Muslims head to SCOTUS, Bloomberg defends spying, student loans and interest

Spotlight on lawyer Ramzi Kassem and the CLEAR Project.

Salaam, friends! 👋 I’m journalist Aysha Khan, and you’re reading my monthly roundup of the latest news stories about Muslims in the U.S.

📌 TOP PICKS

Radiolab — Latif Nasser, also known as Guantanamo Bay detainee #244, has spent over 17 years locked up for allegedly being Al Qaeda’s top explosives expert. His lawyers say that’s nonsense, and in 2016, the U.S. even cleared him for release. But then Trump took office. This six-part radio series, “The Other Latif,” tells Nasser’s story. He also wrote about his case in the Boston Globe.

WaPo — As a teen, Asad Dandia was targeted by New York Police Dept.’s warrantless surveillance on the region’s Muslims under Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “Our sacred spaces had been violated,” he wrote. “We didn’t know who to trust, or where we could turn for help.” Though he sued the NYPD and reached a settlement, Bloomberg has refused to apologize for the program.

The Marshall Project — Did the murder of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill five years ago meet the definition of a hate crime? A short documentary explores.

The Intercept — As Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign surges, scrutiny of his surrogate Linda Sarsour has intensified. And she has the wounds to prove it, she writes in her new memoir.

⚖️ LAW & POLICY

  • Keep an eye on Tanzin v. Tanvir, a major case at the Supreme Court this month, in which three Muslim men say FBI agents abused the no-fly list to coerce them into becoming informants. The legal question: Can the men sue the individual agents for money damages under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? The Trump admin says no; the left is split, with many arguing that a win for the men would allow the Christian right to undermine federal anti-discrimination law.

  • Customs and Border Protection has admitted to inappropriately targeting Iranian Americans and breaching agency protocol by holding travelers at the border, saying agents got “a little overzealous.”

  • Two Iranian college students have filed civil rights complaints with the Dept. of Homeland Security, saying they were illegally denied entry to the country.

  • Dearborn’s Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, a U.S. citizen, says he was targeted for his faith when he was questioned for hours by customs with no explanation.

  • Despite a federal judge’s ruling that the terror watch list is unconstitutional, an FBI report shows local and state law enforcement are being used to collect intel on those in the database. If the U.S. isn’t forced to dismantle the list, Americans will continue to be "treated like second class citizens," warns lawyer and plaintiff Hassan Shibly.

  • U.S. prosecutors have closed one of the highest profile post-9/11 terror cases, electing not to pursue charges against Hamid Hayat. The California man spent 14 years in prison after being charged with plotting an attack in the U.S. Reporters have long questioned the evidence against him, and a judge overturned his conviction last year.

  • The parents of a Muslim Marine recruit have petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of their $100 million wrongful death lawsuit. Their son apparently died by suicide in 2016 while running from a drill instructor who’s been found guilty of tormenting Muslims recruits.

  • The U.S. must prioritize the processing of more than 300 refugee cases delayed by the Muslim travel ban, per a lawsuit settlement.

  • The House Judiciary Committee voted to end Trump's expanded Muslim travel ban and limit presidential authority to issue such restrictions. The bill heads to the House floor.

  • The expanded ban will increase prolonged family separations for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The move has panicked impacted communities, and advocates argue it’s also no coincidence four of the newly banned countries are African nations with sizable Muslim populations.

  • Some faith-based advocates argue that the right to abortion is a constitutional one, protected by the freedom to exercise religion.

  • Two Muslim inmates in Utah allege that corrections officials have for years kept them from congregational prayers on Fridays.

  • A State Dept. ex-employee sued Mike Pompeo and the agency for allegedly refusing to let her work from home in Ramadan.

  • Meet Mohamed Attia, defender of New York City street vendors’ rights.

  • In Patterson, New Jersey, a proposal to update noise ordinances allows mosques to broadcast the call to prayer using loudspeakers may soon move forward. The city also recently swore in the country’s first Turkish-American police chief.

  • A bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would let student athletes wear religious apparel without waivers, inspired by a teen who was disqualified from a track meet due to her hijab.

🗳 POLITICS

  • Iranian Americans, like any community, don’t have a single unified voice. That poses a serious challenge for 2020 candidates.

