Archive for ACLU

‘Anti-Mosque Activity’ in More than Half of US States

Posted in Loon People, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2012 by loonwatch

Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in DeKalb, Ill., talks with Mohammed Labadi as she tours the house that serves as the group’s mosque.

Anti-Mosque activity has been rampant in the USA over the past five years:

Proposed mosques spark opposition in some U.S. communities

(USA Today)

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which were carried out by hijackers from Arab countries, animosity toward Muslims sometimes has taken the form of opposition to construction of mosques and other Islamic facilities. National debate erupted over plans for a community center that became known as the “Ground Zero mosque” in Lower Manhattan.

In the last five years, there has been “anti-mosque activity” in more than half the states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Some mosques were vandalized – a $5,000 reward is being offered in a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case – and others were targets of efforts to deny zoning permits.

Mosque opponents often raise concerns about traffic and parking, but Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s freedom of religion program, says they can be “sham arguments” that mask anti-Muslim sentiment.

Mosque opponents often raise concerns about traffic and parking, but Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s freedom of religion program, says they can be “sham arguments” that mask anti-Muslim sentiment.

“I hope that eventually there will be greater acceptance for all faiths, including Islam,” Mach says.

Read the rest…

Zuhdi Jasser: Shill For Islamophobes Resorts to Projection and Deflection

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2012 by loonwatch

 

Zuhdi Jasser, the useful tool of Islamophobes everywhere has faced increasing and sustained opposition to his appointment to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

The USCIRF was, as the ACLU reported, created and guided by ‘special interests’ and has a history of deep anti-Muslim bias,

[S]ince its inception, the commission’s been beset by controversy. People who watch the commission closely say it was created to satisfy special interests, which has led to bias in the commission’s work. Past commissioners and staff have reported that the commission is “rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism.” They’ve said that commissioners focus “on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background.” In particular, past commissioners and staff reported ”an anti-Muslim bias runs through the Commission’s work.”

In this context it is not surprising that a Zuhdi Jasser should be appointed. However, the biased nature of the USCIRF does not take away from the very troubling aspects of Jasser’s appointment, no US governmental organization should be used and abused in this manner.

What is interesting this time around is that all pretense to objectivity has fallen and the ‘work’ of the USCIRF will forever be tainted.

A petition calling on the Senators to rescind Jasser’s appointment has received nearly 3000 signatures, (I urge everyone to sign it and pass it along. We need to be more active than the hate-mongers!)

In response to the large push back against the biased nature of the USCIRF and Jasser’s appointment, Jasser is trying to hit back, smearing everyone who sheds light on his alliance with hate-mongers and anti-Freedom positions as evil, fifth-column “Islamists.”

Classic case of projecting while deflecting

On the only medium that will let Jasser spew his fact-less innuendo unopposed, i.e Right-Wing media such as “The Daily Caller,” Jasser  says,

“You could actually use the list of people protesting us, it’s a pretty good list of some of the leaders of the Islamist movement in America.”

No surprise here, what else do you expect from the main protagonist of what has been lampooned as a bigoted, fear-mongering anti-Muslim film: The Third Jihad.

The article, written by one Caroline May goes on to claim that,

Last week 64 Muslim organizations — including Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) — expressed “deep concern” with Jasser’s appointment in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

The only problem for May and Jasser is that it wasn’t only Muslim organizations (or ‘Islamists’ as they would have it) but also non-Muslim organizations calling on the Senators to rescind Jasser’s appointment. It was a veritable coalition of Muslim and non-Muslim civic and religious organizations:

More than 50 Muslim and non-Muslim civic and religious groups asked leading senators on Thursday (April 12) to rescind the appointment of an outspoken Muslim activist, Zuhdi Jasser, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

But facts, those pesky things, why let them get in the way right? So, Jasser goes on to say,

Jasser contends, however, that the real enemy of religious freedom is the coalition of groups opposing him.

Classic projection and deflection. Instead of answering the very real concerns leveled against him, Jasser clams up, hoping the “Islamist” label will stick on his opponents and that the attention will subside.

