upon which it was built.
Jews and Arabs were fighting for centuries?
"The indigenous Jews of Palestine also reacted negatively to Zionism. They did not see the need for a Jewish state in Palestine and did not want to exacerbate relations with the Arabs.”
John Quigley, “Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice.”
“Before the 20th century, most Jews in Palestine belonged to old Yishuv, or community, that had settled more for religious than for political reasons. There was little if any conflict between them and the Arab population. Tensions began after the first Zionist settlers arrived in the 1880’s...when [they] purchased land from absentee Arab owners, leading to dispossession of the peasants who had cultivated it.”
Don Peretz, “The Arab-Israeli Dispute.”
[During the Middle Ages,] North Africa and the Arab Middle East became places of refuge and a haven for the persecuted Jews of Spain and elsewhere...In the Holy Land...they lived together in [relative] harmony, a harmony only disrupted when the Zionists began to claim that Palestine was the ‘rightful’ possession of the ‘Jewish people’ to the exclusion of its Moslem and Christian inhabitants.”
Sami Hadawi, “Bitter Harvest.”
Peace Process or Piece Process?
When the phrase "Middle East Peace Process" began to gain currency in the 1990s, the Western media defined the peace process as an end to the hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis. After more than two decades of negotiating peace, the Israeli government continues to confiscate Arab land, build Jewish-only settlements, and demolish Arab-only homes in violation of international law. As mentioned in the article below, Israeli policies did not change, rather the peace process was used as a cover while Israel continued with its ethnic cleansing campaign.
In the 2012 Israeli attack on Gaza, Juan Cole, a political analyst, wrote the following:
“Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).”
Israel unilaterally withdrew completely from Gaza?
Some will argue that Israel left Gaza. However, Avi Shlaim, a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford argued here:
The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.
Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.
There was ar eport by the IDF to determine what the minimum caloric intake for Gazans should be in order to determine how many trucks of humanitarian aid can be allowed into Gaza without the population facing starvation.
What if we were under attack?
Juan Cole, answered this best in his blog, Stop Saying ‘If X fired Rockets at U.S.’: It’s Racist, & Assumes We’re Colonial:
I’m old enough to remember the race riots in American cities of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I can remember a prominent pro-Israel columnist for the Washington Post, way back then, explicitly comparing Palestinians protesting their occupation by Israel to African-Americans protesting their economic marginalization. The writer’s hope was that white Americans would identify with Israelis and come to see Palestinians as “Black.” Or, let’s face it, as the N-word.
Someone recently sent to my blog such a screed, saying, what if rockets from Quebec were slamming into Maine?
The comparison is not only repulsive because the author hopes that Americans are Anglo-Saxons who don’t like French Canadians (or French anything). Notice no one says “What if the white people of Windsor, Ontario, were sending rockets across the Detroit River onto Detroit?” That would get the race dynamics that the analogy is aiming at all wrong.
As mentioned in the last blog, Mourning and a call for justice, when Palestinian children or civilians are killed, Israel blames Palestinians for their death. In every massacre or attack, Israel responds to the death of civilians by accusing Palestinians of using them as human shields. Commenting on the 2012 attack on Gaza, Stephen Zunes, a political analyst, posted this on his Facebook:
“Following the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, detailed on-the-ground investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC and others took place that were quite critical of Hamas and accused them (and Israeli forces) of a number of war crimes. Yet they were unable to find a single case of Hamas using ‘human shields.’ (See pp. 75-78). And I'm seen no evidence that Hamas is doing that now, either. Yet members of Congress and others are still insisting that civilians being killed by Israeli bombardments are because Hamas is using ‘human shields’."
Retaliation or indiscriminate killing?
With every surge of Palestinian violence, Israel has struck with an evident lack of mercy. In the past, we heard “put the fear of death into the Arabs,” “mow them down,” and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, threatening Palestinians with a “shoah,” which means a holocaust.
As mentioned earlier, Israeli defiance of international laws still continues. On April 18, 1996, less than three years after the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel bombed a U.N. shelter in Qana, Lebanon, killing over 100 civilians. Israel denied that it knew about the civilians and labeled a U.N. report, which found conclusive evidence that Israel had intentionally killed the civilians in the U.N. base shelter, as "anti-Jewish."