  • As criticism mounts against the newest presidential candidate, Bloomberg is defending the Muslim surveillance program that traumatized a community and netted zero leads. Surveilling U.S. Muslims, he said on air, was “a natural place to go.” He repeated false claims that the spying program had been ruled legal and simply involved officers listening in on some Friday sermons with imams’ permission. “I’m still not sure people realize the almost comic extent of the surveillance,” Ramzi Kassem, who helped lead the legal fight against the program, says.

  • A chapter on the NYPD’s surveillance was airbrushed out of a landmark report on anti-Muslim bias by the Center on American Progress think tank, which has accepted Bloomberg money.

  • Bloomberg's outreach to Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan, from meetings with community leaders to ads in Arabic-language newspapers, has sparked criticism. “Bloomberg is campaigning in the same language he once flagged as a warning sign,” one advocate said, calling the ads “hypocritical.”

  • Ahead of Super Tuesday, the Sanders campaign has reached out to Muslim voters unlike any campaign before, Amal Ahmed reports. Newsweek also breaks down Sanders’ long history of successful outreach to Muslims. He’s won national endorsements from the Muslim Caucus of America, the Emgage PAC and more.

  • Dems made history at the Iowa caucus by allowing mosques to host presidential caucuses for the first time ever. At most of the five local mosques selected as satellite locations, including the Bosnian Islamic Center Zen Zen and Muslim Community Organization, Sanders swept the vote. That’s thanks in part to the extensive outreach Sanders coordinated among Muslim minority communities, including a visit from Rep. Ilhan Omar to a local mosque alongside Iowa’s only Muslim lawmaker, who has endorsed Sanders.

  • VP Joe Biden's decision months ago to hire South Asian advocate Amit Jani as his Asian American outreach director raised eyebrows due to Jani’s strong support of India’s far-right prime minister. But it turns out Jani, a Hindu with Hindu nationalist ties, is also Biden's Muslim outreach coordinator. Gold Star father Khizr Khan is also campaigning for Biden in Muslim communities.

  • A Muslim teen featured in a Biden campaign ad is pro-Sanders, but was attending Biden’s rally to press him on climate change. She’s one of several women of color unknowingly used in 2020 campaign ads.

  • A Turkish activist was once a rising star in the MAGA world, embraced for her money and activism as an ex-Muslim. Now, she’s turned against the movement, saying she was “brainwashed” by Trump’s “cult.”

  • Med student Solomon Rajput, a progressive congressional hopeful in Michigan, seeks to beat one of the oldest political dynasties in the U.S.

  • A Somali Uber driver is making a longshot bid for Rep. Ilhan Omar’s seat in Congress.

🕌 COMMUNITY

  • Millions of Muslims across the world planning to make the umrah may not be able to visit holy sites in Saudi Arabia because of coronavirus.

  • Over 270 students just gathered at Harvard for the first-ever national conference for Shia Muslim college students.

  • Kashmiri and Palestinian activists protested a Harvard talk by the Indian consul general, who has urged Kashmir’s Hindu Pandits to copy Israel by creating settlements on Muslim-owned land.

  • February marked 100 years since the first Ahmadi Muslim stepped foot in the U.S. The sect’s legacy is often ignored in narratives on early U.S. Muslims.

  • The Nation of Islam held its annual national convention in Detroit with some 14,000 attendees. 

  • Sex educator Angelica Lindsey-Ali says Muslims seeking guidance on sex and intimacy should turn to the life of the prophet for answers.

🆘 HATE & CRIME

  • The Manhattan district attorney will consider reopening the case of Malcolm X’s assassination, after a Netflix series detailed apparent miscarriages of justice.

  • Refugee Khaled Heeba fled war in Syria—only to be gunned down while delivering pizza in Baltimore.

  • At Portland’s MAX attack trial, a young woman took the witness stand without her hijab and testified about why she’s now too afraid to wear it. A jury ruled that the killer was fueled by racist and religious bigotry.

  • The past few months have mobilized young Iranian Americans to identify as part of a larger struggle alongside other ethnic minorities who feel “othered,” activist Hoda Katebi says.

  • Delta Air Lines has been fined $50,000 for “discriminatory conduct” for kicking three Muslim passengers from flights in 2016 due to their “perceived religion.”