To this day Jasser has not answered the following very specific concerns expressed by those dismayed that he would even been considered for the USCIRF:

1.) Most problematically, Jasser allies himself with and receives funding from anti-Muslim organizations and personalities who work tirelessly to curb the religious and civil liberties of Muslims in the USA.

Jasser’s organization has received funding, to the tune of $100,000 from a major backer of Rick Santorum, Foster Friess. Friess was featured as one of the major backers of Islamophobic organizations in the Center for American Progress‘s groundbreaking report, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.

According to the Washington Post,

“Jasser received a $100,000 donation from Christian conservative financier Foster Friess, who is now bankrolling the super-PAC supporting Rick Santorum’s presidential bid. Jasser declined to elaborate on exactly how much Friess had given AIFD, though he said the financier contributed $70,000 to his organization in 2010 for a Muslim youth retreat hosted by the group. (Friess told MSNBC that he was backing Santorum because he is ‘incredibly versed in one of the number one issues of our time—and that is violent Islamic extremism.’)”

Jasser told Mother Jones that the AIFD had accepted $5,000 from the Center for Security Policy:

“The center published a report in 2010 warning that American Muslims are seeking to replace the Constitution with a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The “expert” in Islamic religious law cited in the report, an attorney named David Yerushalmi, is responsible for authoring draft anti-Shariah legislation that has served as a blueprint for anti-Shariah laws across the US. Yerushalmi has suggested that “acting in furtherance of Islam” should be a felony.”

Mother Jones also reports that,

“Jasser said his group has also received a one-time, unsolicited donation of $10,000 from the Clarion Fund, which is associated with Aish HaTorah, a right-wing Israeli group described by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic as ‘just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today.’

The Clarion Fund has released several films that warn of Muslim conspiracies to reestablish a global caliphate. Jasser is a Clarion board member and in 2008 narrated a documentary bankrolled by the group called The Third Jihad, which darkly warns that Muslim extremists are attempting to “infiltrate and dominate America,” a conspiracy implicating most prominent American Muslim organizations. The New York Times reported that the film was shown to thousands of NYPD officers as part of their counterterrorism training, which the police department later apologized for.”

2.) In another blow to the religious liberties and freedoms of American Muslims, Jasser’s organization the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) supports state wide legislative bans on Muslim personal religious practice relating to: marriage, prayer, wills, etc. Jasser’s organization has published press releases “applauding” such legislation, which many, including US Courts have considered unconstitutional infringements on the religious liberties of Muslims.

3.) Jasser was outspoken in his opposition to an interfaith and Islamic Center in Manhattan, supporting efforts to block it from being built, remarking that, “This center is trying to change the narrative of 9/11 — to diminish what happened at Ground Zero.”

4.) Jasser’s advocacy and support for the NYPD’s illegal profiling and secret surveillance program targeting Muslims for monitoring at their houses of worship, businesses and universities is not only unconscionable but contradicts the USCIRF’s purported goals of reviewing “the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.” 

Jasser deflects from the above points and questions about his sordid relationship with those who undermine religious freedom here in the US because his real purpose is to be a shill for the Right-Wing propaganda machine.

Articles like the one in the Daily Caller are not meant to inform or provide analysis, but are geared specifically to justifying Right-Wing and Conservative causes. The Conservative audience is expected to swallow them whole and regurgitate it to the rest of the sheep, preserving and securing the echo chamber.

ACLU: A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by loonwatch

 

The ACLU goes into even more detail about the problematic history of the USCIRF and the recent appointments of Zuhdi Jasser and Robert George.

A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

In 1998, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw attention to violations of religious freedom in other countries. The commissioners vote annually to list countries that are of particular concern or place others on a watch list of countries that should be monitored closely for religious freedom violations.

But, since its inception, the commission’s been beset by controversy. People who watch the commission closely say it was created to satisfy special interests, which has led to bias in the commission’s work. Past commissioners and staff have reported that the commission is “rife, behind-the-scenes, with ideology and tribalism.” They’ve said that commissioners focus “on pet projects that are often based on their own religious background.” In particular, past commissioners and staff reported ”an anti-Muslim bias runs through the Commission’s work.”

