We may as well bring back segregation, revert to pre-suffragette legislation, rebuild internment camps and reinstate Joe McCarthy’s Committee on Government Operations, for the Administration and U.S. authorities have certainly reversed the once progressive socio-political gears of the greatest nation on earth.
Whether we like it or not, the horrible events of September 11th have done more to American values than the terrorists could have hoped. They have allowed various people in power; some elected some not, to capitalize on fear and implement heretofore unthinkable legislation–”legislation that casts civil liberty in the shadow of security in a most contemptible manner.
We have a right to mourn and to exact justice; yet will it come at the expense of liberty? We have forsaken the premise of innocence until proven guilt for the facility of guilt by association. In the 21st century, it is incogitable to contemplate keeping African-Americans off airplanes by virtue of their race, to keep women out of country clubs by virtue of their gender, to keep Hasidic Jews in prison by virtue of their religious practices, or to deny Mexican-Americans employment by virtue of their ethnicity. Yet, bizarrely, it seems normal, if not necessary, to vilify, scrutinize and incarcerate an American Muslim for the most inane reasons. Evidence is no longer the key ingredient of a legal case, circumstance is.
The Case of Abdurahman Alamoudi
Numerous people among the Muslim community–”and even those who look remotely Middle Eastern–”have been, at best, humiliated and, in extreme cases, brutalized by government officials. In the past year alone, reported anti-Muslim incidents in the United States increased by 15 percent according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The recent arrest of Abdurahman Alamoudi, executive director of the American Muslim Foundation (AMF), a social services institution, is merely one example of how the Patriot Act is being abused; yet his prominence as a leading community figure gives great cause for concern. The message his arrest sends is that Muslim Americans should remain passive citizens and disengage from any political or social activity, lest they find themselves behind bars.
Alamoudi’s case highlights the way in which fear lends authenticity to an accusation. We have grown to believe that if the government says it, it must be true. Gone are the days of Watergate and Vietnam when journalists and opinion leaders questioned the veracity of official recrimination.
Officials arrested Alamoudi at Virginia’s Dulles Airport based on allegations that he illegally visited Libya, receiving financial assistance from both the World Islamic Call Society and the Libyan Mission to the United Nations. His accusers claim he planned to distribute these funds to "terrorist" organizations in Syria.
Yet according to Alamoudi, he traveled to Libya simply to seek funds for the AMF, a non-profit organization that relies on donations for its survival, and was on his way to Syria with his wife and children for a long overdue family vacation. The mere mention of “Libya” and “Syria” lends credence to the accusers even if Alamoudi is telling the truth, regardless of how little evidence they may actually possess or how far from the truth the charges may lay. Little has given more of a freer hand to over-enthusiastic government agents than sweeping concepts like “homeland security” and “axis of evil.”
A Brief Biography
Alamoudi is a naturalized US citizen, borne of an Eritrean mother and a Yemeni businessman. He completed his higher education in America, during which time he grew to appreciate the necessity of integrating Muslims within American society through better organization and sociopolitical participation.
His vision led to the establishment of the American Muslim Council (AMC) in 1990; and it has since galvanized the Muslim community to take on their civic duty at the local, state, and federal levels of American politics.
Alamoudi tirelessly campaigned for human rights and humanitarian assistance, civic involvement, interfaith dialogue, the condemnation of violence, and civil rights. His accomplishments made him a credible resource that even former President Clinton and then-candidate George Bush met with to discuss issues of importance to Muslim America. Foreign dignitaries from the Arab world and beyond would also consult the AMC while in Washington.
Alamoudi believes in issues that affect American society as a whole. As such, he has worked with numerous organizations such as the North American Council for Women, Sensible Advertising and Family Education (SAFE), the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Interfaith Impact for Peace and Justice, the Children’s Defense Fund, and many others. He passionately pursues both high-profile and mundane issues for the betterment of the nation he loves and the community of which he is a part. His efforts, along with colleagues in other organizations, led the White House under both Presidents Clinton and Bush to acknowledge the importance of Ramadan and other Islamic holidays; and he even influenced the issuance of a postage stamp commemorating Eid, an important Islamic festivity, in 2001.
A Matter of Time
Alamoudi’s activities have attracted both praise and criticism. In particular, his condemnation of Israeli heavy-handedness in the occupied territories inflamed the ire of neo-conservatives and proponents of Zionist Jewry. His most vociferous opponents are the likes of Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes, ardent anti-Islamists and implicit supporters of right wing Zionism. They and others portray the most innocuous Muslim activist as a closet terrorist, regardless of his or her contribution to the community at large.
Alamoudi’s work with groups such as the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, which includes Christians, Jews and members of other faiths, has not shielded him from the poisoned pen. Emerson and Pipes are just two of the many pundits who have cajoled their way onto the airwaves and printed press to vilify Muslim American activists in general, and Alamoudi in particular. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Washington Times, the Jewish Forward, the National Review, Fox News, and MSNBC are just some of the media that have provided a podium to Pipes & Co. upon which they have conducted a verbal lynching of Alamoudi and others.
Such scribes are not without their supporters within the Administration and other government bodies. It was only a matter of time before the collective clamor they raised would overwhelm rational investigation.
Beware the Sweeping Brush
The fact of the matter is that Alamoudi holds some views that may not be popular with supporters of Israel. For example, he does not view Hizbollah or Hamas as terrorists but as groups defending their rights to liberty and self-determination. Conversely, he openly and publicly condemned the September 11th atrocity as an abhorrent act. Nevertheless, in both cases, these are matters of opinion; and no American should be afraid to speak his mind. It is only when we act in bad faith, and are proven to do so, that we can and must be subject to the laws of our nation. Alamoudi’s actions for the past two decades, however, are beyond reproach. During his visits abroad, he has fervently promoted the virtues of American democracy. At home, he has conscientiously pushed Muslims, immigrants and nationals, to work within the system to improve its failings and laud its merits. Only the passage of time will prove his innocence; yet the damage has already been done. A man respected among his peers has been tainted with the same brush Joseph McCarthy used to paint liberals, socialists, and general non-conformists–”many of whom were innocent yet whose lives were ruined by the most circumstantial pieces of information–”as un-American.
And, though it would be easy, maybe even reassuring, to some members of the public that those who are ideologically different be isolated, we should and must be wary of what such developments mean to our lives. The day may well come when Texan’s believing in secession or Hawaiians condoning independence are locked up under the same archaic, “patriotic” laws; and the only terror we will face is that which we inflict upon ourselves.