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MPAC Youth Summit

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Last week I had an opportunity to participate in the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) National Muslim American Young Leaders Summit. Along with 24 other Muslim American delegates, I finished up a three-day program of faith-based civic engagement in Washington DC. We talked with some of America’s most prominent policymakers inside the Beltway, including civil society activists, federal bureaucrats, and members of Congress. It was a great opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of being an American Muslim and what kind of positive impact that can have on my society.

 

The first day was an evening orientation and dinner with the other interns at the Beacon Hotel. The time we spent was used to get to know one another and have a briefing by the MPAC staff on the next two days of activities.

 

The next day was the first day of actual visiting and talking to policymakers. We started at the Gallup Organization DC headquarters. At Gallup, we heard presentations by Stephen Grand, Director of the Brookings Institute’s US-Islamic World Forum, and Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Grand’s presentation talked about the impact the forum has had at both the ministerial and grassroots civil society levels. Meanwhile, Mogahed provided us with crucial, myth-busting statistics from Gallup about Muslims’ opinions on East-West relations, including foreign policy, economic well-being, democracy and terrorism.

 

We then shuffled over to the Department of Justice (DoJ) to speak to government officials on Muslim Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties. The first speakers were Eric Treene, special counsel to the DoJ on religious discrimination, and Grace Becker, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ. Mr. Treene discussed the work the DoJ has done to fight religious discrimination against Muslims, including hate crimes and violations prohibiting or inhibiting legal religious use of land. Ms. Becker responded to questions from the participants, including myself, about concerns over alleged sanction of racial profiling in future DoJ guidelines to open terrorism cases. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury were also present, discussing efforts to partner with Muslim community leaders for better financial and charity practices, as well as more Muslim participation in government work.

 

The last visit took place at the Interfaith Alliance where we met with Rev. Welton Gaddy and Rabbi Steven Jacobs. The discussion focused on how one’s faith can be used as a motivating tool to fight for social justice. There were also discussions about the importance of bridge-building with members of other faiths to prevent and counter religious discrimination.

 

That day ended with dinner and a discussion about people’s reflections on the organizations visited.

 

The next morning I met up with the other delegates at Congressman Frank Wolf’s (R-VA) office where we had a 30-minute discussion on issues relating to global warming, international religious freedom, US-China relations, national security and civil liberties. At one point the discussion became so heated that Rep. Wolf charged we were part of the “blame America first crowd” despite what we felt was an emphasis on good international leadership. Similar questions were posed in a following session to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), but with less confrontation.

 

After our meeting with the Congressmen, our group hustled over to the State Department where we met with Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Assistant Secretary Boucher described his work at South and Central Asia desk. Afterwards, he accepted questions from delegates regarding narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan’s new government, economic and political development in Afghanistan and counterinsurgency strategy against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

Our last visit was to the Senate office of Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Initially we talked with her top staffers on intelligence, judiciary and foreign affairs issues, but the Senator came in later to our meeting. After some initial introductions we finally asked about her path to becoming a Senator as well as questions of policy concerning immigration, Guantanamo, her “Yea” vote on the recent FISA bill and Middle East politics. Before leaving the Hart Senate building, I had an opportunity to also meet with Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) staffer on Homeland Security and Civil Liberties issues. It was there that I had an opportunity to express my gratitude to his office for voting favor civil liberties and real security reforms, in addition to presenting her with a copy of MFI’s paper on combating homegrown terrorism (PDF).

 

The night ended with a commemorating banquet where Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, spoke about the need to have Muslims increase their political activism and engagement in the United States.

 

The next day was our last time together as a group where the staff talked to us about giving back to our communities through presentations and op-ed training. We also heard reflective speeches from Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati and Gallup Senior Analyst Ahmed Younis.

 

Looking back on the program, I had a great time. The opportunities to question, challenge and praise the different speakers were taken full advantage of. I came out of the program with both strong convictions and a reaffirmation of my self-identity. It strengthened my resolve to continue my interests in counterterrorism strategies (and how they can reconciled with a conscious respect for civil liberties). It also inspired me to reach out to my communities in New Jersey and get other Muslim youth productively involved in political activism.

Alejandro Beutel

Program Assistant

Minaret of Freedom Institute

www.minaret.org

News and Analysis (6/30/08)

Monday, June 30th, 2008

U.S. claims of concern for Iraqi sovereignty are overshadowed by the perpetual need to prop up Iraqi forces…

…and government involvement in oil field development contracts…

…meanwhile cushy oil revenues in Iran have made elected officials comfortable with overspending despite rising inflation rates:

Morocco’s journalists follow the scuffle between major Arabic news media and the government it is critical of:

Stopping short of setting the price of bread itself, the Lebanese economic ministry promises flour subsidies, even though rising commodity prices is a global issue:

With political changes in Islamabad affecting US-Pakistani relations, American officials squabble over approving special operations forces to target terrorists:

A massive aerial exercise simulating an attack on Iran illustrates Israel’s intention to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East:

A French company and a local NGO team up to provide training for teachers to motivate students still recovering from historic tsunami:

News and Analysis (6/28-29/08)

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Despite the emphasis on negotiations in its new counterterrorism strategy, Pakistan launches its first offensive since the new government took  power two months ago:

Anwar Ibrahim flees to the Turkish embassy as the Malaysian state resuscitates the politically motivated accusations used to justify the opposition leader’s previous detention and torture:

Jakarta Post editorial argues Indonesian surveys on so-called shari’a reveal complexities of the issue:

Former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi makes the legal arguments for impeachment in his book “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder”:

India’s traditional Sufi-influenced Islamic traditions come under attack as a consequence of  injustice by the Indian state and the growth Wahhabism:

Despite the rising voices of civil society and local religious leaders, poverty and tribal custom perpetuate the practice of child marriage:

