Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear of a Brown Planet: Some Reflections On the New Immigration Law in Arizona

The announcement of Arizona's latest push against "illegal" immigrants really did take most of us by surprise. Sure, there are ongoing tensions about the issue of undocumented workers streaming across borders in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas...or arriving by other means in other parts of the United States.

Yet few people outside the state had a hint that Governor Jan Brewer would sign a bill that literally puts most Arizonans of Latino origin in a separate racial category under the most severe legal scrutiny that one could imagine.

Indeed, the new immigration laws make it practically mandatory for law enforcement officers in Arizona to stop people who "look" to be Latino/Latina and compel them to produce documentation proving their immigration status. And this doesn't just mean persons being arrested for the suspicion of committing crime. It means , literally, anyone who, based purely on their race/appearance, is suspected of possibly being in the USA without proper documentation. And if the papers aren't produced, the suspect faces a fine of up to $2,500, a jail sentence of six months, and in the worst case, deportation.

( I presume here-and this is a generalization-that people of 'European" phenotype are unlikely to be presumed targets of the law.

But Latino organizations, and their allies across the racial line, are not taking this lying down. Numerous organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council for La Raza, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, are staging press conferences, mass rallies and marches in opposition to the new law. Allied civil rights organizations like the National Action Network have announced plans to bring masses of "Freedom Walkers" to Arizona, and march in the streets-without proof of citizenship-in open, nonviolent defiance of Governor Brewer's edict.

Muslim organizations, too, are not remaining silent about the issue, and political alliances between Muslim and Latino civil rights formations are already starting to take on a new sense of urgency.

Further, the economic consequences of the enforcement of the new law are likely to be sticky: There is even talk now that the law will make it harder for Arizona to generate revenue from foreign trade in the Americas, or to entice tourists from the region who will, no doubt, feel much less welcome in the state because of their ethnic identities. There will certainly be court challenges to the legality of this new legislation. Moreover, Arizona-like South Carolina a few years ago-is not likely to be a prime location for conferences and conventions of organizations representing people of color.

And the numerous Latino police officers in the state may well start to feel like the African township police who were enlisted by racist South African security forces to become a first line of defense of Apartheid.against true Black freedom. Ironically, some of them, while out of uniform, are likely to get the same racist treatment from white cops that they will demonstrate to their own brothers and sisters suspected of being in the US illegally.

But the real backlash against this move may well be felt at the ballot box in November, when mobilized Latino voters, and their allies, are certain to show their response in November, 2010 to Governor Brewer and the state legislature.

America does need massive immigration reform. But there is widespread sentiment among many of us that this law is a divisive, unjust, and morally indefensible way to go about it. This legislation amounts to the equivalent of a "Pass" law reminiscent of racist South Africa-or the treatment of Arabs and Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The political Right-wing may see this as a cheap way to mobilize anti-immigrant passion in America and crystallize that sentiment into another political rock to be hurled against the Obama administration. But the obverse side of the coin means that Latinos, and many others, will organize as well.

The Tea Party cry of "vote the scoundrels out" may well come back to haunt the architects of this perfidious piece of color-coded legislation, as it breathes new oxygen into the growing fire of Latino political power in Arizona, and across the nation.

Immigration reform by discrimination and ethnic intimidation may appeal to crude xenophobia and even racial prejudice. But this sort of legislation is absolutely not the way forward.

Ibrahim Ramey

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Onward Christian Soldier, Part 2

Onward Christian Soldier, Part 2: The Reverend Franklin Graham Says:
"It's Time to Prey"

On May 6th, there will be a National Day of Prayer, with services held at the Pentagon and other
military facilities in the country. A number of Christian ministers have been invited to take part in the event, including the Reverend Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelist and son of the venerable and much respected Reverend Billy Graham, arguably the single most recognized minister in the Protestant Christian world.

So what's the big deal? Simply this: The younger Reverend Graham has gone on record as stating, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, that Islam is an "evil" religion, and he has apparently not changed this sentiment or retracted those words. At least one watch dog organization has objected to Rev. Franklin Graham's presence in the program and is demanding that he be dis-invited from speaking at the event.

This is not an essay intended to bash conservative Christians, or even to suggest that people who vehemently hate Islam ( and Muslims) don't have a right to the free expression of those ideas. After all, both freedom of religion and speech are individual, and even,sacred rights protected by our Constitution. But for the Pentagon ( or any other government institution) to invite participation from Rev. Graham, or any other person with belligerent and extreme views about a world religion of more than one and a half billion followers, raises serious questions about the sound judgment of officials entrusted with the defense of this nation.