In April of 2002, Israel entered Jenin in a military operation leading to 52 Palestinian deaths. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch charged that Israeli Defense Forces personnel in Jenin had committed war crimes. The April 2002 United Nations visiting mission on Human Rights was refused entry into Israel. A UN fact-finding mission suffered the same fate due to the following conditions set by Israel:
That the UN agrees not to prosecute Israeli soldiers for any violations of international law that might be uncovered during by the mission. And that the mission limits its scope exclusively to events in Jenin.
In the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report found Israel applied the “Dahiya doctrine.” The report said on page 23:
"The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."
In 2012, Israeli transport minister, Israel Katz, recommended forcing the Gazan population into Egypt and cutting off their water and electricity.
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT, responded to this classic argument best:
“You can’t defend yourself when you are militarily occupying someone else’s land. Call it what you like, it is not self-defense.”
We must agree that security is a right for all, and not just for the exclusive set of people with nuclear arms. A state simply seeking security does not deny the right of another state or people to security. That is, unless it is not security that Israel seeks, but security from accountability for waging war crimes and ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their homeland.
"If the Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject to severe measures by Israel and the United States," the station quoted Lieberman as saying on October 24.
Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?
In an interview with Norm Finkelstein, a political analyst and author of many books on the situation, I asked him the following question:
Wazwaz: Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively. In fact, both men were considered terrorists in their lifetime. MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy. You recently explained that Gandhi also did not see nonviolence as allowing yourself to be raped and doing nothing. Can you explain nonviolence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?
Finkelstein: Gandhi's opinions on nonviolence are complex and not always consistent. But it should be clear that Gandhi ranked courage and bravery as high as nonviolence, and he repeatedly said that if you don't have the courage and bravery to resist the oppressor nonviolently then you should use violence. He repeatedly denounced those who used nonviolence as a cover for their fear and cowardice.
Hatred of Jews or Israeli Apartheid?
It's true that some Arabs have expressed unjust anti-Semitic feelings. Similar sentiments were expressed by Jews toward Arabs. However, this conflict is not about hatred of Jews or hatred of Arabs, but an illegal military occupation that is against international law. The anti-Jewish and anti-Arab feelings are byproducts of the conflict, not the root cause of it.
This conflict is not a Jew vs. Arab conflict. It is not Judaism vs. Islam conflict. Israel remains in violation of abundant UN resolutions. There are quite a few Jews, some quoted in this blog, who came out and spoke against the Occupation. Some saw the striking similarity between what they suffered in the holocaust and what they are seeing in the lives of Palestinians.
Hajo Meyer is the author of The End of Judaism: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. In this Huffington Post article, he writes of the similarities between his experiences in Germany and what he saw of the suffering of Palestinians. Here are his words:
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people — coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival — force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”
Until we recognize the Palestinians as a people with rights protected under international law, the conflict will continue and the map of Palestine will continue to shrink. Calling for restraint while financing an illegal military occupation against international law and protecting the occupier from accountability for violations of international law will not produce peace or security for anyone, but violence and insecurity for all.
To follow the current conflict and stay abreast of the situation see the following on their website, Facebook or Twitter:
"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."
It is the same story.
Around the country, speakers are warning Americans about the danger of Islam and the threat of the Muslims within. Islam maligned, Prophet Muhammad attacked and the speakers threaten lawsuits if they are denied the space to spew their venom in an unchallenged manner.
They argue this is "freedom of speech." To such individuals, regurgitating your dirty saliva without any critical thinking or understanding of the subject matter at hand is free speech. Yet a society that values freedom of speech is best known by the presence of the voices of its minorities and politically weak in the public square. To my knowledge, the Muslims in many European countries and here remain mainly marginalized.
There is a strong social pressure for Muslims to speak the right way, breathe the right way, sneeze the right away or fear being accused of extremism or terrorism activity.
Let us play an imagination game.
Imagine in your mind's eye the following cartoon: a Muslim with a thought bubble that reads, "What is freedom of speech?" The Muslim figure is looking at two prevailing images from Western countries with Muslim minorities: One image shows some Westerners bashing Muslims, Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and another image shows law enforcement persecuting, spying, bashing and censoring Muslims for unpopular opinions and speech. In the first image a crowd surrounds the speaker attacking Islam and Muslims, and in the second image a drone is aiming at the Muslim speaker spewing venom at non-Muslims. What makes one speech socially and legally acceptable under free speech and another as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, grounds for a drone attack for his inflammatory speech against the US?
Let us continue the imagination game.