News and Analysis (6/27/08)

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Despite a spotless work record, Department of Energy revokes a Muslim American’s clearance, using the pretext of “national security”, for his antiwar views:

Continuing its campaign of political persecution, DoJ officials slap Sami al-Arian with criminal contempt charges despite already completing one other post-plea bargain sentence:

Saudi Sunnis make an unprecedented gesture of solidarity with the Shiite minority at Jum’a prayers:


With the blessing of the state, Iranian civil society organizations attempt to openly tackle the country’s massive opium addiction problem: Law enforcement officials seek to prosecute four for alleged involvement in the JFK terror plot despite no allegations of “explosives, money or an executable plan”: Broad coalition of at least 200 “national security advisers, retired military leaders, counterterrorism experts, and religious leaders” release statement denouncing torture: Despite massive crackdowns against alleged Al-Qaeda operatives, arbitrary arrests and state-sanctioned interpretation of Wahhabism keep the criminal organization robust: Despite its opposition to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, Hamas seeks to stay faithful to its ceasefire by reining in other militant groups in Gaza:

News and Analysis (6/26/08)

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

In a major political breakthrough, Bush seeks to end North Korea’s pariah status despite allegations that the country helped in the creation of a secret Syrian nuclear reactor. However, ongoing saber rattling with Iran could prompt Tehran to take “drastic steps”:

Supreme Court upholds Second Amendment’s individual right to bear arms:

Spy bill eviscerating the Fourth Amendment and the rule of law bypasses a Congressional procedural vote, while a New York federal judge says the NSA doesn’t have to disclose whether it violates attorney-client privilege:

Militants lash out at government institutions and Sunni tribal “awakening” militias, killing at least 30:

In Lebanon’s second largest city, Shi’a/Sunni tensions are stoked by rumors of foreign intervention on both sides:

Radio Free Europe analyst Dan Kimmage argues that Al-Qaeda’s appeal can be fought by supporting greater Internet freedom in Muslim-majority countries:

News and Analysis (6/25/08)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Concerned about an American electoral regime change, Israel urges Washington to strike Iran now, while the U.S. continues to keep Syria in pariah status, despite its recent efforts to break out of international isolation:

U.S. military leadership’s answer to more sophisticated attacks is to propose an increase in troops rather than a change in policy:

Seeking to be hip and holy, glossy publications cater to a new generation of the faithful while providing non-Muslims a glimpse of Muslim-Americans’ lives:

Musharraf-appointed court’s decision on election disputes could strain the opposition’s alliance:

Underemployed Iraqi professionals sacrifice economic security for personal security following sensitive contract work with U.S. authorities abroad:

Insecurity and inaccessibility of Somalia hides horrible conditions following drought and civil war:

Activists hoping to challenge Indonesian government’s fuel price hike policy were met by police water cannons:

News and Analysis (6/21-22/08)

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Denunciations by former militants and mainstream Islamists have Al-Qaeda on the defensive:

Writer Becky Akers decries the invasiveness of new scanning technology that subjects people to a virtual strip search and does nothing to add to security:

Non-coercive interrogation nets a treasure trove information from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

300 political prisoners forgo food to protest being “parts of mass trials and [getting] long sentences, even though there had been no evidence”

Opposition-led parliament seeks to reduce prisoners’ sentences from death to life in jail and reduce others’ terms by 3 months…

…while residents in Swat anxiously await whether or not a peace deal can be struck and what it means for them:

Despite the likely court closure of the AK party, the expected ruling exposes the crumbling secular elite:

News and Analysis (6/20/08)

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Congress acts again as an enabler for Bush’s imperial foreign policies…

…meanwhile, it also receives scorn from civil libertarians for capitulating on an invasive bill with telecom lobbyists’ fingerprints all over it:

Israel continues its saber rattling with Tehran, completing a major simulation of a strike against Iran:

Indonesia’s local governments increasingly prefer taking their own tack on issues of development, rather than obeying the central government:

120,000 Bahraini Shi’a peacefully hit the streets to voice indignation at a Sunni MP’s inflammatory remarks toward one of the island’s top clerics:

News and Analysis (6/19/08)

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Transparency International finds massive arrest campaign of Bangladesh’s military government increases graft:

Sunni Muslim religious board and political bloc condemn the recent Baghdad bombing while Mideast expert Juan Cole finds US evidence for blaming rogue Shi’a militias for the blast is scant:

Investigative journalist Mark Benjamin provides a timeline for the Bush administration’s early and deliberate sanctioning of torture:

Kuwait’s new hardline Islamist-tribal alliance seeks to refashion society in a much more conservative mold:

Muslim scholars and civil society activists slam mainstream religious and political bodies over its inaction to deal with violent vociferousness of extremist groups:

Uganda’s president makes passionate appeal to the OIC to end the conflict in Sudan and reminds them of his country’s support for Palestine:

News and Analysis (6/18/08)

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

The Department of Defense with the advice of the CIA pursued torture techniques that violate the law…

…immorally inflict severe physical and psychological damage…

…and act as a recruiting tool on behalf of Al-Qaeda:

Though Hamas and Israel have at least temporarily suspended fighting…

…Tel Aviv’s continuing collective punishment of Gazan Palestinians strengthens black market transactions and suffocates chances for a long-term peace:

Explosion reveals fragility of gains made by the “surge” and perversity of US officials’ attempt to  blame Shiite extremists for an al-Qaeda-style bombing in the “heavily Shiite Huriya district:

Controversy from Turkish diva’s anti-war stance highlights continued military stranglehold over the right to free speech:

Somalis affected by conflict encounter challenges to survival while trying to obtain work in the Gulf:

Indonesian government begins cleaning house after public outcry over bribery scandal within Attorney General’s Office: