Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another May 7, 2008 in Lebanon?

The Syrian conflict seems to be nearing a clear end- the collapse of the Assad regime. In Lebanon there is talk that the Hizbullah is looking to reach some compromises with the March 14 coalition. These arrangements are sought to lessen the repercussions of the Syrian developments on the political situation in Lebanon.

There is no doubt that the demise of the Assad regime is the biggest challenge faced by the Hizbullah ever- a bigger challenge than it's war with Amal in the 1980s, any of the Israeli wars fought, or the classification of the group as a terrorist organization.

There is talk that the Hizbullah, in order to force concessions, will resort to another May 7, 2008- type operation. This is the operation were Hizbullah and its supporters used force, mainly against the Sunni-led Future Movement and its supporters, in order to force concessions from the March 14th Movement. The use of force worked- it resulted in the Doha Agreement with a veto power for Hizbullah and its lesser allies. However, it resulted in a deep chasm between the Shia and Sunnis in Lebanon that has only been deepening. It also resulted in a change of perception of the group in the Arab and Muslim world- from that of a resistance group to that of an Iranian proxy- a sectarian group intent on harming Sunnis and their interests.

Lebanon today- December 15, 2012, is not Lebanon on the eve of May 7, 2008. It's a transformed country- and not in a good way. Such a gamble by the Hizbullah and its allies will exact huge costs on the Lebanese. The Hizbullah would not be facing poorly- armed security guards with little to no motivation to fight. It will be facing opponents who have been emboldened by the Syrian conflict and the near demise of the Syrian regime. Hizbullah will be facing a Sunni community who, with marginal exceptions, feels threatened, marginalized and humiliated by the Hizbullah. Most importantly, those in the Sunni community who seem eager for a military confrontation with the Hizbullah, a group they see as nothing more than an Iranian proxy, are the highly religious Sunnis, who would be motivated by a sense of sectarian grievance against the group. They would be led by what MP Jumblatt referred to- those with the closely trimmed mustaches and the long beards. These are fighters who are as motivated or even more motivated than the Hizbullah fighters. It will not be a pretty picture.

A decision by the Hizbullah to use its weapons internally, again, for domestic leverage, to force concessions will have disastrous consequences- primarily for the Hizbullah and its supporters. It is possible that  Hizbullah would attempt that but I think it's unlikely because the group has proved itself to be pragmatic and showed a good understanding of Lebanese politics and reality . But if the unlikely happens it will be one of the worst conflicts seen in Lebanon ever- even by the Civil War's standards.   
The Shia Hizbullah would be fighting the Sunni Hizbullah with both sides deeply confident in the validity of their cause and equally confident that dying for it is good for them in this life and in the afterlife. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Walbridge's Dearborn book

Without Forgetting the Imam: Lebanese Shi'is in an American Community (1997) by Linda Walbridge is an excellent book on the Shia of Dearborn. One hopes that those who want to learn about that community do read her book- particularly federal law enforcement who have a special interest in that area of the world. The insights and the depth of knowledge she has are remarkable. She was able to attain them because she was trusted by the community who opened their homes to her.

One hopes that those interested in that community read Walbridge and not the drivel that is written about the community by Zionist Christians and Zionist Jews who see attacking and defaming that community as somehow helping Israel. In the alternative they see the defaming and demonizing as payback for the Shia Lebanese group Hizbullah fighting Israel and succeeding in removing it from the South of Lebanon.

 However, there are two errors in the book I want to mention. First- On page 35 she writes that "Minority groups have been able to persist in Lebanon because of its inaccessible mountainous area." The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi years ago- in 1988- debunked that myth. Is it possible the Muslim armies who invaded and destroyed empires, near and far, were not able to reach to the mountainous area? This is Salibi's question. And his answer is highly unlikely. Second- On page 36 she writes that "Lebanon is unique among the Middle Eastern countries in that it is home to a very large Christian population." Egypt has more Christians than all the other Arab countries combined.

Defendant Michel Samaha and the dominant (anti -) Sunni Muslim narrative

Michel Samaha is a high profile defendant charged with serious crimes in Lebanon. He is charged with being a part of an armed criminal syndicate that planned bombings with the intention of fomenting sectarian strife in Lebanon.

 The leaked information from the secretly taped conversations reveal that he was part of a plot to assassinate the Maronite patriarch during his visit to the North- an area of Lebanon that is majority Sunni Lebanese- many of whom are struggling to survive in an area of the country that lacks the infrastructure and opportunities that other parts of the country have. The North has never received the attention it deserved because it did not border Israel, the world did not care for it- and it did not have advocates and supporters to lobby for its interests. It now gets a lot of negative attention- hardly any positive attention- even though the Prime Minister is from that part of the country. The attention the North gets now is undesirable, defamatory and contrived- the hyped and insidious cries about the "Salafist threat." The Samnaha terrorist plot was preceded with a coordinated campaign of various personalities and media outlets hyping up the Sunni "Salafist threat" in Tripoli. The media outlets involved in this campaign included al- Akhbar newspaper ( a "newspaper" whose editor Al Amin stated with zero concern about professionalism and credibility, that all it takes is for Sayed Hassan Nasrallah to whisper in his ear about something for him to do do without any thinking or reservations). So far there is nothing new in this. So what's the issue here? What is really surprising is the fact that an important part of the Samaha plot has been papered over and not given any attention by analysts and observers of the Lebanese situation.

 Simply put Samaha's involvement in the criminal plot was motivated in big part by his hatred of Sunnni Muslims. Nothing new in this hate. This is the same man who, when asked in the Aljazeera documentary interview about the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, looked straight at the camera and with the cold demeanor of an assassin justified the crime and showed zero concern for the victims of the massacre. As to the terrorist plot- This man basically said in the secretly taped conversations that if the Sunni mufti were killed and other Sunnis were killed that's fine- because "yesterday they [Sunni Muslim rebels] attacked the Christians in Aleppo."

 If Samaha's plot was targeting any other religious community in Lebanon, other than the Sunnis, we would not have heard the end of it. But because he was motivated by hatred and vindictiveness against the Sunni Muslims that somehow evaded the media and the analysts. There is a dominant narrative about the Muslim Sunnis and their being victims of vicious sectarian and confessional hatred is not allowed to be part of it. Why?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Syrian Christians and the Assad Regime

I just finished reading Neil Mcfarquhar’s small and highly readable book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah wishes you a happy birthday. Neil is the former New York Times reporter in the Middle East. I met him and had dinner with him one time when he was writing a story on American Muslim charities. I was at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in Denver last month. I was talking to a colleague when the topic of Syria came up. My colleague said things that almost everyone else that I talked to in the US usually says when the topic of Syria comes up- Syrian Christians: “Assad is good to the Christians” and “what would happen to the Christians if Assad is removed.” This common reaction is testament to the very effective propaganda work of the Assad regime and its supporters. Who cares about the tens of thousands of people killed and the excessive use of force against the civilian population? Syria is not a country with a bloody history of sectarian relations. There are historical incidents of tensions and violence but they are the rare exception rather than the rule. There is no better response to the question about the Christians in Syria than this quote on page 335 from Neil’s book regarding the Christian Syrian Anwar al-Bunni [ I am familiar with Al Bunni from my readings on the Middle East- I did not know he is a Christian until I read Neil's book] and his encounter with the regime: “In 1982, Bunni was a recent college graduate living in Hama, where the government began rooting out supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The old Muslim quarter was their stronghold and the army eventually turned the entire district into a parking lot. Bunni, a Christian, resided in an adjacent neighborhood, but security agents nabbed him because he sported a beard- often the trademark of a devout Muslim male. Even as they were beating him, he refused to tell them whether he was a Christian or a Muslim. His wife quoted him as saying to them, “I have lived here for twenty years and nobody has ever asked me that question so I won’t answer.” Finally a neighbor emerged from his house and vouched that Bunni was a Christian. The officers let him go, but first set his beard alight.”

Al Assir: A Muslim Brother or a Salafist?

The media insist on describing the Shaykh of Masjid Bilal Bin Rabah Ahmad Al-Assir as a Salafist. Al Assir looks like a Salafist with his long beard and closely trimmed moustache. But al Assir himself has refused to self- identify as a Salafist. His background is involvement with the Al Jamaa al Islamiyya of Lebanon- the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood. He said he left the Jamaa because he wanted to work independently- which he did, keeping a low profile for a number of years. In a number of interviews he gave to the Lebanese and international media Al Assir denied affiliation with any group-Islamist or secular. His field of work was Da'awa- the call on the non observant Muslims to return to being practicing Muslims. It was the Syrian Revolution, Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and Hezbollah’s practices in Lebanon that turned him to speaking out on political issues- according to him.His perception that there is a lack of balance in Lebanon- that there is hegemony of Hezbollah on Lebanese political life [a theme also echoed by the clean-shaven cool and modern 14th of March Lebanese political grouping- including Samir Geagea the head of the Lebanese Forces party] and that all sects are suffering from this hegemony but none as much as the Sunni sect of Lebanon. He gave numerous examples to back his evaluation of Lebanese politics and devoted one whole sermon to explaining the causes of increase in Sunni-Shia tension and another whole sermon on the topic of how he sees the Sunni sect is being persecuted by the "Iran Party". A more accurate description of Al Assir is he is a Tablighi Jamaa- the group that focuses on the Daawa and much less on politics. His pragmatism, acceptance of the Lebanese confessional political system, respect for and acknowledgement of differences as an accepted fact, make him, intellectually at least, Muslim Brotherhood than anything else. The media’s fixation on his looks makes it very hard to undo this myth that he is a Salafist.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Shaykh Al Assir: The consociational salafist

                                               A Marginal Phenomenon?

