Friday, December 23, 2011

Mic Check for Holy-days & Holi-days

Mic Check for Holy-days & Holi-days
Shakeel Syed, Dec 24, 2011

I say Mic Check, for the holy-days and
You say Mic Check, for the the holi-days

You say Mic Check, for 2011 that was theirs
I say Mic Check, for 2012 that will be ours

O my people of faith and persons of conscience
Let us all sing Mic Check for the sake of Mic Check

Mic Check for Hanukkah and Moses
Mic Check for Christmas and Jesus
Mic Check for Kwanzaa and King

Mic Check for the faithful and Mic Check for the faithless
Mic Check for the jobless and Mic Check for the homeless
Mic Check for the voiceless and Mic Check for the powerless

O my people of faith and persons of conscience
Let us all sing Mic Check for the sake of Mic Check

Mic Check to gut the greed and Mic Check to castigate the corruption
Mic Check to hound the hunger and Mic Check to prune the poverty
Mic Check to over the oppression and Mic Check to toss the tyranny

O my people of faith and persons of conscience
Let us all sing Mic Check for the sake of Mic Check

Mic Check for the wretched of the earth
Mic Check for their freedom and dignity, and
Mic Check for our revolution and not their reform

I say Mic Check, for the holy-days and
You say Mic Check, for the the holi-days

You say Mic Check, for 2011 that was theirs
I say Mic Check, for 2012 that will be ours.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is There Any Difference Between Bush & Obama?

Is There Any Fundamental Difference Between the Bush and Obama Presidencies in the Area of Domestic Civil Liberites?
Obama's Assault: 20 Examples
By Bill Quigley

The Obama administration has affirmed, continued and expanded almost all of the draconian domestic civil liberties intrusions pioneered under the Bush administration. Here are twenty examples of serious assaults on the domestic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience that have occurred since the Obama administration has assumed power. Consider these and then decide if there is any fundamental difference between the Bush presidency and the Obama presidency in the area of domestic civil liberties.

Patriot Act

On May 27, 2011, President Obama, over widespread bipartisan objections, approved a Congressional four-year extension of controversial parts of the Patriot Act that were set to expire. In March of 2010, Obama had already signed a similar extension of the Patriot Act for one year. These provisions allow the government, with permission from a special secret court, to seize records without the owner's knowledge, conduct secret surveillance of suspicious people who have no known ties to terrorist groups, and to obtain secret roving wiretaps on people.

Criminalization of Dissent and Militarization of the Police

Anyone who has gone to a peace or justice protest in recent years has seen it - local police have been turned into SWAT teams, and SWAT teams into heavily armored military. Officer Friendly, or even Officer Unfriendly, has given way to police uniformed like soldiers, with SWAT shields, shin guards, heavy vests, military helmets, visors, and vastly increased firepower. Protest police sport ninja turtle-like outfits and are accompanied by helicopters, special tanks, and even sound-blasting vehicles first used in Iraq. Wireless fingerprint scanners, first used by troops in Iraq, are now being utilized by local police departments to check motorists. Facial recognition software introduced in war zones is now being used in Arizona and other jurisdictions. Drones just like the ones used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan are being used along the Mexican and Canadian borders. These activities continue to expand under the Obama administration.


Wiretaps for oral, electronic or wire communications, approved by federal and state courts, are at an all-time high. Wiretaps in 2010 were up 34 per cent from 2009, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Criminalization of Speech

Muslims in the U.S.A. have been targeted by the Obama Department of Justice for inflammatory things they said or published on the Internet. First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, most recently stated in a 1969 Supreme Court decision, Brandenberg v. Ohio, says the government cannot punish inflammatory speech, even if it advocates violence, unless it is likely to incite or produce such action. A Pakistani resident legally living in the U.S.A. was indicted by the DOJ in September 2011 for uploading a video on YouTube. The DOJ said the video was supportive of terrorists, even though nothing on the video called for violence.

Domestic Government Spying on Muslim Communities

In activities that offend freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and several other laws, the NYPD and the CIA have partnered to conduct intelligence operations against Muslim communities in New York and elsewhere. The CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans, works with the police on "human mapping," commonly known as racial and religious profiling to spy on the Muslim community. Under the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported in August 2011, informants known as "mosque crawlers" monitor sermons, bookstores and cafes.

Top Secret America

In July 2010, the Washington Post released "Top Secret America," a series of articles detailing the results of a two-year investigation into the rapidly expanding world of homeland security, intelligence and counterterrorism. It found that 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence, at about 10,000 locations across the U.S.A. Every single day, the National Security Agency intercepts and stores more than 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications. The FBI has a secret database named Guardian that contains reports of suspicious activities filed from federal, state and local law enforcement. According to the Washington Post,Guardian contained 161,948 files as of December 2009. From that database, there have been 103 full investigations and at least five arrests, the FBI reported. The Obama administration has done nothing to cut back on the secrecy.

Other Domestic Spying

There are at least 72 fusion centers across the U.S.A., which collect local domestic police information and merge it into multi-jurisdictional intelligence centers, according to recent report by the ACLU. These centers share information from federal, state and local law enforcement and some private companies to secretly spy on Americans. These all continue to grow and flourish under the Obama administration.

Abusive FBI Intelligence Operations

The Electronic Frontier Foundation documented thousands of violations of the law by FBI intelligence operations, from 2001 to 2008, and estimate that there are over 4,000 such violations each year. President Obama issued an executive order to strengthen the Intelligence Oversight Board, an agency which is supposed to make sure the FBI, the CIA and other spy agencies are following the law. No other changes have been noticed.


The publication of U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks and then by main stream news outlets sparked condemnation by Obama administration officials, who said the publication of accurate government documents was nothing less than an attack on the United States. The attorney general announced a criminal investigation and promised, "this is not saber rattling." Government officials warned State Department employees not to download the publicly available documents. A State Department official and Columbia University officials warned students that discussing Wikileaks or linking documents to social networking sites could jeopardize their chances of getting a government job, a posture maintained for several days until reversed by other Columbia officials. At the time this was written, the Obama administration continued to try to find ways to prosecute the publishers of Wikileaks.

Censorship of Books by the CIA

In 2011, the CIA demanded extensive cuts from a memoir by former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan, in part because it made the agency look bad. Soufan's book detailed the use of torture methods on captured prisoners and Agency mistakes that led to 9/11. Similarly, a 2011 book on interrogation methods by former CIA agent Glenn Carle was subjected to extensive black outs. The CIA under the Obama administration continues its push for censorship.

Blocking Publication of Photos of U.S. Soldiers Abusing Prisoners

In May 2009, President Obama reversed his position of three weeks earlier and refused to release photos of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners. In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense told a federal court that it would release the photos. The photos were part of nearly 200 criminal investigations into abuses by soldiers.

Technological Spying

In August 2011, hearing rumors to protest against fatal shootings by their police, the Bay Area Transit System shut down cell service in four rail stations. Western companies sell email surveillance software to repressive regimes in China, Libya and Syria, to use against protestors and human rights activists. Surveillance cameras monitor residents in high crime areas, street corners and other governmental buildings. Police department computers ask for and receive daily lists from utility companies, with addresses and names of every home in their area. Computers in police cars scan every license plate of every car they drive by. The Obama administration has made no serious effort to cut back these new technologies of spying on citizens.

Use of "State Secrets" to Shield Government and Others from review

When the Bush government was caught hiring private planes from a Boeing subsidiary to transport people for torture to other countries, the Bush administration successfully asked the federal trial court to dismiss a case by tortured detainees, because having a trial would disclose "state secrets" and threaten national security. When President Obama was elected, the "state secrets" defense was reaffirmed in arguments before a federal appeals court. It continues to be a mainstay of the Obama administration effort to cloak their actions and the actions of the Bush administration in secrecy.

In another case, it became clear in 2005 that the Bush FBI was avoiding the Fourth Amendment requirement to seek judicial warrants to get telephone and Internet records by going directly to the phone companies and asking for the records. The government and the companies, among other methods of surveillance, set up secret rooms where phone and Internet traffic could be monitored. In 2008, the government granted the companies amnesty for violating the privacy rights of their customers. Customers sued anyway. But the Obama administration successfully argued to the district court, among other defenses, that disclosure would expose "state secrets" and should be dismissed. The case is now on appeal.

Material Support

The Obama administration successfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to apply the First Amendment and to allow the government to criminalize humanitarian aid and legal activities of people providing advice or support to foreign organizations, which are listed on the government list as terrorist organizations. The material support law can now be read to penalize people who provide humanitarian aid or human rights advocacy. The Obama administration solicitor general argued to the court, "When you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs." The court agreed with the Obama argument that national security trumps free speech in these circumstances.