I'll suspend my own judgments about the war system ( and the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) to make another observation: Muslim Americans in uniform are not the only people likely to be greatly offended by this invitation. Jews, Hindus, and other religious minorities in the armed services ( not to mention people with no defined religious creeds) may take exception to a Christian minister who excoriates another religion, while, presumably, his own religious community gets a free, and exclusive, pass to Heaven. Is there truly a "right" religion for the people of the United States? Is the conservative/evangelical interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus (Peace by Upon Him) the only correct way to view Christ? And are we prepared to endorse the idea that it is only Muslims who have ever committed abominable acts in the name of faith?

One wonders if Rev, Graham has ever heard of Auschwitz, or the Inquisition, or the numerous acts of barbarity and genocide committed by individuals and nations that did not profess to be Muslim. Or whether the Biblical commandment to "love thy neighbor" only applies to Christians with neighbors of the same religion.

I believe that prayer is a wonderful spiritual exercise, especially in a world that is so badly in need of peace and compassion. But sadly, that is not the form of supplication that we experience from Rev. Graham and his co-religionists. They, quite bluntly, appeal to the ideas and sentiments of religious bigotry and intolerance that cloak themselves in the mantle of self-righteous exclusivity. And calling Islam an "evil" religion will only appear to legitimize this intolerance in the eyes of many in this nation.

There are many, many, strong and principled leaders in the Body of Christ who would be more appropriate representatives of the Christian faith at this National Day of Prayer. Prayer can, indeed, uplift us all without casting aspersions on any single faith community.

Let's not allow Reverend Franklin Graham to ruin this day for any of us, as we search for the mutual respect and cooperation that should bind Christians, Jews, Muslims, and all religious understandings together.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Muslims are Here to Stay: A Reply to Brian Fischer and the American Family Association

Muslims Are Here to Stay: A Reply to Brian Fischer and the American Family Association

I've heard some bizarre, offensive, and wacky things said about Muslims in America, but the recent comments from Brian Fischer, the Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, just about takes the cake: it seems as if Mr. Fischer is beneficent enough to feel that Muslims should be allowed to stay in America-but only if, as he says, we "renounce Islam, Allah, Mohammed, and the Koran (sic) so that "we can not only become good Christians, but true Americans".

Let me see if I have this right. Mr. Fischer thinks that Muslims must renounce our faith in order to become "good" Americans, although, last I heard, neither Christianity nor faith were requisite requirements for citizenship.

But it gets even deeper. Mr Fischer is quoted as saying that "the current objective of Muslim activists is to create a brand new Islamic state-meaning a state like New Jersey of Montana." Not California or Florida, Mr. Fischer? We're not demanding some sunshine and beachfront property as part of the deal?

It would be convenient to dismiss this latest rant as the product of a depraved, xenophobic mind. But that would be wrong, because a great deal of Evangelical Christians in America do listen to the pronouncements and opinions of the American Family Association, and presumably, their Director of Issues Analysis carries some clout in the formulation of the group's policies. So when a large Christian organization claims that Muslims must "convert" in order to be "allowed" to stay in America, Muslims-and anyone with a modicum of respect for religious freedom and pluralism-should wake up and take serious notice.

As a 16th-generation American citizen of African ancestry who accepted Islam in 1993, I might know a few things that Mr. Fischer and his friend seem not to be aware of: First, that Muslim are an authentic part of America, and that our roots in this nation go back even before the arrival of Muslim captives from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Second, that there is no "un-American" religion, and that Muslims have the legal and moral right to practice our religion freely, and without hindrance. And third, that peaceful religious co-existence and the mutual respect of religious differences are values that reflect the best of this society, and ones that are shared by a great majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who make up the diverse mosaic of the American religious landscape.

There is no litmus test for the proper religious identity of a "good" American. But there certainly is a litmus test for xenophobic ignorance and intolerance, and sadly, Brian Fischer and company seems to fail it miserably. And if Mr. Fischer is looking for religious fanatics who threaten domestic tranquility in this nation, he might want to start with the nearly 1,000 identified American militia and racial supremacist groups-made up mostly of white, Christian men-who defy the legitimate authority of the U.S. government, and in some cases, take up arms or plot to attack it.

So, if it's all the same to you, Mr. Fischer, I think that I'll stay right here in the land of my birth. After all, my ancestors-all 16 generations of them-contributed both slave labor and underpaid labor to build this society, and in some cases, they fought fought to defend the best of this nation. The the current population of more than eight million Muslims in America includes some of the most brilliant and dedicated men and women who carry on that tradition of service to our diverse and plural nation. And we don't need the permission of anyone to be here. We will be here, with full belief in the Creator of the universe (Allah, Most Exalted and Glorified), His messenger Muhammad, and the sacred, revealed text of the Holy Qur'an.

The American Family Association may not want Muslims to be here. But while some men plan against Muslims, God plans for us to not only be present in this nation, but to thrive, serve, and lead here as well.

And God Almighty is the best of planners.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One Cheer for the Nuclear Posture review-But Much More is Needed!