In a country of 4 million people the Al Assir Youtube channel has 959,205 views and his Masjidbilalbinrabah channel has 299, 390 views. Not a marginal phenomenon even though his detractors and political opponents within his faith group would like to paint him as such. Why is his message being heard? Because his message is not a revolutionary one. He is a status quo player. How? 

                                                Good Sunni/Bad Sunni Dichotomy

The dominant theme in the media reporting on the man is that he is a "radical" Sunni- the un- Mustaqbal/Future Movement if you will. That there you have the good Sunnis- the modern Sunnis with the shaved beards or the trimmed goatees represented by Saad Hariri and then you have the scary bunch- the long beards- Shaykh al-Assir and his supporters who are lumped together with the Who's Who of a long list of scary Sunni Islamists. But the record does not support this conclusion. The record is the man's words and deeds. The Lebanese democracy is a consociational democracy built on power sharing among the different sects of Lebanon- 16 of them with the three biggest being the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Shia.

                                                    List of Political Grievances

The Shaykh al-Assir as to Lebanon has put forth the following positions numerous times: 1. Lebanon is a a country to be shared by all its sects. He supports that. 2. He complains about the lack of balance in the political system. His chief grievance is that "the Iran party"/the Hezbollah has used the conflict with Israel to monopolize massive arms outside the state control and basically took over the state in all but name- a state that all the Lebanese are supposed to share. He gave numerous examples of Hezbollah not respecting the rules of the Lebanese consociational democracy. One of them is the marginalizing of Saad Hariri when he represents the biggest bloc of Sunni voters and supporters. the influence of the Hezbollah on the judiciary, the army, etc. 3. His demand is that there should be a restoration of the balance and a road map for the the state taking over the weapons of Hezbollah so that the state that represents all the Lebanese can make the decisions of war and peace. He accuses the Hezbollah of using its weapons to advance the Iranian agenda.

                                                      Restatement of  "Unique" Grievances?

 The above are all complaints that have been voiced by different players in Lebanese politics from all sects- the Maronite owner of ad diyar alluded to this reality in his paper- leader of the Lebanese Forces the Maronite Samir Geagea also made comments along the same lines. The shaykh, despite his Salafist looks accepts the Lebanese political system, accepts power sharing and his complaint is that his community is being marginalized by the Hezbollah.

                                                      The Consociational Salafist

 This is a political complaint not a religious complaint that has been echoed by other Sunnis, leaders and ordinary folks, as well. His call is not to restore the Caliphate and Islamic rule. His call is the return of balance in the power sharing arrangement. The Shaykh is an interesting kind of "salafist." A consociational "salafist."

Friday, November 30, 2012

The media and al Assir: The Ashoura or the Hezbollah banners?

The media reporting on the Lebanese Shaykh Al Assir phenomenon is feeding directly into the Sunni-Shia tensions in Lebanon.

 One error of reporting is the statement repeated by journalists that the Shaykh wanted to remove the Ashoura banners. Ashoura is the most important event in Shia history. The reality is Al-Assir wanted to remove the banners and pictures of Hezbollah and its leaders. He considered the prominent displays of Hezbollah banners offensive to the sensibilities of the people of Sidon since Hezbollah, according to Al Assir, is supporting and fighting alongside the Assad regime. Hezbollah is a political group, the Shias are a Lebanese sect.

Removing Ashoura banners is an issue for almost all Lebanese Shias- removing Hezbollah banners is a confrontation with a specific political group and not a whole faith group. There is a big difference between the two.

Sunnis and Shias: The manufacture of difference

There are real differences that cause tension between Shias and Sunnis. And then there are imagined differences. Imagined differences are worse than real differences since its heard to bridge the gulf that the imagination creates. Some of the writers on Sunnis and Shia have contributed to misunderstandings and tensions by writing without authority. An example is Judith Palmer Harik’s book, Hezbollah: The changing face of terrorism (2004). Harik has a whole paragraph on the succession of the prophet controversy. The paragraph does not even have one citation. Then she writes, without citation: “When one of these opponents, Muawiyah, assassinated Ali in 661, a split occurred between his partisans and the rest of the community.” Caliph Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite. In this book Harik managed to manufacture another ground for tension between Sunnis and Shias

Friday, November 9, 2012

Understanding the Shaykh Ahmad Al Assir phenomenon- Grievance-based versus doctrine based analysis of Lebanese Sunni-Shia relations

The obvious reality for all to see is that there are great sectarian tensions in Lebanon and in the other Arab countries as well. These tensions are getting worse. The assassination of the intelligence chief Wesam al-Hassan, who is a Sunni Muslim and a supporter of the Sunni-led Future Movement, has aggravated these tensions further. This phenomenon has led to the laudable calls from different quarters for Muslim unity and rising above divisions. But what is behind these tensions? Is it the historical split in Islam that led to the birth of Shia and Sunni Islam? Is it the fault of the so-called “Salafists/Takfiris” who “hate” the Shia and want to “slaughter all of them as infidels”?

 A man who has spoken frequently, openly, and controversially about Sunni-Shia tensions and issues is the Sunni Lebanese Imam of the Masjid Bilal Bin Rabah in Abra, Sidon, Lebanon, Ahmad Al- Aseer. Recently he was interviewed by MTV Lebanon focusing on his personal and family life. He has become of interest to the Lebanese national media as well as the international media in a span of a year due to his dealing openly with the sectarian issue- some say using inflammatory rhetoric designed to foment sectarian conflict. On July 9. 2012 Robert Fisk of the Independent wrote an article entitled “The Rebel Sheikh defying Hezbollah to take aim at Assad.” It’s obvious that Fisk did not take the man seriously and focused on his “huge beard” instead and concluded the report with “he has nothing against the West.” On July 17 an article entitled “Lebanon’s Salafi Scare” by Geneive Abdo appeared in Foreign Policy. Abdo seems to have the dismissive attitude of Fisk calling the man “a self-proclaimed religious authority with a bushy long beard” and a “firebrand political Salafist.” She alleges that, with other Salafists, Assir is “using the civil war in Syria to gain political power and revive the sectarian conflict with their historical foes, the Shiites.” She accuses Assir and the other Salafist leaders of sectarian incitement: “they have discovered that framing the turbulence as a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims resonates not only with their followers, but with many outside Lebanon.” She concluded her article with a warning that Lebanon is again facing the threat of civil strife but this time around the product of Salafists painting the Syrian conflict as a Sunni-Shia conflict. It is useful to know that Al Assir has a long bushy beard. But what did the man say? Did he proclaim himself a “religious authority” as Abdo said? Fisk says Assir does not hate the West- that’s good. But is that it, isn’t there more?

What is the man saying and why are hundreds of thousands of people- almost 900,000 in a nation of 4 million people- listening as one finds out from his two channels, Ahmad Al Assir and masjidBilalbinrabah, viewership numbers on Youtube? He does not have a militia and less than two years ago he was an obscure leader of a small mosque in Sidon. What happened? What did he say in his sermons that led to the controversy? There is a way to know. The man has a website, a website for his mosque in Abra, Masjid Bilal Bin Rabah. He also has two YouTube channels: Ahmad Assir and masjidbilalbinrabah. Unfortunately, the videos do not have English subtitles therefore those who don’t know Arabic enough have to rely on what others say about him, except for a short clip on MEMRI, or what a short interview that is overshadowed by the “bushy beard” reveals. One sermon he gave on July 2, 2012 dealt with the issue of sectarian tensions and the reasons behind them. Listening to this sermon provides the insight one needs to assess whether the man is fomenting sectarian hatred or instead is raising his voice to voice disagreement about practices that are, in his opinion, causing tensions. He has repeatedly told Arab media outlets such as Al Arabiya TV and al Jadeed TV the bases for his protest movement- but the ideas were not adequately developed in the interviews- interviews more focused on fitna/civil strife than on the factors creating civil strife. He seems to never have had an English language TV interview. The July 2, 2012 sermon is on the Sunni-Shia relationship explaining the reasons for the increase in tensions. Listening to the sermon, two things struck me about the man. One is that he does not call the Shia names or mock their religion or dig from their old books, in context or out of context, to condemn them. Second, he repeatedly says that he wants civil coexistence and calls on all to help keep the national peace.

This is not a fire and brimstones preacher. He does not claim that he is a religious authority and does not self identify as a Salafist. While in Sunni Islamist circles, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 so many have Sunni preachers dug out comparisons to the “treachery of Ibn al Alqami,” the Shia minister who allegedly betrayed the Sunni Caliph of Baghdad, to argue that the Shia “always stab the Sunni Muslims in the back and betray them.” That dominant theme of radical discourse on the Shia is missing from Assir’s speeches. Other Sunni preachers and activists have dug out phrases and sentences, in context and out of context, from Shia classics to argue that the Shia are heretics, not real Muslims, that they hate the Sunnis, that they believe that the Koran is incomplete, etc. Al Assir, remarkably, does none of that. So what does he say? He can speak for himself and he has done so many times in his mosque and during the public protests he held in Sidon, Beirut and North Lebanon. 

