Archive for Mother Jones

US Government Targets Yonas Fikre in Poorly Disguised Attempt at Retaliation

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2012 by loonwatch

Yonas Fikre accused the FBI of involvement in his torture in the UAE after he refused to become an informant for the FBI.

US Charges Yonas Fikre, American Who Claimed Torture, With Conspiracy

by Nick Baumann (Mother Jones)

Last month, Mother Jones broke the story of Yonas Fikre. An American Muslim now living in Sweden, Fikre claims he was tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the US government’s request after refusing to become an informant for the FBI. On Tuesday, less than three weeks after Fikre’s allegations were made public, the Justice Department charged Fikre, his brother Dawit Woldehawariat, and a third man, Abrehaile Haile, with conspiring to hide $75,000 worth of money transfers to the UAE and Sudan from the government, all in violation of federal reporting requirements for large international financial transactions. Woldehawariat, Fikre’s brother, was also charged with failing to file a tax return in 2009 and 2010.

There are no allegations of terrorism associated with the charges.

Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who has been working with Fikre, told Mother Jones on Wednesday that the federal charges were retaliation for Fikre’s refusal to cooperate with the FBI. “It is disappointing but not surprising that the FBI is retaliating against Yonas by filing specious charges against him after they promised to make his life difficult after he refused to become their informant,” Abbas wrote in an email. “While FBI agents lied to Yonas about many things, in this case, it seems that they have kept their word.”

Thomas Nelson, Fikre’s Portland, Oregon-based lawyer, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday that he was unaware of the charges against his client. But Abbas said he’s been in touch with Nelson since then and the two are working together to decide what to do next.

Here’s the charging document:

Mother Jones: American Muslim Alleges FBI Had a Hand in His Torture

Posted in Loon Violence, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2012 by loonwatch

FikreJustin Norman/Flickr

We are no longer shocked at crimes and excesses committed by those in authority, we have become complacent and either accept such things as a daily part of life, an aberration or even something praiseworthy.

Below we have another US Muslim alleging that the FBI had a hand in his torture:

MOTHER JONES EXCLUSIVE: Yonas Fikre believes the US government played a role in his hellish three-month detention in the United Arab Emirates.

By Nick Baumann

UPDATE: Fikre’s lawyers have written a letter to the Justice Department about his allegations and released a video of him talking about his ordeal.

Last June, while Yonas Fikre was visiting the United Arab Emirates, the Muslim American from Portland, Oregon was suddenly arrested and detained by Emirati security forces. For the next three months, Fikre claims, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Fikre says he was beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he “cooperate” and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him.

Fikre had been visiting family in Khartoum, Sudan, when, in April 2010, the officials got in touch with him. He agreed to meet with them, but ultimately balked at cooperating with FBI questioning without a lawyer present and he rebuffed a request to become an informant. Pressing him to cooperate, the agents told him he was on the no-fly list and could not return home unless he aided the bureau, Fikre says. The following week he received an email from one of the US officials; it arrived from a State Department address: “Thanks for meeting with us last week in Sudan. While we hope to get your side of the issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.”

“When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question,” says his lawyer. “Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved.”

Fikre made his way to the UAE the following year, where, he and his lawyer allege, he was detained at the request of the US government. They say his treatment is part of a pattern of “proxy” detentions of US Muslims orchestrated by the the US government. Now, Fikre’s Portland-based lawyer, Thomas Nelson, plans to file suit against the Obama administration for its alleged complicity in Fikre’s torture.

“There was explicit cooperation; we certainly will allege that in the complaint,” says Nelson, a well known terrorism defense attorney. “When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved. Yonas understood this as indicating that the FBI continued to [want] him to work for/with them.” Nelson, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Council on American Islamic Relations are assembling a high-powered legal team to handle Fikre’s case in the United States.

