"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:
"Do you construct on every elevation a sign, amusing yourselves, And
take for yourselves palaces and fortresses that you might abide
eternally? And when you strike, you strike as tyrants."
Twenty years ago, during the morning prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, my own nephews were praying in the Ibrahmi Mosque when Baruch Goldstein stormed the Mosque and started to shoot at Palestinians while kneeling in prayer. Their classmates fell dead on top of them. This was in the town of Hebron, known to Palestianians as Al Khaleel. It is named after a title given to Prophet Abraham, which means, the Friend of God. I will refer to this town later.
This is a town where mainly Palestinian Arabs live, but Israel has placed the most extremist of armed settlers in their midst, making life unbearable for them so a few hundred settlers can reside.
Over a decade ago, Muhammad al-Durra, a Palestinian child was killed by Israeli soldiers. His death was recorded and the recording went viral.
Before Al-Durra’s death, Israel had enjoyed the anonymity of the Palestinians and the invisibility of their suffering for decades - and felt embarrassed at the exposure of its policies before the world.
The blame game began by pointing fingers at Palestinian “gun men.” Then, al-Durra was “caught in the crossfire.” Then al-Durra was depicted as a “trouble-maker” or a “mischievous” child who deserved this punishment for his “mischievous” behavior. When the projection games to protect the Israeli image failed, the question fell like a bombshell upon the world.
Israeli propagandists asked the world, “What was he doing there?” What was al-Durra, a Palestinian child doing in his hometown traveling with his father shopping together during the day?
Israel likes to present itself as a helpless state and its armed “Israeli civilians” surrounded by “hostile” Palestinians or Arabs. Yet, behind this false PR image, Israel is engaged in Arab home demolitions, cruel torture, imprisonment of Arabs without charge or trial, land grabbing and illegal Jewish-only settlements connected to Israel with Jewish-only bypass roads slicing Arab land into Bantustans.
Palestinians are resisting Israel not out of hatred for Jews. The resistance is because Israel was built on massacres, ruins, graves and ethnic cleansing of Arabs which continue to this day. It was built by terrorists and war criminals whom Israelis freely choose as prime ministers. Yesterday, Yasser Arafat was the scapegoat when things went wrong. Today it is Hamas.
However, Israel deliberately implants the most radical of settlers in the midst of Arab towns as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign. These Jewish-only settlements which are connected to each other and Israel proper are growing and illegal under international law. Their growth results in continuous demolition of Arab homes and theft of Arab land, which result in the disconnection of Arab villages from each other.
The presence of the armed settlers has resulted in the deaths of many children over the years. Palestinians were robbed of their humanity and accused of “sending [their] children out to die” to “score media points.”
The world did not call out this blatant racism. They looked the other way, until the violence which Palestinians endure daily touched the lives of the occupier. Then the world paid attention.
Recently, three Israeli teens: Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19 – were found dead in the West Bank village of Halhul. They were missing since June 12 as they were visiting family in Hebron. This is the town I mentioned in the beginning, where Israeli settlers annually pay celebratory pilgrimages to Goldstein's shrine.
My relatives in Al Khaleel, or Hebron cannot visit our family in East Jerusalem, but these Israeli teens are able to freely visit their relatives in Hebron.
In a revenge attacks, three Palestinians: 7-year-old Ali al-Awoor,15-year-old Mohammed Dodeen, and 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair were killed.
Abu Khudair was standing next to the masjid waiting for dawn-break prayer. He was abducted by Israeli settlers, beaten and stabbed to death, after which they set his body on fire and threw his charred remains to the side of the road. He was the 10th Palestinian killed by the Israeli soldiers or right-wing extremists since the Israeli teens were missing.
I mourn their death as well as the Israeli teens as we should mourn all lost lives. Yet, we must demand the world change the conditions that nurture the violence in the region for our mourning to have meaning.