Chicago Anti-war Grand Jury Investigation

In September 2010, FBI agents raided the homes of seven peace activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids, seizing computers, cell phones, passports, and records. More than 20 anti-war activists were issued federal grand jury subpoenas and more were questioned across the country. Some of those targeted were members of local labor unions, others - members of organizations like the Arab American Action Network, the Columbia Action Network, the Twin Cities Anti-War Campaign, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Many were active internationally and visited resistance groups in Columbia and Palestine. Subpoenas directed people to bring anything related to trips to Columbia, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel or the Middle East. In 2011, the home of a Los Angeles activist was raided, and he was questioned about his connections with the September 2010 activists. All of these investigations are directed by the Obama administration.

Punishing Whistleblowers

The Obama administration has prosecuted five whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all the other administrations in U.S. history put together. They charged a National Security Agency advisor with ten felonies under the Espionage Act for telling the press that government eavesdroppers were wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on misguided and failed projects. After their case collapsed, the government, which was chastised by the federal judge as engaging in unconscionable conduct, allowed him to plead to a misdemeanor and walk. The administration has also prosecuted former members of the CIA, the State Department, and the FBI. They even tried to subpoena a journalist and one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers.

Bradley Manning

Army Private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking thousands of government documents to Wikileaks. These documents expose untold numbers of lies by U.S. government officials, wrongful killings of civilians, policies to ignore torture in Iraq, information about who is held at Guantanamo, cover-ups of drone strikes and abuse of children, and much more damaging information about U.S. malfeasance. Though Daniel Ellsberg and other whistleblowers say Bradley is an American hero, the U.S. government has jailed him and is threatening him with charges of espionage, which may be punished by the death penalty. For months, Manning was held in solitary confinement and forced by guards to sleep naked. When asked about how Manning was being held, President Obama personally defended the conditions of his confinement, saying he had been assured they were appropriate and meeting our basic standards.

Solitary Confinement

At least 20,000 people are in solitary confinement in U.S. jails and prisons, some estimate several times that many. Despite the fact that federal, state and local prisons and jails do not report actual numbers, academic research estimates tens of thousands are kept in cells for 23 to 24 hours a day in super-maximum security units and prisons, in lockdown, in security housing units, in "the hole," and in special management units or administrative segregation. Human Rights Watch reports that one-third to one-half of the prisoners in solitary are likely mentally ill. In May 2006, the U.N. Committee on Torture concluded that the United States should "review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation." The Obama administration has taken no steps to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in federal, state or local jails and prisons.

Special Administrative Measures

Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) are extra harsh conditions of confinement imposed on prisoners (including pre-trial detainees) by the attorney general. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons imposes restrictions such as segregation and isolation from all other prisoners, and limitation or denial of contact with the outside world, for example such as: no visitors except attorneys, no contact with news media, no use of phone, no correspondence, no contact with family, no communication with guards, 24-hour video surveillance and monitoring. The DOJ admitted in 2009 that several dozen prisoners, including several pre-trial detainees, mostly Muslims, were kept incommunicado under SAMs. If anything, the use of SAMs has increased under the Obama administration.

* * *

These twenty concrete examples document a sustained assault on domestic civil liberties in the United States under the Obama administration. Rhetoric aside, how different has Obama been from Bush in this area? COUNTER PUNCH -

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans. He also serves as associate legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Friday, October 7, 2011

On 10 Year Anniversary of US Killing in Afghanistan

Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace organized a public rally and civil disobedience commemorating 10 year anniversary of US invasion on Afghanistan - now the longest war.

One of the main street in downtown Los Angeles was shut down while we marched that's followed by talks and some music. Pasted below is my brief remarks and then some press clips from the action today.

My remarks: At this ten year anniversary of the US invasion on Afghanistan, I stand with my fellow Americans as a “bruised American” in a “broken America” --- whose ideals I cherish but whose policies I despise. If the U.S. policy of pre-emptive war is any justification to stop potential threats then America may be bombed every day!

Today, I mourn all victims of America … the young soldiers of our nation and also the suckling children of the wailing mothers and the grieving fathers in Afghanistan.

On this day, I renew my pledge to oppose any leader of any color - for invading countries and killing innocent people and calling them a mere collateral damage.

I believe, the old America 1.0 is near dead --- and

I believe, the new America 2.0 is born in Manhattan and growing up here in Los Angeles.

I ask America to join me today – not in mourning the death of old America but to nurture the new America

A New America - that does not shy in questioning the wisdom of waging wars

A New America – that refuses to submit to the policies of death and destruction

A New America – that insists for life and for health, for education and for work

And most importantly --- a New America – that embraces all of humanity as the creation of God

Press Coverage from the action today:

- ABC - Channel 7

- NBC Channel 4

- Yahoo News & KCAL - Chnnel 9

- ICUJP video collage Part-1 and Part-2

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Tear Drops

My Tear Drops
shakeel syed – september eleven – two thousand eleven

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

In it are my tears for the thousands on the morning of september eleven
Those who were dressed in slacks and shorts, and
Those who were running or being run in the strollers
… full of colors and cheers were they.

They were each on their own way but apart from one another, and yet …
Every one of them were one created by the same One

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

In it are my tears for the millions since october seven
Those who were shirtless and in jilbabs
Those who were plowing their fields and playing with their children
… full of life and love were they.

They were each on their own way but apart from one another, and yet …
Every one of them were one created by the same One

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

In it are my tears for tens of thousands since march nineteen
Those who were shoeless and in burqas
Those who were idling around the corner and learning in madrassat
… full of hope and happiness were they.

They were each on their own way but apart from one another, and yet …
Every one of them were one created by the same One

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

In it are my tears for the hundreds since january eleven
Those who were innocent fathers and carefree sons
Those who were simply striving and shyly singing
… full of mercy and mischief were they

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

My tears are for all and not for some
My sorrow is same for the New Yorkers, the Baghdadis and the Kabulis
My grief is equal for the Washingtonians and the West Bankers
My love is for all and not only for some

