Muslim Civil Rights Group Seeks Clarification on Hijab in Michigan Courts

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is seeking clarification on a new administrative rule adopted by Michigan’s Supreme Court that could allow judges to demand that witnesses remove religious head coverings while testifying.

The Washington-based group says that the removal of religiously-mandated attire such as a hijab would violate the constitutional right to religious freedom. In a press release, Dawud Walid of Michigan’s CAIR chapter said, “Michigan residents of all faiths need clarification as to whether they will be forced to remove their religious attire in order to appear in a state court.” The group says that the rule could be used against people of other faiths who wear head coverings.

The rule was adopted by the Supreme Court via a 5-2 decision. The two opposing judges said that there should be a clear written exception fore religious attire.

As it currently stands, the rule reads:

“The court shall exercise reasonable control over the appearance of parties and witnesses so as to (1) ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder, and (2) to ensure the accurate identification of such persons.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has furthered argued against the rule saying that numerous studies have shown that jurors have an easier time assessing the credibility of a witness testimony by simply listening to a witness rather than watching their facial expressions.

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Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Michigan Supreme Court Wants to Restrict What Can Be Worn in Court

Under a new rule being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court, judges would be able to restrict what witnesses wear in the court room.

The proposed rule grows out of a 2006 case when a Hamtramck woman had her case dismissed because she appeared in court wearing a niqab and refused to remove it during testimony. The Muslim woman eventually took the case to court and sued the judge, but the lawsuit was dismissed and the state was told to come up with its own rules on the issue.

In response, the Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule change that “would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.”

The rule change is being opposed by both the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is sending a letter to the court saying that the law is discriminatory and that it might cause religious people to avoid going to court.

The ACLU argues that the rule would deny Muslim women access to the court:

In its comment, the ACLU and other groups warn that the court rule threatens to unconstitutionally deny individuals their fundamental right of access to the courts based on their religious beliefs. The groups ask the Supreme Court to add a sentence to the rule ensuring “that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Islamophobia Widespread in Mainstream Media

A new study from the media watchdog group FAIR has found that anti-Islam sentiment is incredibly common in the mainstream media. Moreover, it identified the twelve most prevelant “Islamophobes” in the mainstream media–four of which are readily accessible in West Michigan’s media.

Fairness and Accuracy in Broadcasting (FAIR) has released a new report on the prevalence of Islamophobia in the corporate media. The issue–which recently came to light in Grand Rapids with the distribution of an anti-Islam DVD by the Grand Rapids Press–is striking for how prevalent anti-Islam sentiment is in the mainstream. In “Smearcasters: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry, and Misinformation,” FAIR provides many examples of Islamophobia and identifies the twelve most prominent Islamophobes in the media.

The report identifies Islamophobia as:

“…hostility toward Islam and Muslims that tends to dehumanize an entire faith, portraying it as fundamentally alien and attributing to it an inherent, essential set of negative traits such as irrationality, intolerance and violence. And not unlike the charges made in the classical document of anti-Semitism, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, some of Islamophobia’s more virulent expressions–like While Europe Slept–include evocations of Islamic designs to dominate the West.”

The report documents several prominent strains of Islamophobia in the media. These include the repeated assertions that Islam is inherently evil or violent, or as Pat Robertson has said, a “bloody, brutal type of religion.” Related to this is the idea that there is a “good” and “bad” form of Islam and that “moderate Muslims” must rain in the “extremist” elements within Muslim. The report points out that such demands are rarely made of Christians.

Another prominent strain of Muslim-bashing focuses on the idea that “militant Muslims lurking around every corner and paints them as an existential threat to the U.S. and its allies.” This is the type of Islamophobia advanced by the anti-Islam DVD distributed by the Grand Rapids Press. The DVD, titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, “describes ‘radical Islam’ as a menace comparable to Adolf Hitler that, according to the film’s website, ‘is threatening, with all the means at its disposal, to bow Western civilization under the yoke of its values.’

Anti-Muslim views are disseminated through a wide range of online, radio, and print outlets. Not surprisingly, right-wing blogs have been at the forefront of Islam-bashing, but cable TV and rightwing radio shows also regularly advance such views. The report identifies twelve prominent Islamphobes, many of which can be found either on the radio, television, or in print in West Michigan. The Grand Rapids Press runs Michelle Malkin’s column, while Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage can all be heard in West Michigan. Similarly, rightwing commentator Debbie Schlussel is based out of Michigan.

Overall, the report provides a through examination of anti-Islam bias–much of which is outright hateful and offensive–in the mainstream media. While the report does not provide any concrete action steps, it is important that people confront Islamophobia when they see it by writing letters to newspaper editors, calling station managers–and if necessary–boycotting media outlets that advance such views.

Anti-Islamic DVD Distributed by the Clarion Fund

An anti-Islamic DVD distributed two Sundays ago in the Grand Rapids Press was funded by the Clarion Fund. The group says its goal is to focus on “the most urgent threat of radical Islam,” but it discloses next to nothing about its funding and membership.

