Monday, September 28, 2009

Palestinian Refugees to be Resettled in America

Victims of Iraq's Gangs are Coming to the U.S. this Fall

Miriam Jones wrote in The Wall Street Journal of July 17, 2009: "The US agreed to resettle 1,350 Palestinian displaced by fighting in Iraq, marking the largest resettlements ever of Palestinian refugees in the nation. The decision appears to signal a shift in Washington's previous position against resettling Palestinians out of concern about the potential impact on US relations with Israel and the Arab world. The resettlement which is slated to begin this fall, is likely to illicit strong reactions from people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

There are many victims of the US unjust war on Iraq from the sanctions' regime to the invasion of 2003 and the reckless way the country was run in the war's aftermath. Much suffering occurred because our former C student President wanted to implement what he thought God wanted him to do. One group that suffered much from the invasion is the Palestinian refugees who have lived in Iraq since the aftermath of the Nakba.

Life is never easy for refugees. The international system recognizes states and citizens. To be a refugee is to be outside the system, to be in a transitional position. A refugee's rights are limited. It is the job of the international community to provide assistance to refugees and to work on their repatriation or re-settlement. Most are. Not the Palestinians'.

The Rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Syria

The Palestinians stand out in their refugee status. They have a special international organization, UNRWA (no Arab or Muslim country among its biggest donors, not even close), that provides assistance to them, an assistance that is ever dwindling. The Palestinians fled or were forced to leave Palestine by Zionist criminal gangs who committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing to uproot the native population. The reality now is that the Palestinian refugees fare better in some countries than others. The Palestinian refugees in Syria, for example, have all the rights of Syrian citizens except citizenship. The refugees serve in the army, work in the private and public sector. The biggest camp in Syria is al Yarmouk, which I visited , and does not look in any way like the ghettos that exist in Lebanon. The Syrians deserve much credit for their decent treatment of the refugees and their open door policies to Iraqi refugees as well as to the Lebanese refugees during the many years of civil war/s. This fact was lost on those who instigated hate and aided and abetted the hate crimes against Syrian workers after the Syrian troops withdrawal from Lebanon.

Iraq and the Attacks of Sectarian Blood Hounds

Using the fig leaf of the lie that the Palestinian refugees were supporters of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, sectarian gangs pursued the Palestinian refugees with a vengeance. The Palestinian refugees were seen as a threat to the sectarian gangs, thugs that were set free to kill and pillage in the aftermath of the US occupation and the dismantling of the Iraqi state in the name of the Debaathification shibboleth. Iraqis fearing the bloodshed in Iraq could leave to Syria and Jordan, however, the Palestinian refugees could not. They had no militia and the US forces would not protect them. There were a number of brutal killings. Thousands of Palestinians got stuck at Iraq's borders. The refugee travel document that the Palestinian refugees hold is not an instrument for travel, it operates as an excuse for mistreatment and/or lack of admission (one refugee who lives in Saudi Arabia waited for two months for a transit visa from an Arab country). The refugees lived in makeshift camps, in open desolate areas, with humanitarian organizations providing basic assistance.

Ziad Asali and the Arab World Reaction

Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, welcomed the decision, telling Ms Jones of the Wall Street Journal that it is "a significant step …consistent with the new US message of accommodation with the Muslim world." Dr. Asali noted however that the decision to settle the refugees in the United States might be seen as "conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue." Arab governments and non Palestinian Arabs always express the fear that the Palestinians' acquiring of citizenship of any country would mean the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. The fact that Zionists had citizenship of other countries and it did not stop them from working to take over Palestine and displace its people is somehow lost. Even today, a high percentage of Israelis have dual, if not more, citizenships along with foreign passports just in case. In fact, many of the radical Jewish settlers who terrorize the Palestinians in the West Bank, stealing and/or burning their crops, among other crimes, are American citizens. The Israeli soldier who perpetrated the massacre in Hebron, Baruch Goldstein, was an American citizen, a medical doctor nonetheless [I am not holding my breath for the US government to investigate how and why American Jews who come from privileged backgrounds get radicalized and indoctrinated with hate enough to go to Israel to steal Palestinian land and commit war crimes].