  • After outcry, Cal State San Bernardino canceled a course called “History of Islam: Mohammed to ISIS,” whose instructor had no relevant background.

  • An Indiana lawmaker was forced to resign over old anti-Muslim social media posts. Now, his replacement faces similar accusations.

  • A New Jersey mayor faces accusations that he worked behind the scenes to block the appointment of two Muslim women to a local board.

  • Two former employees of Anna’s House sued the Michigan restaurant chain, saying they were fired for their race and religion.

  • An Applebee’s manager asked a Muslim family to leave after they were harassed and called terrorists by an angry customer.

  • An Ohio woman was charged with assault for allegedly harassing her Muslim Uber driver after asking him about Trump.

  • A Kansas City man has been charged with three felony counts of burglary after admitting to breaking into and stealing from several local mosques.

  • Police in South Carolina arrested two suspects accused of spray-painting the words “Utterly Blessed” on the Islamic Center of Charleston’s building, which has seen two vandalism incidents in two weeks.

🧠 ARGUMENTS

  • Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée demands justice 500 days after his murder.

  • Higher education is often unattainable for Muslims who do not take interest-bearing loans due to their faith, Tasmiha Khan contends.

  • The man behind the 2007 “Radicalization Report,” used to justify damaging surveillance of NYC Muslims under Bloomberg, is now advising top NYC Jewish institutions on security. But true security requires solidarity, Asad Dandia asserts.

  • Mustafa Akyol argues that Muslims should meet Islamophobia with kindness.

  • Democrats are missing a critical opportunity to confront Bloomberg on TV about Muslim surveillance, Jalal Baig writes. Bloomberg’s record on Islamophobia shows he’s a real danger to Muslims, Hamza Raza argues.

  • Muslim students at UNC Chapel Hill slammed the school for ignoring the anniversary of the murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha.

  • Fifty-five years after his assassination, we still get much wrong about Malcolm X, Imam Omar Suleiman writes.

  • Any history of Malcolm X must include the women in his life, Keisha Blaine explains.

  • Sanders is the only Democratic leader who doesn’t go along with Trump on key “national security” legislation targeting Muslims, Jacobin’s Aqsa Ahmad writes. Sanders also represents an opportunity for Jewish-Muslim unity, Yasmine Flodin-Ali writes. Indeed, Sanders surrogate and comedian Amer Zahr says, Arabs and Muslims are voting for him because he's Jewish, not in spite of it.

  • “I never set foot inside a mosque—until loving Muslims helped me process the deadly shooting in my synagogue,” Beth Kissileff writes.

🎭 CULTURE

  • Slate’s Aymann Ismail isn’t just a journalist. He’s also the subject of his reporting, as this Columbia Journalism Review profile explores. Also check out his recent podcast episode on gender-segregated mosques.

  • Meet baker Imani Muhammad, whose iconic bean pie business will soon get its first storefront in Chicago. The navy bean pie was created by Elijah Muhammad’s daughter and has become a staple in black Muslim communities.

  • On NPR’s Throughline, hosts Ramtin Arablouei and Rund Abdelfatah draw a line from the past to the present.

  • Berkeley artist Salma Arastu’s paintings play with Islamic calligraphy to show people what the Quran has taught her.

  • Eight black women discuss their relationship with their hair and hijab: “To the world, our hair is covered all day, but in reality, the moment we enter our house, we’re in a Pantene commercial.”

  • Someone stole a Muslim teen’s selfie for a fake GoFundMe campaign that raised thousands of dollars for her funeral.

  • Skeletal remains that may belong to the formerly enslaved Yarrow Mamout were found in a Georgetown area that was a black cemetery in the 19th century.

👌 SHOUT OUT

If you don’t know Ramzi Kassem…you do now. Kassem heads up the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) legal clinic at CUNY School of Law, which supports Muslim and minority communities targeted by the government with a national security and counterterrorism pretext. With CLEAR, he worked on the lawsuit against the NYPD over Muslim surveillance and will argue before the Supreme Court in Tanzin v. Tanvir.

🗣 TALK TO ME

As always, please send me your comments, questions and corrections! Otherwise, we’ll chat again in a few weeks, inshaAllah. 👋 - Aysha