[The following open letter was originally published by Falling Walls Initiative.]
“Hardship is the only language used here. Anybody who is able to die will be able to achieve happiness for himself. He has no other hope except that. The requirement is to announce the end and challenge the self love for life and the soul that insists to end it all and leave this life, which is no longer called life, instead has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and a happiness for the soul. With all my pains I say goodbye to you.”
The quote above comes from Adnan Latif, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was held indefinitely without being charged for nine years. Despite being cleared for release due to the lack of sufficient evidence for charging decisions, Adnan Latif languished at Guantanamo Bay until his death in 2012. Adnan Latif had his freedom, dignity, and life taken from him. Unfortunately, Adnan Latif’s case isn’t an isolated event, but is the result of systematic global policies that created a new system of detention, one where access to due process and detainee rights, as outlined under international and constitutional laws were deliberately suspended and violated. As the Constitution Project’s non-partisan seminal report on detainee rights found the United States did knowingly engage in torture, and that the nation’s highest officials contributed to the use and proliferation of torture. While we may not hear the voices of the thousands of detainees that have been wrongfully held in detention facilities, maximum security units, black sites, or the voices of those who have been the victims of rendition policies, Adnan Latif’s last words are a chilling testimony of how death was his only escape from living under intolerable conditions. Perhaps, even more concerning than this injustice is that the global system of detention is part of a host of policies that embody the idea of collective punishment, the necessity of preventive wars, the broad suspension of civil liberties, the proliferation of drones, and the use of extrajudicial killings. It is because of the amalgamation and institutionalization of these War on Terror policies within the domestic and international sphere that we write this letter.
We are a group of scholars, advocates, activists and grassroots organizers who are outraged and deeply concerned by the violence that the United States has committed under the guise of national security. We are outraged that human and civil rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike are so callously rejected in favor of a national security state that purports to be a democracy and the leader of the free world, while furthering undemocratic policies and ideals. We are outraged that so many individuals have suffered from profiling, detention, torture, and murder by virtue of specifically being Muslim or looking Muslim. Our outrage and deep concern, however, makes us proactive citizens who work in our communities to affect positive change, while still engaging the government in much needed policy alternatives.
In acknowledging the harm that has befallen our community of Muslims, Americans, and all other groups that have faced the policy burdens associated with national security policies, we write this letter to categorically reject attendance at the White House Iftar. In contrast to other potential policy changing initiatives where community leadership successfully engages the government and influences the development of beneficial social and foreign policies, this dinner represents nothing more than an attempt to whitewash state violence, absolve government institutions from taking responsibility and creating mechanisms of accountability and transparency for the civil rights violations that have been perpetrated towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, and Americans at large, beginning from even before the onset of the War on Terror.
As those attending the Iftar surely know, the set of counterterrorism policies that have been solidified in the post 9/11 era disproportionately impact Muslim and Muslim Americans, especially some of the most marginalized and structurally vulnerable subsets of our communities, such as immigrants, individuals without status, those living in poverty, and individuals who are already uninformed about their rights. On an international scale, the US has continued to murder thousands of innocent individuals, including women and children, via drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The US has engaged in torture, including force feeding individuals in Guantanamo. Not only have said policies resulted in physical and psychological harm, actions such as the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, and the murder of his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, without any trial or due process, have sent a strong message to the Muslim American community that they are second class citizens whose constitutional rights can be stripped at any time. The Al-Awlaki family is not the only example in which Muslim Americans have been adversely affected by bias in the application of policies. Indeed, Muslim Americans have been subjected to preemptive prosecutions, entrapment, and community-wide surveillance.
Such policies have only further been entrenched during the Obama Administration, a severe disappointment and departure from the positions President Obama ran on during his presidential campaign. Today, surveillance has become an increasingly disturbing problem, whether performed by the NYPD with the help of the CIA, or through agencies such as the FBI and NSA. In fact, as Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain recently revealed, there is no longer any doubt as to whether Muslim Americans have been surveilled, an assertion that comes on the heels of the discovery that several Muslim American leaders have been spied on by the FBI and NSA. Asim Gill, a Muslim American who has been the target of this surveillance stated in response to discovering he was being monitored that, “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.” As Gill’s statement reveals, therefore, no Muslim Americans are exempt from surveillance, even those who strive to be good Americans.
In noting all of these violations of the state towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, we question the notion that events such as the White House iftar, exist as a way for our community to voice their concerns. In past speeches by President Obama during the White House iftars, he has spoken about Muslim American contributions to the United States, without acknowledging, however, the ways in which STATE policies, many of which he is directly responsible for implementing, have effectively diminished our legal and cultural citizenship.