Decent Treatment Obviates the Need for Citizenship

The country whose government is the loudest on the issue of the "conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinians cause" is none other than the government of Lebanon. Day in, day out the issue of the Palestinian refugees is used as a political football. Some Lebanese groups like the right- wing Guardians of the Cedars use such base language when attacking the Palestinians- language that would make Meir Kahane and Jabotinsky blush. The Palestinian refugees are subject to de facto and de jure discrimination that is an embarrassment not only to Lebanon and its people but to humanity as well, as the Lebanese supporter of Palestinian rights, the brave Natalie Abu Shakra put it. This mistreatment, as the Lebanese al Akhbar newspaper reported, makes the Palestinians curse the day they were born Palestinian refugees and aspire to be naturalized in Lebanon or in any other country. If there is a conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian cause it is the Lebanese government policy of abuse and discrimination that is the very embodiment of this "conspiracy." Those Lebanese who claim to support Palestine have offered only rhetorical support with no plan of action to change the reality and no follow up. Some of those supporters have gone to extreme measures for a lot less noble causes.

It is also important to note that the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon include a large number of naturalized highly successful people. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians who sought refuge in Lebanon have been naturalized by the Lebanese government. A Christian Palestinian American reporter who went to Lebanon to write a story on the Palestinian refugees told me that he was shocked by the extent of denial of the Christian Lebanese citizens of Palestinian descent of their origin. He told me that he had to keep pushing and asking questions for most of those he interviewed to admit their Palestinian origin. He was surprised. Anyone familiar with Lebanese politics would not. That origin is used as an excuse to discriminate and abuse- rational people avoid that. No doubt this phenomenon is not limited to the naturalized Christian Palestinians but includes the Muslim Palestinians who have also been naturalized. However, it is more damaging to the Palestinian cause to have falsely defined as an issue of Muslim refugees losing their homeland to Zionist aggression- Christian Palestinians also lost their homes to the Zionist enterprise.

Thank you America, Brazil, Sweden, the U.K. and the Netherlands. The only thing the refugees will miss is the inflated rhetoric of Arab and Muslim support. And if you miss that you can watch on Al Jazeera. Palestine is wherever a Palestinian lives.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Battle of the Head Scarf: a Muslim Woman, a Circuit Judge, and an Arab Muslim Attorney

Moughni’s Character Assassination is Reminiscent of Abuse of Victims of Sexual Molestation

I was shopping on Warren Avenue when I saw an orange pamphlet distributed by attorney Majed Moughni. In a footnote it reads “Please copy, post and distribute until Judge Callahan is exonerated.” I was eager to read the judge’s story. My Facebook friends were posting articles that were all presenting the woman’s side. These facts are undisputed. An Arab Muslim woman, Raneen Albaghdady, appears in Court before Wayne County court judge William Callahan. She is the last person to go on record. The judge asks her to remove her head scarf. She removes it. Then comes the lawsuit against the judge filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on her behalf for violating her religious rights. Attorney Nabih Ayad, a Michigan Civil Rights Commission member is the attorney representing Ms Albaghdady.