My tears are more than a drop - they are an ocean pregnant with silent sorrows

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The NYPD & CIA nexus

NEW YORK (AP) — In New Brunswick, N.J., a building superintendent opened the door to apartment No. 1076 one balmy Tuesday and discovered an alarming scene: terrorist literature strewn about the table and computer and surveillance equipment set up in the next room.
The panicked superintendent dialed 911, sending police and the FBI rushing to the building near Rutgers University on the afternoon of June 2, 2009. What they found in that first-floor apartment, however, was not a terrorist hideout but a command center set up by a secret team of New York Police Department intelligence officers.
From that apartment, about an hour outside the department's jurisdiction, the NYPD had been staging undercover operations and conducting surveillance throughout New Jersey. Neither the FBI nor the local police had any idea.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has become one of the country's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. A months-long investigation by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. And it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.
Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which contributes hundreds of millions of dollars each year, is told exactly what's going on.
The department has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as "rakers," into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They've monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit.
A veteran CIA officer, while still on the agency's payroll, was the architect of the NYPD's intelligence programs. The CIA trained a police detective at the Farm, the agency's spy school in Virginia, then returned him to New York, where he put his new espionage skills to work inside the United States.
And just last month, the CIA sent a senior officer to work as a clandestine operative inside police headquarters.
While the expansion of the NYPD's intelligence unit has been well known, many details about its clandestine operations, including the depth of its CIA ties, have not previously been reported.
The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. In a city that has repeatedly been targeted by terrorists, police make no apologies for pushing the envelope. NYPD intelligence operations have disrupted terrorist plots and put several would-be killers in prison.
"The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there's not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. "And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard."
But officials said they've also been careful to keep information about some programs out of court, where a judge might take a different view. The NYPD considers even basic details, such as the intelligence division's organization chart, to be too sensitive to reveal in court.
One of the enduring questions of the past decade is whether being safe requires giving up some liberty and privacy. The focus of that debate has primarily been federal programs like wiretapping and indefinite detention. The question has received less attention in New York, where residents do not know for sure what, if anything, they have given up.
The story of how the NYPD Intelligence Division developed such aggressive programs was pieced together by the AP in interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials. Many were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department. Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak with reporters about security matters.
The story begins with one man.
David Cohen arrived at the New York Police Department in January 2002, just weeks after the last fires had been extinguished at the debris field that had been the twin towers. A retired 35-year veteran of the CIA, Cohen became the police department's first civilian intelligence chief.
Cohen had an exceptional career at the CIA, rising to lead both the agency's analytical and operational divisions. He also was an extraordinarily divisive figure, a man whose sharp tongue and supreme confidence in his own abilities gave him a reputation as arrogant. Cohen's tenure as head of CIA operations, the nation's top spy, was so contentious that in 1997, The New York Times editorial page took the unusual step of calling for his ouster.
He had no police experience. He had never defended a city from an attack. But New York wasn't looking for a cop.
"Post-9/11, we needed someone in there who knew how to really gather intelligence," said John Cutter, a retired NYPD official who served as one of Cohen's top uniformed officers.
At the time, the intelligence division was best known for driving dignitaries around the city. Cohen envisioned a unit that would analyze intelligence, run undercover operations and cultivate a network of informants. In short, he wanted New York to have its own version of the CIA.
Cohen shared Commissioner Ray Kelly's belief that 9/11 had proved that the police department could not simply rely on the federal government to prevent terrorism in New York.
"If anything goes on in New York," one former officer recalls Cohen telling his staff in the early days, "it's your fault."
Among Cohen's earliest moves at the NYPD was making a request of his old colleagues at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He needed someone to help build this new operation, someone with experience and clout and, most important, someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn't have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.
CIA Director George Tenet responded by tapping Larry Sanchez, a respected veteran who had served as a CIA official inside the United Nations. Often, when the CIA places someone on temporary assignment, the other agency picks up the tab. In this case, three former intelligence officials said, Tenet kept Sanchez on the CIA payroll.
When he arrived in New York in March 2002, Sanchez had offices at both the NYPD and the CIA's station in New York, one former official said. Sanchez interviewed police officers for newly defined intelligence jobs. He guided and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information. He also directed their efforts, another said.
There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that's supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.
"It should not be a surprise to anyone that, after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped up its cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism issues or that some of that increased cooperation was in New York, the site of ground zero," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.
Just as at the CIA, Cohen and Sanchez knew that informants would have to become the backbone of their operation. But with threats coming in from around the globe, they couldn't wait months for the perfect plan.
They came up with a makeshift solution. They dispatched more officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and, according to one former police official directly involved in the effort, instructed them to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever. The traffic stop gave police an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant.
For Cohen, the transition from spying to policing didn't come naturally, former colleagues said. When faced with a decision, especially early in his tenure, he'd fall back on his CIA background. Cutter said he and other uniformed officers had to tell Cohen, no, we can't just slip into someone's apartment without a warrant. No, we can't just conduct a search. The rules for policing are different.
While Cohen was being shaped by the police department, his CIA background was remaking the department. But one significant barrier stood in the way of Cohen's vision.
Since 1985, the NYPD had operated under a federal court order limiting the tactics it could use to gather intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s, the department had used informants and undercover officers to infiltrate anti-war protest groups and other activists without any reason to suspect criminal behavior.
To settle a lawsuit, the department agreed to follow guidelines that required "specific information" of criminal activity before police could monitor political activity.
In September 2002, Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it "virtually impossible" to detect terrorist plots. The FBI was changing its rules to respond to 9/11, and Cohen argued that the NYPD must do so, too.
"In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating is to wait far too long," Cohen wrote.
U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. agreed, saying the old guidelines "addressed different perils in a different time." He scrapped the old rules and replaced them with more lenient ones.
It was a turning point for the NYPD.
With his newfound authority, Cohen created a secret squad that would soon infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods, according to several current and former officials directly involved in the program.
The NYPD carved up the city into more than a dozen zones and assigned undercover officers to monitor them, looking for potential trouble.
At the CIA, one of the biggest obstacles has always been that U.S. intelligence officials are overwhelmingly white, their mannerisms clearly American. The NYPD didn't have that problem, thanks to its diverse pool of officers.
Using census data, the department matched undercover officers to ethnic communities and instructed them to blend in, the officials said. Pakistani-American officers infiltrated Pakistani neighborhoods, Palestinians focused on Palestinian neighborhoods. They hung out in hookah bars and cafes, quietly observing the community around them.
The unit, which has been undisclosed until now, became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit, former police officials said.
"It's not a question of profiling. It's a question of going where the problem could arise," said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit. "And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That's our hidden weapon."
The officers did not work out of headquarters, officials said. Instead, they passed their intelligence to police handlers who knew their identities.
Cohen said he wanted the squad to "rake the coals, looking for hot spots," former officials recalled. The undercover officers soon became known inside the department as rakers.
A hot spot might be a beauty supply store selling chemicals used for making bombs. Or it might be a hawala, a broker that transfers money around the world with little documentation. Undercover officers might visit an Internet cafe and look at the browsing history on a computer, a former police official involved in the program said. If it revealed visits to radical websites, the cafe might be deemed a hot spot.
Ethnic bookstores, too, were on the list. If a raker noticed a customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he could learn. The bookstore, or even the customer, might get further scrutiny. If a restaurant patron applauds a news report about the death of U.S. troops, the patron or the restaurant could be labeled a hot spot.
The goal was to "map the city's human terrain," one law enforcement official said. The program was modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said.
Mapping crimes has been a successful police strategy nationwide. But mapping robberies and shootings is one thing. Mapping ethnic neighborhoods is different, something that at least brushes against what the federal government considers racial profiling.
Browne, the NYPD spokesman, said the Demographic Unit does not exist. He said the department has a Zone Assessment Unit that looks for locations that could attract terrorists. But he said undercover officers only followed leads, disputing the account of several current and former police and federal officials. They do not just hang out in neighborhoods, he said.
"We will go into a location, whether it's a mosque or a bookstore, if the lead warrants it, and at least establish whether there's something that requires more attention," Browne said.
That conflicts with testimony from an undercover officer in the 2006 trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj, who was convicted of planning an attack on New York's subway system. The officer said he was instructed to live in Brooklyn and act as a "walking camera" for police.
"I was told to act like a civilian — hang out in the neighborhood, gather information," the Bangladeshi officer testified, under a false name, in what offered the first narrow glimpse at the NYPD's infiltration of ethnic neighborhoods.
Officials said such operations just made sense. Islamic terrorists had attacked the city on 9/11, so police needed people inside the city's Muslim neighborhoods. Officials say it does not conflict with a 2004 city law prohibiting the NYPD from using religion or ethnicity "as the determinative factor for initiating law enforcement action."
"It's not profiling," Cutter said. "It's like, after a shooting, do you go 20 blocks away and interview guys or do you go to the neighborhood where it happened?"
In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department was criticized for even considering a similar program. The police announced plans to map Islamic neighborhoods to look for pockets of radicalization among the region's roughly 500,000 Muslims. Criticism was swift, and chief William Bratton scrapped the plan.
"A lot of these people came from countries where the police were the terrorists," Bratton said at a news conference, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. "We don't do that here. We do not want to spread fear."
In New York, current and former officials said, the lesson of that controversy was that such programs should be kept secret.
Some in the department, including lawyers, have privately expressed concerns about the raking program and how police use the information, current and former officials said. Part of the concern was that it might appear that police were building dossiers on innocent people, officials said. Another concern was that, if a case went to court, the department could be forced to reveal details about the program, putting the entire operation in jeopardy.
That's why, former officials said, police regularly shredded documents discussing rakers.
When Cohen made his case in court that he needed broader authority to investigate terrorism, he had promised to abide by the FBI's investigative guidelines. But the FBI is prohibited from using undercover agents unless there's specific evidence of criminal activity, meaning a federal raking program like the one officials described to the AP would violate FBI guidelines.
The NYPD declined to make Cohen available for comment. In an earlier interview with the AP on a variety of topics, Police Commissioner Kelly said the intelligence unit does not infringe on civil rights.
"We're doing what we believe we have to do to protect the city," he said. "We have many, many lawyers in our employ. We see ourselves as very conscious and aware of civil liberties. And we know there's always going to be some tension between the police department and so-called civil liberties groups because of the nature of what we do."
The department clashed with civil rights groups most publicly after Cohen's undercover officers infiltrated anti-war groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. A lawsuit over that program continues today.
During the convention, when protesters were arrested, police asked a list of questions which, according to court documents, included: "What are your political affiliations?" ''Do you do any kind of political work?" and "Do you hate George W. Bush?"
"At the end of the day, it's pure and simple a rogue domestic surveillance operation," said Christopher Dunn, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer involved in the convention lawsuit.
Undercover agents like the rakers were valuable, but what Cohen and Sanchez wanted most were informants.
The NYPD dedicated an entire squad, the Terrorist Interdiction Unit, to developing and handling informants. Current and former officials said Sanchez was instrumental in teaching them how to develop sources.
For years, detectives used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.
The FBI has generated its own share of controversy for putting informants inside mosques, but unlike the program described to the AP, the FBI requires evidence of a crime before an informant can be used inside a mosque.
Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, would not discuss the NYPD's programs but said FBI informants can't troll mosques looking for leads. Such operations are reviewed for civil liberties concerns, she said.
"If you're sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that's a very high-risk thing to do," Caproni said. "You're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion."
That's why senior FBI officials in New York ordered their own agents not to accept any reports from the NYPD's mosque crawlers, two retired agents said.
It's unclear whether the police department still uses mosque crawlers. Officials said that, as Muslims figured out what was going on, the mosque crawlers became cafe crawlers, fanning out into the city's ethnic hangouts.
"Someone has a great imagination," Browne, the NYPD spokesman, said. "There is no such thing as mosque crawlers."
Following the foiled subway plot, however, the key informant in the case, Osama Eldawoody, said he attended hundreds of prayer services and collected information even on people who showed no signs of radicalization.
NYPD detectives have recruited shopkeepers and nosy neighbors to become "seeded" informants who keep police up to date on the latest happenings in ethnic neighborhoods, one official directly involved in the informant program said.
The department also has a roster of "directed" informants it can tap for assignments. For instance, if a raker identifies a bookstore as a hot spot, police might assign an informant to gather information, long before there's concrete evidence of anything criminal.
To identify possible informants, the department created what became known as the "debriefing program." When someone is arrested who might be useful to the intelligence unit — whether because he said something suspicious or because he is simply a young Middle Eastern man — he is singled out for extra questioning. Intelligence officials don't care about the underlying charges; they want to know more about his community and, ideally, they want to put him to work.
Police are in prisons, too, promising better living conditions and help or money on the outside for Muslim prisoners who will work with them.
Early in the intelligence division's transformation, police asked the taxi commission to run a report on all the city's Pakistani cab drivers, looking for those who got licenses fraudulently and might be susceptible to pressure to cooperate, according to former officials who were involved in or briefed on the effort.
That strategy has been rejected in other cities.
Boston police once asked neighboring Cambridge for a list of Somali cab drivers, Cambridge Police Chief Robert Haas said. Haas refused, saying that without a specific reason, the search was inappropriate.
"It really has a chilling effect in terms of the relationship between the local police department and those cultural groups, if they think that's going to take place," Haas said.
The informant division was so important to the NYPD that Cohen persuaded his former colleagues to train a detective, Steve Pinkall, at the CIA's training center at the Farm. Pinkall, who had an intelligence background as a Marine, was given an unusual temporary assignment at CIA headquarters, officials said. He took the field tradecraft course alongside future CIA spies then returned to New York to run investigations.
"We found that helpful, for NYPD personnel to be exposed to the tradecraft," Browne said.
The idea troubled senior FBI officials, who saw it as the NYPD and CIA blurring the lines between police work and spying, in which undercover officers regularly break the laws of foreign governments. The arrangement even made its way to FBI Director Robert Mueller, two former senior FBI officials said, but the training was already under way and Mueller did not press the issue.
NYPD's intelligence operations do not stop at the city line, as the undercover operation in New Jersey made clear.
The department has gotten some of its officers deputized as federal marshals, allowing them to work out of state. But often, there's no specific jurisdiction at all. Cohen's undercover squad, the Special Services Unit, operates in places such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, officials said. They can't make arrests and, if something goes wrong — a shooting or a car accident, for instance — the officers could be personally liable. But the NYPD has decided it's worth the risk, a former police official said.
With Police Commissioner Kelly's backing, Cohen's policy is that any potential threat to New York City is the NYPD's business, regardless of where it occurs, officials said.
That aggressiveness has sometimes put the NYPD at odds with local police departments and, more frequently, with the FBI. The FBI didn't like the rules Cohen played by and said his operations encroached on their responsibilities.
Once, undercover officers were stopped by police in Massachusetts while conducting surveillance on a house, one former New York official recalled. In another instance, the NYPD sparked concern among federal officials by expanding its intelligence-gathering efforts related to the United Nations, where the FBI is in charge, current and former federal officials said.
The AP has agreed not to disclose details of either the FBI or NYPD operations because they involve foreign counterintelligence.
Both Mueller and Kelly have said their agencies have strong working relationships and said reports of rivalry and disagreements are overblown. And the NYPD's out-of-state operations have had success.
A young Egyptian NYPD officer living undercover in New Jersey, for example, was key to building a case against Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte. The pair was arrested last year at John F. Kennedy Airport en route to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Cohen has also sent officers abroad, stationing them in 11 foreign cities. If a bomber blows himself up in Jerusalem, the NYPD rushes to the scene, said Dzikansky, who served in Israel and is the co-author of the forthcoming book "Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation, and Response."
"I was there to ask the New York question," Dzikansky said. "Why this location? Was there something unique that the bomber had done? Was there any pre-notification. Was there a security lapse?"
All of this intelligence — from the rakers, the undercovers, the overseas liaisons and the informants — is passed to a team of analysts hired from some of the nation's most prestigious universities. Analysts have spotted emerging trends and summarized topics such as Hezbollah's activities in New York and the threat of South Asian terrorist groups.
They also have tackled more contentious topics, including drafting an analytical report on every mosque within 100 miles of New York, one former police official said. The report drew on information from mosque crawlers, undercover officers and public information. It mapped hundreds of mosques and discussed the likelihood of them being infiltrated by al-Qaida, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
For Cohen, there was only one way to measure success: "They haven't attacked us," he said in a 2005 deposition. He said anything that was bad for terrorists was good for NYPD.
Though the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence domestically, the wall between domestic and foreign operations became more porous. Intelligence gathered by the NYPD, with CIA officer Sanchez overseeing collection, was often passed to the CIA in informal conversations and through unofficial channels, a former official involved in that process said.
By design, the NYPD was looking more and more like a domestic CIA.
"It's like starting the CIA over in the post-9/11 world," Cohen said in "Securing the City," a laudatory 2009 book about the NYPD. "What would you do if you could begin it all over again? Hah. This is what you would do."
Sanchez's assignment in New York ended in 2004, but he received permission to take a leave of absence from the agency and become Cohen's deputy, former officials said.
Though Sanchez's assignments were blessed by CIA management, some in the agency's New York station saw the presence of such a senior officer in the city as a turf encroachment. Finally, the New York station chief, Tom Higgins, called headquarters, one former senior intelligence official said. Higgins complained, the official said, that Sanchez was wearing both hats, sometimes acting as a CIA officer, sometimes as an NYPD official.
The CIA finally forced him to choose: Stay with the agency or stay with the NYPD.
Sanchez declined to comment to the AP about the arrangement, but he picked the NYPD. He retired last year and is now a consultant in the Middle East.
Last month, the CIA deepened its NYPD ties even further. It sent one of its most experienced operatives, a former station chief in two Middle Eastern countries, to work out of police headquarters as Cohen's special assistant while on the CIA payroll. Current and former U.S. officials acknowledge it's unusual but said it's the kind of collaboration Americans expect after 9/11.
Officials said revealing the CIA officer's name would jeopardize national security. The arrangement was described as a sabbatical. He is a member of the agency's senior management, but officials said he was sent to the municipal police department to get management experience.
At the NYPD, he works undercover in the senior ranks of the intelligence division. Officials are adamant that he is not involved in actual intelligence-gathering.
The NYPD has faced little scrutiny over the past decade as it has taken on broad new intelligence missions, targeted ethnic neighborhoods and partnered with the CIA in extraordinary ways.
The department's primary watchdog, the New York City Council, has not held hearings on the intelligence division's operations and former NYPD officials said council members typically do not ask for details.
"Ray Kelly briefs me privately on certain subjects that should not be discussed in public," said City Councilman Peter Vallone. "We've discussed in person how they investigate certain groups they suspect have terrorist sympathizers or have terrorist suspects."
The city comptroller's office has audited several NYPD components since 9/11 but not the intelligence unit, which had a $62 million budget last year.
The federal government, too, has done little to scrutinize the nation's largest police force, despite the massive federal aid. Homeland Security officials review NYPD grants but not its underlying programs.
A report in January by the Homeland Security inspector general, for instance, found that the NYPD violated state and federal contracting rules between 2006 and 2008 by buying more than $4 million in equipment through a no-bid process. NYPD said public bidding would have revealed sensitive information to terrorists, but police never got approval from state or federal officials to adopt their own rules, the inspector general said.
On Capitol Hill, where FBI tactics have frequently been criticized for their effect on civil liberties, the NYPD faces no such opposition.
In 2007, Sanchez testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and was asked how the NYPD spots signs of radicalization. He said the key was viewing innocuous activity, including behavior that might be protected by the First Amendment, as a potential precursor to terrorism.
That triggered no questions from the committee, which Sanchez said had been "briefed in the past on how we do business."
The Justice Department has the authority to investigate civil rights violations. It issued detailed rules in 2003 against racial profiling, including prohibiting agencies from considering race when making traffic stops or assigning patrols.
But those rules apply only to the federal government and contain a murky exemption for terrorism investigations. The Justice Department has not investigated a police department for civil rights violations during a national security investigation.
"One of the hallmarks of the intelligence division over the last 10 years is that, not only has it gotten extremely aggressive and sophisticated, but it's operating completely on its own," said Dunn, the civil liberties lawyer. "There are no checks. There is no oversight."
The NYPD has been mentioned as a model for policing in the post-9/11 era. But it's a model that seems custom-made for New York. No other city has the Big Apple's combination of a low crime rate, a $4.5 billion police budget and a diverse 34,000-person police force. Certainly no other police department has such deep CIA ties.
Perhaps most important, nobody else had 9/11 the way New York did. No other city lost nearly 3,000 people in a single morning. A decade later, police say New Yorkers still expect the department to do whatever it can to prevent another attack. The NYPD has embraced that expectation.
As Sanchez testified on Capitol Hill: "We've been given the public tolerance and the luxury to be very aggressive on this topic."
Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.

Monday, August 22, 2011

FBI's Informant Factory ...

As reported in Mother Jones Magazine.

Enjoy your tax dollars at work.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What is Islamophobia?

Two high school students video project about Islamophobia.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Shared Leadership: An Old-New Concept

Does not matter what religion we claim we are of, or we think we belong to: we all share one non-qualifying belief – that we have the right to laugh. This right you will agree is old and even ancient but always also refreshingly new – isn’t it?

So let me try laughing with you … we - justice and peace loving activists are battering ourselves a bit too much, surrounding ourselves with deep anxieties and a bit of self-suffering, sometimes simply for not having enough choices of fine grape juices around us (remember Muslims don’t drink fermented grape juice) … no that’s not the joke!

Well, look at the ancient Greeks: smart guys. They understood that comedy (the gods' view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human way to look at life). I think our culture - western culture has grandly screwed this up. We overvalue tragedy and undervalue comedy.

My kids were perplexed watching me super giddy these past few days. I could not help it. I was very happy to hear that we all were “scheduled to meet the Lord” on the 21st of May at 6 pm! I thought to myself: “at least we will not have any budget problems to grieve about!” And no, that’s not the joke either! Here’s a real joke for you:

The young lady's hopes had been high for two whole years while this handsome young man remained silent on the question of marriage. Then one evening he said to her, "I had a most unusual dream last night. I dreamed that I asked you to marry me. I wonder what that means." "THAT MEANS," said his girlfriend, "THAT YOU HAVE MORE SENSE ASLEEP THAN WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE."

All right my good friends – enough laughing – let’s be real … let’s suffer a bit now …
Among ourselves, I think we can claim that this is a live gathering of the oldest religions with shared values that each one of us would die fighting for.

The question I pose to you today is, “What is old that is also new? And what is new that is also ancient?”

I find the answer to this question in the research conducted by two management experts Kouzes & Posner. They titled it – I think appropriately – “The 21st Century Leadership Challenge.” They interviewed 10,000 CEO’s from over 100 different countries between 2001 & 2010 & published their work. Their entire research project can be summed up in one word: “honesty.” A quality that 21st century leadership does not have; an ancient concept but badly needed for our times.

Indeed the leaders of our time are very honest when they report and celebrate our nation’s progress in reducing joblessness. They said we made progress when joblessness dropped from 10% to 9.98%. I guess they are right, technically, down to the very last decimal point.

But when I ask my good friend David who is unemployed for over a year about this version of progress, he politely reminded me of Malcolm’s response to nation’s racial progress at the time. He said, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you are making progress.”
There is now a new paradigm emerging as an acceptable norm in the collective psyche and culture of our country: that the powerful and the rich have an inherent right and entitlement to exploit the poor and the powerless in the most inhumane way!
Here are two most recent examples …

I believe the muscular moron (former Governor of our State) did not just have a relationship out of heartfelt love for the maid but rather simply took full advantage of her poverty. Similarly, the rapist-in-chief of the International Monetary Fund physically assaulted a powerless single mother while his organization did (& continues to do) exactly the same figuratively to many under-developed countries.

Then how dare we have the audacity to expect the victims of rape to be silent and not scream out loud for justice?

I am one of those victims and you are one of those victims. Yes, I am also a perpetrator and you are a perpetrator. It is in my name and your name that our leaders are pillaging our State and our Country and the powerless people of the world.

This must stop and no one is better suited to do so than we are. We have the ability so long as we are full of authentic anger and are committed to work with genuine humility to better our world.

I seek refuge in this ancient expression from a scholar of Quran from the 8th century: “Nothing you seek relying on your Lord will ever be difficult, and nothing you seek relying on yourself will ever be easy.”

As people of faith, our equation of reliance is perhaps a bit out of balance. Clearly we (in our times) are conditioned differently than our ancient sages.

One such sage from the 3rd century was asked by a disciple about reliance and he answered, “when I see my pantry all empty – my reliance on God is complete.”

While the rich of our times are reveling in Rolls Royces and roll-overs we are asking our poor in the pews to wait patiently for a better day, but we know they are being raped and are forced to survive with pangs of hunger into perpetuity!

I do believe from the depths of my heart that neither Moses, nor Jesus nor Muhammad (peace & blessings be upon all of them) nor any man or woman of true piety and virtue could resist boiling over in pain and rage for the deception, dishonesty and exploitation of the poor in our society.

The Prophets of God embraced the poor for they are - the most loved by our Creator and that all of us are inherently entitled to live with equal dignity and honor as one people. And this vision, we must uphold.

A while back I heard a friend speaking on “Unity, Purity, and Miracle.” Unity, he says, means “y’all come,” purity means “most of y’all go away,” and for the two to be resolved “would take a miracle.”

So I ask myself today if we should wait for a miracle or must we intentionally create one?

Let us not remain fooled by the modern maniacs of mathematics who lure us to invest our pension funds in derivatives and bundle our homes into a sovereign wealth fund and when nothing works, encourage the populace to go shopping.

As we depart today, I would like us to remain fiercely vigilant about who we are: we are created by God, uniquely gifted by Him with intellect and intelligence bestowed on no other creature, so no more shall we be fooled by anyone, including those who are tasked by us to work for us and not against us.

We have all inherited the responsibility to lead a shared vision for our society. Shared leadership, after all, is to create a diverse world that is inter-dependent and not independent of each other. Our world was created neither with windows or doors nor in colors of red, blue or purple.

Since I started invoking (this talk) with the right to laugh let us return to laugh again for a minute …

A man meets an old friend and says "It's funny, but I was told you were dead." The friend says, "Well, you can see I'm still alive." But the first man disputes this on the grounds that "the man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you."

Yes my brother – yes my sister – you are more reliable to me than those who brings us the daily dose of deceptions on the morning and evening news. The death of democracy may be a lie, but while it is not dead it is indeed sick. I know, however, that we can rely on each other to help it regain its vigor. We will continue this fight together, not for a penny but the fortune that is owed to us all.

In closing, as a person of faith I admonish myself and may I dare say admonish all of us with a 200 year old - Revolutionary Proclamation (of the Junta Tuitiva) made in La Paz in 1809 which states: “We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity.”

The time to speak is now. The moment to act is here. And it is only with our shared leadership that we can restore the old virtues in our broken new world!

A talk at California Faith for Action – a statewide Interfaith coalition for a moral budget – May 25, 2011 – Sacramento.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mad as Hell and for a Good Reason

(May 16, 2011): As thousands of innocent peace and freedom loving people are being
butchered by the dictators in Middle East & North Africa - the headlines today read
Dubai hires
and UAE will pay half a trillion dollars to Blackwater, the
infamous American killing machine!

Go figure why the common people in Middle East are damn mad as hell against their
dictators, who are now only loved by United States & Israel.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On the killing of Usama bin Laden

As a Muslim I am expected to mourn the loss of life at all times and of all people and not rejoice in the death of any, even my worst enemies. Hence I mourn and I pray for the innocent victims killed ten years ago in New York just as I mourn and pray for the millions of innocent people killed in Iraq and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan. As a Muslim I say, "we come from God and to Him we return." (Quran 2:156).  

I pray that the indiscriminate violence comes to an end with the death of Usama bin Laden although recent history teaches us otherwise. The hanging of Saddam Husain did not bring peace to the people in Iraq nor the killing of Usama bin Laden will make the world safe. But a just world will inevitably give birth to peace and hence safety for all.

Retributive forms of justice does not allow the humanity an opportunity to experience true peace. Restorative justice does. 

Although the nation was told by former President Bush eight years ago (May 1st, 2003), that the “Mission (is) Accomplished” in Iraq, but yet American soldiers continue to occupy Iraq until today. The then Presidential candidate Barrack Obama promised to end wars and bring back troops but after getting elected, President Obama broke his promise by sending more troops to Afghanistan. As a result of ongoing wars, hard working Americans are suffering and are unable to afford rising costs of education, lack of health care while losing jobs and homes.

Both wars, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, have given us tears and drained our treasure and both wars must stop now. Humanity has been a victim of much death and destruction while Americans continue to live in fear from the "other."

As a person of faith and conscience I am committed to imagine and work for a new paradigm that is void of violence in all its forms and full of love in every form. I invite my fellow Muslims to either take lead in restoring justice and peace for all people or join those who are working for the same cause.

"To God belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And to God will [all] matters be returned." (Quran 3:109).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

To be able to work is an inherent right

My Friday reflections on the May Day and the "right to work" from an Islamic perspective.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Uneven Contest: Powerful Television & Innocent Children

Sometime back a row erupted between France and the US over television programming. "Too many American made programs are being shown on French television," protested the French. To a casual observer this may sound strange. After all, what is the difference between French and American values? True, the French consider the Americans uncultured but the matter goes beyond culture.

The French argued that American television series were undermining their values; that American programs depicted and glorified violence whose effect would be felt on French society as well. Even when sharing common societal roots, people are concerned about preserving their own values. Imagine the situation when we, as Muslims approach life from altogether a different perspective.