These sermons are primary sources that to my knowledge have not been translated into English. In the July 2, 2012 he does review of the relationship between the Shia and the Sunnis and then goes into a list of grievances against Iran and Hezbollah. He states that before the Iranian Revolution in 1979 there was not much sectarian tensions and he refers to his own family background, the fact that his mother is Shia and all his relatives on her side are, and that during his youth there were not tensions. He states that the Iranian Revolution did not aggravate sectarian tensions for a number of reasons key among them is that it raised the slogans of Islamic Unity and the Liberation of Palestine- two causes that appeal to all Muslims. Another reason is the Iran-Iraq war that got Iran engulfed in that conflict and therefore unable to spread its influence and ideology. Then he refers to two events that had some effect on sectarian tensions in Lebanon- the Lebanese Shia Amal Movement War of the Camps with the Palestinians and the Amal- Sunni-dominated and led Nasserist Movement Al Mourabitoon conflict in Beirut. The two conflicts between a Shia organization and the Sunni Palestinians and the Sunni-majority Mourabitoon did not aggravate sectarian tensions much since the dominant character of both conflicts was political in nature.

 Al Assir identifies the key culprit for Sunni-Shia tensions to the emergence of the Shia resistance movement- Hezbollah. He defends labeling the Hezbollah as a Shia resistance movement. He claims that the labeling of Hezbollah’s resistance as Shia resistance is not motivated by sectarian animus since the very name of the group is a Shia-specific name- Hezbollah is the Party of God according to Shia interpretation who interprets the Party of God as Ali and his descendants and those who are their partisans the Shia. Hezbollah’s resistance is also a Shia resistance since only Shia can be member of the Hezbollah. The Syrian-Iranian alliance in Lebanon disallowed all resistance to Israel accept the Shia resistance. Anyone who wanted to fight Israel had to go through the Shia resistance movement. Al Assir says many refused to go through the Hezbollah to resist Israel because this means a non Shia would sacrifice their blood and that organization would use the sacrifice to advance its own agenda.

In his words, with minor editing: “A key culprit is the emergence of the tensions is the emergence of the Shia resistance. Slowly it led to the aggravation of sectarian tensions. This is a resistance that was built on the ruins of other resistance movements. Before it there were Palestinian, nationalist, leftist, communist, [Sunni Islamist] Jamaa Islamiyya. We trace the sectarian tensions to the emergence of the Shia resistance since the fight against Israel was monopolized by the Shia resistance and the only way to fight Israel was through the Shia resistance. This is an Iranian-Syrian decision taken during the years of Syrian hegemony. Only through them could anyone fight Israel. That means if you want to fight Israel and engage in resistance acts you have to go through them. Many would be Israel resisters were upset about that. Through them means you contribute your blood and they take the credit for your sacrifice to advance their agenda. Now they are a Shia party. When I use this label some say I am inciting sectarian tensions by calling them a Shia party. But what are they? Is their party secular? Is it Islamic? Are they nationalist? That’s what they are. From the very name- Hezbollah. This name originates from the Koranic verse that the Shia have their own interpretation of. To them Hezbollah means Ali and his family and their followers. The Shia cite the Koranic verses as proof that Ali and his descendants are the legitimate successors to the prophet and if you don’t subscribe to that then you cannot be in Hezbollah. If you don’t subscribe to that reading then you are not Hezbollah and your faith/belief is not acceptable.

This is the situation as it is. So the name is sectarian. By the way, I am not against religion- based parties. So the name is sectarian. Also, the structure of the party is also sectarian. You can’t be a member of Hezbollah unless you are a Shia- I am not inventing this. If I call it a Shia resistance- that’s what it is. The slogans of the party are all Shia-specific slogans. For example: “We shall avenge Hussein!” From whom? “Of Hussein we all heed your call?” Who says that but the Shia? “All what we have is from Karbala” “All what we have is from Ashura” Who says that but the Shia? The occasions they celebrate, the political appearances and the events they hold, all held during Shia-specific occasions where they mix their religious- Shia-specific traditions with politics where there is some talk of religion but then mostly a discussion of politics. Israel is our enemy and this is a doctrinal issue. This Shia resistance emerged to resist Israel- and this is a limited resistance. They fought Israel when the official Arab political system shied away from confrontation with Israel. But this is Jerusalem that we are talking about. It was conquered by Omar and liberated by Saladin. This emergence of a [Shia] resistance on the ruins of other resistances upset a lot of Islamists. Why? The Palestinian file/cause is a sensitive file. They took hold of the Palestine file. This is a sensitive file. They forbid the others from fighting for Palestine [The late George Hawi, a Christian and the longtime head of the Lebanese communist party, made the same point in the Aljazeera documentary The Lebanon War].

Then this sectarian party’s star started rising in the Arab and Muslim world because of the forced monopolization of this sensitive file. The Palestine issue is a very sensitive issue even to the unobservant Muslim- even the Muslim who is an alcohol drinker or a drunkard, cares about Palestine. They monopolized this file and they are a sectarian party. Then they started the campaign of conversion of Sunnis to Shiism. The target was the Sunni community. I have mentioned this before and warned against the conversion campaign many times. We want to live together peacefully. But don’t say Islamic unity and then under the table try to convert me to Shiism. Why am I lost and need guidance to true faith? Think of these books- Then I was Guided, I rode the Salvation Ship, With the Sadikeen/Rightly Guided [these are polemical works written by former Sunnis who converted to Shiism]. You say there is no difference then you engage in a conversion campaign. And in this campaign you tell the would be convert that the difference between the Sunni practice and the Shia practice is a matter of heaven or hell. Many were deceived and many Sunnis converted to Shiism. I heard an Iranian official speak about this. The Sudan is a Sunni country- there are no Shia there. The Iranians opened a consulate there and started right away the conversion campaign. They used the Palestine issue and their monopoly on the fight against Israel to promote their faith. Many [Sunnis] were deceived- they were taken with the Shia resistance and its achievements. The Sudanese government discovered the efforts of the consulate and closed it. The Iranian official said that they should have moved slowly. Shiism started spreading. Thousands in Egypt converted. Now they are saying they want a Shia party in Egypt. The Azhar clergy reacted to that. Al Qaradawi himself too he said no difference and supported the resistance. He fell in the trap of the slogan of no difference and Islamic unity and then discovered what was happening on the ground and that he had been duped…..

They have allied Sunni clergy whom they drew to them in the name of the resistance. This is an issue of religious doctrine. They have sent them Shia clergy from Iran specialized in converting Sunnis into Shia. It was a ferocious campaign to convert Sunnis to Shia- more important to them than Palestine. I have seen the polemical books urging conversion to Shiism being distributed widely during the years of the Syrian hegemony. The tide has receded due to the efforts of alert Sunni clergy. Why? Because light was shed on this matter and the they exposed their modus operandi of packaging Shiism and selling it using the slogans of Islamic unity and the resistance as tools to achieve this end. The tide has receded due to the shedding of light on the issue and the exposure of the utilization of the slogans of resistance and Islamic unity as tools for that end. This aggravated the sectarian tensions. They became aware that the slogans of Islamic unity and resistance were used as a ploy for conversion of Sunnis to Shiism. Another reason for the tensions is the rhetoric of the Shia resistance. The Sunni clergy started paying attention to this rhetoric that included verbal attacks on Islamic figures revered by the Sunnis. Some of the Companions of the Prophet were attacked by their speakers during their Shia -specific events. [Amawite Caliph] Moawiya and Abu Sufyan were attacked- these are Companions of the Prophet.

They attacked/insulted Sunni symbols during occasions that are quintessentially sectarian. Their rhetoric incited against [Caliph] Moawiya his mother and his father. The Sunni man on the street did not catch that. Their Secretary General [Sayed Hassan Nasrallah] said that Hussein left Medina [in today’s Saudi Arabia] for the fight after the Medina had forsaken him. Do you know what it means to say that Hussein was forsaken by Medina? It means that these people not worth any respect? But these are the Sahaba/the companions of the prophet in Medina. These are the best of all people. An attack on these people is an attack on our history. This is said in public with no concern for the seriousness of the allegations. The Sunni man on the street does not get it. The man on the streets thinks this is just politics. This fed the fire of the sectarian tensions.

 Then there is Iran’s politics in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranian aid to the American occupation of Haroun al Rashid’s Baghdad and Sunni-majority Afghanistan is another factor that aggravated Sunni-Shia relations. That was a clear Iranian support of the American war effort. Some say there were common interests between Iran and the US as to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s more than that. Mohammed Baker al Hakeem is the biggest Iraqi Shia agent of the American occupation. Al Hakeem gets his support from the same source as that of Hezbollah: Iran. Al Hakeem formed his party in Iran and came into Iraq, from Iran, riding American tanks. When Al Hakeem died they [Hezbollah] commemorated his death in the [Shia majority/Hezbollah controlled] Southern suburb of Beirut. The commemoration lasted 40 days. Who was that man that he got all this respect? His successor in leadership Abdul Aziz al Hakeem visited the US and met with George Bush, while the Sunnis were being slaughtered in Falluja [Sunni majority city in Iraq]. This led to a negative reaction. Also, they slaughtered Saddam on the day of the Muslim Eid [it fell on a different day for the Shia of Iraq] with no concern to Sunni sensibilities. This has aggravated sectarian tensions.

 Another reason for the aggravation of sectarian tensions is the way their media outlets have focused on and magnified Shia victimization and Shia grievances. Their outlets focused on the slaughter of the Shia in Iraq the destruction of Shia holy sites. But how about the massacres committed against the [Iraqi] Sunnis? Tens of thousands of Sunnis were evicted from Baghdad. They want it like Tehran a city with no Sunni mosques like what happened when Khomeini entered Tehran. They did not allow the Eid prayer for the Sunnis in Tehran. They want that also in Baghdad. Their media outlets were silent. Those [Sunnis] who listen? Those who follow the news and pay attention what do they say? How is he who listens affected? Note that I condemn fitnas/community strife anywhere. Then the focus on the [Shia] Houthis in Yemen- There is none other the Houthis to focus on? The focus on the Houthis even displaced the focus on Palestine in their media. What is the impact of all of this? The Houthis are agents of a foreign power. Why this focus? Why this silence as to certain agents of the United States? Their silence on the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the role of the agents of the occupation. It’s a big deal. Contrast that with their rhetoric in Lebanon.