The commissioners’ personal biases have led to sharp divides both within the commission and with the State Department, which it is supposed to advise. One expert calls the commission’s relationship with the State Department “adversarial,” and “not conducive to effective dialogue, let alone cooperation.” And the divisiveness within the commission itself is obvious, ranging from how it dealt with when a policy analyst claimed her contract with the commission was cancelled because she was Muslim to its most recent report in which five commissioners voted to include Turkey on the list of countries of particular concern (alongside a few others like China and North Korea) over the strong objections of the four other commissioners.

Given the commission’s history of letting the commissioners’ personal biases drive its agenda, in light of recent appointments, it seems especially relevant to look at what two new commissioners have done.

First, Zuhdi Jasser. He is highlighted in a recent report that describes a network of Islamophobia “misinformation experts,” as someone who “validate[s] and authenticate[s] manufactured myths about Muslims and Islam.” His organizationlauded a statewide ban on Sharia law, which was later overturned by federal courtsbecause it was blatantly discriminatory and singled out one faith for official condemnation. He has tried to justify the so-called “radicalization” theory, which conflates First Amendment-protected practices with involvement in terrorism. He narrated the film shown on a continuous loop at an NYPD training facility that says American Muslim leaders cannot be trusted and “Muslim extremists are attempting to ‘infiltrate and dominate America.’” And when it came to light that the NYPD had conducted constitutionally suspect surveillance of the Muslim community in New York and other states, he commended the department’s actions.

Second, Robert George. George also has ties to the Islamophobia industry. He sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation, which the Center for American Progress reportedprovides funding to organizations that advocate for anti-Islam or anti-Muslim agendas.

But he is better known for his advocacy against the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. He helped author the failed federal marriage amendment that would have amended the U.S. Constitution to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian couples by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. He helped start the National Organization for Marriage, which advocates for discriminatory state constitutional amendments on marriage and keeping the so-called Defense of Marriage Act on the books. Throughout his career, George has written about religious liberty; but when he works to enshrine one religious view of marriage over another while some religious faiths and denominations have decided, based on their own religious teachings, to sanction marriage of same-sex couples, he harms this very principle.

Religious freedom means that people of all faiths are able to live and worship without suspicion that they are being targeted by their government and that the law should not be used to promote one set of religious beliefs over others. We hope the commission will be able to condemn these sorts of actions and not be sidetracked by commissioners’ personal agendas.

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Documents Reveal FBI Spied On Peaceful Muslims

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by loonwatch

Documents Reveal FBI Spied On Peaceful Muslims

By Josh Israel Newly released FBI documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest that the bureau illegally spied on the religious practices of Muslim Americans, under the guise of community outreach. An FBI spokesman defended the information gathering as “within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity, whether investigation or liaison, including activities designed to strengthen relationships in various communities.” The ACLU explains:

The FBI’s targeting of American Muslim religious organizations for secret intelligence gathering raises grave constitutional concerns because it is an affront to religious liberty and equal protection of the law. The bureau’s use of outreach meetings to gather intelligence also undermines the trust and mutual understanding necessary to effective law enforcement. Additionally, the FBI’s retention of information gathered through “mosque outreach” in its intelligence files violates federal Privacy Act prohibitions against the maintenance of records about individuals’ First Amendment-protected activity.

But this would hardly be the first time the FBI spied on peaceful Americans. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • Iraq War Opponents — A 2002 FBI memo showed the bureau investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice, as the pacifist group leafleted against the Iraq War.
  • Environmentalists — The FBI improperly investigated two planned Greenpeace corporate protests, a three-year inquiry extending long after the protests were over.
  • Animal Rights Supporters — The bureau also improperly investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.This intelligence, while not useful for public safety, was at least better than the virtual restaurant reviews gathered by the New York Police Department’s spying operation.A 2010 Inspector General’s report lambasted the FBI for equating nonviolent protests with terrorism and for “false and misleading statements to the public and to Congress.”Of course, these groups are in good company. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself was spied on regularly by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. The COINTELPRO investigations into whether the civil rights leader might be a Communist including tapped phone conversations, bugs at his house, and even a 1964 infamous poison-pen letter warning him he would be exposed as a fraud. But nearly 50 years later, it seems perhaps the FBI should have learned from its mistakes.

