Posts Tagged ‘ Patriot Act ’

Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice

As Reported by Sharon Otterman for The New York Times

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He was buried after the Sept. 11 attacks with full honors from the New York Police Department, and proclaimed a hero by the city’s police commissioner. He is cited by name in the Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor.

And Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress, was brought to tears during a Congressional hearing in March while describing how the man, a Pakistani-American from Queens, had wrongly been suspected of involvement in the attacks, before he was lionized as a young police cadet who had died trying to save lives.

Despite this history, Mohammad Salman Hamdani is nowhere to be found in the long list of fallen first responders at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Nor can his name be found among those of victims whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the north tower, where his body was finally discovered in 34 parts.

Instead, his name appears on the memorial’s last panel for World Trade Center victims, next to a blank space along the south tower perimeter, with the names of others who did not fit into the rubrics the memorial created to give placements meaning. That section is for those who had only a loose connection, or none, to the World Trade Center.

The placement of Mr. Hamdani’s name has fueled the continuing concern and anger about how his legacy was treated soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, when, apparently because of his Pakistani roots, Muslim religion and background as a biochemistry major at Queens College, he fell under suspicion.

His name appeared on a flier faxed to police stations; newspaper headlines amplified his status as a person wanted for questioning.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” his mother, Talat Hamdani, 60, said last week at her home in Lake Grove on Long Island, her voice filled with pain. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

To Mrs. Hamdani, that her son would not be recognized at the memorial as an official first responder was the latest in a series of injustices that began with a knock on her door from two police officers in October 2001. She, her husband and two other sons had been searching morgues and hospitals for his body. But the officers wanted to ask questions, and they asked for a picture from the refrigerator that showed Mr. Hamdani, 23 when he died, at his Queens College graduation next to a friend who Mrs. Hamdani had told them was from Afghanistan.

It was around the same time that Mr. Hamdani’s official police cadet picture was circulating through police stations on a flier with the handwritten words “Hold and detain. Notify: major case squad,” The New York Times later reported. Investigators visited Mr. Hamdani’s dentist and confiscated his dental records, his mother learned.

It was not until March 2002, when the family was finally informed that Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found in the wreckage more than five months earlier, that the public cloud over his name cleared.

It turned out his was a classic New York story. His family had immigrated from Pakistan when he was 13 months old, his father opening a candy store, his mother becoming a middle school teacher. Mr. Hamdani attended Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until the eighth grade, and then played football for Bayside High School in Queens.

He became a certified emergency medical technician and spent a year volunteering for MetroCare, a private ambulance company. He was a police cadet for three years and had taken the test to enter the academy, but was waiting to see if he was accepted to medical school.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his family and friends believed, Mr. Hamdani, traveling to work at a DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University, must have seen the burning towers from the elevated subway tracks in Queens and gone down to help.

“We have an example of how one can make the world better,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said of Mr. Hamdani. The mayor was one of the dignitaries who appeared at Mr. Hamdani’s funeral, which was held with full police honors at a mosque off East 96th Street in April 2002.

“Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

For years, Mrs. Hamdani believed that the police had fully acknowledged her son’s sacrifice. She cherished the weighty brass police cadet badge that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, had given her, to dispel any doubts about who her son had been.

So it was with shock that she received a notification from the Sept. 11 memorial in 2009 that Mr. Hamdani’s name would be listed among those with “loose connections” to the World Trade Center where they died.

She tried calling politicians, even writing a letter to President Obama, from whom she received a respectful but vague hand-signed reply. Her son’s placement had fallen through bureaucratic cracks.

There is no section at the memorial for informal rescue workers, first responders in the literal sense, who were believed to have voluntarily gone to the towers to help but who were not yet full-fledged members of an approved first-responder agency.

Organized groups of victims’ family members settled on the concept of “meaningful adjacency” to guide the placement of names, allowing them to place victims’ names next to those of people they worked with or knew. That was no help in the case of Mr. Hamdani, who had apparently not known anyone there.