Fikre’s story echoes those of Naji HamdanAmir MeshalSharif MobleyGulet Mohamed, and Yusuf and Yahya Wehelie. All are American Muslim men who, while traveling abroad, claim they were detained, interrogated, and (in some cases) abused by local security forces; the men claim they were arrested at the behest of federal law enforcement authorities, alleging the US government used this process to circumvent their legal rights as American citizens.

As Mother Jones reported in its September/October 2011 issue, the FBI has acknowledged that it tips off local security forces on the names of Americans traveling overseas that the bureau suspects of involvement in terrorism, and that these individuals are sometimes detained and questioned. The FBI also admits that its agents sometimes “interview or witness an interview” of Americans detained by foreign governments in terrorism cases. And as several FBI officials told me on condition of anonymity, the bureau has for years used its elite cadre of international agents (known as legal attachés, or legats) to coordinate the overseas detention and interrogation by foreign security services of American terrorism suspects. Sometimes, that entails cooperating with local security forces that are accustomed to abusing prisoners. (FBI officials have told Mother Jones that foreign security forces are asked to refrain from abusing American detainees.)

It’s difficult to confirm US involvement in the detentions of Fikre or other alleged proxy detainees—indeed, plausible deniability is part of the appeal of the program. But what’s clear is that Fikre was on the FBI’s radar well before his detention in the UAE. (The FBI declined to comment on his case, as did the State Department.) Fikre, whose only previous brush with the legal system came when he sued a restaurant for having ham in its clam chowder, may have drawn the FBI’s interest because of his association with Portland’s Masjed-as-Saber mosque, where he was a youth basketball coach.

The mosque has been a focus of FBI scrutiny ever since the October 2002 case of the “Portland Seven,” in which seven Muslims from the Portland area were charged with trying to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11. (Six are now in jail; the seventh was killed in Pakistan.) Masjed-as-Saber was in the news again in 2010 when Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali American who sometimes worshipped there, was charged with trying to detonate a fake car bomb provided by an undercover FBI agent.

More recently, three other men who attended Fikre’s mosque—Mustafa ElogbiMichael Migliore, and Jamal Tarhuni—have found themselves on the no-fly list after traveling abroad. (The government’s use of the no-fly list to prevent American terrorist suspects from returning home after traveling overseas is currently the subject of a major ACLU lawsuit.)

Fikre’s case “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US,” says Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ”It’s not a means of protecting America—it’s a tool the FBI uses to put people in vulnerable positions.”

It “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US.”

Fikre, who is currently living in Sweden and believes that it would be unsafe for him to return to the United States, has given a series of videotaped interviews detailing his ordeal. His presence in Sweden beyond the three-month window allowed for tourist visas suggests that he has applied for permanent status there, and local media have so far refrained from reporting on the story for fear of affecting his case to stay in the country.

In the interviews, Fikre describes a series of events that are similar to the 2008 case of Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese American auto-parts dealer from Los Angeles who was then living in the UAE. Like Hamdan, Fikre claims he was detained in the UAE, tortured (including with stress positions and beatings on the soles of his feet, so as to not show marks), and asked about his activities in the United States. Like Hamdan, Fikre believed a western interrogator was present in the room at some points during his detention, because when he could peek out under his blindfold (“after being kicked/punched and falling over,” Nelson says) he occasionally saw western slacks and shoes. “In those occasions there was a fair amount of whispering,” Nelson added.

The similarities between the two cases were so striking that Michael Kaufman and Laboni Hoq, lawyers who are representing Hamdan in his separate case against the government, initially thought that Fikre had simply parroted Hamdan’s story. But once they heard more, they decided “the backstory of why the government was interested in him was reasonable and something that didn’t sound fabricated,” Kaufman said. “It seemed like a long way to go for a lie,” Hoq added.

A key difference between Hamdan’s and Fikre’s stories is that Hamdan eventually confessed—under torture, he now emphasizes—to being a member of several terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. He ultimately spent 11 months in UAE custody before being deported to Lebanon, where he now runs a children’s clothing store. Despite an extensive FBI investigation, he was never charged in the United States.