Why you shouldn’t tell American border guards you’re in Islamic Studies

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by loonwatch

Why you shouldn’t tell American border guards you’re in Islamic Studies

by ANDREANNE STEWART

On May 1, 2010, Pascal Abidor was riding an Amtrak train from Montreal to New York. His parents live in Brooklyn, and he was on his way to visit them. The school year at McGill had just ended, and he felt relieved and calm as the train rolled south towards America.

At about 11 a.m., the train arrived at the U.S. border and made a routine stop. A team of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers boarded the train and advanced through each car, questioning passengers. Pascal had made this trip countless times before, so when a customs officer approached him, he didn’t give it a second thought.

But Pascal had never met Officer Tulip.

After looking over Pascal’s U.S. passport and customs declaration, Officer Tulip asked two simple questions: Where do you live, and why?

Pascal answered that he lived in Canada. He lived in Canada because that’s where he was pursuing a PhD in Islamic Studies.

Next, she asked him where he had traveled in the previous year, and he answered Jordan and Lebanon. He showed her his French passport (he’s a dual citizen) with the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” stamp, and the Lebanese stamp with the little cedar tree on top.

That didn’t help. Officer Tulip immediately told him to grab his things and follow her to the train’s cafe car. Pascal gathered his luggage, but Officer Tulip carried the bag containing his laptop. At the time, he thought she was just being helpful.

In the cafe car, they were joined by five or six more CBP officers. Pascal sat across from Officer Tulip as she took out his laptop, turned it on, and asked him to enter his password, which he did.

As she scrolled through the contents of his computer, Pascal could only see her reaction. Officer Tulip signaled to her colleagues and pointed at something on the screen. She then turned to Pascal and demanded an explanation.

Pascal was now surrounded by half a dozen suspicious American border police, staring at photos – on his laptop – of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies.

Where had he gotten “this stuff,” Officer Tulip asked. Pascal explained that his PhD research is on the Shiites of modern Lebanon. This was not, in her books, a good answer. Finally, the officers told Pascal that he would have to leave the train with them.

“Take me off the train, I’ll walk back to Montreal,” Pascal offered. Given what he would go through in the next few hours, Pascal might well have preferred the walk.

Instead, he was frisked, with particular vigor around his genitals. Then he was handcuffed. Pascal winced.

As they led him off the train, the officers draped a coat over his bound wrists. They claimed it was to spare him the embarrassment of a perp walk. But as Pascal walked past the train’s windows, he tried to show the passengers that he was cuffed. He hadn’t done anything wrong, and he wanted witnesses.

Pascal was then loaded into the back of a van. Oddly, as one of the officers tried to close the van’s side door, it fell clean off. It could have been a moment of levity in a grim situation. But Pascal didn’t dare laugh.

The Detention Cell

When they arrived at the Champlain Port of Entry, Pascal was put in a five-by-ten foot cell with cinder block walls and a steel-reinforced door. He was told to wait. He stayed in the cell for about an hour. Officers came in at random intervals to ask him questions.

“I thought I was going to throw up,” he said. “I thought I was going to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.”

Pascal was then removed from the cell and brought to an interrogation room, complete with florescent lighting and a two-way mirror. He sat across from two CBP officers – Officer Tulip and a man named Officer Sweet – while another officer sat at the end of the table, seemingly in case Pascal got violent.

“They thought I was straight-up dangerous,” Pascal said.

Then the real interrogation began, an hour and a half of intensive questioning. Where was he born? Where were his parents born? What religion was he raised with? Had he ever been to a rally in the Middle East? Had he heard any anti-American statements in the Middle East? Had he ever seen an American flag burned? Had he ever been to a mosque? But the questions always came back to the same point – why Islamic Studies?

“I want to be an academic – this is just what I happen to be an academic in,” Pascal told them.

His answers seemed to fall on deaf ears. The interrogation continued. It was the same questions, over and over. They were looking for him to make a mistake.

They soon fell into a good-cop, bad-cop routine.

“He thought I was cool,” Pascal said of Officer Sweet. Officer Tulip, on the other hand, “thought I was the most evil person. She thought I was a movie villain or something.”

They claimed Pascal’s dual citizenship made him untraceable. They suggested he was attractive “to both sides.” Pascal was baffled. Both sides of what?

Finally, after about three hours in detention, he was released. But there was a catch – the CBP was keeping his laptop and hard drive.

Pascal was enraged. While he had been waiting in the cell, Pascal had given some thought to what he would say to the officers once he was free. Now, with his anger compounded by the loss of his computer, Pascal delivered a blistering speech, directed at his arch-nemesis, Officer Tulip.

“I ripped into her,” he said. “She just stood there, [then] walked away.”

When an FBI agent came up to him and attempted to apologize, Pascal stopped him mid-sentence. “I don’t want to hear your apology,” he told the agent.

Before he left, he was given his camera and his two cell phones. There was a scratch on the back of one of the phones, as if someone had tried to open it.

Taking Legal Action

After being released from detention, Pascal hitched a ride on the next bus with an open seat that came through the checkpoint. He arrived in New York at midnight. That night, he had trouble sleeping, as he would have for the next week or so.

The next morning, he sat down and wrote eleven single-spaced pages detailing exactly what had happened to him. The day after that, he began making phone calls to state senators and advocacy organizations in the hope of finding someone who would help him. Lots of them were interested in his case, including Anthony Weiner, the former New York Congressman.

Finally, Pascal settled on the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the oldest and largest civil liberties organization in the United States. Free speech cases are its bread and butter. And they told Pascal that his right to free speech, protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, had been violated.

Two days after his first phone call with the ACLU, Pascal was in downtown Manhattan, sitting in a meeting with a team of lawyers. The first thing they did was to write a letter to the CBP demanding that they return Pascal’s laptop. The day after the letter was sent, Pascal got a call from the CBP asking him where they should overnight his belongings.

But at this point, the damage was done. When the laptop arrived in the mail, the seam between the keyboard and the outer case that led to the internal hard drive appeared to have widened. The warranty seal on his external hard drive had been broken open, too. The government had already searched, and, they later conceded, made copies of Pascal’s electronic life.

Pascal and the ACLU were incensed. His laptop contained intimate personal information: chat logs with his girlfriend, university transcripts, his tax returns.

The problem was, everything Homeland Security had done was completely by the book.

 

The Policy

In August 2009, the Department of Homeland Security enacted a policy that allows for the search and seizure of electronic devices at the border without reasonable suspicion. Under the policy, the DHS can detain any electronic device indefinitely, and copy and share the information it contains. Between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, more than 6,500 people had their electronic devices searched at U.S. border stops.

It was under this policy that Pascal’s laptop and hard drive were searched and detained.

Upon the enactment of the policy, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that, “keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States. The new directives announced today strike the balance between respecting the civil liberties and privacy of all travelers, while ensuring DHS can take the lawful actions necessary to secure our borders.”

The policy makes a point of specifying that, “at no point during a border search of electronic devices is it necessary to ask the traveler for consent to search.”

This struck the ACLU as deeply unconstitutional. So they and Pascal decided to sue Janet Napolitano, Director of Homeland Security, to challenge the constitutionality of the policy.

In September 2010, they filed their “complaint” against Napolitano, the legal document that kicks off a lawsuit. The ACLU argued that the DHS policy violates the First and Fourth Amendments, which guarantee free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure respectively.

The U.S. government tried to get the case thrown out, arguing that while Pascal’s story was true, the government’s actions had not broken any laws.

On the question of the Fourth Amendment, the government effectively said that just about any kind of search is legal at the border, in the name of national sovereignty.

“Searches made at the border, pursuant to the long standing right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border,” the government wrote in its Motion to Dismiss, the legal maneuver for getting a case thrown out.

With regard to the First Amendment, the Motion to Dismiss stated that, “an otherwise valid search under the Fourth Amendment, does not violate the First Amendment rights of an individual – even a completely innocent individual – simply because the search uncovers expressive material.”

In other words, a border search is a border search is a border search.

And it’s true that all travelers are subject to a routine search at the border, whether or not there’s suspicion of wrongdoing.

But while the U.S. government argues that the search of laptops should be considered a part of these routine searches, the ACLU says these searches are more invasive and therefore must be held to a higher standard.

“It is different to go through someone’s shoes and contact solution, than to go through all the documents on their computer,” said Catherine Crump, one of Pascal’s ACLU lawyers.

Last July, Pascal and his ACLU lawyers went to a courtroom in Brooklyn to argue against throwing out their case. The judge has still not come to a decision.

Meanwhile, the DHS policy remains on the books. Laptops and cell phones continue to be detained and searched without reasonable suspicion at the U.S. border.

Pascal, for his part, hasn’t had a normal border-crossing since that May 1 morning. “Now, every time I cross the border, I get harassed,” he said.

In December 2010, he was crossing the border with his father. The border guards began interrogating him in unusual ways. “They refused to believe my dad was my dad,” he said. “If you saw my dad, you could not believe we were not related.”

The guards then searched the car top to bottom, and made the Abidors wait at the checkpoint for two hours.

“This is about lowering the threshold of what is acceptable to us,” Pascal said of his treatment at the hands of the CBP. “You can’t have rights and then selectively apply them.”

School Board Considers Ban of ‘The Kite Runner’ UPDATE

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2012 by loonwatch

School Board considers ban of ‘The Kite Runner’ UPDATE

The book banners never sleep. I’ve received a note that the Valley View School Board in Jonesboro will meet at 5:30 p.m. today while others watch football games to consider two complaints from school district residents about the teaching of “The Kite Runner” to honors English classes. As you might know, “good Christians” do not countenance literature that presents Muslim people in anything but an unflattering light.

We reported on this controversy earlier. The ACLU is keeping watch. Some School Board members had taken a “middle ground.” Let the book be read, but not aloud.

UPDATE: A Jonesboro correspondent reports that the board met to hear the complaints, but took no action, thus leaving the curriculum including the book in place. The public was invited to speak but only supporters of the book spoke. A round of applause followed the board’s decision to take no action, I was told.

A note before the meeting from ASU professor Norm Stafford and ACLU Board member about tonight’s meeting. There’s still time to join the throng on the side of free expression:

I am writing to urge you to attend a special meeting of the Valley View School Board tonight, Monday, January 2nd at 5:30 pm, at the office of the superintendent on the Valley View campus.The Board will decide on the complaints of two patrons opposing the teaching of Khaled Hosseneini’s The Kite Runner to senior English classes. The book has won numerous awards and is a novel recounting the redemption of a man, who as a young boy witnessed his male friend being sexually assaulted and out of fear did nothing. The novel provides insight into modern Afghanistan and the effects of war on the area and its people as well as into the brutal Taliban.

Although the central goal of those complaining is to eliminate this single text from the curriculum, they have support of strong religious forces in the area and want a homogenized curriculum. In a story in the Jonesboro Sun , one of those complaining said that students’ belief that America is one country under God would be undermined by reading the novel.

The teacher, whose abilities I know and respect, has taught the novel in the past, and now her job is at stake.

The announcement for this called meeting appeared on page 7 of the Sun on December 31st. It appears that the Valley View Board and those opposing the teaching of the novel want the issue addressed with as little publicity as possible.

Those opposing the teaching of the novel will be out in force. Those wishing to prevent this censorship need to be present as well. Please let others know of this meeting and its time and place.

Sincerely,

Norman Stafford

FBI Illegally Using Community Outreach to Gather Intelligence, ACLU Alleges

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by loonwatch

FBI illegally using community outreach to gather intelligence, ACLU alleges

By , Published: December 1

The FBI is using its extensive community outreach to Muslims and other groups to secretly gather intelligence in violation of federal law, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged Thursday.

