Ms. Samina Faheem’s speech at the forum on the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11 on July 17 at the Unitarian Hall in San Jose.
Hello everyone. My name is Samina Faheem. I invite all of us to open this forum together by observing a moment of silence for the world’s innocent victims of senseless crimes.
I would like to thank all of you for taking time away from your families and busy lives to come to this forum. Your presence reflects your motivation and enthusiasm in standing up to protect civil liberties and constitutional rights for all. You are showing that you have the unwavering courage to seek and speak the truth and that you choose to stand by Muslims in this difficult time. For this, I salute all of you.
As an American citizen, I am very concerned about our homeland security but how far will our current Administration go in the name of protecting it? How much of our civil liberties will they revoke before we stand our ground, unified, and protest, “Enough is enough”? How many more dreams will be shattered before we lose faith in all that we thought we stood proud for? Hundreds of years ago, the philosopher Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Today, those ‘absurdities’ are what the Administration will have you believe about the law-abiding Muslims and Arab Americans living, working and learning here peacefully. They would have you believe that given time, your brilliant, amicable colleague at work with whom you have collaborated painstakingly on multiple projects will turn on you. From the Administration’s clouded perspective, young Muslim American boys who perhaps sing the National Anthem before their football games alongside their teammates or young Muslim men who are striving to attain a degree in top-notch colleges across the country share one common thread with those terrorists who hold violent contempt for us. That one thread, the Administration would have you believe, is simply that they are Muslims and Arabs, and in their view, that is all you need to know.
Indeed, these beliefs are absurd yet they have already spawned several atrocities, such as the INS Special Registration, Patriot Act and Secret Evidence. With the terror level at “orange” in our post-9/11 nation, Muslims, Arabs and South Asians have been targeted. Our men, women and children have been attacked verbally and physically. Our children have been called terrorists at school, although many of them are U.S. citizens by birth. Though they may have relatives abroad, America is the only home they know. Still, some have the gall to tell them, “Go home!” Imagine the pain, confusion and frustration our children feel. They are home. On the most minor and often absurd technicalities, young Muslim students who are enrolled in colleges across the nation find their student visas revoked as they are told to either cooperate and go home voluntarily or face deportation wherein they would not be able to enter the U.S. for ten years.
Recently, I too felt the depth of this absurd targeting, through an experience my son faced. I am sharing this incident with you because I believe it seemed to perfectly illustrate the very concerns and fears facing my community as a whole. My son called, speaking in a very stressed tone. He asked questions regarding his vehicle registration. I hadn’t realized until he explained that he had been pulled over. I replied that his vehicle had indeed been registered. Apparently, the police officer that pulled my son over claimed that it was not. I later recalled small details regarding communication between a vehicle service station and the DMV that could easily be sorted out between the appropriate parties. Nonetheless, I knew I had paid the registration fee.
It was then that I heard the police officer ask my son for his middle name. My son replied that he did not have one. The officer repeated the question and again, my son replied he did not have a middle name. After a short pause, I heard my son ask the officer, “Is there a problem if I don’t have a middle name?” He was not being rude with the officer. He sounded annoyed.
That short pause between the officer’s repeated question and my son’s reply sent terror through my body. I was genuinely afraid for my son, not knowing how the officer would react. He told my son, “No, that’s okay” and towed his car, asking him to provide proof of registration when he comes to claim it. I asked my son to call me when got home. I cried until I was able to talk to my son again. I asked him to promise me that if he is ever stopped by an officer, he will answer all of their questions in the most polite manner, no matter how many times the questions are asked of him. My son told me that he had not been rude to the officer. I agreed but insisted that he honor my request. He agreed.
As much and as often as I have been advocating and defending civil rights for my community, this incident marked the true effect of the Patriot Act on me personally. I am afraid for my son and for all of our nation’s sons who fit the Administration’s “terrorist profile”. I don’t want any mother to feel what I felt.
I personally will not stand by and watch that happen without doing all that I can to protect our civil liberties. For the past six months, I coordinated a hotline to counsel Muslim men and their families affected by the INS Special Registration procedure. Through my involvement, I have heard horrible stories of mistreatment and extreme racial profiling. There are Muslim leaders who are in jail right now, imprisoned under secret evidence. One such leader is a computer science professor that I know personally. I have tried to encourage and inspire my community to help me raise funds for Dr. Sami-Al-Arian’s legal defense fund, to almost no avail. I have been asked if I know for sure that Dr. Sami-Al- Arian is innocent. I replied that I don’t know. I felt that his innocence or guilt is only truly known between him and his Creator. In such uncertainty, many people in my community are terrified to donate money or come to his aid, fearing that they too will be considered terrorists. I am unable to convince them that under the law of this land, a man is innocent until proven guilty.
I understand the fear of association and am saddened by the havoc these “homeland security” programs have created. Not only have they fashioned a tribunal, reminding us of some of the worst crimes committed against ethnic groups, they have begun to strip the very soul of this nation—the brotherhood, freedom and civil liberties upon which the Constitution was founded. Our beautiful flag is only a symbol of our country but our constitution is the soul of our great nation. I am an American. I have dedicated my life to protect all that being American means to me. We will not stand here and allow history to repeat itself. Instead, we will rewrite history. The only way to do that is to form cross-cultural relationships, building a foundation so strong, the beautiful, diverse human wall cannot be shaken down. I cannot stress enough the urgency of standing up for others in the face of injustice. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
When they came for African Americans, nobody stood up. When they came for the Jews, nobody stood up. When they came for the Japanese, nobody stood up. When they came for the Communists, nobody stood up.
Now they are coming after Muslims but we are not alone. Our American brothers and sisters are standing beside us. It is the miracle that I have been praying for. My Muslim brothers and sisters, I urge all of you to please join us. Together we abhor the injustice that threatens to destroy the soul of our nation. Together we will make the Miracle Movement/Justice for All a strong reality. Tonight I thank all of you for providing hope for humanity. Let’s work together to keep America hate free. Home is where all of us feel welcome. Thank you.
American Muslim Voice