As a Muslim American who helps people who want to come here to seek security and prosperity, today's inauguration events might make me feel bewildered and confused. When our identities are put to the test, we are forced to look back at ourselves and look for answers. Today's events are no surprise. We are expecting a barrage of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. We're expecting calls to expel and exclude.
I've reiterated in previous khutbas about how these tests are from God. We cannot assume that we will not be tested simply because we say "we believe in God." No, that's why we'll be tested:
أَحَسِبَ ٱلنَّاسُ أَن يُتۡرَكُوٓاْ أَن يَقُولُوٓاْ ءَامَنَّا وَهُمۡ لَا يُفۡتَنُونَ (٢) وَلَقَدۡ فَتَنَّا ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِهِمۡۖ فَلَيَعۡلَمَنَّ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ صَدَقُواْ وَلَيَعۡلَمَنَّ ٱلۡكَـٰذِبِينَ (٣
Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? (2) Lo! We tested those who were before them. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign. (3)
So what is the right response? I rhetorically ask, do we put up walls around ourselves and weather the storm? Do we run away? Do we refuse to engage?
Maybe it's time we turn back to our Book, given to us as guidance, and see if there are any answers there. Let's look at the life of our Prophet Muhammad (S) and ask, what would he do? Is there not a model for us who want to build (and preserve) a country where everyone has a chance to make it?
And then I realized something that made me feel quite at peace, and ready for whatever.
Think back to the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. A young nation that had been growing in Madinah after the hijra six years earlier, that had put together an historic Constitution that brought together people who had no ties of blood, tribe, or even religion. One of the world's first Constitutions guaranteeing the rights of minorities, and simple but powerful declarations that refugees from Makkah were now the brothers and sisters of the natives in Madinah. A brand new pluralistic society sprang out of the oasis in the middle of a tribal Arabian desert. Now they yearned for their homeland, and to perform the ancient rites of pilgrimage around the Ka'bah.
And they marched back, in ihram, unarmed, desiring only to practice their faith freely. And then, they were stopped by, for lack of a better term, Customs & Border Protection. They were told there was a ban on Muslim immigration into Makkah. They were denied entry.
This could have been settled by the sword. It could have been settled by mass marches in the street. But on that day, diplomacy won out. A deal was struck. A treaty was written between the Prophet Muhammad (S) as one party representing the Muslim nation, and Suhayl ibn Amr, a spokesperson for the Quraysh tribe as the other party. Almost immediately wrangling over the language in the treaty began: the Prophet (S) titled himself as the Messenger of God, and Suhayl ibn Amr said no, your prophethood is not recognized. In the end, the final treaty referred to "Muhammad son of Abdullah" rather than "Muhammad the Messenger of God." More bad news: if a member of the Quraysh fled to join the Muslims, he would be sent back. But the reverse was not true: a Muslim who defected would be allowed to do so. Finally, the Muslims would have to return to Madinah without performing the pilgrimage, but would be allowed to the following year.
It sounded like a raw deal. But our Prophet (S) knew what he was buying: security. The treaty also called for a 10 year ceasefire. Each party would be free to enter into treaties and covenants without interference.
Our Prophet (S) had a long game. He had a lofty vision. He knew that given peace and security, Islam would thrive. And he used the time wisely. He send messages to rulers outside the Arabian peninsula. He focused on being a statesman and governor back in Madinah, allowing his community to continue to grow organically. Soon, prominent Quraysh members began accepting Islam, like Khalid ibn Waleed, or Amr ibn al-'Aas. And less than 2 years later, the Muslims returned to Makkah victorious, conquering it nearly bloodlessly and declared a safe haven for all no matter the atrocities that had been committed before.
Muhammad (S) was a rebel in the streets when necessary. He was a governor, statesman, military commander, and negotiator. He compromised strategically - but he knew what never to compromise on.
In his masnavi, Rumi relates the parable of the mule and the camel. How was it, the mule jealously asked the camel, that I keep tripping over my feet and you never do? The camel replied that the mule walked with his head down, and so could only see the ground immediately in front of his feet. The camel had a lofty vision, and looked ahead. He saw the pitfalls, bumps, and ditches beforehand and so had time to react to avoid them. Men of God are like the camel and can formulate a long game by having a lofty vision.
If you keep your eye on the truth, and believe that the truth will eventually conquer, you've got lofty vision. And this verse from Surah Israa' this morning gave me a profound sense of solace:
وَقُلۡ جَآءَ ٱلۡحَقُّ وَزَهَقَ ٱلۡبَـٰطِلُۚ إِنَّ ٱلۡبَـٰطِلَ كَانَ زَهُوقً۬ا ٨١
And say: Truth hath come and falsehood hath vanished away. Lo! falsehood is ever bound to vanish.