Fikre, his lawyer says, “never confessed to anything”—”thankfully.”

“The FBI does this stuff because they can get away with it,” Nelson says. “But the bureau has totally destroyed any relationship it had with the Muslim community in Portland.”

Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here.

UPDATE, Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. EST: Fikre’s lawyers have released a video of him talking about his ordeal (they’ve also written a letter to the Justice Department). You can watch the video here:

Mother Jones: Wondering If Your “Jihadist” Friend Is With the FBI?

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2012 by loonwatch

Shahed Hussain is still trying to entrap people, there are many more like him out there (H/T: BA):

Wondering If Your “Jihadist” Friend Is With the FBI?

By Hamed Aleaziz (Mother Jones)

Shahed Hussain, a long-time FBI terrorism informant Mother Jones profiled last year, has surfaced again—but this time, Google appears to have foiled his effort to identify a new target. Khalifah al-Akili, a 34-year-old Pittsburgh man, says he was approached by Hussain and another informant in January. Al Akili told the Albany Times-Union that after Hussain “repeatedly made attempts to get close” to him, he googled them. He found Trevor Aaronson’s August 2011 Mother Jonesexpose about the FBI’s massive network of undercover terrorism informants and confronted Hussain on the phone. After al-Akili explicitly asked if he was an informant, Hussain hung up the phone. Now al-Akili awaits trial on a gun charge (but no terrorism charges).

Al-Akili says became suspicious of Hussain because he was friendly, dropping in at al-Akili’s house and, after al-Akili lied that he had a sick family member, dropping off a get-well card.

Hussain’s involvement in two previous FBI counterterrorism cases led to convictions: James Cromitie, a 45-year-old former Walmart stocker from Newburgh, New York, was sentenced to 25 years in the headline-making Bronx synagogue plot. Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain of Albany, New York, an imam and pizza shop owner respectively, were each sentenced to 15 years for, among other charges, conspiracy to provide support to a terrorist organization with which Hussain claimed to have connections.

Hussain became an informant in 2002 after the FBI caught him helping people cheat on DMV tests. For his work in the Cromitie case, Hussain earned almost $100,000. Mother Jones contributor Trevor Aaronsoninvestigated the FBI’s informant-led cases, including those involving Hussain, for more than a year; he found that in a number of cases, “the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.”

Even with the publicity surrounding the Cromitie and Aref cases, Hussain seems to have utilized a tried and true formula in his conversations with al-Akili—claiming he was in the import business, knew people in a terrorist group, and wanted to talk jihad. “He said to me: ‘My people are involved in the jihad, I lived on the border of Afghanistan,’ trying basically to entice me. I said, ‘May Allah give peace to those people.’ He just continued to want to try to take the conversation in that direction…The people he entrapped were either extremely naive or stupid.”

In previous cases, Hussain has admitted that he would often initiate conversations about jihad when seeking out new targets. At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain described his approach: “I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI.”  Aaronson’s article includes this conversation from 2008, when Hussain told Cromitie he was a part of a Pakistani terror group:

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Hussain asked.

“I’m both,” Cromitie said.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“[Pakistani terror group] Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

Though there are no terror charges in the al-Akili case, the FBI says it discovered ”jihadist literature and books on U.S. military tactics,” at al-Akili’s house. The FBI claims that al-Akili was recorded talking about the fact “that he was developing somebody to possibly strap a bomb on himself” and according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the FBI maintains that al-Akili “expressed sympathy for the Afghan resistance movement in a 2005 conversation with a man he knew in prison.”

Al-Akili himself says this type of thing has happened before. “This is not the first situation that I’ve had involving the FBI attempting to entrap me…I stand out here in Pittsburgh because I do follow a more traditional role of Islam. They feel I pose a threat. I’ve never, ever said that I would do anything against America nor do I hold these beliefs,” he told theTimes Union.

Is your Thanksgiving Turkey a Muslim? Anti-Islam Blogger Warns of ‘Stealth Halal Turkeys’

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by loonwatch
How well do you know your turkey?How well do you know your turkey?