“That’s where the model falls down,” said Thomas H. Rogér, a member of the memorial foundation’s board who was deeply involved in those discussions. “That was the sad part about it. If you weren’t affiliated with one of the groups that had a constituency that was at the table, when we were carrying out all these negotiations, then nobody was representing your cause.”

Meanwhile, the Police Department did not include Mr. Hamdani’s name on its own list of the fallen because “he was still a student,” said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. A police cadet is the equivalent of a paid college intern with the department, Mr. Browne said, and is not a full-fledged police officer or a recruit enrolled at the academy.

“But that did not take away from Mohammad’s actions that day,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. “If anything, it magnified them. He didn’t have to respond. It wasn’t his job, but he did anyway.”

Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York City, said acknowledging Mr. Hamdani as a first responder “would be a great gesture to say to the community that we recognize that we have Muslim-Americans who risked their lives or lost their lives on that day, and for that we thank you.”

Mr. Rogér, of the memorial foundation, wondered if Mr. Hamdani’s name could appear in the Police Department’s section of the memorial with an asterisk noting that he was a police cadet. The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, also suggested some compromise.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the N.Y.P.D. and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” she said in an e-mail.

Mrs. Hamdani, who has started a Queens College scholarship in her son’s name, is still unsure of how much she wants to press the issue. Pride, in the end, is the overwhelming feeling she has for her son.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani recalled saying as she stood before his name and the memorial’s pouring waterfalls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “By your actions the world remembers you.”

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The National Defense Authorization Act: Our Disappearing Rights and Liberties

By Alton Lu for The Huffington Post

Back in the beginning stages of the War on Terrorism, President Bush enacted the Patriot Act. This allowed the government to spy on citizens, monitoring their activities in order to discern whether or not someone is a terrorist. It brought about changes in law enforcement that allowed agencies to search phones, financial records, etc.

One of the most controversial aspects of the law is authorization of indefinite detention of non-U.S. citizens. Immigrants suspected of being terrorists would be detained without trial until the War on Terrorism finished.

On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed a law known as the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2012 fiscal year, or the H.R. 1540. Congress passes this act every year to monitor the budget for the Department of Defense. However, this year the NDAA bill has passed with new provisions that should have the entire country up with pitchforks.

Normally, this is just an act which details the monetary calls of the Department of Defense which is passed every year. However, the act passed for the 2012 fiscal year changes the bill and can be seen as an extension of the Patriot Act. Now, the indefinite detention has been extended to U.S. citizens as well. If people are spied on and suspected of being terrorists, they may be detained indefinitely without trial.

In a country famous for the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, this is an upsetting change that is being foisted upon the American people with many unaware of what it means.

The provisions of the Patriot Act allow the government to spy upon U.S. citizens and the NDAA allows the government to whisk a citizen away for no reason other than being suspected of terrorism.

So why has this law been passed when it is very easily seen as unconstitutional? The Fourth Amendment grants liberty from unreasonable seizures, while the Sixth guarantees every U.S. citizen a trial in front of a jury. No matter what supporters of the bill might have said about the provisions being misunderstood, the simple fact is that it is unconstitutional.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has made arguments for this provision, stating that the law would apply for US citizens’ turncoats who have aided Al-Qaeda or other associated organization. He gave a long-winded story of how a U.S. citizen might fly to Pakistan to receive terrorist training, then return home and shoot down fellow citizens a few miles from the airport.

It’s a disgusting show that Graham is pulling. He has made an example of how a single U.S. citizen might become a turncoat and because of that possible risk, the citizen’s right to a trial and jury has been abolished.

Supporter of the NDAA, Representative Tim Griffin stated in the Daily Caller:

Section 1022’s use of the word ‘requirement’ also has been misinterpreted as allowing U.S. citizens to be detained, but this provision does not in any way create this authority. This provision must be read in the context of Section 1022’s purpose, which is reflected in its title and relates solely to ‘military custody of foreign al Qaida terrorists.’ The term “requirement” does not mean that detention of U.S. citizens is optional under this provision.