So when you see people marching in the streets, don't tell them they're wasting their time. When you see our leaders meet with those in power who seem hellbent on our exclusion, don't tell them they're selling out. When you meet someone who stands in solidarity with you, embrace them even if you don't agree with everything they stand for. Find common ground wherever you can.
Our mandate is the same as it was yesterday, and it will be the same tomorrow. Nothing has changed. Dynasties that are built on deceit and divisiveness and destined to fall. At least we live in a country where the dynasty automatically changes, though I'm acutely aware of attempts to stack the deck.
Be diplomatic. Be strategic. Be firm. We have a roadmap - all we have to do is take the first step.
Obama's farewell speech on January 10 hit all the right notes. It's beyond dispute that he is an orator par excellence. He spoke of grand ideas like citizenship, defending democracy, and organizing. His 2 terms were far from perfect - I can't forget inaction in Syria, family (read: child) detention, and drone killings.
But I called it out when I saw it. I took action when I could. I tried hard not to fall into hero worship, publicly calling him out on thin red lines, and especially on his administration's cruel deportation policies. Calling out people you generally respect is hard enough, but it's even more difficult in an extremely polarized environment where any criticism of one side is seen as tacit endorsement of the other. Not to mention my distaste for the upcoming administration. Mistakes were made, and people suffered and even died as a result.
Many of my colleagues at the immigration bar, in response to my original thoughts I penned right after watching the speech, reminded me of the evils of family detention, while others wrote about Obama's inaction and unpreparedness for the rigors of the job of President. ,
Despite all this, I never doubted Obama's sincerity of belief in a greater good, regardless of achievement or lack thereof.
For that reason, it's hard not to give him a pass for some of his failures. It's hard not to see his work in the system he operated in. No one man should be able to effectuate huge change in only 8 years. If he can, perhaps the institution isn't much of an institution. There can and should be opposition - on the merits, of course, not for opposition's sake.
But a good leader should leave office with a country that's better off overall, and with a vision of a clear path forward. It's easy to blame the president for mishaps along the way- that's kind of what he's there for.
After the farewell speech, I do believe we're better off than 8 years ago. I've seen more examples of engagement, civic responsibility, and growth (family and business). I've seen crime rates fall, and people start spending again. I've seen institutions built and knowledge shared. I want that to continue.
I like my bubble. It's a nice bubble with lots of amazing people, though I know there are other nice bubbles out there. But now I've got something to continue to nurture, grow, and if necessary, defend.
I'm under no illusions about the upcoming administration. I hope to be proven wrong, but Trump is not a sincere person. I won't be giving him passes like Obama. I'm holding his team's feet to the fire until I'm sure that he no longer poses a threat to the inclusive America that is no quixotic fantasy.
On January 11, 2017, the Washington Post reported about a new pair of bills that yet again attempt to designate the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a "foreign terrorist organization" (FTO). According to the Post, this marks the fifth year in a row that legislators have attempted to do this.
It's important because it has far-reaching foreign and domestic consequences. And it all comes down to this: If a government wants to shut something down without having to answer for its actions, it will be called a terrorist.
The MB is an organization founded in 1928 by Egyptian Hassan al-Banna, and sought to provide a way of life adhering to Islamic ideals. It has since become a not insignificant force in Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics, and today many other groups are lazily lumped under the banner of MB despite no evidence of actual affiliation. The deliberate blurring of the lines is the work product of notorious anti-Islam hate groups such as Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, which has been propagating the myth of "civilization jihad" for years, and has chosen MB as their target vehicle for accomplishing same through a wild conspiracy theory of MB "operatives" within the US government and elsewhere. (The SPLC designates CSP as a hate group).
Yet this myth has been bought by conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Far Reaching Consequences
Bad facts make bad law. Fake facts make ever worse law. The myth of "civilization jihad" - a wild conspiracy theory of an impending takeover by so-called "Islamists" now has a sympathetic ear in the White House. In contrast to previous years' versions, this year's version of the MB Terrorist Designation Act doesn't even go through the factual explanation as to why MB meets the definition of an FTO under INA 219(a). It's a simple 4-page bill that merely states it is "the sense of Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood meets the definition" of an FTO. Perhaps there is no need to explain why - at least publicly - in this brave new world. Perhaps Sen. Cruz figured it would be better to just not show his faulty math.
By folding many organizations from Hamas to Hizbullah to ISIS to Al-Qaeda into MB, any support of MB - however attenuated - becomes "material support of terrorism."