Is your Thanksgiving turkey a Muslim? Anti-Islam blogger warns of ‘stealth halal turkeys’

by 

Anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller is warning Americans to be on the lookout for “stealth halal turkeys” this Thanksgiving.

It may be dead – and poultry – but that won’t stop your Thanksgiving turkey playing its part in jihad.

At least, that’s what rightwing blogger and anti-Islam paranoiac Pamela Geller thinks.

Geller decided to incite some festive hate with this post on Monday, in which she repeats her accusations that the US meat industry does not separate halal from non-halal meat, and accuses popular turkey supplier Butterball of sneaking birds prepared according to Muslim requirements onto non-Muslim tables.

Geller claims halal slaughter methods are “torturous and painful” for the turkeys, and an assault on everyone else’s freedom to have them killed in whichever way they choose:

“Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified — who wants that, especially on a day on which we are giving thanks to G-d [sic] for our freedom? I wouldn’t knowingly buy a halal turkey — would you? Halal turkey, slaughtered according to the rules of Islamic law, is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.”

Geller is calling on those who agree with her to boycott Butterball’s “stealth halal turkeys” and write to the company to register their disapproval.

Those who don’t have been responding to Geller’s arguments in the comments section of her website.

Her readers’ ripostes range from the factual – ‘Gothelittle’ points out the similarity of halal slaughter methods to kosher ones, and the arguable benefits of both compared to non-religious mass meat production – to the pragmatic, courtesy of ‘JonathanMurray’:

“If someone was actually concerned about this silliness, they’d need to know *before* it was time to start thawing that frozen bird. Four days in the fridge… today is three days before Thanksgiving. Dumb.”

Meanwhile, Adam Serwer of Mother Jones points out that if all Butterball turkeys are indeed certified halal, it’s presumably because meat sellers are responding to market demand:

You might even be tempted to observe that Muslim Americans marking a secular, American holiday celebrating pluralism and freedom from religious persecution might be a sign of the extent to which American Muslims have assimilated into American culture. What you didn’t know was that when markets respond to the demands of Muslim consumers, freedom dies.

And Sheila Musaji of The American Muslim expresses her surprise that halal turkeys are apparently so freely available, having struggled to find them in previous years – and invites Geller to come and share a kosher turkey with her and her family this Thanksgiving.

Those halal turkeys must be stealthier than even Geller could imagine.

Civil War in Tennessee: Right Wing in Dispute Over Sharia Ban

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by loonwatch
That Sharia is pretty scary stuff, when it’s written in creepy blood font

The right wing loons supporting the anti-Sharia bill probably view Coley as a stealth jihadi.

Mother Jones – Tennessee Sharia Bill Too Extreme For Tea Partiers by Tim Murphy

Today in Nashville lawmakers will hold hearings on SB 1028, a bill that makes it a felony in Tennessee to provide material support for terrorism. That’s already a federal crime, of course, but that’s hardly the point: The bill, introduced by State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny, both Republicans, is the most radical of the more than two-dozen proposals nationwide to block the implementation of Islamic Sharia law on the unsuspecting citizenry. Now Ketron and Matheny are facing opposition from an unlikely source: the tea party.

According to William Coley, a member of the Knoxville Tea Party and a Muslim-American, his group will formally condemn the legislation at a press conference this morning, warning that the bill expands the powers of the police state while doing nothing to make Tennesseans any safer.

(Update: I’ve got a copy of the statement; it’s not a condemnation, but it’s hardly an endorsement either. Here’s the crux of it: “While the Knoxville Tea Party truly appreciates the sincere intentions behind SB1028, we do not feel that peaceful gatherings by ourselves, our friends, or neighbors is the problem, nor do we feel that increased surveillance by the State of Tennessee and intrusion into its citizens’ lives is the answer. The federal government already does far too much of that.”)