Muslims believe in One God, Allah; they believe the Quran is the revealed Book of Allah through Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace; and they believe in family values. This means no pre-martial sex; abhorrence of violence and waste; no drugs nor alcohol, and respect for elders and love for the young ones. The western value system stands at the completely opposite role. Yet, are Muslim parents in North America aware of the challenge facing them?

It is of paramount importance to know how Muslim children are subliminally being assimilated into the greater North American society. One of the most powerful tools which influences them is television.

Already, Muslim children are used to processed foods and automated living. They are now being trained for 'processed thinking' and 'automated culture', as well, through television.

A parent's worst nightmare is a six to 13-year-old television addict who watches television in the morning before going to school; fixing himself/herself in front of the set as soon as he gets home in the afternoon and gets another dose before going to bed at night. Variety of e-gizmos have turned favorite shows and movies into an endlessly repeatable pastime. Video games have added to the home box's allure.

Children are in love with Barney today which is nothing more than a jumping doll, filled with cute critters and special effects. A child may learn how to force a smile upon himself but that will be the end of learning. Because of indoctrination by the television, children have little patience to pursue anything that requires a steady stream of thought or the linking of one thought with another. It is potentially addictive to undermine a child's imagination. Even these electronic amusements take a backseat in comparison with the kind of passive activity they induce.

This passive experience crowds out other, more active endeavors, such as congregational prayers at home, playing indoors and outdoors with family members, reading, etc. These traditional forms of interaction with children are most definitely not passive. They are all physically, mentally and spiritually active. A child watching television cannot build a model at the same time or let his/her imagination soar in a good book. Instead, they are cut off from participation, imagination, even from the rest of the family. The child's facial expression is transformed. The jaw is relaxed and hangs open slightly; the tongue rests on the front teeth (if there are any) and eyes develop a glazed, vacuous look?

Television reveals to children all of the 'backstage' activity of adults. It exposes children to behavior that the adults have spent centuries trying to hide from children. The average child watching television sees adults hitting or killing each other or breaking down and crying. It teaches them that adults do not always know what they are doing. Revealing the 'secrets' of adulthood has virtually destroyed the notion of childhood as a discrete period of innocence. There are now more adult-like children and more childlike adults!

An average child will have watched 5,000 hours of television by the time he/she enters first grade and 19,000 hours by the end of high school - more time than he/she will spend in classroom. They spend 28 hours a week watching television - more than doing any other single activity except sleeping. Those 28 hours do not include the time spent watching videotapes, playing video games, or listening to iPod's or CDs.

Research has shown that prolonged television viewing by children is associated with more aggressive behavior, lack of creativity, patience, imagination, participation, and physical, mental and spiritual development. So who will correct it and how?

No institution plays a bigger role in shaping the attitude of children than the family. The ultimate responsibility rests with the parents. It is imperative to strictly limit TV watching time and other electronic amusements, and continually monitor children's behavior. At the same time, the influence and impact of the short time they spend watching television should be counterbalanced with other healthy activities such as reading, Islamic quiz or general knowledge competitions within the family and/or friends, games which require thinking, congregational prayers and indoor/outdoor activities with the family. In this way, TV can at least be put into proper focus, if not completely out of the picture, inshaAllah.

Talking with children also helps. 'Not to them, but with them.' Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas, and to think things through. Let them know that both logical reasoning and creative thought are wonderful accomplishments. Encourage children to read books and to consider their significance in the larger scheme of things.

Avoid 'drilling' your children or forcing them to 'listen' to you. Rather, 'you' should listen to them !

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Racialization of & Racism against Muslim Americans

talk at UCI Law School – April 14, 2011)

I’d like to extend my thanks to the Asian-Pacific American Law Students and the entire team who organized this timely event: examining the racialization of and racism against Muslim Americans.

Assuming that most of you are law students or justice advocates, I prefer tonight to expand the scope of my presentation beyond my grievances as a Muslim and instead have us all think and speak simply as Americans and examine where and how do we all fit in this discussion of racism, hate, and bigotry in our country today.

Racism is as old as America. It was that vicious racist ideology and practice of White supremacy that left its permanent scar on all spheres of American life since its founding. The earliest slave traders propagated seeds of racism in the most formative days of this nation.

The problem of bigotry in the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line -- not just Black but every ethnic and racial group and all the possible combinations – now compounded by the new dynamic of racism based not only on color but religion.

For our purposes tonight, we’ll focus on the religion is Islam, …. “the religion that is evil” as Jerry Falwell declared. “It is the religion of pure hate,” according to Falwell’s minion, Deborah Pauly, city councilmember of Villa Park, which she proclaimed loudly at a recent hate rally in Yorba Linda.

I will not deny that there has been racial progress in America but I would dare you to deny the lingering legacy of white supremacy in America. It is deliberate, it is visible, and it is a poison to our society.

To engage in a serious discussion tonight about racism and hate, we must begin not with the current problem of Islamophobia but with the flaws of American society – flaws rooted in historical inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. How we frame the terms for discussing hate and bigotry shapes our perception and response to these issues. As long as Muslims are viewed as “they,” the burden falls on Muslims to do all the internal moral work necessary to become part of “us”. The implication is that only certain people can define what it means to be American, and the rest must simply fit in. Well, I have news for you America: I am ME and I refuse to fit in!

It is not necessarily only our actual skin color that has been the source of our separation of races; it’s also our attitude. Historic figures such as Malcolm X have made great studies of the language of hate in our society. Naturally, his experiences with Whites in America had shaped his attitude. But despite his ethnocentric view of Whites and Blacks, it was the Whites with blue eyes who helped him in the desert of Makkah to judge humanity by virtue of their attitude and not by color. Whites in America treated Malcolm as sub-human but the non-American and non-European Whites in Makkah transformed him from Malcolm X to El Hajj Malik Shabazz. Indeed, attitudes matter.

So now it is the attitudes of politicians, pundits and also of the populace that has given birth to this new wave of Islamophobia, a prejudice borne of historic racism in America impregnated by today’s economy and fear of the “other”. It appears, my brothers and sisters, that we Muslims are now the “other.”

However, more than a century before al-Qaeda, there was “Al-Klan” – the Ku Klux Klan! More than a century before Usama bin Laden, there was the Grand Wizard Nathan Forest. It was not in the caves of Afghanistan but at a convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1867, the Klan was declared as “the Invisible Empire of the South.” In their night raids, KKK did not cry out Allahu Akbar - but they burnt crosses on the lawns of churches and public spaces. Shall we tally these acts on a terrorism scoreboard?

About two years ago, in early 2009, Ali Mohammad, a father, husband and an Imam for the high desert Muslim community, was burnt alive in his own house while tied to a chair. It is well you should gasp. It was reported that on the walls of his house graffiti was painted that said: "F*** you Arab," "KKK”, “sand n**er”, and "go home Arab".
A few months later a Mosque in Cypress was vandalized with graffiti, reading, "F**k You”, "we're going to kill you”, and "US Military is going to kill you all."
And on the evening of February 13, 2011 in Yorba Linda was a replay of the morning of Sunday, November 14, 1960 when five little girls braved the mob and entered into McDonogh #19 Elementary School, in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At the Yorba Linda event on February 13th, as I was tending the main door, a young Muslim girl, clinging to her father’s chest asked me this:“What do we do after the program – how do we go back to our cars without being beaten up by these people?” I clenched my fist, bit my tongue, hid a tear in my eye and replied to this young Muslim: “Don’t you worry my little sister. We will still be here and they will be gone.”

I did not live the ugly sixties but I am reminded of a poet, philosopher, activist - Leroi Jones (later named Amiri Baraka after conversion to Islam) who reflected on those times: “It is hard enough to be a human being under any circumstances, but when there is an entire civilization determined to stop you from being one, things get a little more desperately complicated. What do you do then?”

I wonder if the young girl I spoke with on February 13 asks herself the same question: “what do I do now?”

Friends … She may or may not ask that question, but I find myself asking it on behalf of many young Muslims in schools or answering the many mothers who find their car vandalized after they return from shopping (as it happened in Anaheim) and so many of our community members whose Mosques are vandalized (two of them within these past few weeks – as recently as one yesterday in Los Angeles) - “what do we do now?”

I ask you the same question: “what would you do differently than what Muslims in America are doing today?”

It is in the search for the answer to this question, my friends, I invite you to commit tonight to be fiercely vigilant and humbly virtuous in our collective efforts to meet the formidable challenges that face us in our country today. For most of us, it should be an urgent question of power and morality. For Muslims, it is an everyday matter of life.

And in some cases death.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Perspective from West for the Middle East

The revolutions in Middle East today are rooted in two historical calamities of the last century.

The first major historical calamity is Colonialism – (from middle to the 90’s of last century) - divided the entire region into colonial entities delinking the historically linked peoples and communities whose language, culture & faith for the most part was shared.

For example, Syria became a French colony and Iraq was occupied by British and neither people were able to travel, communicate or trade with eachother.
Another interesting example of colonialism is in South Asia which was although occupied by only one foreign power - British - but yet the populations of India and Pakistan were kept separate and hostile to each other.

The second major historical calamity is the Cold War era – another source of delinking the countries and dividing the societies. Countries that were together for centuries became enemies.

For example, Turkey was (& is) part of NATO and Syria was pro-Soviet. And Yemen became a divided population – partly Communist and partly traditionally Islamic. Same was the case in South Asia – India embraced Soviet Union and Pakistan was courted by the United States.

We may say that the uprisings & revolutions in Middle East now are a “delayed historical correction”. They should have happened in the late 80s and 90s just as it happened in the Eastern Europe.

Post colonialism and cold war, the West preferred that the Arab countries remain in the hands of authoritarian regimes – primarily for their geopolitical interests – that is now framed in the name to prevent the “Islamist radicalism” for the good of regimes and the population!

So the foreign colonial masters were replaced by domestic dictators – yet serving the foreign colonial master. Populations knew all along of the “grand chess game” (Brezenski) but the yoke of oppression was on their necks and the barrel of the gun on their head that kept them quiet but angry.

And what we see today is that anger … among ordinary Arabs – may they be Tunisians or Egyptians or Libyans or Syrians who are totally determined to help history correct itself – they are simply reclaiming their own dignity and restoring their right to their own resources and destiny.

Of course there are four other important factors that contributed to the unfolding of uprisings & revolutions …

first demographics … a phenomena termed as “the youth bulge” – that has been itching to challenge the powerful - unlike their parents & grandparents … for example the data indicates of the youth under age 24 in Yemen at 65%, Saudi Arabia and Iraq at 62%, Iran at 59% and Algeria at 57%.

When we examine the social movement[s] of the past – we will always find two major components in its success – (1) that the youth plays a major part in bringing about a change and (2) that they are dozed in or inspired by either spirituality or nationalism.

second the birth of internet - connecting the people across the region “digitally” despite of the (artificial and) physical barriers throughout the region
… diversion for a minute – the geographical arrangement of the Middle East is almost diametrically opposite to the geographical model in Europe – (a) although it’s smaller in size than Middle East – yet it’s declared as a continent – (b) most European countries have their distinctly unique culture unlike in Middle East, (c) most Europeans have their own language (French do not speak Dutch) unlike in Middle East, and (d) now Europe is a Union without barriers (for the most part) and Middle East has been kept divided …

So the physical but artificial barriers that were erected in Middle East post colonialism – that still remains alive and well – are now broken by the digital age … people are no longer subjected by the censorship of “foreign perspectives” on one hand while on the other hand conditioning the populace with the “propaganda” best suited for the continuity of dictators ….

third – the 24X7 media first from CNN & then to Al- Jazeera (1996) – a phenomena that, despite its brief history, has changed the face of a formerly parochial Arab media and the political equation in the entire Middle East. We can confidently say that there is a pre-Al Jazeera and a post-al Jazeera era in Middle East.

The walls erected by Colonialism and the Cold War are now broken, near completely !

fourth - social media – a 21st century phenomena … Facebook & Twitter did not invent courage but undoubtedly facilitated the “deepening of courage” and “broadening the courageous” --- as is abundantly evidenced in the unfolding revolutions in Middle East.

Digital media (Internet, Satellite broadcast & the social media) is now a paradox for the dictators … the very medium that enabled them to stifle change has accelerated it.

Now all of the Middle East is set on an irreversible course of change – most important of which, I believe, is complete absence of fear and near total presence of courage. No people can ever progress and prosper without these two basic aspects in any human endeavor.

People in the Middle East have now figured out the recipe for their destiny. Question is how we in the West will respond to their intense passion to be simply free and fight for the right of self determination.

We must now understand that these societies were bound to reconnect themselves some day …. their communities, tribes and ethnicities after all share a common destiny.

Patronizing would simply not work.

We need to undertake four simple but equally important steps.

• First save lives and protect property.
• Second help them to restore a level of new-normalcy.
• Third assist them in rebuilding what is lost.
• Fourth work with them as equal partners for the greater good.

Without these four equally critical steps, I am afraid we will be seen as an opportunist and hence will be dealt as such.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Museum of Intolerance does it again!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UN Resolutions - Who Resolves What for Whom & Why?

To ignore the ethical disparities of United States love and hate for United Nations is near foolish. United Nations is loved by the United States only when its resolutions are for any country but Israel.

The United States has vetoed nearly all of UN resolutions toward Israel’s perpetual rejection of international law for many decades. But the United States is always ever ready to embrace and over-zealously implement UN resolution[s] against Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. Any sane person with snail's brain ought to question these disparities if not expose them.

The world now knows why United States jumped in to save Iraqis from Iranians, Kuwaitis from Iraqis and now allowing Saudis to save Bahrainis from Bahrainis. It was not for and has never been to save the lives of innocent people but to rob their natural resources and advance its geo-political interests.

The United States humanitarian concern is always selective and questionable. Yes for Libya but not for Bahrain and Yemen.

People of reason must remain vigilant toward the United States' rationale for United Nations resolutions that it either authors or supports and acknowledge them for what they are - they are a license to kill innocent people in the name of protecting them, but only in certain countries. Go figure Yankee!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


A presentation on Islamophobia at Media Reform Summit at Occidental College by Shakeel Syed

History teaches us that in every era demagogues spread hateful propaganda against marginalized religious and ethnic minorities, often as a prelude to violence ...
Here are some examples of propaganda - couched in satire - to condition the minds of populace … “big nosed mean carpenter” … the “big-lip-mama” … the diseased illegal aliens (according to Lou Dobbs) and of course the feathered Chiefs, the Japs, the Huns, the Reds and now the Towel-heads …

And such propaganda is almost always followed by violence … remember Wounded Knee; Kunta-Kinte and Manzanar … and now in our times, it is Bagram, Abu Gharaib, Guantanamo and the Renditions!

I am reminded of an example of how one people can be conditioned for “total demonization” of another people …

A hijabi clad Muslim doctor spoke of Mr. Johnson, a blind patient who not knowing of his own physician said this … “Muslims must be hung naked with the nooses from Home Depot … we will save our country, cheap”

T. S. Eliot has a chilling phrase in his play - Murder in the Cathedral … “sin grows with doing good.”

So now some righteous people in our nation have taken up this responsibility of doing good … “getting rid of the diseased,” “healing the nation” and “giving prosperity to the wretched!”

Islamophobia today is cheered by the Chinese-made American flag- waving patriots in the leadership of Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and the ilk … and as a result of their bullhorn our communities are directly impacted from Adelanto to Tennessee and Temecula to Madera.

In some cities, “patriots” protest against building or expanding of Mosques and in other towns – Mosques are simply torched – such as in the City of Adelanto where an Imam was tied to his chair & burnt alive (2008)… similarly a copy of the Quran was actually burnt and placed at the door of one of our member Mosques in Costa Mesa - unlike the Pastor in Florida who planned to burn Quran but spared us with his adventure.

And I am sure most of you have heard of the hate filled circus in Temecula Valley – not to mention a recent circus in Yorba Linda and earlier in Lomita, Cypress and Mission Viejo among others. Not to mention scores of hate crimes against young Muslim students – particularly girls with Hijab …

OC Human Relations Commission reported this (2009) …

- Hate crimes against Muslims & Arabs have risen at a highest rate since 2001
- Twice as many hate crimes from 2008 and almost equal to the 2003/2004 levels
- 50% increase in hate crimes targeting people, because of their religious beliefs --- and
- Hate crimes at religious places have increased by four times
Another angle at play is economics in the business of hate mongering. Islamophobia is now a cash cow industry. Near unknown and obscure people are made out to be "Islam experts" teach the world to keep an eye out on the next door neighbor just as LA Police Department wanted to accomplish in their now defunct Muslim Mapping Program but succeeded in deploying their i-Watch Program.

Most Muslims now say - it is time to move on ... Here are some ways Muslims are working to undo the damage - with the help of good people like youselves …

• Helping good Americans – thru’ dialogs & debates, seminars and symposiums, papers and projects - about the social cancer of Islamophobia and that it should be just as unacceptable as anti-Semitism and homophobia in our society today.
• Working with faith communities and their congregations for conversations on interreligious relations and co-existence with mutual respect for each other.
• Asking media to feature programs that deal with the scope and dangers of Islamophobia just as they do with anti-Semitism.
• Demanding from Politicians to demonstrate their integrity and denounce those of their party who are willing to trade hate speech for votes.
• Working with fellow citizens to reclaim a vision of America in which all citizens - regardless of their religion or lack of it are respected for who they are rather than otherwise.

In addition, for me personally, most encouraging are our programs that offer …

• Scholarships for young Muslims to pursue journalism, media studies, etc
• Hands on workshops teaching writing, speaking, producing their own independent work as they see it rather than relying on mainstream corporate media

My friends – some in our country are addicted – seemingly for life – to create the “other” and then perpetuate hate against them. But then, there is also you – who not only does not run in the opposite direction when you hear the name Muslim or Islam but in fact run toward to stop, listen and challenge the discourse if it is hateful. And it is in you I have hope for a better America that does not hate anyone but loves all, unconditionally.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Revolt to Revolution

Blessed be the [Egyptian] revolutionaries for they are the peacemakers. Peaceful revolt in Egypt has shown the world that when the wretched of the earth rise, the tyrants flee.