President Barack Obama's much-anticipated review on the future strategic role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. war arsenal, and in U.S. military planning, has finally been released. There is something in it for everyone, and some movement in a progressive direction. But there are still things that will need to be done if the United States, and the world, will ever achieve a state of the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons that President Obama has articulated as a goal.

The Nuclear Posture Review does state that the United States will become less reliant on strategic nuclear weapons for possible deployment against non-nuclear weapons states, even in the event of chemical and biological weapons attacks on the United States. This means, for example, that there will be no immediate funding for a new generation of smaller, "tactical" nuclear weapons like the B-61 "Bunker Buster" bombs that were contemplated for use against hardened underground targets in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Further, there will be cuts in the overall U.S. nuclear arsenal, with corresponding reductions in the stockpile of Russian weapons (and, as I understanding, the de-alerting of some U.S. and Russian delivery systems, this reducing the danger of an accidental launch of these weapons.

But before any of us get caught up in false euphoria, there are some major issues that have not been resolved.

First, the U.S. government has not ended there is the persistent, and wasteful, funding of the tens of billions of dollars spent on the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure in the form of the research and development laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Livermore, California, and other research and development centers in the United States. Additional billions are spent to maintain the aging nuclear weapons stockpile, and for the vast security apparatus needed to hopefully keep the weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

This $ 54 billion dollar expense (2009) to U.S. taxpayers is evident of the continued influence of the nuclear war establishment on the national defense budget, even when new policy directives call for a diminished role for the U.S. nuclear weapons "deterrent".

A second problematic issue is the fact that the Nuclear Posture Review doesn't address the issue of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in foreign nations. Where are these weapons actually located? And does their foreign-base deployment increase real security for this nation, or jeopardize that security in an increasingly volatile and violent world? On April 6th, for example, CBS radio News reported that "hundreds" of such weapons are located in Turkey, under joint Turkish-U.S. command and control.
But why is Turkey being used as a forward base for American nuclear arms?

But the most dangerous condition that remains in our world is the fact that, if the United States continues to develop new generations of nukes, even "smaller" ones-while threatening nations like Iran and North Korea over their respective nuclear development programs ( and ignoring the 200 or more Israeli warheads), there will be very little incentive for other countries to honor the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which comes under review later this Spring. Making strategic arsenal reductions is a positive development. But the acid test of President Obama's articulated vision of a nuclear-free world will be an American pledge to not only end the development of new nuclear weapons ( and their launch systems), but a commitment to honor the spirit of Article Six of the NPT and support the formulation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that will compel all nations, as a principle of international law, to begin the process of creating a verifiable, universal abolition of nuclear all weapons.

The President deserves some accolades for moving the nation and the world in the right direction. It is important to reduce strategic nuclear forces, even if tactical nukes still abound. But the nuclear weapons "Hawks" and the corporations that profit so handsomely from manufacturing these weapons of mass annihilation, are still enormously powerful influences on the foreign and military policies of the United States.

The Muslim American Society Freedom (MAS Freedom) advocates for nuclear abolition as one of the twelve points in our 2008-2012 Legislative Agenda. Millions of other people throughout the world are ready for a world without these terrible weapons. We can only hope, and work for, the moral and political popular authority that will make future U.S. policy reviews real steps toward nuclear abolition.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey is also a founding member of the U.S. Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An April Day That I Truly Wish To See

An April Day That I Truly Wish To See

No illegal Israeli settlements?

No blockade of the people of Gaza?

And $19.19 sent to you from the State of Israel?

April Fool!

I'm playing a little on a really clever message that was sent today from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, centered around the fact that U.S. taxpayers will send, per capita, $19.19 this year in foreign assistance to Israel. Much of it goes to underwrite the policies that build and maintain illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territory, and otherwise continue the Israeli policies that deny the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people.

Of course, it's April Fool's Day, the the release is meant in jest. But the continued oppression of the people of Palestine isn't funny at all.

It is also hardly funny that systematic human rights violations committed by Israel are paid for, in part, by money that you and I send to the United States government in the form of taxes. Our elected officials make a big deal-as they should-about the conduct of governments that brutalize, oppress, and otherwise beat down their citizens. But in the case of the Palestinian people, U.S. money is complicit in perpetrating the crimes that other nations are condemned for.

The good news, however, is that there is a rising tide of opposition- from the United Nations to the European Union to faith-based activists from all of the Abrahamic traditions- to the unchecked colonial policies of the Jewish State. It may be convenient to label Muslim critics of Israel as "anti-Semitic", but the canard is harder to stick on the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the head of the European Union.

And as for the tax money we send to support the occupation: It would be sweet if we got that $19.19 back as a rebate, and then sent it on the the let Gaza Live campaign created by MAS Freedom to support efforts to end the embargo of Gaza.

When that embargo ends-and it most certainly will- I will rejoice with the people of Gaza, and all of Palestine.

And that's no joke.