Last week, Coley says, he was thrown out of Rep. Matheny’s office, along with a coalition of Tennessee Muslim leaders, after a contentious exchange over the legislation. In his version of events, Coley told Matheny he and the Knoxville Tea Party would work to defeat the legislation. Matheny told him that if that happened, he’d simply introduce the bill again next year. That was too much for Coley: “I was just like, ‘Look, Bro, if you’re going to propose this bill again next year, this is just a waste of our time.’ This guy has forgotten he’s an elected official.’ I got up to leave and I said, ‘You don’t have job security and you will not be back again next year.’” (Coley does not live in Matheny’s district.)

According to Coley, Matheny was supported in the meeting by a representative of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, the local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s right-wing organization. It was the Eagle Forum that pushed for the Tennessee legislation originally, enlisting Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi’s help in drafting the bill. But Matheny’s argument that he has strong grassroots backing is misleading, Coley says, because the tea party is not fully on board. “Not the way Matheny is trying to make it look. Basically, when I told Matheny that, he told me he didn’t believe me. I told him ‘You can believe what you want; I’ve got the Knoxville Tea Party on speed dial—you can call them. I didn’t threaten him with bodily harm, I threatened him with removal from office.”

Coley’s opposition to the bill stemmed originally from its broad prohibition on adherence to Islamic law, which the text defined as fundamentally counter to the nation’s founding principles. As orginally written, the state could have punished observant Muslims like Coley with prison sentences for providing material support to any organization that supports Sharia—a local mosque, for instance. After the ensuing public outcry, the bill was modified substantially; previous references to Islam have been stricken, and the legislation now serves as a sort of replica of existing federal material support for terrorism statutes.

To the Knoxville Tea Party, that’s alarming for a totally new set of reasons. As Coley explains, ”It’s the Patriot Act for the State of Tennessee!” He and fellow activists are concerned that the law as written would apply not only to conventional Islamic terrorist networks, but tea party groups as well, by giving the state power to investigate right-wing groups. As proof, they cite the 2009 Department of Homeland Security memo warning of a possible uptick in right-wing extremism, particularly among disaffected veterans. That report, commissioned by George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security, has become a rallying cry on the right.

Still, it’s unclear just how widespread tea party opposition to the anti-Sharia legislation is. Nationally, anti-Muslim politicians like Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) have been embraced by the movement, and the Knoxville group’s closest neighbors, the Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots, have supported the Tennessee measure. Coley tried to encourage members of that group to attend an informational presentation on Islam that he conducted at a local library, but the response was decidely negative. Coley, for his part, dismisses them as “a bunch of crazy extremists.”

Kareem Salama: America’s Muslim Cowboy Ambassador

Posted in Feature with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by loonwatch

If you told someone that there was an American Muslim Cowboy Ambassador, they would laugh and not think for one second you were telling the truth, but there is, his name is Kareem Salama and he is being sponsored by the State Department for an “outreach” trip to the Middle East.

There are some points in the article below that may give us pause. Such as, why is America engaged in throwing so much money into the coffers of a PR campaign in the Muslim world to fix its image? Why doesn’t America extricate itself from the wars it is involved in, or review its policy of support for apartheid regimes and despots instead?

Salama says he doesn’t care too much about “politics” and attempts to avoid it, but is he undermining his cause, a noble one, to show that America is not a monolith by allowing himself to be bankrolled by the State Department?

Cynical Arabs and Muslims may view this as a mere PR stunt while bombs are being dropped on their heads despite the good intentions.

One cause of worry is encapsulated in this line,

Another $1.3 billion has been allocated to the Muslim World Outreach Program—this multi-year federal initiative, launched in 2003 by the National Security Council, aims to“transform Islam from within” by supporting secular, liberal Arab organizations as well as the work of secular, liberal Muslim scholars.

This rings like loud bells in the ears of Muslims and Arabs. Such a venture feeds into the narrative of extremists such as Anwar al-Awlaki who wish to say that America has an agenda when it comes to “Islam.” Instead of helping liberal or progressive Muslim and Arab thinkers and scholars it undermines and sabotages their work and smacks of the old imperial and colonial efforts.

To push the point further, this National Security Council effort should be reviewed in light of the recent “Arab Spring” and more attention should finally be paid to the clarion calls of Robert Pape, Scott Atran and others who tell us that our lowly image in the world is due to occupation, war and support for autocratic and corrupt regimes and movements that stifle freedom and progress.

America’s Muslim Cowboy Ambassador

How Oklahoma-born singer Kareem Salama became part of US diplomacy efforts in the Middle East.

— By Ashley Bates (Mother Jones)

When Andrew Mitchell, the cultural affairs officer at the US Embassy in Egypt, heard that a Muslim dude was making a go of it as a country star, he thought it was “the funniest thing I’d ever heard.”

So Mitchell began checking out Kareem Salama’s stuff—his two self-released albums, Generous Peace and This Life of Mine, and his 2007 hit song “Generous Peace,” whose video is as wholesome as an ABC After-School Special. “Gentlemen, I’m like incense; the more you burn me, the more I’m fragrant,” Salama sings, echoing the writings of the eight century Islamic scholar Muhammed Al-Shafi’ee.

“That is a concept,” Mitchell recalls thinking, “that if I could broadcast anything to this part of the world, that’s what I would say.”

Salama is an American, born of Egyptian parents—engineers both—who came to the US for college and ultimately settled down here. They raised Kareem and his three siblings in the rural town of Ponca City, Oklahoma. The town had no mosque, and only one other Muslim family lived there, but the children learned Islamic traditions at home. Salama, now 33, considers himself devout; he prays regularly, and doesn’t drink or date.

Culturally, though, he identifies as a rodeo-going, country music-loving southerner. “I grew up in a place where country music is kinda like crickets,” Salama explains in his heavy drawl. “You just hear it everywhere you go.”

The more Mitchell learned about Salama, the more excited he became about the stereotype-busting potential of his story. Egyptians (and Americans) tend to associate country music—and the American South—with conservatism. And they tend to associate conservatives with Islamophobia. Egyptians will say, “‘Oh, he’s a cowboy. He’s a conservative. He hates all Muslims,’” Mitchell says. “We can show them: Here’s an Oklahoma cowboy who not only doesn’t hate Muslims, he is a Muslim!”

In US diplomacy terms, Salama was a “total winner all around,” Mitchell says. So he pulled some strings. Last summer, Salama was invited to participate in a six-week, US government-sponsored tour of the Middle East. The program included both concerts and group discussions at schools and community centers. Salama jumped at the opportunity. “I like to focus on a message of reconciliation and bringing people together,” he says.

Everywhere he went—Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, Kuwait, and Syria—there were droves of people at his appearances, especially children. “A lot of times when we talked about things like respecting people who are different than you and being tolerant, it was clear that they had already discussed those things in school,” Salama recalls. (He included some tour footage in the video for his pop song, “Makes Me Crazy.”)

But Salama refused to engage Middle Easterners on controversial topics. If, for example, an audience member asked why the US government was sponsoring his tour while simultaneously providing billions of dollars in military aid to repressive Arab regimes, Salama dodged the question. “I’m not a politician and I don’t like to talk about politics,” he explains. “I told them that I don’t answer political questions. And the press corps was like: Why? And I said because, at the end of the day, I think it’s a waste of your time. Most of you have never voted in your lives or effected any change in the government whatsoever. And the intelligent person always focuses in their lives on the things that they can actually do something about.”

Sometimes, Salama would simply redirect the conversation. “There was a moment when we were in Jordan when a kid who was of Palestinian descent asked me something about America’s foreign policy. I looked at JJ [an American friend], and I put my hand on his shoulder, and I said, ‘Did JJ ever do anything to you?’ And his face completely changed. He softened in that moment and just goes, ‘No he hasn’t.’ And that was it.”