Our objection to attendance at the White House iftar also relates to the degree to which this event substantively changes the course of policies affecting Muslims, or even prioritizes addressing such policies. While we welcome governmental initiatives on community engagement, thus far the aforementioned initiative hasn’t effectively changed punitive policies that disproportionately impact Muslims domestically or abroad. For example, earlier this year, media reports indicated that proposed guidelines on racial profiling by Attorney General Eric Holder will allow the continued mapping of communities of color by the FBI. These federal guidelines are further utilized by local law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions to justify religious profiling of Muslim communities. These federal guidelines are further utilized by local law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions to justify religious and ethnic profiling of Muslim communities. However, such events are used by government officials to put forth the idea that current programs, initiatives, and policies, are supported and passed by input from Muslim communities, because of their active engagement with the leadership in our communities. Further, it also empowers a certain subset of community leadership and influencers with the power to speak for the community’s interests and shape the American Muslim narrative while dismissing other important and critical voices.
Those of us signing this letter, have all engaged in work aimed at influencing policy, such as lobbying on the hill, policy and legislative advocacy, policy-driven research, writing support letters for hearings related to drones and other national security issues, and protesting (a true act of democracy). Thus, we are keenly aware of the work necessary in securing change and the importance of engaging decision-makers and policy-makers in the government (positive examples include requesting a meeting with President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and FBI Director, James Comey regarding the call for more information and transparency related to the recent discovery of the surveillance of several Muslim American leaders). However, we call upon attendees to reject their attendance, especially in light of the new revelations that civil rights leaders and community activists were targeted, and to send a strong message that we refuse to be used as a showpiece, and any legitimate outreach to Muslim communities will be based upon mutual respect, an absence of the environment of suspicion, and welcoming of voices across the spectrum, including the grassroots that is critical of government policies.
Finally, during this time of yet another Israeli bombardment on the besieged people of Gaza that has already killed at least 100 Palestinians, including 23 children, we cannot ignore that fact that it is U.S. tax dollars that are funding Israeli occupation and apartheid and that the White House has wholeheartedly endorsed Israel’s current massacre. This makes our call to reject an invitation to the White House iftar even more crucial as we are being told once again that from Palestine to Iraq, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, that the lives of those killed by the U.S. and its allies are worthless.
Muhammed Malik, Former Executive Director of CAIR-South FL
Dr. Maha Hilal
Ramah Kudaimi, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
Omid Safi, Duke University.
Dr. Hatem Bazian, American Muslims for Palestine and Co-Founder Zaytuna College
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, San Francisco State University*
Rawhi Beituni – West Coast Islamic Society
Azadeh N. Shahshahani, President, National Lawyers Guild
Munjed Ahmad, American Muslims for Palestine
Taher Herzallah, American Muslims for palestine
Shakeel Syed/American Muslims for Palestine
Roqayah Chamseddine, Al Akhbar Journalist
Rooj Alwazir, SupportYemen
Mezna Qato, Columbia University
American Muslims for Palestine
Younasse Tarbouni, Washington University in St. Louis
Dana Olwan, Syracuse University
Noor Fawzy, Students for Justice in Palestine National
Hülya Miclisse-Polat, Dream Defenders
Dick Reilly, HammerHard Media Works
Ijaz Chaudhry, The Bensalem Masjid
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Hoda Mitwally, J.D. Candidate, CUNY School of Law, CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine
Nadine Aly, Students for Justice in Palestine at Florida Atlantic University
Sheikh Faisal Islam, New England Foundation
Danya Al-Saleh, CUNY Graduate Center
Hex Bouderdaben, University of Chicago
Karim Sariahmed, Swarthmore College
Abdul-Malik Ryan, DePaul University
Jaime Veve, Retired, Transport Workers Union, NYC
Nashiha Alam, Students for Justice in Palestine, Loyola University Chicago
Karin Friedemann, Journalist, The Muslim Observer
Anas Amireh, Al-Awda – FL
Cynthia Franklin, University of Hawaii
Sara Bojd, Dream Defender
Jumana Al-Qawasmi, MSA
Sylvia Chan-Malik, Rutgers University
Professor Syed Hamidullah
Muneer O. Awad
Nidal A Barakat
Fizza Hussain Razvi
Hafez M Hafez
Misbah Dadabhoy Baig
Shahid I Khan
Zafar Iqbal Sadiq
Salim Amir AbdullahRaa’id Khan
Mohammed Iqbal Ansari
Inam Haq P
Syed W Ahmed
M. Zakir Khan
Shamimur Rahman Sidiqui
Mohammed Jawaid Iqbal
Mujahid Ali Syed
Moauk Fatima Zahra
Qamarul Haque Siddiqui
Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
Elizabeth NAML STTP