Muslim Scholar Meets with DHS Senior Official
By Jonathan Hayden


Washington, DC: Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in The Department of Homeland Security, Daniel Sutherland called upon Dr. Akbar Ahmed for a special meeting to talk about the steps that the DHS need to be making to ease tensions between the US and Muslims. Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington D.C. and has been described by the BBC as the world’s best-known scholar on contemporary Islam.
Ahmed welcomed the meeting as an encouraging step in the development of the US government’s relations with Arab and Muslim people. Mr. Sutherland invited Dr. Ahmed to provide candid ideas for the Department of Homeland Security to tackle. Dr. Ahmed made three recommendations.
First, said Ahmed, the Department must improve the way Muslims and Arabs are handled at security checks at airports. Ahmed gave the example of the name of the holy prophet of Islam stating, “Many of the Muslim names - like my own - derive from Mohammed [peace be upon him]. They are not terrorists but they are stopped and searched at every security checkpoint. This happens to every visitor from abroad and every Muslim American. You simply cannot humiliate Muslims like this.”
Ahmed explained that while the DHS feels that America is under siege, so do Muslims. “At the time of September 11, there were millions of Muslims in the world and probably a few dozen wanted to do harm to the US. When you antagonize and alienate Muslims like this, those that are angry at America start to multiply. The anger is at a peak level with the young generation on the edge. This is your challenge”. The US government needs to identify the “bad guys”, but not disrespect or humiliate Muslims as a community.
Dr. Ahmed also recommended a series of seminars where the high-level administrators get well versed on the culture of Islam, problems get addressed and initiatives are discussed before they are put into action.
A final step would be for the administration to understand Islam by reading some key books on the subject. Ahmed explained that the DHS must understand whom they are dealing with before engaging them. He added that “Muslims have contributed greatly to America and the DHS should reach out to Muslims. I would suggest more social and cultural visits between the US government and the community so that they can appreciate and understand Muslim-Americans.”
Sutherland agreed with Ahmed, stating, “The US must develop, cultivate and cement long- term and stable relationships with these communities”. He further stated, “Taking steps to protect the civil rights and civil liberties has a strong strategic value in the war on terror”. Along with his colleagues who lead the Department of Homeland Security, he is taking steps to train the workforce to understand the value and cultures of Arab-Americans. The DHS has undertaken many measures to eliminate racial profiling as well. Sutherland said that DHS leaders have initiated major changes in the “No-Fly List” procedures, leading to an endorsement from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He communicated to Dr. Ahmed his desire to engage the Arab and Muslim-American communities and develop partnerships so that they can work together to address the problems that Dr. Ahmed laid out.
Finally, Sutherland quoted Khalil Gibran, from an article written in 1926, “I believe you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America. I believe that it is in you to be good citizens. And what is it to be a good citizen? It is to acknowledge the other persons rights before asserting your own, but always to be conscious of your own. It is to be free in thought and deed, but it is to know that your freedom is subject to the other person’s freedom. It is to stand before the towers of New York, Chicago and San Francisco saying in your heart, ‘I am the descendant of a people that built Damascus, and Byblus and Tyre and Sidon, and Antioch, and now I am here to build with you, and with a will.’”
Sutherland has a past that includes extensive work in the areas of civil rights and discrimination. Though the mission of the DHS is largely law enforcement, a civil libertarian in a leadership position is a step in the right direction. President Bush appointed him in 2003.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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