Salama’s songs can be spiritual, but they’re not overtly Islamic. Nor do his lyrics criticize American foreign policy. One song, “Baby I’m a Soldier,” tells the fictional story of two dying soldiers from opposing sides, emphasizing their common humanity—but it takes no jabs at US military actions.

In Bahrain, Salama performed at schools that primarily served the country’s more-affluent Sunni community. At the time, he was unaware of religious tensions in Bahrain, or that the Western-backed government, which has close ties with Saudi Arabia, systematically represses and discriminates against the country’s Shiite majority. “I’m pretty woefully ignorant of Bahrain in general,” Salama acknowledges.

But he did tell audiences in Bahrain and elsewhere about his idyllic childhood in Oklahoma. “I didn’t experience much” discrimination, he told me, adding that he even played the lead in his sixth-grade Christmas play. “There’s an old Arabic poem that says, ‘It’s sad to see a man who has 100 good days, and he always complains about the one bad day.’ Even if there was something bad that happened, I’ve had such a beautiful life and a beautiful experience growing up where I did.”

Salama is pretty patriotic. Even so, he sometimes encounters bigotry online. In 2007, after he appeared on Fox News to talk about racial profiling, some anonymous Fox commenters claimed he was a “terrorist hiding in the open,” and not a “real” American.

The 2010 tour was part of a larger “public diplomacy” program that costs US taxpayers more than $100 million each year in the Middle East alone, according to a State Department official. Every embassy in the world has a public diplomacy division that engages in various outreach activities, hoping to nurture person-to-person relationships between Americans and foreigners. That’s in addition to the Peace Corps, a federal program whose budget was $400 million last year. Another $1.3 billion has been allocated to the Muslim World Outreach Program—this multi-year federal initiative, launched in 2003 by the National Security Council, aims to“transform Islam from within” by supporting secular, liberal Arab organizations as well as the work of secular, liberal Muslim scholars.

Mitchell believes cultural-exchange programs help combat extremism, and implies that many Arab civilians are simply unaware that most Americans are decent human beings. He offers a hypothetical scenario where a kid meets Salama and is later approached by a jihadist who insists that America is “the Great Satan.” That kid, Mitchell says, “is going to say, ‘Wait a minute. I met an American. And he was a Muslim. And he was nice. They are not all the Great Satan.’”

In March, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Salama released a new song and video called “Be Free Now.” But out of respect for pro-democracy activists, he’s postponed the release of his latest album, City of Lights, until May 24. The new album is a mix of country-western and catchy pop tunes. “I guess it’s just a gut feeling,” he says of the postponement. Releasing it now “might appear like, ‘He’s over there in America busy with his music and stuff, and we are going through this much more important thing.’”

Here’s the “Generous Peace” video, which tackles bias against Muslims and advocates turning the other cheek…

Timeline: The Year in Islamophobia

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , on January 3, 2011 by loonwatch

Mother Jones has an excellent time line on Islamophobia in 2010 that is worth checking out. The above picture also doubles as the picture of the year.

 

— By Tim Murphy

| Thu Dec. 30, 2010 11:00 AM PST

It’s never a good sign when you find yourself longing for the halcyon days of George W. Bush. But after a year in which right-wing activists and politicians identified America’s greatest threats as mosques and infants, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit nostalgic for the man who responded to the 9/11 attacks by emphasizing that “Islam is a religion of peace.”

So, is America Islamophobic? It depends. For the overwhelming majority of Muslims, America’s still a pretty sweet place to work and pray (just watch out for these fellas). And as conservatives like Jeff Jacoby are quick to point out, when it comes to reported hate crimes, Jewish Americans still have it worse. Much, much worse. But withprecious few exceptions, anti-Semitism is confined to the paranoid fringe; you’d never see a slew of presidential candidates line up to, say, protest the construction of a synogogue.

2010 was the year Islamic fearmongering officially went mainstream. Here’s a quick look back at how the heck it happened. Enjoy.

The Year in Islamophobia Timeline