The Hezbollah has accused the Future Movement and the Sunni prime ministers of treason/betrayal [of being agents of the US and Israel]. As to me I disagree with the Future Movement and the former Sunni prime ministers. But for the Sunni man on the street? These prime ministers represent the majority of the Sunnis- Akkar and Tripoli [Northern Lebanese Sunni majority areas] are represented politically by the Future Movement and these prime ministers. The issue of accusing one of agency to the West is a sensitive matter. These people [Sunni politicians] represent hundreds of thousands of Sunnis and they are accused of being agents. But for the Sunni man on the street these people represent him. To me if this accusation of being agents is based on evidence I would be the first to attack them from my minbar/platform. There is no evidence. It’s all Wiki leaks he said, he said, he told me; I saw it in my dream! No evidence. This means you are calling agents a wide spectrum of people. They [Hezbollah and its allies] laid a siege on the prime minister’s offices. Now even the Sunni that drinks alcohol, the drunkard, the drug addict realizes that here is a sectarian party- all their leaders that appear making these accusations are either bearded or wearing turbans- sees that. Now what is the reaction that will result? There is a sectarian response. By the way, to me I accuse the Future Movement of doing a lot of harm to Sunni religious interests. More than you can imagine- to an unbearable extent. There are massacres in Palestine and in Sidon we have Superstar on Future TV.

There are massacres in Syria and we have Superstar on Future TV. The Maronite Patriarch insults us- it is reported in Shia and Christian media outlets. But not on Future TV. Where are you? We are being insulted? The Future Movement has caused a lot of harm to the Sunnis. Here there is a sectarian group, Hezbollah, accusing the Future Movement of being sectarian. The Future Movement is sectarian? Who is the sectarian political group? Bye Bye to the end [The Hezbollah are sectarian to the bone]. They are sectarian to the bone and when you criticize them politically they accuse you of being sectarian. It’s remarkable. The conflict that erupted because of the private Hezbollah communication network, the massacre in Beirut [May 7, 2008] and the reaction in Halba [North Lebanon attacked on Hezbollah’s secular allies in the SSNP- Syrian Socialist nationalist Party]. There was the issue of the officer in charge of airport security, the false witnesses [for the Special tribunal for Lebanon] and the communication network of Hezbollah. Both administrative governmental decisions taken. They paralyzed the country as a response to these decisions. Then there is the issue of the government cabinet after the Shia ministers resigned and whether the cabinet existence is a violation of the National Pact. Why the armed military reaction?

 We offered a political criticism and they said this is [sectarian] incitement. Of course the Future Movement benefited from the sectarian tensions. There was polarization and the Sunnis gravitated to the Future Movement. They gravitated to the Future Movement even though the Future Movement is not sectarian. They accuse others falsely of sectarianism when they are the quintessential sectarians. Another factor is the Hezbollah’s resort to sectarian incitement when they perceive it as needed and useful. They did not want the International Tribunal. So the Shia ministers resigned from the cabinet. Then came a fatwa from a high-ranking Shia religious authority banning any Shia from joining the cabinet. The cabinet was said in violation of the Mithaq Watni/National Pact [unwritten Constitution dividing top government position among the sects]. Isn’t this sectarian talk? At the same time how do they deal with others? It is not allowed to say that the prime minister was chosen by Hezbollah and does not represent the majority of the Sunnis. The Hezbollah dissolved the cabinet in an insulting manner and formed another also in an insulting manner to the Sunnis. What does the Sunni man on the street see? The Sunni prime minister- who brought him to office? What reaction one expects from the Sunni community?

 Then there is the issue of the 7th of May [2008] and what happened on the 7th of May- The killing, the scaring of the innocent people in Beirut and Sidon. It was expected that on the first anniversary of that day there would be an apology to the Sunnis for what happened on that day. They know that that day and what happened does not help their cause. What did the Hezbollah say on the first anniversary? [Sayed Nasrallah] He said it was a glorious day. When I hear that and the Sunni man on the street hears that what is the reaction? It was expected that he would apologize instead he said it was a glorious day. [Another factor is how they deal with Sunni religious leaders and how they react to perceived slights of their leaders]. The way they deal with the Sunni Mufti of the Republic. When there was disagreement with him he was not called the Mufti of the Republic but the Sheikh in their media. They had mercenaries appear on their media to call the Mufti of the Republic [the highest Sunni religious figure in Lebanon] Sheikh al Fitna. This is the highest Sunni clergy. When a comedy show directed by a Christian Hezbollah supporter in a comedy show appeared to poke fun at [Sayed Hassan] Nasrallah, when in fact the show’s director was doing the opposite, the country almost burnt [ Hezbollah’s supporters went into the streets and destroyed property in a Sunni-majority area and closed roads]. What is the effect of this? Aggravating sectarian tensions.

Then there is the issue of advocating Islamic unity over the table while working on converting the Sunnis to Shiism under the table. My Dawa/religious call work I don’t do Dawa with Shia and don’t pay them visits to discuss these matters. I visited a Sunni who converted to Shiism. So I asked him what do you think of the Islam of Omar and the Companions of the Prophet, those who spread Islam in the world? He told me that that was not Islam but polytheism! I asked him why [Sayed Hassan] Nasrallah doesn’t say that in public. He responded that Nasrallah does not see any benefit to saying that in public. But what Nasrallah says in public is that the [Shia-Sunni] difference is small and insignificant. In their media they say the Takfiris are doing that [exaggerating sectarian differences] and under the table you are saying just that. There are hundreds of books being distributed in the Sunni community to convert Sunnis to Shiism. Another factor contributing to worsening sectarian tensions is the Hezbollah support and arming of marginal figures and groups among the Sunni personalities and organizations. They want to fragment the Sunni community. They give them support and tell them you are now with the resistance. They give money and weapons. They give financial support to Sunni Sheikhs- to individuals who are not even Sheikhs- not trained in religion. They take them in after they wear a turban and they are presented as Sunni Sheikhs. I asked one Sheikh why you take money from them. He said no Sunnis are offering financial support so I took it.

 But what does this behavior and action lead to? It increases sectarian tensions. In their media outlets they used to call the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini the “leader/Guardian of the Muslims”. Then they changed the label in Hezbollah’s outlets. But the Iranian Arabic language outlets still do that. How are people going to react to that? Day and night they are focusing on Wahabis and Salafist especially in Saudi Arabia. Even if a Christian or even a Buddhist commits a crime they bring up the Salafists and the Wahabis. What is the result of all that?

Then there is the issue of buying real estate in Sunni-majority areas and then splashing sectarian slogans all over the area during sectarian occasions. Aisha Bakkar [a Sunni-majority neighborhood in West Beirut] is one area. They want to send the message that we are present and strong everywhere. But what is the impact of these practices on the [Sunni] people who live in that area? What is the impact of the residential compounds that are being built and that blast Shia- specific rhetoric during Ashura? This also aggravates sectarian tensions. Their rejection of the International Tribunal’s [Special Tribunal for Lebanon] investigation of the [former Prime Minister Rafiq] Hariri’s murder even though they know what the assassination of Hariri means to the Sunnis. They vociferously defend the suspects even though they know what the significance of the killing of Hariri to the Sunnis. They call it an Israeli tribunal and say who ever will come near us we will do this and that. How does this impact sectarian relations?

Then there is the arrogance in their rhetoric in their media outlets during sectarian occasions. In sectarian occasions they use charged and arrogant rhetoric of classifying people as Ashraf an nas/the most honorable of people while calling others villains and traitors. Accusations/ classification of people threats and ultimatums? This is in addition to daily street abuses that are perpetrated by their supporters. What is the result of all of that? Let’s deal with this without name calling and accusing the person highlighting these reasons of being an agent of imperialism. I call on all rational people to get involved and see the reasons and say we should do something about it for the sake of the country. I have spent a letter previously to the secretary general of Hezbollah before about this. But nothing happened. And the hegemony of [Hezbollah] over all segments of the [Lebanese] government. They say we are a resistance we do not get involved in internal politics. They intervene in everything. We can’t choose a mayor if they don’t approve of it. If we want to enter a hospital we need them. They arm whoever they want. They reach any position in the state apparatus. They support whoever they want. When people [the Sunnis] see that there is unequal treatment, what does this do? This aggravates sectarian tensions.

Then there is the issue of the Arab Spring. Their focus is on Bahrain. The population of Bahrain is only 600,000! There is injustice in Bahrain- the victims are the Sunnis and the Shia as well. There is wild exaggeration in coverage. It is item number on the news at their media outlets. We saw on TV that the [Shia] protesters drove into the police with their cars and SUVs and killed police officers- they still supported the Arab Spring in Bahrain but not in Syria. There are thousands of massacres in Syria. They give an absolute support for the Alawite Assad. How come? What explains this? Is it because they are Shia they will support or deny support? There are massacres in Syria, Korans are burnt, women are raped what do they say? They say don’t bet on the fall of the Assad regime, we will burn the whole region? What is the result of all this? Will that increase [sectarian] harmony? Their focus on the issue of the smuggling of weapons to the Syrian opposition. They accuse the Future Movement and the Salafists, MP Khalid el Daher and his supporters of smuggling. It’s all lies and fabrications. The [Lebanese] judiciary said there is no smuggling of weapons. [A clip from al Manar, Hezbollah’s TV station, is played accusing Sunni figures of weapons smuggling to Syria] What is the impact of this focus on the Sunnis- on Akkar and Tripoli?