Imagine a Muslim speaker who claims that American Christians and Jews "will kill your children" and that "we are in war with Crusaders," was invited to speak at Bagley High School.
Imagine the speaker incited the audience such that some neighbors felt endangered and decided to attend to challenge the speaker with their attendance and "Love Thy Neighbor" signs.
Imagine said speaker stopped his presentation and singled these people out, demanded they leave or threatened to throw them out.
Imagine the incited crowd yells, 'Get out' and 'You weren't invited.'
Imagine people getting up to their feet and moving towards them to lay hands on them and kick them out.
Imagine one Muslim upset at the Christian and Jewish presence, later approached the officer and asked: "Can I borrow your gun?"
Imagine one member describes the event as "The audience doesn't know where the line is, or that a line even exists. When [Muslim speaker] works a crowd, he does so skillfully, provoking responses and goading reactions. After listening to fear mongering messages the previous night, such as 'Christians are destroying the world,' 'Jews are coming to kill your children and grandchildren,' 'The day will come and Christian and Jews in America will have the upper hand, and they will kill your children for not eating what is liked. For not eating the lawful foods,' and 'Killing you is a small matter.'
Are we as Americans in favor of such speech? Are we in favor of the views of Anwar al-Alwaki and other Muslims who spew such venom? Would we be open to our schools allowing such views to incite crowds?
Noam Chomsky said, "If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech."
The US killed Anwar al-Alwaki, and his children with drones. They did not commit acts of terrorism, but al-Awlaki was guilty of spewing hatred against America.
So I would like to ask Bagley High School, are you open to a Muslim speaker who spews venom towards Christians and Jews? I ask the Police and Law Enforcement in Bagley - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Jews and Christians - would you have handled this situation the same way?
I ask the radio stations and media in Bagley and around - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Christians and Jews - would you have favorably promoted the event on your station and paper? Are Muslim voices that you despise heard? This demonstrates whether it was hate or freedom that is motivating speakers and the audience.
I ask the FBI who is constantly asking us to keep our eyes and ears open to questionable behavior by Muslims and to aid them in preventing terrorism - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom - would you have remained silent?
According to Islamic teachings, freedom of speech is a valuable concept when embraced with a spirit engaged in the search for truth and is not laced with insults and vulgarity. For example, Islam forbids Muslims from cursing or attacking other faiths. Islamic teachings also prohibit sitting in the company of those who ridicule and mock God or the prophets. There is no value or critical thinking in such speech.
In the Qur'an, one hears arguments raised by Satan toward God as well as the objections toward Prophet Mohammed, upon him peace and blessings, by the early Makkans. God does not censor these voices but responds to the charges raised.
Satan was given time till Judgment Day to prove that God's ennoblement of human beings over him was a mistake. If you are for free speech, then you are for an equal platform for those you disagree with, who oppose or challenge your views and ideas, openly and transparently.
Speech that seeks to incite a crowd and rage at any opposing voice and muzzle everyone who can respond and challenge their argument - is not free speech, but hate.
In addition, in the Quran we are told of a conversation between Prophet Solomon, upon him peace, and the Queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba was of a different faith, different gender, and different ethnicity, in other words, the "other." When a subject of Prophet Solomon shares with him negative news regarding the Queen, Prophet Solomon responds with a call for verification and investigation. He respectfully writes to the Queen and engages her directly, openly and transparently.
(Solomon) said: "Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied! "Go thou, with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them: then draw back from them, and (wait to) see what answer they return"... (The queen) said: "Ye chiefs! here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect. (Quran 27: 27-29)
When a crowd is easily incited by negative comments on the "other" and fails to accept its responsibility to verify, investigate, and engage openly and transparently, then that is not freedom of speech, but hate.
The quotes shared above in the imagination game were not the quotes of a Muslim speaker; rather, they are the quotes of Usama K. Dakdok, a Christian speaker, who came to Bagley, Minnesota this past weekend to warn Minnesotans about the "disease of Islam." I changed the quotes to help us understand that were similar quotes to be said by a Muslim toward non-Muslims, we would not be so open and receptive to such speech and we would not call it free speech. We would easily recognize it as hate speech.
I do not ask for the US to hit Dakdok with a drone, but why is al-Awlaki hit with a drone, while Dakdok and others are allowed to speak in public schools or spaces under the banner of "freedom of speech?" That is not imagination, but reality.