Citing internal bureau documents, the ACLU said agents in California are attending meetings at mosques and other events and illegally recording information about the attendees’ political and religious affiliations. FBI officials denied the allegations. They said that records kept from outreach sessions are not used for investigations.

The documents reveal new details of the FBI’s efforts to build a more trusting relationship with Muslims and other communities — a major priority since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Federal officials have said that the effort is aimed at protecting Muslims’ civil rights and smoothing lingering resentment over the law-enforcement crackdown after the attacks, along with helping the government fight terrorism.

Some of the papers describe agents speaking at career days, briefing community members on FBI programs and helping them work with police to fight drug abuse. But the files also depict agents recording Social Security numbers and other identifying information after they meet people at the events and, in at least one instance, noting their political views. It appears that the agents are conducting follow-up investigations in some instances, but heavy redactions in the documents make it impossible to determine how far any examination might have gone.

In one case, an agent wrote that he checked California motor vehicle records on someone the agent encountered at a Ramadan dinner at a San Francisco Islamic association. An attendee is described as “very progressive.” Another is called “very Western in appearance and outlook.”

At another Ramadan dinner in San Francisco, an agent recorded the names of Muslim groups listed on pamphlets distributed at the event — and appeared to note that several people associated with one of the groups were under investigation.

The FBI turned the heavily redacted documents over to the ACLU as part of a lawsuit filed by the civil rights group and two other organizations to uncover what the groups consider to be inappropriate or illegal FBI tactics in the fight against terrorism.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project, said some of the actions depicted in the documents violate the Privacy Act, a law that bars federal agencies from maintaining information about activities protected by the First Amendment, such as freedom of speech and association. FBI officials said the law allows agencies to keep information that is considered relevant and necessary to their mission, in certain circumstances.

A dangerous ‘guise’

“It’s one thing for the FBI to say to a community group, ‘We’re going to come and meet you to establish ties,’ ” Shamsi said. “But it’s a very dangerous way to proceed to collect intelligence under the guise of community outreach.”

FBI spokesman Michael P. Kortan said the bureau’s meetings with community leaders are not designed to gather intelligence but rather “to enhance public trust in the FBI in order to enlist the cooperation of the public to fight criminal activity.” He said that the practice provides “information to the public in support of crime prevention efforts, and opens lines of communication to help make the FBI more responsive to community concerns.”

Kortan said FBI policy requires that an “appropriate separation be maintained between outreach and operational activities” and that although “facts surrounding an outreach meeting or event may be documented,” that is only for internal purposes to ensure “that personnel time and resources are being used effectively and in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and program requirements.”

Some Muslim groups reacted to the documents with anger. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the FBI’s actions will have a “chilling effect” on Muslims’ constitutionally protected activities.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights group, said the papers “confirm the worst fears of Muslim community members.”

The FBI, under intense pressure to prevent another attack on U.S. soil, has sought to strike a balance between civil liberties and law enforcement in the decade since the Sept. 11 strikes. Civil liberties groups have long accused agents of overreacting, but FBI and Justice Department officials say they have helped safeguard the nation from another attack.

The documents released Thursday show agents in a variety of settings in Muslim and other communities. In one 2009 memo, an agent in Sacramento appears to be monitoring the Saudi Student Association at California State University through the outreach effort.

The agent writes of meeting with someone at the student union building and records that person’s birth date, Social Security number, telephone number and address — all in the same sentence. The person is described as giving the agent detailed information about the association.

Yet some of the documents are more mundane, including a 2009 memo detailing FBI contacts with Assyrian organizations in San Jose, which notes how the Assyrian language is “very similar to ancient Aramaic.”

Another memo describes a 2007 meeting hosted by the FBI in San Jose for 27 Muslim organizations that featured FBI presentations, a question-and-answer session and lunch catered by a local kabob restaurant. The writer provides a detailed “demographics” breakdown of participants, including what percentage are Sunni Muslim versus Shiite, and lists all the organizations in attendance.

One group listed was the Oakland-based Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California. Sara Mostafavi, a board member, said she found that troubling.