We are a group of scholars, advocates, activists and grassroots organizers who are outraged and deeply concerned by the violence that the United States has committed under the guise of national security. We are outraged that human and civil rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike are so callously rejected in favor of a national security state that purports to be a democracy and the leader of the free world, while furthering undemocratic policies and ideals. We are outraged that so many individuals have suffered from profiling, detention, torture, and murder by virtue of specifically being Muslim or looking Muslim. Our outrage and deep concern, however, makes us proactive citizens who work in our communities to affect positive change, while still engaging the government in much needed policy alternatives.
In acknowledging the harm that has befallen our community of Muslims, Americans, and all other groups that have faced the policy burdens associated with national security policies, we write this letter to categorically reject attendance at the White House Iftar. In contrast to other potential policy changing initiatives where community leadership successfully engages the government and influences the development of beneficial social and foreign policies, this dinner represents nothing more than an attempt to whitewash state violence, absolve government institutions from taking responsibility and creating mechanisms of accountability and transparency for the civil rights violations that have been perpetrated towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, and Americans at large, beginning from even before the onset of the War on Terror.
As those attending the Iftar surely know, the set of counterterrorism policies that have been solidified in the post 9/11 era disproportionately impact Muslim and Muslim Americans, especially some of the most marginalized and structurally vulnerable subsets of our communities, such as immigrants, individuals without status, those living in poverty, and individuals who are already uninformed about their rights. On an international scale, the US has continued to murder thousands of innocent individuals, including women and children, via drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The US has engaged in torture, including force feeding individuals in Guantanamo. Not only have said policies resulted in physical and psychological harm, actions such as the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, and the murder of his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, without any trial or due process, have sent a strong message to the Muslim American community that they are second class citizens whose constitutional rights can be stripped at any time. The Al-Awlaki family is not the only example in which Muslim Americans have been adversely affected by bias in the application of policies. Indeed, Muslim Americans have been subjected to preemptive prosecutions, entrapment, and community-wide surveillance.
Such policies have only further been entrenched during the Obama Administration, a severe disappointment and departure from the positions President Obama ran on during his presidential campaign. Today, surveillance has become an increasingly disturbing problem, whether performed by the NYPD with the help of the CIA, or through agencies such as the FBI and NSA. In fact, as Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain recently revealed, there is no longer any doubt as to whether Muslim Americans have been surveilled, an assertion that comes on the heels of the discovery that several Muslim American leaders have been spied on by the FBI and NSA. Asim Gill, a Muslim American who has been the target of this surveillance stated in response to discovering he was being monitored that, “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.” As Gill’s statement reveals, therefore, no Muslim Americans are exempt from surveillance, even those who strive to be good Americans.
In noting all of these violations of the state towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, we question the notion that events such as the White House iftar, exist as a way for our community to voice their concerns. In past speeches by President Obama during the White House iftars, he has spoken about Muslim American contributions to the United States, without acknowledging, however, the ways in which STATE policies, many of which he is directly responsible for implementing, have effectively diminished our legal and cultural citizenship.
Our objection to attendance at the White House iftar also relates to the degree to which this event substantively changes the course of policies affecting Muslims, or even prioritizes addressing such policies. While we welcome governmental initiatives on community engagement, thus far the aforementioned initiative hasn’t effectively changed punitive policies that disproportionately impact Muslims domestically or abroad. For example, earlier this year, media reports indicated that proposed guidelines on racial profiling by Attorney General Eric Holder will allow the continued mapping of communities of color by the FBI. These federal guidelines are further utilized by local law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions to justify religious profiling of Muslim communities. These federal guidelines are further utilized by local law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions to justify religious and ethnic profiling of Muslim communities. However, such events are used by government officials to put forth the idea that current programs, initiatives, and policies, are supported and passed by input from Muslim communities, because of their active engagement with the leadership in our communities. Further, it also empowers a certain subset of community leadership and influencers with the power to speak for the community’s interests and shape the American Muslim narrative while dismissing other important and critical voices.
Those of us signing this letter, have all engaged in work aimed at influencing policy, such as lobbying on the hill, policy and legislative advocacy, policy-driven research, writing support letters for hearings related to drones and other national security issues, and protesting (a true act of democracy). Thus, we are keenly aware of the work necessary in securing change and the importance of engaging decision-makers and policy-makers in the government (positive examples include requesting a meeting with President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and FBI Director, James Comey regarding the call for more information and transparency related to the recent discovery of the surveillance of several Muslim American leaders). However, we call upon attendees to reject their attendance, especially in light of the new revelations that civil rights leaders and community activists were targeted, and to send a strong message that we refuse to be used as a showpiece, and any legitimate outreach to Muslim communities will be based upon mutual respect, an absence of the environment of suspicion, and welcoming of voices across the spectrum, including the grassroots that is critical of government policies.
Finally, during this time of yet another Israeli bombardment on the besieged people of Gaza that has already killed at least 100 Palestinians, including 23 children, we cannot ignore that fact that it is U.S. tax dollars that are funding Israeli occupation and apartheid and that the White House has wholeheartedly endorsed Israel’s current massacre. This makes our call to reject an invitation to the White House iftar even more crucial as we are being told once again that from Palestine to Iraq, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, that the lives of those killed by the U.S. and its allies are worthless.