Last week we posted a media alert on an anti-Islamic DVD that was distributed through the Grand Rapids Press. Upon further investigation, we were able to find out a bit more information on the group that paid for the production and distribution of the fear-based DVD, the Clarion Fund.

The Clarion Fund is a New York based non-profit organization that was founded in 2006. There is no information on their website about who they are, but they describe themselves as an educational organization with a focus on “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” There is no information on their website about who founded the group, their board of directors, or their funding sources. What is clear about the Clarion Fund is that they are committed to promoting fear about the Islamic religion.

The DVD that they funded, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, was not only distributed by the Grand Rapids Press, but to 28 million newspaper subscribers nationwide. The film has also been shown on CNN and FOX News. The producer of the film is an Israeli-Canadian named Raphael Shore. Shore has a history of speaking out on what he believes is an anti-Israel news media in the US. He has collaborated with the pro-Israeli media watchdog group called Honest Reporting. The communications director of the Clarion Fund is Gregory Ross. Ross, in a recent interview, stated, “the film was financed by a concerned citizen who has a long standing relationship with our organization. The cost was under $500k and it took over a year to complete.” Ross also said that, “the U.S. Department of the Navy uses the film and that it has also been shown on Capitol Hill on many occasions in order to education politicians.”

In a few weeks, the Clarion Fund plans on releasing a second DVD entitled The Third Jihad. This film claims there is a FBI-discovered secret document that “describes the grand jihad goal of destroying Western civilization from within by infiltrating and dominating North America.”

In response to the first DVD, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is urging the Federal Election Commission to investigate the timing on the DVDs, which they claim is being used to influence the election in swing states across the country.

It is hard to tell from the educational section of the Clarion Fund’s website whether or not they have a partisan bias. They do have a section documenting the candidate’ positions on homeland security, but there is no evidence to suggest that they are partisan.

Islamic and other groups in Grand Rapids have responded to the Grand Rapids Press’ distribution of this fear-based DVD and there are other reports of Islamic groups being outraged by the DVD. In last Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press, editor Mike Lloyd defended his decision to take the money and distribute the DVD since he felt that “Unrestrained debate over a highly controversial political ad demonstrates…the strength in this country that comes from diversity.” We wonder whether or not the Press, in the spirit of unrestrained debate, would take money to distribute a DVD that denied the Nazi Holocaust?

YAF Speaker Scrutinized

Last month, Media Mouse reported that Michigan State University’s (MSU) chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) is bringing Walid Shoebat to speak at the college in March. Recently, Talk to Action published an article titled “Autobiographical Accounts of USAF-paid ‘3 ex-Terrorists’ Challenged” that further scrutinizes Shoebat:

“Walid Shoebat and his “former terrorists”, converts to fundamentalist Christian zionism Christianity (apocalyptic premillenniallist dispensational Christianity to be exact) have been traveling around the US, around for several years now, beating the drumbeat for a full-blown religious war between the United States and the entire Islamic world. Shoebat and his associates claim that, because of their alleged background as former terrorists in the PLO, Hamas, or Hezbollah, they knew what Islam is really about: killing Christian and Jews. Along with a large cohort of Christian Zionists and other speakers and publicists, NeoConservatives and Israelis tied to the Likud Party, Walid Shoebat has been part of an ongoing PR campaign seemingly bent on to whipping Americans into a frenzied panic about the alleged menace of militant Islam.”

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According to the article, Shoebat and his two “ex-terrorists” have received increased scrutiny after being invited as paid experts on terrorism at a United States Air Force Academy. Along with this, there has been new criticism of Shoebat’s background:

“Now, a woman who says she has tracked down and talked to one of Walid Shoebat’s Palestinian-American relatives–who supposedly has said Walid Shoebat’s story is fraudulent–has now called Shoebat out to the extent of refusing to retract her story, which contradicts Shoebat’s story of having been a major PLO terrorist, despite a lawsuit threat from Shoebat’s agent.

As reported by Eileen Fleming, on her blog, a relative of Shoebat’s told Fleming that:

“The biggest act of ‘terror’ he ever committed was to glue Palestinian flags on street posts. But, when he was in jail he met someone who invited him to join a group against Israel. In 1977 Walid and his friends put packages behind a bank, but there were no explosives in it. That year he also met some Jehovah Witnesses and joined them for a while.”

As Fleming’s account, of this alternative and somewhat drab alternate chronicle of Shoebat’s past, continues it descends to a sad, tawdry level:

“Walid came to the U.S. in 1978 and met an Afghani friend and they went into business together, but it didn’t work out, so he moved to Chicago in 1981 where many cousins live and asked for help. He went to Loop College [now Harold Washington College] and was appointed as a foreign student advisor; a position offered him so he could pay his tuition.”

“The repo man took Walid’s truck and after that he went back to California. He met a Palestinian girl there and they got married and had a son. But, he beat his wife and that marriage broke up.”

It is also worth noting that Kamal Saleem–one of the “three ex-terrorists”–spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids last fall. Since that time, he has been examined by Doug Howard, a history professor at Calvin College. Howard said that he suspects that Saleem–an associate of Shoebat–is a fraud and advised the college against hosting him.