Egyptians must not stop at the fleeing of the Mubarak. They must demand the ouster of Mubarak’s cabal and make them meet their fate in the court of law.

Egypt has rediscovered its most awesome asset – the young believers, passionate and resilient who have reclaimed the dignity and honor of their nation. Egyptians have realized that it is only them who can restore the legacy of Misr as Umm ad-Dounia. Egyptians have dispelled the myth that Arab countries are neither suited for democracy nor may welcome modernity. Their courage and perseverance has shattered this fallacy. They now have to begin the real work – to transform the nation and do it in a hurry. Here are some key pre-requisites for a true Egyptian revolution.

1. Rid the country from all the tyrants’ partners. They have no place in your new Egypt.
2. Write a new constitution that shares and checks the powers of all.
3. Re-engineer all system[s] that serves the people and complete your revolution.
4. Reject the “guidance” from the international community.
5. Refuse to pay all debts incurred by the tyrant & refuse to accept any new loans.
6. Reclaim your dual heritage of being African and Arab.
7. Restore the historical legacy of Egypt that embraces people of all faiths and traditions.

The path to ultimate freedom in your country can only come from the circles & corners - streets & squares of your country. So keep marching forward and complete your revolt to the revolution … Si Si Peude to you and Mabrook la-Mubarak.

Friday, January 28, 2011

O Lord – the wretched of the earth have risen

The wretched of the earth have risen
O Lord – do not save the tyrants

The hungry of the world are singing
The weak of the world are swinging
The oppressed of the world are smiling
O Lord – do not save the tyrants

O Lord – do not save the tyrants and
The brothers of the tyrants, and
The helpers of the tyrants,
The hypocrites who hail the tyrants,
O Lord – do not save the tyrants

O Lord – do not save the tyrants
From Maghrib to Iskandaria
From the Mediterranean to the Red Sea
From the Medina of Tunis to the Medina of the Prophet
O Lord – do not save the tyrants

O Lord – do not save the tyrants, and
Grant the wretched a scent of the freedom
Give the wretched a taste of dignity
Honor the wretched with crowns on their heads
O Lord – the wretched of the earth have risen
by Shakeel Syed – Jan 28, 2011 – reflecting on the Middle East uprising[s].

Friday, January 21, 2011

Role of Religion in Palestine/Israel Conflict - A Muslim Perspective

Presentation at Pepperdine University – Malibu on Jan 19, 2011
Topic – Role of Religion (or lack there of) in Palestine/Israel Conflict – A Muslim perspective by Shakeel Syed
I begin in the name of God (the Creator of all of us), All praise be to God, the Most Compassionate & the Most Merciful, Lord of the Worlds.

Muslims are commanded to recognize the Jews and the Christians as, “People of the Book” a special status granted by Islam to the fraternity of monotheists – (2:62).

Moses and Jesus are my brothers, said Muhammad. (peace & blessings be upon all of them).

Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem are cities of great reverence in Quran. Jerusalem has multiple distinctions: it was the first and the original Qibla (direction of prayer), Muslims prayed towards and the miraculous journey of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to the Al-Aqsa Mosque before ascending to the heavens.

The chapter 17 of Quran (al-Isra), refers as follows: “Glory be to God who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) to Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) whose precincts We did bless - in order that We might show him some of Our signs.”

It is these aspects – Al-Quds being the first Qibla -- the travel of Prophet Muhammad to the heavens thru al-Aqsa -- the birthplace & the ascension of Prophet Jesus to the heavens and the resting place of Prophet Abraham in Hebron – which connects all Muslims to the land that is holy to all of us. And perhaps this is the only extent to which religion plays a role in the place and not necessarily a role in the conflict.

Karen Armstrong in her book Jerusalem: One City Three Faiths, writes that Umar Ibn al Khattab, the Islamic leader (Caliph) at the time, “expressed the monotheistic ideal of compassion more than any previous conqueror of Jerusalem, with the possible exception of King David. He presided over the most peaceful and bloodless conquest that the city had seen in its long and often tragic history. Once the Christians had surrendered, there was no killing, no destruction of property, no burning of rival religious symbols, no expulsions or expropriations, and no attempt to force the inhabitants to embrace Islam. If a respect for the previous occupants of the city is the sign of the integrity of a monotheistic power, Islam began its long tenure in Jerusalem very well indeed.”
The Islamic rule was interrupted by the brutal conquest of Crusades who persecuted and banished not only Muslims, but also Jews and Orthodox Christians from Jerusalem. It was not until Islamic forces, under the leadership of Salah-ed-Din (Saladin), invited all to return as he held this city sacred. (I urge you to relive these times in Ridley Scott’s – Kingdom of Heaven). For the most part, the indigenous Jews, Christians, and Muslims continued to live in harmony even during the Ottomans Empire.
But today, after several decades, this sacred city is full of bad faith: bad faith engendered by the seizing of land, expulsion of the indigenous population, denial of re-entry, and colonizing the rest of the land.
As a person born in India to parents who lived under the Victorian Majesty, I understand a thing or two about colonization. Let me share some examples from the discriminatory policies of Israel.

The Israeli Law of Return, I argue, is inherently racist because it provides automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jew born anywhere in the world. My good friend Rabbi Mark Diamond can, if he so wishes, become an Israeli citizen with all its privileges under this Law of Return, just as the current Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, did. Mr. Oren’s is a rather exclusive case. He did his Aliyah and then chose to renounce his American citizenship in order to become the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.

Juxtapose the distinct privilege of being Jewish against a Christian or Muslim Palestinian who may have been born and raised in--and later displaced from--what is now Israel and that person is denied the right to return home.
Similarly we know of the Absentee Law that is the basis for justifying government land acquisition and transfer of the same from native Palestinians to Jewish settlers. The Absentee Law had a sweeping effect on the Palestinian Arab population and created a basic premise for future land confiscation and treating these forced absentees as “internal refugees,” now accounting for about 25% of all Palestinian citizens in Israel.

The Planning & Construction Law has an impact on hundreds of Palestinian Arab communities in Israel as “unrecognized villages” as they were not incorporated into the planning schemes and instead classified as agricultural. Consequently, the indigenous Palestinians in these unrecognized villages are near completely deprived of paved roads, sanitation, water, electricity, schools and medical services. Interestingly, surrounding these unrecognized villages are exclusively Jewish settlements with all amenities.

This brings us to the “Jewish only settlements” in the occupied Palestinian territory in West Bank inhabited by more than 400,000 settlers and growing, all of whom enjoy full citizenship rights of Israel, yet they do not live in Israel proper.

With the Jewish only settlements comes The Wall, 600+ checkpoints, hundreds of militia outposts, roadblocks, exclusive Jewish-only roads, separate schools, public facilities…And then there are the home demolitions, confiscation of the land of indigenous Palestinians who are forcibly evicted in middle of the night at gunpoint. This is especially evident in East Jerusalem where evicted Palestinian families are living in tents on the pavement across from the very homes in which they used to live and which now are occupied by Jewish families under police protection.

Discussing peace from our position of comfort is definitely a “good idea”, just as Gandhi replied when asked what he thought of democracy.

But to a mother in occupied Palestine who watches each day the Jewish-only settlements with swimming pools, paved roads, parks, and libraries, peace may seem rather distant, just as the idea of democracy was to Gandhi under British colonization.

This Palestinian mother and millions like her do not look at this conflict as a matter of religion but rather a matter of gross political and racial injustice.

In whose name and what faith can we justify this prolonged occupation, subjugation and humiliation of a people left with nothing but crumbs, cowering behind the walls and the barbed wires for decades?
The occupied always resist and eventually prevail … The French ousted the Germans; the Algerians kicked out the French; the Black South Africans threw out the White apartheid regime; the Irish sent the British home; the Afghans ousted the Soviets (and are now resisting the American occupation); and Kashmiris continue to resist the Indian occupation. And the Palestinians continue to heroically resist the Israeli occupation and its total monopoly over power, resources and their movement.
A prominent South African, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, reminds us with these profound words … "My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?"

My friends, I believe that Palestine is already at its knees militarily, but I also believe that the Palestinians are standing tall on their feet and when a population rises up as we are seeing in Tunisia no military power could ever make them sit down, forever.

The Holy Quran calls Jews and Christians “The People of the Book” and Abraham our common father.

“Moses and Jesus are my brothers,” said Muhammad (peace & blessings be upon them). And that makes you - Christians and Jews - my cousins.

So I call upon all of us tonight – the extended family of Abraham - to recognize that our Abrahamic religions invite us to “be-come” better people and I pray that none of our religions mistakenly believe that we already are a better people!
May peace be with you.