The issue for me is not that Dakdok and others like him are allowed to speak, but the platform in which they speak is a platform where Muslims are marginalized, mocked and silenced. It is a platform devoid of critical thinking, investigation, transparency, and verification. It confuses feelings with facts, projection with analysis and promotes a demented understanding of one another, which creates an atmosphere that is unhealthy for Muslims and all citizens in Bagley, Minnesota and America at large.
On Thursday, November 21, 2013, a law enforcement training on terrorism was offered in Minnesota. This training was organized by former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher of the controversial new Center for Somali History Studies. Yes, terrorism is a real threat to our nation and law enforcement needs to be educated about that threat.
As an educator and a concerned citizen wishing for the safety and well-being of every civilian, I support educational trainings. Yet, I am concerned about this training. Is the training meant to strengthen our law enforcement or is it meant to selectively create a circle within our nation that hardens our deep-seated prejudices and biases to keep the Muslim community marginalized and outside this circle?
American Muslim leaders and leading organizations have been very vocal and firm in unequivocally condemning terrorism and terrorist organizations, including Al Shabab. Last month, Minnesota imams were the first to collectively condemn the horrific attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a leading civil rights organization, has repeatedly stated that “any action that harms innocent civilians is reprehensible and deserves condemnation.” Muslim organizations and scholars are quite vocal condemning terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and whoever commits it.
So why am I concerned about this training?
As an educator, I focus on two important points: First, evaluate or question the source. Second, evaluate or question the methodology - the research, processes, critical thinking, omissions and numbers. I also immediately separate and remove any emotionally appealing statements.
Let us question the source.
Are the trainers experts on terrorism?
Are their credentials and backgrounds sound or are they individuals who have no qualifications or have deep-seated prejudice against Muslims?
Do any of these experts have the necessary qualifications or level of understanding to speak on terrorism or on the Muslim community?
Do any of these experts have a reputation for accuracy?
Do any of the experts have a motive for being inaccurate or overly biased?
Are there valid reasons for questioning the honesty or integrity of these presenters?
Let us begin with the organizer. Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was referred to as “Ramsey County's most controversial cop.” His own police department alleged that he "exaggerated or falsified" his investigation of domestic and international terrorism threats in the east metro.
SEE: Fletcher Defends Terror Probe (Star Tribune)
In an interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office stated that Fletcher's claims that Ramsey County residents were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups "came from an active imagination" and that the Terrorism Information Briefs "never existed."
City Pages stated that "Fletcher's office apparently dreamed up the whole idea that his jurisdiction was under threat from dozens of domestic and international terrorism groups" and that "the research was done by staffers cruising the internet and watching CNN." It further states: "It's hardly the first time Fletcher and his office have been at the center of controversy. Some of his department's handiwork was employed in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, when he directed preemptive raids against Twin Cities activists who later became known as the RNC 8. Two years after they were arrested in the guns-drawn raid, the cases against them fizzled."
Along with Fletcher, the co-presenters for the training include: Omar Jamal, Abdirizak Bihi, Mohammed Farah, Michael Rozin, Jeff Weyers, and Gary Olding.
Michael Rozin, "formally of the Israeli Defense Forces, trained at the Israeli Security Academy," was featured in an NPR story on racial and religious profiling at the Mall of America.
SEE: Shoppers Entangled In War On Terrorism (NPR)
Omar Jamal, a convicted felon, has made unsubstantiated, hate-inspired statements, such as referring to Minneapolis as a "slaughterhouse for immigrants."
SEE: When Somalis are in the news so is Omar Jamal (MPR)
Similarly, the Pioneer Press reported that Bihi has had run-ins with the law, including a restraining order for "threatening and stalking" a woman and DWIs. In March 2011, there was an "active warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his probation."
SEE: Domestic terrorism hearing witness from Minneapolis has had a troubled past (Pioneer Press)
Is this how legitimate community leaders behave? Are these individuals best suited to train law enforcement?
Fletcher has organized controversial trainings for law enforcement in the past. Concerned community members felt the trainings did not distinguish between terrorists and mainstream Muslims and Somalis. The training flyer referred to the terrorist organization Al Shabaab as an "Islamic" organization. It included pictures of Somali men with AK-47s on it with the headline, "Understanding the People of Somalia."
In November 2011, more than 30 Twin Cities Somali and Muslim organizations challenged the credibility of the seminar in Minneapolis. Several police departments across the state declined to participate.
