Monday, January 30, 2017

We Must Stop the Assault on Our Fundamental Values

You can also read the article here.

President Trump’s executive order to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for at least 90 days and to indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from entering the United States is an unprecedented assault on fundamental American values of justice and freedom. It has already set off a chain reaction of broken promises and calamitous uncertainty throughout the world. 

That this most ahistorical of presidents chose to issue his order on Holocaust Remembrance Day makes it all the more tragic and ominous.

Although a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., has issued an emergency stay of deportations from JFK, San Francisco, Dulles and other airports following a lawsuit by the ACLU, the stay’s consistent enforcement is doubtful given the enormous power the President wields.

What we need is a grassroots movement to stop the president from continuing his single-minded agenda of uprooting what, until now, had made America the humanitarian leader of the world, an achievement far greater than our unmatched entrepreneurial drive and material progress. 

To our credit, this movement has already begun, riding the momentum created by the Women’s March on January 21. On Sunday, January 29, protests against the refugee ban swept across the nation, from New York City and Miami to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

About 100 of us – Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists - gathered in front of San Jose’s City Hall, chanting, “Say it loud, say it clear. Immigrants are welcome here,” and “San Jose stands against hate. Immigrants make America great.”

Laurie, a rabbi in a Los Gatos elementary school, had brought her daughter and held up a sign that read, “Rabbis for Refugees.” 

“I had to be here,” she told me when I expressed my gratitude as a Muslim-American.

Miriam is an active participant with the grassroots movement called "Together We Will" launched from Facebook. “We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants are welcome here. An insult against anyone is an insult against me,” she said.

Terse but telling signs were all around: “No Wall. We Stand United for All.” “Muslims Make San Jose Better.” “Be Kind to All Refugees.” “Dissent is Patriotic.” “We Are All Immigrants.” “San Jose Christians Love Muslims.” “The Power of the People is Stronger than the People in Power.”

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a Protestant pastor and outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler, spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Of that time, he later wrote: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

With the refugee ban, the President has given ISIS a shot in the arm, made Americans more vulnerable to extremists and the world a more dangerous place. 

Here in Silicon Valley, where a global workforce is a given and social media transcend national boundaries, Trump's refugee ban outraged industry titans. Executives at Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Airbnb, Box, and other companies condemned Trump's unilateral decision to ban immigration into a country built by immigrants and unleashing discrimination based on religion. Many companies advised their traveling Muslim employees to return to the United States to avoid the risk of deportation.

Concerned scientists, meanwhile, have moved the Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds because of the President’s actions in only the first week of his presidency. It is now two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest since 1953 when the clock was set to two minutes to midnight after the United States and the Soviet Union had tested hydrogen bombs.

The US constitution makes it clear that discrimination based on national origin or religion is illegal. No creative interpretation can get past this fundamental fact, something that the president, aided by a spineless, Republican-dominated congress, blithely ignores. To violate it is to violate America. “America First” rings hollow and hypocritical if it comes with the condition that Muslims, or adherents of any other faith, must be last.

In his farewell address in 1988, Ronald Reagan explained his understanding of America as “a city upon a hill,” a phrase he borrowed from John Winthrop (1588-1649) who served as a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: “In my mind it’s a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in peace and harmony.”

Compare that with Trump’s dystopian inaugural speech in which he portrayed America as a country of rusted-out factories, crime, gangs and drugs, and this chilling coda: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

No, the American carnage is about to begin unless we ordinary Americans stop it through legal means and non-violent resistance before it is too late.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stirring Women's March in San Jose, California: A Muslim Perspective

(You can also read the article here.)

Chanting “This is what democracy looks like,” I joined 25,000 of my fellow Americans in downtown San Jose, Calif., as part of the worldwide Women’s March on January 21 to assert our rights against the unacceptable presidency of Donald Trump. We were among the more than 2 million women, men and children who rallied in almost 700 marches in 50 states and 32 countries in the world’s seven continents to demonstrate against the harrowing possibility of fascism taking root in the "land of the free and home of the brave."