He merely states that the people have ‘misinterpreted’ the provisions within the bill.

This is a situation in which they are able to detain U.S. citizens, but they won’t because that’s wrong. I will repeat: “They are allowed through the NDAA to detain U.S. citizens, but they won’t because that’s wrong.”

Similar to Griffin’s response, President Obama has released a statement regarding the H.R. 1540
(NDAA):

Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

President Obama says that his administration will not authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens. Yet Obama also said that he would close Guantanamo Bay. Obama also said he would recall the troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Obama also said he would end the Bush tax cuts.

It doesn’t matter the reason these promises were not kept. What matters is that they weren’t. Obama says his administration will not authorize the indefinite detention of citizens. But that could change. The interpretation of this bill can change on a dime. These politicians who say there is nothing to fear could quickly change whenever they see fit.

These implications grow larger as we know there is no single accepted definition of terrorism present in the United States. The State Department defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

Under this definition, the entire United States can be seen as terrorists. The government had planned the operations in Iraq and has resulted in over 100,000 civilian deaths. It can also be said that the U.S. is changing views of terrorism throughout the world… influencing an audience. Terrorism cannot be specifically defined as attacks against the United States; therefore, the United States might have been terrorizing parts of the Middle East.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has stated that there are laws regarding terrorist suspects in America in place by the Department of Justice. Issues such as having an armed weapon or having a food supply lasting at least seven days can be grounds for terrorism.

I look to my well-supplied pantry filled with foods my loving mother had purchased from Costco. I’m not one to count it all, but I’d say it would last my entire family over a week.

My father legally owns a handgun. There’s something about protecting his family that is important to him, so he keeps a gun nearby.

I am writing a story that is against what the politicians in Washington have voted for. Can I be seen as aiding Al-Qaeda because I am attempting to change the views of the public to something that is against government; because there is a gun in my home and we have a well-supplied pantry?

Can I be seen as a terrorist under the definition of terrorism? Yes I can. Will I? I hope not.

Alton Lu is an 18 year old high school senior. Alton Lu: I see the name as the most uncommon thing about myself. I’m just a typical teenager in a stereotypical high school residing an in un-extraordinary town. I enjoy pretending that I’m a modern-day philosopher and political activist while still living out the generic high school experience. I am now embarking on the longest, most extensive campaign to the presidency. If you agree with my views, look forward to voting for me in about thirty years. If you disagree…I hope you’ll still vote for me.

All American Muslims Better Get Ready for a New Reality

By Nida Khan for The Huffington Post

While many Muslims (and people outside the faith for that matter) were heavily embedded in a debate over the controversy surrounding hardware store Lowe’s and its recent decision to remove ads from TLC’s reality show All American Muslim, a more detrimental attack against their future was all but finalized. Reversing an earlier decision to veto provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, President Obama made the disturbing announcement that he would sign this legislation into law and thereby solidify the ability of the military and other factions to indefinitely detain anyone they deem an enemy of the state. And on New Year’s Eve, the President unfortunately made good on this promise with the stroke of his pen. At a time when the United States is grossly engaged in both active combat and covert drone campaigns in a multitude of Muslim nations, and when loosely defined terms like ‘terrorist’ can be arbitrarily thrown about, Muslims specifically — and all of society generally — shouldn’t take this disturbing development lightly.

In post-9/11 America, many have sadly grown accustomed and tolerant to routine practices of racial profiling, bias and even attacks against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. But in addition to blatant violence, workplace discrimination and subliminal acts of racism, Muslims have also become aware of another nuance that other Americans may not even realize exists — hesitation to give to charity. Because of fear that any charitable Muslim organization or mosque could suddenly be called out for links to a lone extremist faction (whether it’s justified or not), many pulled their money and cut back on donations to the extent that long-established charities found it virtually impossible to survive. Usually without any valid reason, many stopped supporting Muslim aide groups for the simple notion that anyone, anywhere could at any moment single out that organization and in turn put all those who gave money out of goodwill at risk for associating with them. The victims in all this? The impoverished and destitute in many “third world” countries.