 There is a reaction to all that. Therefore we see some hardliner Sunnis resort to accusations- digging into the Shia religious literature, saying Shia are worse than the Jews, etc. This is all a reaction to all these causes. If you slap a person and you get no response from the slapped person- that means the person in dead. The reaction is expected even if when it sometimes is harsh and misplaced. Therefore, I call on all who care about the well-being of Islam and Muslims who care about the well-being of Lebanon to get involved and deal with the causes of the tensions. I am not going to privilege attacks on me for bringing up these matters. I am not going to respond of silly accusations of being a traitor and an American agent. I call on all the rational level-headed people to focus on these reasons and not try to pre-empt the discussion of the reasons for the tensions by resorting to name calling and charging the speaker with working with the West against the interests of Muslims. That is not helpful. I will not defend myself against flimsy accusations. I hope to always be one of the people who say the truth always without regard to false accusations.”

 There are serious sectarian tensions in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world. The words and actions of Sheikh al Aseer are perceived tas adding to these tensions. However, the man’s analysis of the Shia-Sunni relations is worth a close look- an examination to determine where he is coming from and the nature of his message. Is he just like the other Sunni clergy who are demonizing the Shia and attacking their doctrine and practices and attacking them as a faith group for who they are and their beliefs? A close examination of his sermons is proof that it is not the case. The man is different from the numerous Sunni voices who have spoken on the Sunni-Shia relations and emerged strongly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq- one sees and hears those personalities on YouTube and on the numerous satellite stations that have mushroomed out of nowhere in a very short period. Al Aseer has systematically laid out a list of specific grievances, grounded in behavior and not in doctrine, as reasons for the sectarian tensions.

The influence of Al Assir and the durability of the Assir phenomenon is debatable. But if one measure of the phenomenon if the number of events held by Al Assir throughout Lebanon and media attention to the phenomenon, it is safe to say that Al Assir has outgrown being one Sheikh from the city of Sidon with limited presence and appeal. The Al Assir phenomenon, on the face of it, seems like a growing phenomenon and policy makers need to understand it for what it is versus for what it is thought or believed to be- just another “angry Shia- hating Salafist with a huge beard.” Also, those who wish to counter and resist the Al Assir phenomenon need to read and understand his message. Only by reading his message, from his own words, can one understand what he stands for and the basis of his appeal that seems to be bound to grow. This is the link to the video:

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Charlotte Hezbollah cell and the RICO prosecution: Revisiting the Mohammed Hammoud case

Mohammed Hammoud

The Charlotte Hezbollah cell and the RICO prosecution Revisiting the Mohammed Hammoud case From 150 years to 30 years for cigarette smuggling

                                     From the Excessive 150 years to the Excessive 30 years

 In January 2011 Mohammed Hammond was resentenced by a federal judge to a 30 year imprisonment. The original sentence handed down by a federal judge in 2003 was 150 years. Hammoud is held in Texas set to be released on 10/14/2026. Mohammed Hammoud and 24 other people were arrested under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute in a cigarette smuggling case between North Carolina and Michigan. That was the first criminal “material support” case to go to trial. Mugniyah’s “best and the brightest”?

                                         Lightening Out of Lebanon

In Lightening Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil, Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman, write about Hezbollah’s operations in the US and discuss at length the Hammoud case. The third chapter “I knew what he was thinking…” is about the Charlotte, North Carolina case that they consider a success for law enforcement in the war on terror. The chapter begins: “Charlotte, North Carolina, was just the kind of place that Imad Fayez Mugniyah was looking for to send Hezbollah’s best and brightest- smart and fanatically dedicated people like young Mohammed Hammoud.” What did the “best and brightest- smart and fanatically dedicated” of the A team of terror do? How much money was raised? Pursued for what he could do The case seems big.

                                             The Best and the Brightest?

For the late Imad Mugniyah to be involved, that means it is a big case. The man was the operational head at the Hezbollah before his assassination in Syria. For Mugniyah to choose the “best and the brightest” that means a lot: “By 1992 Mugniyah and the leaders of Hezbollah had made a deliberate decision to plant support cells in the American hinterland for two reasons. Fund-raising to finance terror is an important one. Resident support cells can tap into the great Satan’s wealth by quietly soliciting contributions from sympathetic √©migr√©’s, and by diverting some of the loot from criminal enterprises to the terror group’s coffers in Lebanon. Giving money or providing material support to a group like Hezbollah that the United States has officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization is a serious crime. The 1996 federal law banning material support.. The other reason for establishing cells in America is more directly threatening. A relatively quiet support cell, sometimes called a “sleeper cell,” can remain benign for years. Yet its key hard-core members stand always ready to be activated to provide local logistics- reconnaissance, identification, documents, housing, transportation, or other direct support, and sometimes participating personnel- for violent terror attacks…A confidential informant who infiltrated the Charlotte Hezbollah cell and observed it firsthand for several years told the FBI that Mohammed Hammoud was prepared to carry out any such orders he might get from Lebanon.” He ‘burned through several wives each before hitting a winning combination to get through the immigration screen…Hammoud was also still in contact with Sheik [sic] Fadlallah and relied on him for advice about how to thread the needle of his conduct in the decadent West.” I think Fadlallah now is the best among them,” he said of Shiite clerics. “Especially for someone who is here in the West, he has a lot of knowledge about the West culture.”’ They add: “It was at Hammoud’s house that the weekly Thursday-night cell meetings were held. They featured a few prayers, followed by propaganda videos from Hezbollah’s Al-Manar satellite television network- ranting speeches of Sheik Fadlallah and secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, films of Hezbollah operations, and marching militiamen chanting slogans- then discussions of various criminal enterprises and Hammoud’s pitch for donation of funds to Hezbollah.”

                                            The 8- million dollar Windfall?

Would the “best and the brightest” sent by the top operational man in Hezbollah trying to be the leader of a sleeper cell “burn through several wives” and be in contact with Sayed Hussein Fadlallah? Would he have meetings in his house where he would show Hezbollah tapes and raise funds for Hezbollah? Five years, three marriages to get legal status- everybody in the Charlotte Lebanese Shia community knows about your Thursday evening meeting? Unlikely. Diaz and Newman call the amount of money gained by the “Charlotte cell” a “criminal windfall.” Hezbollah is an organization that through the years has received billions of dollars in aid from Iran. Eight million dollars would not be a “windfall” by any stretch of the imagination. Hammoud’s association with Hezbollah is what doomed him.

                                           Guilt by Association?

The prosecution had a picture of a young Mohamed Hammoud embraced by Nasrallah and a picture of a young Mohammed Hammoud in Hezbollah military fatigue holding an AK 47. Diaz and Newman write that FBI officials testifying before Congress in 1989 estimated that about 300 agents of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are present in the U.S. Mohammed Hammoud it seems was thought to be one of them. An informant said that Hammoud would not hesitate to commit a terrorist act if Hezbollah asked him to. Hammoud had a hobby of shooting AK 47. These two factors made the government believe he is a threat to national security. From protected speech to indicia of association to damning evidence

                                                  Hezbollah and RICO

The RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute which was written to be used against organized crime was used in the cigarette smuggling case. Diaz and Newman quote FBI agent Rick Schwein: “One of the tools we used is what is known as an ‘indicia warrant,’ he says. “It allowed us to seize indicia such as distinctive colors, patches, T-shirts, jewelry, etc, relating to the Outlaws. Under the RICO statute you must prove persons are ‘associated in fact’ to be considered part of the criminal enterprise. While it is not illegal to possess these items, possession of them may be evidence of membership or affiliation with the criminal enterprise. We used the same theory to seize evidence of an association with Hezbollah, when we sought to seize literature, videotapes, audiotapes, and the like.” “Members of, sympathetic to or affiliated with Hezbollah” ‘ “RICO allowed us to call them what they are- terrorists- and send a clear message to their leaders that this is not a friendly environment in which to operate,” says FBI’s Rick Schwein. ‘There were a number of ways to show that the players were all associated in fact- their cooperative criminal acts like smuggling cigarettes and credit card fraud, the businesses and business relationships they built from the smuggling proceeds, and their family ties. But one association that became the cornerstone of the RICO case was Hezbollah. “These were all either members of, sympathetic to, or affiliated with Hezbollah,” according to Schwein. “And that is no different from a motorcycle gang that wears distinctive colors and gets together to advance the club’s criminal businesses.” Using Hezbollah as one of the indicators of the cell members’ association in fact would have an important advantage- when search warrants were eventually executed to collect evidence on the RICO charges, anything related to Hezbollah would be a legitimate target of the search- just as gang “indicia” had been in the Outlaws Motorcycle Club case that Schwein had worked on. “It allowed us to go in and collect evidence of their relationship to a designated terrorist organization.” The evidence could then be used in turn to support the terrorism charges.’

 Was Mohammed Hammoud sympathetic to Hezbollah? Definitely. Did he raise funds for Hezbollah? Probably. Was he a national security threat, a sleeper waiting to be activated to harm national security? Definitely not beyond any reasonable doubt.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The “Angry Arab” As’ad Abukhalil: The passport American?

The “Angry Arab” As’ad Abukhalil: The passport American? Did he lie to the immigration officer or to the millions watching Aljazeera?

 As an immigration attorney I helped a lot of people obtain American citizenship. While a green card holder has a lot of rights in the United States, the issue is an immigrant is not legally and politically secure until he becomes a US citizen.