SEE: Muslim groups to Bob Fletcher: There's No "Islam" in Terrorism (Minnesota Public Radio)
Groups Object to St. Paul Somali Seminar, Call It Anti-Muslim (Pioneer Press)
The training claimed that there is "an alarming trend of radical imams recruiting and radicalizing American-raised Somalis to be suicide bombers for the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab."
However, the FBI said it has no reason to believe the mosque was indoctrinating people:
"At this point, we have uncovered no evidence to show there was any effort of any mosque or mosque leadership or mosque imam to take part in any recruitment or radicalization of these young men," said Special Agent E.K .Wilson of the Minneapolis division of the FBI.
While investigators believe that some of the secret meetings happened in a mosque, it doesn't appear to be a case of a radical imam brainwashing his students. In most cases, Wilson said, it was likely friends influencing friends.
"It looks like the recruitment process of these men was on a very peer-to-peer type scale," Wilson said. "Some of the individuals were more culpable than others, but it was a very lateral chain of command when it came to who is responsible."
SEE: Minnesota Muslim leaders skeptical and disappointed after radicalization hearing (MPR)
In May 2012, Fletcher's training was canceled in Mankato after Somali leaders met with city leaders to discuss the controversial content of the seminar. As a result, all of the city organizers withdrew their support of the seminar.
In March 2013, Catholic Charities, who had agreed to host the training in Waite Park, apologized for the training's anti-Somali/anti-Muslim flyer. They also agreed to remove the anti-Muslim/anti-Somali content from the presentation slides.
The Executive Director of Catholic Charities publicly stated: “It used language that was wrong. It was a mistake on our part. No one should ever think of anyone from the Somali or Muslim community as affiliated with a terrorist organization."
SEE: Muslim Education Event Comes Under Fire (KNSI)
We must support educational trainings on terrorism. It is within our nation’s interest. However, we must stand against trainings by fearmongers. It is against our nation’s interest.
Fearmongering undermines our nation, in particular law enforcement’s ability to effectively protect our country. It undermines peace officers’ relationships with the American Muslim community, leading to a rise in racial and religious profiling. Reports have highlighted law enforcement's use of biased experts and anti-Muslim training materials nationwide. The United States Congress has scrutinized these practices.
SEE: Congress Grills FBI Chief About Anti-Islam Trainings
Let us question the methodology.
A sound methodology is a methodology that can be challenged openly and transparently. It stands on arguments that are complete, critical thinking processes that are cold, sterile and devoid of emotional manipulation. It is difficult to question the methodology of this training.
On Thursday, November 21, CAIR-MN reported that a Muslim contacted the civil rights organization to report that he was barred from this controversial law enforcement training seminar on terrorism. The man reported that he approached the registration table, registered his name and email address, and was provided with a folder containing training materials and the agenda. However, he said that Bob Fletcher then approached him and asked him to leave. Fletcher allegedly told him that the training was by invitation only, mostly for law enforcement and for Fletcher’s Somali friends. Yet, this appears to be pretext. The event was publicized in public venues, including the main page of the organization’s website. The website includes an online registration page open to the community, along with a link to Paypal.
This raises a serious red flag: Omission and suppression of alternative voices, hence the arguments are not complete or sound.
Educational trainings for law enforcement should test for hidden bias. Our ability to understand others can be obfuscated by our own hidden biases and stereotypes. It is easy to argue we are not biased, but the reality is that bias is outside our sense of awareness. Acknowledging hidden biases is the first step to an effective training. Test Yourself for Hidden Bias
In addition, trainings on terrorism should involve terrorism experts that do not have a motive in the training. Trainings that omit alternative voices and relevant evidence can appear to be stronger than they really are.
As we work together to protect our country, we must be vigilant and firm in the face of arguments or expertise embedded with fear mongering and bias. We must do the job well and right and rely on credible sources and factual information. We must not readily accept whoever speaks on the matter without sound investigation. When sources and experts prove to be questionable, we must be accountable and responsible to seek out more reliable information, sources and experts.
A word of caution, it is extremely easy to manipulate people with numbers. Hence, we must seek out experts on the fundamental principles of probability and statistics before believing statistical information offered to us in a manipulative manner.
SEE: How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, and Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos.
When sources and experts are biased or have a self-interest, chances are numbers and arguments are being used to manipulate instead of educate the audience. This is not within the interest of our nation. We must stand against such trainings. Profiling, misrepresenting and alienating an entire community does not help combat terrorism.
Source: CAIR-MN Action Alert
On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.
The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.
Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”