The government's case in United States v. Holy Land Foundation named a number of prominent US-based Islamic organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators" (UCC's) including CAIR, NAIT, ISNA, and others. UCC is a term used to make an innocent party appear guilty without due process by affixing the stigma of criminality. For the UCC, there is no right of redress, no way to exonerate, no way to right the wrong. Constitutional concerns aside, the prior MB FTO designation acts cite extensively to the UCC's in the HLF trial as a stated justification for such designation.
This is, plainly, a due process violation of the highest order. That an organization that has never been shut down or arrested, against whom constitutionally no evidence exists of wrongdoing, now faces arbitrary and capricious designation as a harbinger of terrorism based on mere statements by DOJ attorneys that were never proven. That's how you kill due process: call it a terrorist. Never mind proof. If this can be done to a Muslim organization, it can be done to anyone. I see this in my practice with many of my Latino clients, arbitrarily labeled as a "known gang member" based on things like reporting gang activity to the police, sporting any tattoo (whether gang-related or not), knowing someone who is (or was) in a gang, or being recruited (usually forcibly) to be in a gang. Once it's done, it's done. There is no meaningful way to challenge it.
National Security Is Compromised By Due Process Violations
What about national security? Doesn't that justify any suspension of due process? After all, there is a guarantee of adequate due process in the Constitution - it need not be at 100% at all times. The problem with this line of thought is that it treats due process lightly. Due process must be jealously and zealously protected. It cannot be suspended upon the mere mention of national security. If it's going to be suspended, there better be a damn good reason to do so. Quoting the unproven and unsubstantiated arguments of attorneys in an unrelated trial doesn't even come close.
When bills introduced by lawmen who have taken advice from agenda-driven ideologues like Frank Gaffney, peddling nonsensical myths like calling for patrol of "Muslim neighborhoods," effectively relegating an entire faith to a criminal gang, the United States actually becomes less secure. When deviant or inapplicable interpretations of Islam make it to the text of a bill - such as defining jihad as "using all possible efforts to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship and smashing their idols" - then those who espouse that ideology have, quite literally, won. Gaffney & Co have more in common with ISIS - one would be hard pressed to find any substantive disagreement. That the vast majority of Muslims worldwide denounce such ideologies is of no import to these ideologues. And now, it's considered the law.
The MB Terrorist Designation Act of 2017 is another affront to due process. Make them show their math.
What is a vision for America? The events of this month have certainly made me question things I never felt the need to. Diversity and unity; inclusion and exclusion; the limits of alliance building, and most recently - divide and conquer vs. combine and conquer.
I'm coming up short finding a convincing message of a commitment to ensuring everyone has a chance in America. What I have seen are Cabinet picks who aren't able to escape charges of racism, casual references to Japanese internment, anti-Semitic sentiment, immigrant-bashing, and open Islamophobia. And I've seen a lot of righteous indignation against it all. I'm seeing divide and conquer tactics employed. Carefree campaigns of misinformation - eg, the #MuslimRegistry distracting over the NSEERS reboot, or deliberately provocative tweets seemingly designed to waste people's time.
I came across this paper "Divide and Conquer" - with a discussion on game theory and its application to law, history, and race relations. It's fascinating. We hear the term all the time, but it really refers to a family of ideas. Reading this paper in light of current events was kind of chilling, actually.
The folks in the new White House seem to have a much clearer idea of what they want to do, though much of it is not yet public, and is obscured by a cloud of misinformation and distraction. If we assume they are a "unitary actor" then much of the rest of the population are highly fragmented multiple actors. That's less "diversity" and more " disorder" - lacking a common vision, and hence unable to focus. Certain segments are called out, perhaps, more than others (or at least each group is made to feel like they are being called out more than others.) Muslims complain of Islamophobia, Latinos about anti-immigrant, Jews anti-Semitism, etc. etc. Everyone in their own tidy category.
Believing you have it worse than others inhibits collaboration and communication. Whispers that "it might not be so bad" if you just "give him a chance" similarly inhibit collaboration. Inter-immigrant bigotry, racism, and misogyny also inhibit collaboration. In effect, I fear that we as a people are lacking a deliberate vision of what we want America to be, instead rallying around "not Trump" - precisely the reason Clinton lost. I'm guilty of this, too. If the new Cabinet is a unitary actor, they're dividing and conquering like bosses.
The fact remains, it's hard to unify disparate classes. People do feel more comfortable with people like them. Rallying around "not Trump" will take you nowhere - you can't expect your GPS to navigate if you put in a place you don't want to go.
What's a vision for America? There must be communication between various groups. There must be trust, and a belief in the common good, and incentivizing the human tendency toward collaboration rather than betrayal. A recognition that misinformation (or post-truth, if that's the new flavor for a very old concept) distracts.
I do not mean to be dystopian - this isn't 1984. I have no evidence, nor even a good faith belief, that there is some secret agenda. But it would be naive to assume the Cabinet picks were not deliberate. They supported him for a reason - either because he went with the bigotry, or didn't care about it.
Read about the Stag Hunt game and the Prisoner's Dilemma - it's only the first few pages - and think about what it would mean if the new White House was the "unitary actor" and various classes of people (immigrants, Muslims, women - anyone who felt slighted/marginalized by the campaign). Yes, it'll be simplified, but I think it'll drive the point home that we must unify in our diversity to overcome the well-defined bigotry of the new White House.
I want to talk to immigrants for a minute.
Over the nearly 15 years I've practiced immigration law, I've heard prejudiced statements that would fit right in to what we've been hearing over the past 18 months.
An educated Pakistani woman once told me, "We tried to help her, but you know how those Spanish people are," referring to a proud Latina. A Turk self-righteously complained to me once about all the "black guys smoking weed" across the hall. A Saudi businessman gleeful that a bunch of Filipino workers could be hired at "$200 - $300 a month." A Ghanaian who assured me that another Ghanaian was lying because she could tell the man's tribal affiliation from the shape of his head. An Ivorian blaming Burkinabé for the accession of Ouattara, and a proud Burkinabé with similar contempt for Christian Ivorians. A Congolese slightly miffed when I asked which Congo she was from. A Bolivian mestizo complained to me about a fellow Quechua Bolivian saying they always victimize themselves. An Indian-origin Hong Konger with few redeeming things to say about mainland Chinese.
To quote our President-Elect: "Stop it."
Prejudice may be an easy way of comprehending the world around us, but it's a cop-out. These prejudices are a Godsend to those who benefit from a platform of division.
So STOP IT.
I wish I could show you what I see. The Iranian who loved when I paid cash with bills folded the way common in West Africa (four bills with the fifth folded over; aids in counting). The Latino who responded to my broken Spanish in broken Urdu. The Syrian and the Salvadorean weeping with joy after simply getting the chance to work. The Sunni who married a Shia and raised his daughters Shia. The Ghanaian who couldn't stop talking about Afghan kabob.
So dear immigrants: stop wondering why the Central American kids get work permits while you've waited 10 years for a green card in line. Stop thinking that your lengthy wait to bring your fiancée over gives you a soapbox to decry illegal immigration. If you had an option, consider yourself lucky: many people didn't. If you don't have an option, stop resenting people who did.
Stop blaming other immigrants and put the blame where it belongs: on the system.
You hear what I'm saying? Diversity is good; disorder is not. Our country is a cross-section of humanity like no other. We have a unique opportunity to work on a common purpose. That's right, the election has steeled my resolve. The spike in hate crimes steeled my resolve. The de jure suspicion on my people steeled my resolve. I hope you'll help.
If we are successful, that would be one American ideal I wish we'd export.
Fake news. Propaganda. Echo chamber. Statistics. Post-truth. Confirmation bias. Facts. Real stories. Hoaxes.
Who knows what to believe? One reminder from 2016 is how fragile facts can be. They can be manipulated, compartmentalized, segregated, or just drowned out. People have always pushed their own narratives, but that gets harder to do with the awful din.
Of course this has real impact, since policies have always been made on these narratives. We need good, clean data. But we also need it in the database, and databases are only as good as those doing the data entry.
Take the case ofYasmin Seweid, who admitted she made up a story about being the victim of a hate act. It's not what she did, it's the chatter that ensued that infects the data.
As an immigration lawyer, I see the fear of reporting hate acts in immigrant communities. There are cultural stigmas, fear of deportation, retaliation, re-victimization, language barriers, and a whole host of other reasons. Hoaxes amplified by social media have the potential to seriously infect the data that will be used to formulate policy - or effectively prevent any policy from forming.
The "marketplace of ideas" articulated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to lead to the truth by competition. Religions, too, have long touted the inevitability of truth. To me, 2016 has been a powerful reminder that when everyone has a megaphone, it takes longer for the truth to emerge. The math is different: even the worst ideas which historically may have remained disregarded at the fringes have a chance to take root and grow. More concerning is the very real possibility that free speech itself will be curtailed, further inhibiting the ability of the market to correct itself. Gingrich's careless rhetoric about a new version of the "House Un-American Activities Committee" is a perfect example. (Yes, I am concerned and no, I don't think it's impossible.)
Our legal system of checks and balances takes time to check and balance, and in the interim, people get hurt. Therefore, the speed with which truth emerges from the marketplace becomes supremely important.
So preach on, everyone. Keep doing what you're doing. But please keep your data clean. And push back against bad data. Push back hard, and push back now.