One of the great things about America is its citizenship law- while it is relatively easy to become a US citizen it is very hard to lose the citizenship. Many countries in the world act as if they dispense their citizenship certificates from a gumball machine- they give it and take it whimsically. A person can go to bed a citizen and wake up stateless at the whim of the executive and his minions. This is not the case in the US.

                                                     A Citizen is a Citizen

America treats its naturalized citizens the same as its native born in almost all aspects with few exceptions such as eligibility to run for the office of the President of the United States. The US State department always intervenes to help American citizens who need help abroad even when they hold dual citizenship. The US government’s position is that a citizen is a citizen. This decent treatment of the naturalized is reciprocated with love and loyalty by the immigrants who know that this treatment is the exception in the world and not the rule. An immigrant becomes a citizen through the process of naturalization. One of the requirements is that a person be of good moral character. Also it requires that a person voluntarily and without reservation pledge allegiance to the US.

The Naturalization Oath reads: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

 This is a much more elaborate and specific than The Pledge of Allegiance that native born Americans grow up affirming: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.” To become a citizen one has to file the citizenship application, pay the fee and be interviewed. These are the oath requirements in the citizenship application: “H. Oath Requirements. . Do you understand the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States? . If the law requires it, are you willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States? . If the law requires it, are you willing to perform noncombatant services in the U.S. Armed Forces? . If the law requires it, are you willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction? . Are you willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States?”

 This all came to mind when I watched As’ad Abukhalil’s interview with Aljazeera’s Elsy abi Assi on the program Zeyara Khassa/Private Visit. In that interview Abi Assi raised the issue of the American citizenship of Abukhalil. Abukhalil had earlier in the interview said that he was the subject of hate speech because he does not “brag” about his US citizenship. That’s fine- the law does not require you to be proud of your citizenship. But when later in the interview he was asked about his American citizenship (41:22 of the video) the following exchange occurred: *Abi Assi: But you hold the American citizenship? How do you deal with this subject? How do you introduce yourself? Do you self identify as an American? *Abukhalil: Legally I hold the US citizenship. I say to the Arab people that our tragedy is that this passport makes it easier for me to travel in the Arab world more than any Arab passport. This shows how the white man is treated by Arabs better than they treat each other.

                                                     The Lying Arab?

Without seeing the Abukhalil citizenship application I am sure that he expressed willingness to bear arms on behalf of the United States, willingness to perform noncombatant services in the U.S. armed forces and willingness to perform work of national importance under civilian direction. He did affirm all this under oath in writing and during the interview and without it he would not have become a US citizen. Abukhalil would not have obtained his citizenship if his interest in becoming a US citizen was of becoming a passport American as he affirmed to Abi Assi. The question remains: Did he lie on the citizenship application and to the immigration officer who interviewed him or to Aljazeera’s Abi Assi? *You can watch the Aljazeera interview on YouTube:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Demystifying the Mahr in the Islamic Marriage Agreement upon consideration of marriage

                                                       Mahr who?
 Courts struggle with the mahr provision that is a part of all Islamic marriage contracts. To be valid, an Islamic marriage has to have a mahr provision. The mahr can be anything from a book to a diamond ring or a certain amount of money. It is something of value that the man gives to the woman in return to her agreeing to marry him. If there is no mahr specified in the marriage contract, there is no Islamic marriage.

                                                       Mischaracterizing Mahr
 The courts have been all over the place over this issue. The questions asked have been: Is it a pre-nuptial agreement, is it a dowry, is it bride price or dower rights? It is none of the above. It’s not a pre-nuptial agreement since it is not designed to deal with property rights in the event the marriage ends. It is not a dowry since it is not the money or property that the woman brings into the marriage. It’s not bride price since the money or item of value exchanged is not given to the family of the bride. It’s not dower because dower is each spouse’s interest in the property of the other.

                                            Mahr: Consideration for the Marriage

 The mahr is simply the consideration for the woman agreeing to marry the man. Under established American law since this is a situation where the promise to marry or the actual marriage is the consideration for some promise other than an exchange promise to marry, this agreement has to be in writing to be enforceable. This agreement falls under the marriage provision of the Statute of Frauds. It has to be in writing. The usage of the word mahr makes the situation sound exotic and foreign. But the essence of the matter is far from unique. The American statute of frauds covers such situations, an exchange of promise to marry with something other than a return promise to marry.

                                                  The Not-so-Exotic Mahr

 Therefore the idea of the mahr should not be seen so novel and alien. There is no reason if this is the reality of the mahr that an American court of law should hesitate to enforce the promise. There is no need to read Islamic law treatises to understand this issue. It is not a religious issue. It’s agreement upon consideration of marriage. And if it’s in writing and meets the requirements of a valid contract under state law, a court should not hesitate to enforce it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Treasury Department's special briefing on the designation of Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian regime Weak evidence of involvement beyond the rhetorical

 Recently the U.S. Treasury department held a special briefing on the designation of Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian regime. The briefing was held via teleconference on August 10. 2012. The conflict in Syria has raised many important questions. One question is whether the Lebanese group Hezbollah is actually fighting in Syria alongside the regime forces. Hezbollah has a substantial fighting force that could be very helpful to the embattled regime. It is evident that the group, despite its rhetorical support, has not deployed this fighting force to support the embattled regime. However, it is amply clear that Hezbollah has rhetorically vigorously supported the Syrian regime. This is evident from speeches of its leaders and the aggressive pro -regime coverage by its media outlets and the media outlets supported directly and indirectly by the group.

Treasury's briefing sought to argue that the support goes beyond the verbal. However, as evident from the exchanges with reporters from different media organizations, the government has not put out real evidence that Hezbollah is directly involved in the conflict in Syria. Therefore, it is doubtful that the U.S. government will be able to convince the public in the US or abroad that Hezbollah is providing more than rhetorical support to the Assad regime. Also, from the information put forth by Treasury it is also doubtful that the U.S. will be able to convince the EU to treat Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and end the distinction between the military and the political/social wings of the group. Below are excerpts from Treasury's brief as posted on its website.* The sub headings are mine.

 MR. SULLIVAN: Hello, everyone. This is John Sullivan. I’m the spokesman over at the Treasury Department. Today we’re going to discuss the designation of Hezbollah for their support to the Assad regime in Syria. On the line today I have Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen from the Treasury Department as well as Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State. UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Thanks, John. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on the call today. Today the Treasury Department designated the terrorist group Hezbollah for providing support to the Government of Syria. This action highlights Hezbollah’s activities within Syria as well as its integral role in the continued violence being carried out by the Assad regime against the Syrian population. While today’s actions are focused on Hezbollah’s continuing support of the Syrian regime, it is certainly not the first time that Treasury or the United States has publicly exposed the violent acts of this terrorist organization. Hezbollah has been designated as a Global Terrorist by the United States since 1995 for a long history of terrorist attacks against American citizens and officials, including the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon during the 1980s. Before al-Qaida’s attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other terrorist group. Hezbollah started out carrying out bombings and kidnappings in Lebanon but quickly expanded its violent campaign on to a global stage, carrying out and supporting terrorist attacks in South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and various countries in the Middle East. More recently we have seen the group’s plotting disrupted in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Thailand, and Cyprus. Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah have for years painted their organization as a social and political party as well as a resistance movement; however, their activities and statements clearly paint a different picture. Hezbollah has consistently used terrorist operations to attack civilians. Hezbollah’s members have engaged in criminal behavior, including profiting from the narcotics money-laundering scheme of the Lebanese Canadian Bank, which we exposed last year. And now Hezbollah is actively providing support to the Assad regime as it carries out its bloody campaign against the Syrian people. As the wave of revolt has spread across the Middle East, Hezbollah leadership has publicly supported some protests where it suited their needs, and in other cases, such as in Syria, it has actively supported the violent crackdown being carried out by the Syrian dictatorship. For years the Assad regime provided safe haven to Hezbollah training camps and routed weapons and money, in many cases, from Iran to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon. Hezbollah is now repaying its debt to Assad by providing training, advice, and extensive logistical support to the Government of Syria. As the Assad regime continues to crack under international pressure and the continued success of the Syrian opposition, the Treasury Department and the entire U.S. Government will continue to work to expose the activities of Hezbollah and Iran and whoever else is responsible for assisting the Syrian regime in its campaign of violence against the Syrian population.

                                       Symbolic or real?
                             What about the EU and Hezbollah?

 Our first question comes from Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy. QUESTION: Thank you, gentlemen, for doing the call, and thank you for your service. I’d like to ask you: Since Hezbollah was already designated, and now we’re designating them for an additional reason, does that bring any additional punitive consequences to the group? Does it actually increase the pressure on them in any practical ways? If so, what are those ways? And Ambassador Benjamin, you mentioned that you’re hoping other countries will follow suit. Do you have any indication that any of these countries, especially the EU, will follow suit and designate Hezbollah? Do we have any reason to believe that’s going to happen? Thank you. AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Hi, Josh. I’ll take that one. It’s Dan Benjamin again. It’s always hard to predict if there’s going to be any near-term enforcement action on our own part, but I think that we have a responsibility – there’s been a lot of discussion about Hezbollah involvement in Syria. Here we have the U.S. Government going on the record and describing it, and I think that that is very important in its own right. Additionally, we feel that there needs to be a broader discussion in the international community about the activities of this group. It has portrayed itself, as David Cohen said, as a political party, as a resistance group, so on and so forth. It certainly doesn’t look to us like it’s sympathizing with the people of Syria. We have many partners in the international community who share the revulsion about what is going on in Syria. We believe that if they are presented with this information – and we will, of course, be following up diplomatically – that they may want to take additional measures. And over the long term, that will limit the amount of space that Hezbollah has to operate. It will put the group in a more difficult situation, and, I think, will make them think long and hard before they continue this campaign in which the Syrian people are being brutalized. So we do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation. Whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen, but in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that’s vitally important.

