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.