Town Hall Meeting Seeks
Balance between Security and Liberty
Los Angeles, CA: Some 500
people attended an emergency town hall meeting hosted by
the Southern California Civil Rights Coalition (CRC) at
the Holiday Inn in La Mirada, California on Monday last
to discuss what they say is the selective application of
the laws and unfair targeting of Muslims by the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS). Several religious leaders of
various faiths, representatives of a host of civil rights
organizations, members of media, government officials (including
a representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation),
and other concerned citizens spoke in support of the American
Muslim community in their struggle to preserve civil rights.
Local attorneys and family members of immigration detainees
also shared their cases.
Panel members address the Town
However, many community members
exhibited frustration that the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the
Transportation and Safety Authority (TSA) declined the invitation
to attend the town hall meeting. They were the very people
from whom the community wanted answers about their concerns.
Over the last few months, several Muslim religious leaders
in California have been detained on minor immigration infractions
and have been denied bail. Recent cases include the detentions
of Imam Wagdy Ghoneim (Islamic Institute of Orange County
in Anaheim) and Abdul Jabbar Hamdan (West Coast Islamic
Society in Anaheim). According to their attorneys, these
individuals have been in the country legally and have filed
all necessary documents to maintain their status.
Dozens of complaints of harassment have also been filed
by American Muslim travelers. The incidents include being
unable to remove their names from the ‘No Fly List,’
repeated stops and interrogations at airports, exclusion
from entry to the United States, and revocation of visas
for no stated reason. Islamic leaders and activists prevented
from entering this country include Yusuf Islam (formerly
known as Cat Stevens) and Swiss professor Dr. Tariq Ramadan.
Omar Zaki, Director of Governmental Relations for the Council
on American-Islamic Relations-Southern California (CAIR-LA),
moderated the program and stated the need “to show
unification and solidarity.” He praised the FBI for
attending the town hall and maintaining a dialogue with
the Muslim community.
Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director for CAIR-LA, expressed
the need to strike “a balance between security and
liberty.” Ayloush stated, “We hold the DHS (Department
of Homeland Security) accountable but that is not to say
that we don’t appreciate the great work of DHS.”
He also added that as taxpayers, American Muslims have a
right to question how their money is being used. Further,
Ayloush mentioned that many Muslims are placed on the “No
Fly List” and face interrogations after arrival.
Ayloush,CAIR -LA Executive Director addresses the
He criticized the government
for coming down too hard on people with immigration infractions
that are extremely minor and do not fit the punishment.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Chair of Islamic Shura Council of
Southern California and Religious Director of the Islamic
Society of Orange County, asserted that standing up for
justice is a way of showing ones care and concern for this
country. Dr. Maher Hathout, Senior Advisor for the Muslim
Public Affairs Council (MPAC), urged the audience to “exercise
the right of holding our agencies accountable.
” Rabbi Haim Beliak,
Temple Beth Shalom and The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian
Gardens & Jerusalem, stated that hospitality is a core
value in the Abrahamic religions. Apparently, at a time
when American Muslims seem to be unwelcome strangers in
this land, the value of hospitality seems to have diminished.
He called for a “re-evaluation of what it means to
hold fast to hospitality.”
Richard Chavez, council member for the city of Anaheim,
called detainment of the innocent American Muslims “neither
patriotic nor just.”
Matt McLaughlin, special projects coordinator for the FBI,
expressed the need for more dialogue. He emphasized the
importance of Muslims knowing how and why the FBI operates
the way they do. Urging Muslims to voice their grievances
in order to produce change, he stated, “If you see
something you don’t like, you should express that.”
and community members
Karen Torjesen, Dean of Claremont
Graduate University School of Religion, stated that the
root problem is that the “[government] agencies don’t
understand Islam.” She called their misunderstanding
of Islam “religious illiteracy,” which she defined
as “the inability to distinguish mainstream Islam
Imam Saadiq Saafir, Vice Chair of Islamic Shura Council
of Southern California and resident Imam of Masjid Ibaadillah,
was also involved in the African-Americans’ struggle
for civil rights. He said the situation faced by American
Muslims should concern all citizens of America.
Preaching unity and tolerance, Saafir stated, “The
most important thing is to recognize that all religions
Attempting to encourage those Muslims hesitant to speak
out for fear of being placed on a list, Imam Sayed Moustafa
Al-Qazwini, Director of Islamic Educational Center of Orange
County and member of Islamic Council of Southern California,
said, “God is on your side.”
Shakeel Syed, community activist and Majlis Member of the
Shura Council, urged the audience to take a more proactive
role with regard to the detention of Ghoneim and Hamdan.
Syed asked the audience “to make a commitment and
point to visit the San Pedro Detention Center [to give moral
support and comfort],” where both Ghoneim and Hamdan
Shaikh Sadullah Khan, Director of the Islamic Center of
Irvine, who himself was imprisoned during Apartheid in South
Africa, asked the audience whether to consider “we
progressed to [a society implementing equality] or we retrogressed
Stephen F. Rohde, Esq., civil liberties lawyer, reminded
the audience that the ordeal American Muslims are facing
is not a new one. He stated that 120,000 Japanese Americans
were placed in internment camps during World War II. He
blamed this oppression on “war hysteria and failure
of leadership” among other things. Further, like many
other speakers, he urged American Muslims to take a more
proactive role in this struggle to preserve their civil
rights, asserting, “Dialogue is good, but not enough.
We need policy changes.”
James Lafferty, Executive Director of the National Lawyers
Guild (NLG), had strong words to say against the government.
community member asks a question during the panel
Zeke Hernandez, Chairman of
the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)-Orange
County Chapter, called for the Latin American and American
Muslim community to unite. He also invited CAIR to meet
with its national officials to strengthen their relations.
Amin David, Chairman of Los Amigos of Orange County, gave
his support to the Muslim community saying, “We will
not stand by and have you trampled upon.” Creating
a sense of understanding and empathy between the Mexican-American
community and the American Muslim community, he mentioned
that in 1930 thousands of citizens were deported to Mexico
because of the economic instability of the US at that time.
Family members and attorneys for Hamdan and Ghoneim spoke
about their ordeal.
Yaman Hamdan, the eldest of Hamdan’s six children,
told the audience that her young siblings have difficulty
in sleeping because of the psychological trauma they endured
when FBI agents stormed their home at four in the morning
to arrest their father.
Tasnim Ghoneim, daughter of Ghoneim, stated that the accusations
of her father are based on Internet articles, which are
inadmissible in the court. She thanked the audience for
their concern and support. Further, suggesting that any
American Muslim may be targeted, she stated, “I’m
sorry to say this, but your dad may be second.”
Arif Shaikh and Ahmed Ahmed talked about the interrogation
and inconveniences they faced when they were harassed and
prevented from traveling because their names appeared on
the ‘No Fly’ list.
The final segment of the town hall meeting consisted of
a panel session. Panel members included Ahmed Younes, National
Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Ban
Al-Wardi, President of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee-Los Angeles/Orange County Chapter (ADC-LA/OC),
Matt McLaughlin, and Hussam Ayloush.