Wayne County: Many Litigants and a Judge Wear the Muslim Head Scarf

My first reaction to this case was wondering how the judge could fail to recognize the Muslim scarf. After all, he has been a judge for a number of years in Wayne County, a county with a large Muslim presence. Day in day out Muslim women litigants wearing head scarves appear before the judges in that circuit. There is even a Wayne county judge, Charlene Makled Elder, a powerful symbol of political and legal integration of the community, who wears a head scarf. Is it possible that judge Callahan mistook the Muslim scarf for an improvised fashion statement head gear? It is possible. Lawsuits continue when there are questions of fact or law in dispute.
Mr. Moughni Steps In: “Counsel” “frivolous” “boyfriend” “singles bar”
Judge Callahan retained Dearborn attorney Mr. Majed Moughni to represent him in the lawsuit filed by CAIR. I have a passing knowledge of Mr. Moughni and respect him as a fellow attorney. But in this case he has been unfair to the litigant and used awful tactics in defending his client. The first thing that struck me is that he got the name of CAIR wrong- it is the Council not the “Counsel” as he wrote in his release. I expected Mr. Moughni to present the judge’s version of the events and make the reader give him the benefit of the doubt and tell us how the judge’s record shows that he is a tolerant person who would not violate anyone’s religious rights. Instead, Mr. Moughni arbitrarily usurped the role of the judiciary by declaring this lawsuit that raises constitutional questions “frivolous.” It gets worse. I thought that the bad old days where a woman risked that her reputation would be sullied for bringing a lawsuit were long gone. These days were resurrected by Mr. Moughni. The pamphlet referred to “singles bar” and “last boyfriend.” These are cheap shots that are reminiscent of the days when an abused woman would have her personal history, real or imagined, paraded in public as punishment for seeking justice for being wronged. Parading the victim’s personal history was also meant to shift the focus from the perpetrator to the victim.

The Mystery of the Head Scarf Revealed: No Magic

A woman that wears a head scarf does not magically transform into an angel or a superwoman. Muslim women who wear a head scarf do it out of a religious obligation they believe in. The fact that they wear it does not mean they don’t watch MTV, drink diet Cola or listen to Lady Gaga. When I was a student at Wayne State University a professor told me how he was working out in the college gym when he saw a woman wearing a Hijab playing a “mean” basketball game. He remarked how that scene was intriguing to him. It should not. Women who wear head scarves can play basketball too. That professor, who is a wonderful and tolerant man, told me how over the years he has seen an increase in the number of female students who wear a head scarf in his classroom. He stated that they tend to be the brightest students in his class. In the Greater Detroit area there is an increase, especially in the second generation, in the practice of wearing a Hijab as a religious observance and/or assertion of identity and non- Muslims are used to seeing women wearing head scarves. These women come from all walks of life.
Not Frivolous: The Hijab, a Religious Obligation, and an American Choice
It is the consensus of the Muslim religious scholars/ulema that a Hijab (Muslim head covering as well as clothes that cover most of the body) is mandated by the faith. A Hijab, however, is not a pillar of the faith like prayer, the pilgrimage to Mecca/Hajj and Zakat/alms giving are. In America the right to wear a Hijab, just like the Jewish men’s right to wear a yarmulke, is protected by the Constitution. This country gets many things right and one of the things it gets right is the balance between church and state and a nuanced secularism. There is nothing “frivolous” about that.

In this country the Hijab is a choice that women make. However, there is a mistaken belief that Muslim American women are forced to wear a Hijab. An observant Arab Muslim relayed to me an incident that occurred in California. It was a hot day in Los Angeles when a stranger approached him and his wife who wears a Hijab. The following conversation ensued:

Stranger: “How dare you dress in short sleeves while you force this poor woman to cover up like that in the heat?”
Husband: “Ask her if I made her dress like that?’
Stranger: “I can talk to her?”
Husband: “Yes”
Wife:”You think he is making me dress like that. He can not make me dress like this or not dress like this. I dress like this because God wants me to.”
The stranger got embarrassed and walked away.

Women Who Wear a Muslim Head Scarf: Women Who Are More Courageous than Many Men

After 9/11 women who wear head scarves were easy targets since they were readily identifiable. Still these women, the stronger sex, stood their ground and wore their head scarves despite the risks. For us in the Muslim community, these women wearing a Hijab are the most courageous members of our community- those who hate Muslims and want to act on the hate hesitate to attack a Muslim bearded man who might appear menacing to them. However the cowards would not fear attacking what they perceive is a meek woman.

Debatable Guilt, Clear Guilt

Despite the odds, these Muslim women exercise the religious obligation and the Constitutional right to wear a head scarf. We owe them to stand up to them, stand with them, and offer our respect and support. Judge Callahan’s culpability is debatable. I would say Judge Callahan probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on whether he knew that Ms Albaghdadi’s head cover was a religious head scarf or not. However, there is no doubt that the person who intentionally and willfully violated Ms Albaghdady is none but one of our own- Mr. Moughni who did it for less than thirty silver coins.