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s no actual additional punitive measures? AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: So, well – David. UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Yeah. Josh, as I think you know, when we designate under any of our IEEPA authorities, including the executive order that we’re acting under today, the legal effect is that it freezes the assets of the party being designated and prohibits any U.S. person from transacting with the designee. QUESTION: But they’re already frozen, right? UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Josh, let me finish. The – Hezbollah has previously been designated. It is already a legal obligation for any U.S. person to freeze their assets and to refrain from any transactions with Hezbollah. But the purpose of our designations, whether it’s the Hezbollah action today or any of our other designations under our authorities, is not solely focused on the immediate financial impact, but as Ambassador Benjamin just expressed, to expose the activity of the party that is being designated for the conduct that has led to the designation. And so the designation of Hezbollah today and the information that underlies that designation that is part of our release today serves the very, very important purpose of making clear to parties around the world – both domestically and internationally – the true nature of Hezbollah’s activities. So that is the purpose of today’s action. Is Hezbollah in the field with the Syrian regime? OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya.

QUESTION: Okay. You said that Hezbollah also has played a substantial role in efforts to expel senior opposition forces from areas within Syria. Are you saying essentially that Hezbollah is in the field fighting with the Syrian Government forces against Syrian opposition forces on Syrian soil? UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I think what we’re saying is what we put forth in the paper itself, that Hezbollah is actively working to expel those forces. It is providing operational support to the Syrian Government in Syria.

QUESTION: Do you know whether there were Hezbollah casualties? We’ve seen from reports in Lebanon that there are suspicions that there were Hezbollah casualties fell in Syria. Can you substantiate that? UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I think we’ve seen those reports as well, but I don’t have anything to add to that. What kind of support? OPERATOR: Our next question is from Eli Lake of Newsweek.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. So it’s really kind of three questions, but they’re quick. Can you provide any more detail on the kind of support – I know it’s sort of asked before – that Hezbollah is providing to Syria? And also, how do you avoid the problem of some European counterterrorism types say, which is that Hezbollah is so important in the Lebanese Government right now, so how do you target Hezbollah without ruining any U.S. diplomatic relations with Lebanon? UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: So I’ll take the first part of that and Ambassador Benjamin can take the second part. The – and the first part of it’s pretty easy, because I really can’t give you any greater detail than what we’ve put forward in the press release and in my statement this afternoon about the activities of Hezbollah in Syria. But as we note, it is a range of activity, including logistical support, operational support, to the Syrian Government in its violent crackdown. AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Yeah. And as for the second part, our view is that the repression of the Assad regime is intolerable, that we believe that there is a very high priority in exposing the support that Hezbollah has given to that group. I think that there will be other commentators who might say that Hezbollah is in an embarrassed position in Lebanon because of this activity, and we have never shied away, I think, from telling the truth about Hezbollah and we weren’t going to now. Where is the evidence for this? OPERATOR: Our next question is from Brad Klapper of AP.

QUESTION: Yes, Dan, you said you hope that other countries would follow suit after looking at the information that you’ve laid out here. But you don’t really provide too much evidence; you just kind of lay out claims that we’ve heard before. The fact that they’re – you say they’re assisting or abetting or facilitating training, these aren’t new. Where is the evidence for this? AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, first of all, what goes on in the discussions between governments may very well go beyond what is provided here to the public. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the United States is standing by these charges. This is not a matter of idle speculation or press reports. This is based on a great deal of information gathering that we have done and we’ve synthesized and we’ve put it together in an authoritative document, and we believe that it will be taken seriously by many around the world. We can't talk about intelligence OPERATOR: Our next question is from Adam Entous of Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you very much. A question for both of you, maybe. Did Assad specifically ask Hezbollah to get involved? Is there any intelligence on that or whether the Iranians asked Hezbollah to jump in more so? We know that Hezbollah has had operational links with Syria for a long time, so how is actually this different from the involvement in the past? And is there any evidence to suggest that Hezbollah, in providing this assistance, is expecting anything in return? There’s been a lot of concern about Syrian WMD. I was hoping you guys could address those. UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I think your question sort of highlights what the answer is going to be. We can’t, obviously, talk about intelligence that may speak to whether Assad asked for Hezbollah to come in or not. But it is – it’s certainly true that there is a longstanding relationship between the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has benefitted greatly from its access to Syria for training camps and the like over the years, and as well as it being an important conduit for its support from Iran. So the fact that you have Hezbollah providing the type of support that it’s providing now to the Syrian Government alongside the Qods Force and the law enforcement forces from Iran and the MOIS as well is no surprise really, given the combined interests that those entities have in trying to prop up the Assad regime. But who asked whom to jump in to the fight there against the people of Syria is something that I can’t comment on directly.

QUESTION: As for the pursuit of maybe WMD – and maybe you can address the issue – I mean, our reporting from the region is more that Hezbollah has been sort of holding back; they have a lot more capabilities that they could be providing and they seem to not be providing that. Maybe that’s a reflection of their domestic Lebanese ambitions, that they don’t want to get too entangled in neighboring Syria. Is that what you’re seeing here? I think the surprise of many is that Hezbollah is not doing more. AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Doing more in the sense of providing WMD?

QUESTION: No. Sorry. Providing -- AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I’m not sure what your question --

QUESTION: Providing support to the Syrian Government. I mean, Hezbollah has – could do – could be much more involved than they have been. AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I’m not sure we would necessarily agree with that assessment. They are deeply involved. And if you watch Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches of late, I don't think that they’re being coy about their support for Syria. And anything on the relationship between Hezbollah and Syria regarding WMD would be either speculative or entirely irresponsible, so I don't think we should go there. 

* Link to briefing:
State department 2011 Israel Religious Freedom Report The American embassy in Tel Aviv "offered programs that exposed Israelis to U.S. models of religious diversity and civil society" Many Americans are said to feel an affinity for Israel due to the idea that Israel is a liberal democracy- just as the U.S. is. This is far from the truth. When the media reports on religious freedom in the Middle East, it usually focuses on Saudi Arabia and Iran. Israel, the country getting the most generous financial, political and diplomatic support from the U.S., falls far short of American expectations of what a country that is like us would be in matters of religious liberty and religious equality. In fact the report concludes with: "The embassy offered programs that exposed Israelis to U.S. models of religious diversity and civil society." Indeed. Does the American media know?* The following are edited excerpts from the State department's report. The headings are mine, Governmental and legal religious discrimination The country’s laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom… While there is no constitution, government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued. There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Some individuals and groups were responsible for discriminatory practices against Israeli-Arab Muslims, Christians, and non-Orthodox Jews. Relations among religious and ethnic groups--between Jews and non-Jews, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, secular and religious Jews, and among the different streams of Judaism--were strained. The U.S. government discussed religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. embassy officials maintained a dialogue with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on human and civil rights, including religious freedom, and encouraged religious leaders to advance regional peace and calm local tensions. Demographics The country has a population of 7.8 million (including settlers living in the Occupied Territories), of which 5.8 million are Jews; 1.6 million are Muslims and Christians; and 322,000 are classified as “other” --mostly persons from the former Soviet Union who immigrated under the Law of Return but did not qualify as Jews according to the Orthodox Jewish definition used by the government for civil procedures, although many identify themselves as Jewish. 30% Israeli Jews born outside Israel According to the 2009 report of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 8 percent of the Jewish population is Haredi (also known as “ultra-Orthodox”); 12 percent identify themselves as Orthodox; 13 percent describe themselves as “traditional, religious;” 25 percent say they are “traditional, not so religious;” and 42 percent describe themselves as “nonreligious/secular” Jews, most of whom observed some Jewish traditions. About 30 percent of the country’s Jewish population was born outside the country. Women's rights Government authorities prohibit mixed-gender prayer services at Jewish religious sites maintained by the Chief Rabbinate in deference to the belief of most Orthodox Jews that such services violate the precepts of Judaism. At the Western Wall, men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray. According to a policy repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court, women are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls because this form of prayer by women violates Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. There is a separate prayer area along the Western Wall, south of the Mughrabi Gate where women may read the Torah and pray wearing prayer shawls. Modesty patrols The signs posted around the Western Wall plaza requesting gender segregation throughout the plaza, rather than just at the prayer areas, were removed in 2010. Official “modesty patrols” occasionally attempted to enforce gender separation and guarded the path designated for “men only” that was installed in 2009 opposite the Western Wall. According to the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall, the path was created for those who asked to be able to get to the Western Wall plaza without having to walk through a mixed-gender area. Bedouin mosques subject to demolition The approximately 60,000 Bedouin living in unrecognized villages were unable to build or legally maintain mosques as a result of longstanding government policy to deny ownership claims, building requests, and municipal services in unrecognized, illegally established Bedouin communities. Mosques existed in unrecognized Bedouin communities, but, as with homes and other community structures, the government considered them illegal and therefore subject to demolition. Denial of entry on account of suspected missionary activity There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including religious detainees. Some tourists were temporarily detained for religious reasons at Ben-Gurion Airport, prevented from entering the country, and sent back to their countries of origin because of the MOI’s “suspicions of missionary activity,” as explained to them by the border control officials at the airport. There are no clearly publicized regulations as to how the MOI places a person on the watch list or on what grounds, but the questioning of such individuals often relates to their religious beliefs. While proselytism is officially legal, some missionaries continued to face harassment and discrimination from local government officials. For example, the MOI detained individuals suspected of being “missionaries” upon arrival at the airport and required such persons to post bail and pledge to abstain from missionary activity. At times government officials also have refused entry into the country to persons they perceived as missionaries. Both recognized and unrecognized religious communities experienced some difficulties receiving clergy visas for their representatives and leaders. Discriminatory religious edicts About 50 prominent rabbis, led by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, published a religious ruling in December 2010 that prohibited the sale or rental of real estate to non-Jews and called for the exclusion from religious gatherings of any Jewish person who broke the ruling. Despite widespread criticism of the Halachic ruling, the justice minister did not suspend Eliyahu from his post as a municipal rabbi. All of the signatories’ salaries were paid by the government, including dozens of chief rabbis of cities across the country. The attorney general had not decided whether the signatories could be prosecuted for incitement by year’s end. The NGO Lehava, an acronym for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land,” which also means “flame,” initiated a campaign in January to distribute “kosher certificates” to employers who purposefully avoided employing Arab workers. The certificates included the declaration: “This certificate certifies that the following employer employs Jewish workers and does not employ enemies.” During the year members of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported assaults, threats of violence, and other crimes and noted the difficulties their members faced in convincing the police to investigate or apprehend the perpetrators. On August 13, in Holon, approximately 15 Haredi men disrupted a religious meeting held at a sports hall and one of them punched a member of the community. However, after police questioned the attacker, authorities only gave him a restraining order. Spitting on "immodestly dressed" 8 year old girl Expressions of animosity between secular and religious Jews continued during the year. Some members of Haredi Jewish groups acted in a discriminatory and intolerant manner toward other Jews. As in past years, there were instances of Haredim throwing rocks at passing motorists driving on the Sabbath in predominantly Haredi neighborhoods, and harassing or assaulting women whose appearance they considered immodest. On December 27, a group of Haredi men jeered and spat upon an eight-year-old girl they believed was dressed immodestly while she walked to her Orthodox school in Beit Shemesh. There continued to be reports of numerous instances of Haredi men spitting at non-Haredi Jews and persons of different faiths, including in Jerusalem’s Old City. Exposing Israel to the US model of religious diversity The U.S. government discussed religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. embassy consistently raised concerns about religious freedom with the MFA, the police, and other government agencies. Embassy officials maintained a dialogue with NGOs that focused on human and civil rights, including religious freedom, and promoted interfaith initiatives. Embassy representatives also attended and spoke at meetings of such organizations and encouraged religious leaders to advance regional peace and calm local tensions. The embassy offered programs that exposed Israelis to U.S. models of religious diversity and civil society. *The full report can be accessed at:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Interview with Community Leader Suehaila Amen