Let us not forget to also mourn the lives of 1,384 Palestinian children killed by the Israeli soldiers since 2000, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. That’s 1 Palestinian child killed every 3 to 4 days.
Striking without mercy
Every life is sacred.
Recently, after the 3 Israeli teens were found dead, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Hamas “will pay” for these latest deaths. As usual, the entire city of Gaza is under heavy bombardment. Over the years, striking Hamas has become a cover for striking like tyrants at Palestinians' civilian towns, killing hundreds of civilians, without a strong leadership from the world community.
Currently, across the West Bank the Israeli army has sealed off entire towns, arrested more than 400 people, and raided over 100 homes and over 34 bombing raids hit Gaza.
In the past, Israel used events such as violence by Palestinians against Israelis, to strike with a lack of mercy. We heard “put the fear of death into the Arabs,” “mow them down,” and by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, who once threatened Palestinians with a “shoah,” which means holocaust.
Israel has played well the projection game and keeps hiding behind a Palestinian scapegoat to justify the occupation and the systematic ethnic cleansing campaign. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not Nelson Mandela. He is not a man of peace.
In 1989, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, stated:
"Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories."
Since then, Netanyahu has not renounced his extremism or his love of violence. Several years ago, in 2006, Netanyahu commemorated the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, which killed 92 people. According to Netanyahu, terrorism is bad if you are the underdog and okay if you are not.
The projection games that Israeli government has been playing on the world stage need to come to an end.
We cannot fight terrorism by turning a blind eye to the occupier as they oppress and violate every human and international law. And we cannot fight terrorism by justifying cruel measures against the weak collectively for wrongly resorting to violence to resist the occupation and the oppression of the occupier. The world has to end this culture of impunity, and Israel has to abide by rules of law.
To monitor the situation follow the below:
“All lives are precious.
We refuse to mourn only the deaths of Palestinians, or only the deaths of Israelis. But that does not mean we can ignore the enormous power difference between Israelis and Palestinians, or pretend it is just a ‘cycle of violence’ with no root cause or context. Each of these horrific incidents that harms both peoples happen in the context of an ongoing occupation, itself inherently a system of daily violence. And it is a system that by its very nature puts the lives, dignity, and human rights of all in jeopardy.”
"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song"
The Minnesota Council of Churches has a program called, Respectful Conversations which opens the doors to communicate across difference on areas of disagreement. The program tries to frame the topic and design some questions for attendees to meet with trained facilitators, to have a conversation in a spirit of empathy for those with there is strong disagreement.
If you are interested in a Respectful Conversation to bless your community, contact Jerad at (612) 230-3211.
Since the start of the project, MCC had over 1500 people throughout Minnesota who have gathered together for a Respectful Conversation on important, often divisive issues in our community. This month MCC will hold their first one in an Islamic Center! Now is your chance to join the conversation as participants from the Islamic Center of Minnesota and the Minnesota Council of Churches adopt the Respectful Conversation model, a method of discussion promoted by Minnesota Council of Churches and designed not to change minds, but soften hearts.
In conversation with MCC, we have chosen a conversation about Drones and Violence.
Conversations across differences and disagreement can sometimes be emotional and challenging, pick-a-side and fight-it-out discussions that leave us feeling worse about the people we disagree with, and sometimes worse about ourselves. But there is a way to talk that feels open, honest and impartial, where you can actually be heard and learn about the people with whom you disagree.
We have designed some questions that we will use to help us explore this topic across our differences and disagreements. We will share the questions with participants at the conversation itself, to allow each the experience of searching for themselves for the answer, and to build empathy.
Join us for refreshments and discussion and RSVP today!
May 18, 2014
2:00pm – 4:00pm
Islamic Center of Minnesota
1401 Gardena Ave. NE
Fridley, MN 55432
Participants in the Muslim Christian Dialogue are invited to park on the street, in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of Minnesota or in the parking lot of Totino Grace High School directly across the street.
Please foward to friends and family and spread the word.
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…”