This year Dee, my spouse, and I became more politically active than we have been in the past. We marched in the MLK Seattle march for the first time and in the women’s march the day after inauguration. We carried a sign saying, “No Muslim Registry” on one side and “Black Lives Matter” on the other side. We attended an event featuring Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, as the keynote speaker.
Our sign said, “No Muslim Registry” because we do not want a repeat of the injustice experienced by Japanese Americans when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps at the outbreak of World War II. Both Dee and I know people who had to live in those camps.
I first became aware of the impact of Islamophobia on the Muslim community in April when I attended the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Global Privacy Summit. Rabia Chaudry was a keynote speaker. She wrote Adnan’s Story, which is about the wrongful conviction of Muslim American Adnan Syed. Adnan was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend in 1999 based on cell-tower evidence, even though the carrier specifically stated that the location data was not reliable. Rabia argued that technological evidence gets misused in our judicial system because the how, why and sharing of data suffer from human bias. She further argued that we have the power to create policies to mitigate the abuse of data and privacy is fundamentally tied to a free society. In addition to being an author, Rabia is an attorney and a researcher of the intersection of religion and violent extremism. She is an articulate and powerful speaker.
In May, WSBA Board Gov. James Doane invited members of the Bar’s Corporate Counsel Section to a luncheon to hear attorney Aneelah Afzali speak on “The Rise of Islamophobia – a Threat to All.” Aneelah is the Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Movement (AMEN). She formerly was a partner at Stokes Lawrence P.S. I was so impressed with Rabia’s Global Privacy Summit keynote speech that I wanted to hear more about the Muslim community. From Aneelah’s presentation, I learned that Islamophobia in U.S. is a well-funded network, something I didn’t know. What stuck with me most, though, was Aneelah’s quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” In particular, the words “silence of our friends” kept going through my mind. Aneelah also told us of the Interfaith Iftar at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond the following week and invited us to attend.
The day after Aneelah’s talk, I received an email alerting me that it was the last day to submit comments to the Secretary of Interior about Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The proposed monument was carefully negotiated among stakeholders over 21 years. After the U.S. House failed to act on the Utah Public Lands Initiative proposed by Reps. Rob Bishop (R–UT) and Jason Chaffetz (R–UT), former President Obama announced the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument near of the end of his term. Native American tribes consider areas of the Bears Ears to be sacred grounds. President Trump ordered re-evaluating the status of Bears Ears and 23 other national monuments. Even though I had a busy day scheduled, I took the time to comment in support of keeping the Bear Ears National Monument intact. Aneelah’s words about “the silence of our friends” compelled me to act.
A couple of weeks later, Dee and I attended the MAPS Interfaith Iftar so that we could get to know more about our Muslim neighbors. The theme was “Migration and Transformation in our faiths and our lives.” We heard stories of migration, immigration and faith from both Muslims and non-Muslims. It was a thought provoking evening and we’re glad we went. Since it was Ramadan, shortly after 9 p.m. we enjoyed a delicious dinner!
We joined the Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors counter protest against the March Against Sharia, organized by ACT for America. The Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes ACT for America as an anti-Muslim hate group. Even though participating in the counter protest took most of our day, we’re glad we went and made noise, instead of remaining silently at home.
Supporting the rights of our Muslim neighbors is important because any lessening of their rights affects us all. The time to speak up is now. If Muslims are successfully relegated to a lesser-than status by removing their rights, which group will be next? Other non-Christian religious groups are an easy target. The LGBTQ community and women are easy targets, too. What happens when white males become the only group left standing with full rights intact? Will the parsing out of lesser-thans stop? No! Many white males will not be smart enough, rich enough, tall enough, athletic enough or adorned with enough scalp hair to be granted full rights. When the forces of hate and exclusion prevail, we all at risk, including white males. That’s a great reason to support equality for all, including our Muslim neighbors.
Join us at WSBA’s next Legal Lunchbox on June 27, held in partnership with WSBA Diversity. The event will start with a presentation by Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN) Executive Director on Combating Islamophobia. A panel discussion with practicing attorneys will follow, addressing issues of bias and inclusion in the legal profession.