There are a handful of Arab Americans from Dearborn that are well known locally, nationally and internationally. The remarkable Suehaila Amen is one of them. Dearborn is a community where first- generation male immigrants dominate community organizations- this is noticeable at community events and meetings. Suehaila is one of a few women who, strength of character and hard work, have achieved a high profile in this community. The Forum and Link approached Suehaila for an interview. The following are excerpts from this interview.

 *Tell me about yourself. Who is Suehaila Amen?

Born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan to Mohsen Amen and Lila Alcodray, I inherited the activism gene from my parents who have served the community for over 30 years through various organizations.  The eldest of 4, I have two sisters and a brother.

I am currently employed as the Judicial Executive for the Honorable Mark W. Somers, Judge in the 19th District Court in Dearborn, and was previously employed as an educator in the Dearborn Public School System for 14 years. I served as a Training Coordinator for Wal-Mart Corporation, facilitating Cultural Sensitivity and Diversity Trainings and was the Community Affairs Director for the Forum and Link Journal for 8 years.  I’ve worked for nearly 18 years. Volunteering in the community working to establish, maintain and continue to enhance working relationships with key government agencies and community leaders.  I take great pleasure in doing what I can to support my community and serve them in order to further devotion to serving the community is unrelenting.  I am affiliated with various Arab-American, Islamic and non-Arab associations on local, regional and national levels and works to coordinate and assist in workshops, meetings, and forums with various agencies, ranging from understanding the media, enlightening non-Muslims/Non-Arabs on the Muslim faith and Arab culture, to running for political office.  I have published articles on subjects pertaining to community organizing, coalition building and addressing issues facing Arab and Muslim Americans in various national Middle Eastern publications. 

* You work at the 19th district court. Tell me about your work. What kind of cases do you see? Do you see a lot of cases involving Arab Americans? 

I am the Judicial Executive Clerk for the Honorable Judge Mark W. Somers at the 19th district court in Dearborn.  We see a variety of cases from civil infractions, traffic violations and civil suits to misdemeanors and state felonies.  It is unfortunate, though we do see many cases involving Arab Americans.  These cases range from drug and drinking charges to civil matters and much more serious crimes such as murder, domestic violence and criminal sexual conduct.  These are issues all communities face and within our own we tend to turn a blind eye and do not wish to admit our flaws though there are some serious concerns and we need begin addressing them in order to help those in need and make Dearborn safer.

*You are very active in the community, what influenced your community involvement?  

My community involvement was influenced greatly by my parents, Mohsen and Lila Amen.  They were instrumental in my civic and community engagement as they were activists as well and began getting me involved through events at ACCESS (where mom was employed at the time) and the Islamic Institute of Knowledge (where dad served as a founding board member) by age 13.  Since then I have been extremely involved in various aspects of the community seeking to create viable and credible programs which would serve the needs of our community and allow for Arab Americans to acculturate and advance in the nation.

*TLC’s American Muslims experience was a success that was not spared the criticism from some conservative elements in the Muslim community. How do you feel about the program and your involvement with it?

Being a part of history has added to the list of things I am proud to have accomplished in my life.  I was honored to have been a part of this groundbreaking series that highlighted the lives of American Muslims living in Dearborn.  There are many who are quick to criticize though those of us who have worked tirelessly to advance Arab and Muslim causes and address key issues affecting our community know the impact “All American Muslim” would have on society as a whole.  The show humanized the face of Muslims and Arabs and whether people wish to believe it or not, we are a community who has faced great obstacles in a post 9-11 era and this show made a significant improvement in how we are viewed by the general public as it followed our daily lives as we addressed issues that all Americans could relate to; weddings, births, careers, single life, infertility, football, law enforcement and business ventures.  I am proud to say I was a part of “All American Muslim” and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I feel that TLC did their best to show the reality of our families and took a risk in creating a controversial show that would engage the nation in dialogue; positively and negatively.

*You traveled recently with the State department to Brazil? Tell me about this trip.

I was chosen to serve as an Ambassador for the Muslim community and travel with the Department of State to Sao Paulo and Foz de Iguacu, Brazil.  The program “Generation Change” takes young and influential Muslim leaders from communities across the nation to global Muslim communities to create chapters for the program which seeks to assist young change-makers across the world in cultivating their leadership skills and engaging them in meaningful projects which will help their own communities flourish and succeed in mainstream society.  The program was established in 2010 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the initiative is lead by the Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith.  This was an honor and I was privileged to have been a part of helping others build stronger communities and be the leaders of the future who will make change happen across the world.  During the trip we met influential community leaders in the Muslim and interfaith community and engaged young leaders in meaningful conversations about the needs of their communities and how they could help make the change they feel is needed happen.

*What do you see the challenges facing Arab Americans and Arab American Muslim women in particular?

There are many challenges that face Arab and Muslim American women in society.  Women need to play a more integral role in the greater community and serve it in various capacities which allows for their children and families to grow.  Issues pertaining to identity, women’s roles and rights and hijab are important conversations that need to be had, especially within our community in Metro Detroit.

*Few Arab American women are involved with community organizations. Why do you think this is the case?

I believe that few women are involved in our community because we live in a male dominated society which has made it difficult for the women who want to be involved to actually have their voice heard.  We have many influential and strong women who have accomplished a great deal, though they are overshadowed by those who seek to further their own personal agendas and do not feel the need to create a place for women at the leadership table.  It has pained me to see that many women do not wish to be involved in certain organizations and associations.  Many have said they feel their voice is not heard nor will they be given a fair opportunity to work, receive credit for their ideas or be successful when others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, may suppress them.  The women who have been successful and furthered their business and professional careers are role models for all young women in our community and we need to recognize their efforts more and have their suggestions heard and strategies implemented as many have great ideas and are not given the opportunity to be engaged.  I say this because I know how difficult it is to be in a leadership role in the community as it took me many years before my voice was heard and my volunteerism acknowledged as there were many who viewed me as a child and brushed me aside when my heart was in the right place and I was doing the work without a personal agenda or seeking any type of gain.

*What advice do you give to other young women who want to get involved?

Do not allow anyone to repress your voice or tell you that your time has not yet come.  I remained determined and continued to work diligently, doing what I felt was right for my community, even if it was in opposition of the entrenched leadership.  Stand for what you believe in and remain strong in your convictions.  Do not allow anyone’s perspectives or negativity to sway you or intimidate you.  If you know you are doing something for the greater good of the community, then keep doing it and do it with passion and be committed.  Don’t wait for a pat on the back, or a thank you…it may never come…do what you feel is best and be proud of your accomplishments as the only source of reward you truly need will be that from our creator who will know your intentions and see all that you do.

* Any other thoughts you wish to share with our readers?

We live in a beautifully diverse community with many extraordinary and dynamic young minds who want to make change happen.  It is vital that the younger generation begin taking the lead.  It is time for the youth to step up to the plate and bring fresh and new ideas and challenges to the table.  In order to make that change happen we need to pass on the torch to these young visionaries who will continue paving the way for our community to flourish.