At the same time, tragically, other active Muslims who were entrenched in the community or worked in an organizing capacity (much like our president once did for the disenfranchised), ceased their activities over trepidation as to how their efforts towards equality could one day be misconstrued for something nefarious. The climate of society forced many followers of the Islamic faith to alter their involvement on a plethora of levels. Even today, as forces like the NYPD keep Muslims under intrusive surveillance and continued cases of FBI entrapment emerge, many have stopped attending mosques or interacting too much within the community out of sheer apprehension over unwarranted government action. It is an unfortunate reflection of how marginalized groups often times suffer under the radar without a representative voice in government and in the mainstream.

Throughout modern history, we’ve had other instances of outrageous fear mongering, bias and injustice against those whose patriotism we questioned. Though it is rarely covered in classrooms, the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese and those of Japanese ancestry during WWII is a perfect example. Literally rounded up and “excluded” from living in the cities and towns they resided in, these “suspicious” individuals were interned in camps because their allegiance to the country “could not be determined.”

In 1950, at the height of the great red scare, Congress passed the Internal Security Act which required the American Communist Party, affiliated organizations and all ‘subversives’ to get fingerprinted and officially register with the Attorney General. This draconian law was so outrageous that then-President Harry Truman even vetoed it (though Congress overruled his veto in the end). The truly tragic and troubling thing about today’s NDAA is that President Obama isn’t even attempting to veto it anymore; he is instead giving it his stamp of approval. Even though the president stated that he has “serious reservations” regarding the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists, and even though he emphasizes that his administration will not indefinitely militarily detain American citizens without trial, what happens after he is no longer in office? Future leaders of the free world, after all, have absolutely no obligation to honor Obama’s signing statement, nor follow in his footsteps.

Yes, our first African American president has changed much of the vitriolic language used when covering the topic of terrorism, and yes he has taken great caution to ensure that Muslims and terror itself are not juxtaposed together. For that, he should be commended. But by finalizing the ability of any president to deem persons — including U.S. citizens (if they so interpret this bill) — an enemy that could then be indefinitely detained without charge or without trial, he sets into motion a frightening precedent. As a former constitutional law professor, President Obama should be inherently aware of the impending ramifications.

During the struggle for civil rights, many journalists, activists and those vocal citizens working alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other leaders suddenly found themselves targeted for their activities. Countless advocates became political prisoners and others saw their careers and lives ruined. Now at a time when we already have legislation like the Patriot Act renewed, and warrantless wiretapping is openly put into practice, this defense act not only indoctrinates AUMF (2001 Authorization for use of Military Force) and many activities that were previously in existence, but it also leaves open the possibility of silencing anyone on a level with which we never even imagined.

As American Muslims, we’re happy that some are starting to ease the negative imaging and stereotyping against us, and are instead open to learning more about what the Islamic faith truly stands for. As a routinely alienated group, we’re overly ecstatic when a program like All American Muslim actually portrays us in a light other than that of some extremist radical. But while we should embrace the boycott of Lowe’s for its open bigotry, and praise folks like Russell Simmons for stepping up to the plate to purchase ads for the program, we should put just as much focus into the potential of someone like a Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum taking over the White House and having full reign to detain whomever he pleases. Just remember the Bush-era verbiage of “you’re either with us or against us” and the atmosphere of intolerance that permeated under his presidency, and couple that with the ability of someone with his mentality being able to willfully determine any one of us a “traitor,” lock us up and throw away the key.

If Muslims scaled back their activities in the community and their charitable donations out of paranoia over the unrealistic possibility of being tied to something suspicious, just imagine the fear that will ensue if anyone can be instantly and militarily detained over accusations where the burden of proof won’t even be on the accuser. It is indeed an alarming scenario that can (and in all likelihood will) give new meaning to the term reality — no TV required.

Nida Khan is an independent journalist and producer working in print, radio and TV. As a news correspondent for WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM NY, she has covered everything from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to protests for the defense of Sean Bell.

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