Since Sept. 11, 2001, an ongoing debate has been waging about the role of Muslims in the U.S. A prominent voice in this debate has been Arsalan Iftikhar, the legal director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim advocacy group in the country.
Iftikhar spoke to a group of about 30 people in MU’s Ellis Auditorium on Friday afternoon about the future of Muslims in the West.
“The 8 million Muslims in the U.S. faced a new duality after Sept. 11,” Iftikhar said. “Not only was our country attacked, but our faith, our way of life and our standing in the U.S. were also attacked.”
According to an FBI report released in 2002, hate crimes against Muslims in 2001 increased by 1,600 percent from the previous year. Muslims, Iftikhar said, have been under “a cloud of suspicion.”
The passing of the Patriot Act on Sept. 15, 2001, only helped to foster a presumption of guilt toward the Muslim community, Iftikhar said.
“There is definitely a personal feeling of paranoia or being watched by the government,” said Nabihah Maqbool, an MU student who attended the speech. “You can’t feel comfortable to practice free speech.”
The Patriot Act, which was renewed in 2006, eases restrictions on law enforcement’s usage of surveillance and allows agencies to obtain financial records, library records and e-mails of private citizens without a grand jury subpoena. It also broadens the definition of domestic terrorism.
“These policies have a residual effect on all Americans,” Iftikhar said. “The U.S.A. Patriot Act doesn’t just affect brown people, it affects all of us.”
Lynsea Garrison, an MU student who attended the lecture, said she agrees.
“The Patriot Act is an invasion of First Amendment rights,” Garrison said. “It is an intrusive tool that normalizes and excuses racial profiling.”
Iftikhar referenced a USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,007 Americans that found 58 percent of those surveyed had never met a Muslim and if they had, they did not know it. It also found that 22 percent of those surveyed did not want Muslims as neighbors.
“The integral issue is further integrating Muslims in their respective societies,” Iftikhar said, “On a local level, people need to demystify Muslims and Islam.”
The issues Muslims are facing now, Iftikhar said, are “the next page of a long chapter of civil rights movements our country has gone through.”
On a local level, Iftikhar said he encourages people to inform themselves on the issues and get involved.
“It’s a struggle and people need to work hard to promote this dialogue,” said Omar Waheed, the President of MU’s Muslim Student Organization.
“The future of America is intertwined with everyone in it.”
Garrison said she feels the problem often is that people are apathetic and don’t take the time to educate themselves.
“People don’t care and that fosters misunderstanding and racism,” she said. “Soon America will have another target group, and so my hope from this is that we rise above acts of blatant prejudice so when that happens again another minority demographic doesn’t fall victim to this cycle.”