It took us almost two hours to march from City Hall to Plaza de Cesar Chavez but what a march of swirling, energizing, kaleidoscopic humanity it was! The witty and incisive posters told the story as well as any narrative could: “Avoid Unwanted Presidencies,” “Girls Just Wanna Have FUNding for Planned Parenthood,” “Don’t Poke Mama Bear,” “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance,” “Let Me Choose My Own Path,” “We Are Here to Stay,” “Tiny Hands Won’t Hold Us Back,” “What Would MLK Do?”, “I Ain’t Going Back to the ‘50s,” “Women Are the Wall and Trump Will Pay,” “I Choose a Democracy of Justice & Compassion, Not a Trumpocracy of Cruelty & Greed,” “Science Before Stupidity,” “Tyrannical, Racist, Unscrupulous, Misogynistic, Plutocrat,” “He Grabbed Us by the Caucus!”, “Real Men Love Feminism,” “I Revolt Because He is Revolting,” and the incomparable, “Dear World, Majority of Americans Did NOT Vote for Him ... We are Sorry.”

At the Plaza, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo declared that San Jose, a city not known globally for its activism, “has awoken.” He spoke of his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where, he said, “I did not stay for the inauguration because I just couldn’t but I did take a long look at the White House before it turned into a hotel and a casino.” 
“This great city,” he said, “will not confront its peace-loving Muslims with a registry, but embrace them with equality.” 

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the march represented the new civil rights movement of our time. “Promise yourself,” she said as the thousands roared their approval, “you will remember where you were when you changed history.” 

Maha ElGenaidi, founder of Islamic Network Group and a Bay Area activist, quoted a verse from the Quran: "'We made you into nations and tribes so you may know another.' This means diversity is built into the Divine plan," she explained. "This also means we must cherish our diversity, irrespective of our faith, race, gender, or sexual orientation."

There were many more speakers whose messages of solidarity, compassion and resistance in the face of tyranny, misogyny and kakistocracy (government by the worst persons) fired up listeners who filled the plaza with a vow that seemed to reach the sky: “We are here to stay.” 

I only had to look around at the river of humanity to know in my gut that the movement against the Trump presidency had only just begun.

As a Muslim American, I was drawn to posters held aloft by Jews and Christians in our support. Two in particular caught my attention: “We Stand With American Muslims,” and “Would Muhammad Ali Have Signed Trump’s Registry?” I expressed my gratitude to the woman and the man holding the two posters but because of the crush of the crowd, could not exchange names, although we managed to hug.

While my spirit was lifted by these selfless Americans driven to defend us from injustice, I also found myself growing sad and somewhat despondent. Where were the local Muslim-Americans? I counted just 10 that included my wife, but even if I missed others, the number could not have been more than a hundred. That would be about three Muslims per thousand in the march. “Pathetic” was the only word I could think of. The million dollar question, of course, was, “Why? Why did so few of my fellow Muslims did not show up?”

From my three decades of interaction with Muslims in the Bay Area, I knew it was not from a lack of concern for the well-being of America, nor from a lack of gratitude for what other Americans do for us.

To understand why, I asked some Muslims friends the day after the march why they were not at the historic event. 

“Well, we knew you would be there, so …” a few said guiltily. Others told me they were uncomfortable in big gatherings. 

“But you were there when Christians and Jews came to our Islamic Center to express their solidarity with us after we received that hate mail last November,” I reminded them. 

It dawned on me that many Muslims were comfortable being gracious hosts when people of other faiths come to visit our mosques, but when it is our turn to visit churches and synagogues and events like the Women’s March, many of us rely on a few “interfaith experts” to represent us. To me, this represents a serious lack of
self-assurance, with some insecurity and arrogance thrown in.

I don’t know if my analysis is right but what is clear is that Muslim-Americans must shed their sense of entitlement (let others go to bat for us), insecurity and religious chauvinism to become full participants in American democracy. Otherwise, we will not move beyond a permanent and debilitating sense of victimhood. Now more than ever, when president Trump has explicitly called for banning Muslim immigrants to the U.S., we need to be bold and collectively speak out against any executive order that undermines American values.
There will be many more marches against Trump’s un-American policies.
Muslim-Americans must be at the forefront of these marches.