Civil rights activists give voice to Muslim community

September 26, 2010
By Katie Donahue

Current political issues, religious freedom and racism were among the issues discussed in a lecture by Asian Americans for Community and Talent (AACT).

Kathy Masaoka from Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR) and Affad Shaikh, civil rights manager for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) compared the current political attitudes toward Muslims in the U.S. with the treatment of Japanese people during World War II.

“One of the themes we’re having today is solidarity,” said Brian DeGuzman, AACT president.
The meeting began with a ‘unity clap’ led by members of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA). Everyone in the group began to clap slowly, and then worked up to a faster pace.
Jose Gomez, 22, MEChA internal chair said the unity clap was used during the United Farm Workers movement and it mimics the progression of a heartbeat.

“As revolutionaries and conscious people, we need to be guided by love,” said the  Chicano/a studies major. “That unity and loudness keeps us united.”

Tadashi Nakamura’s documentary “Pilgrimage” was shown, and recounted the stories of Japanese-Americans who were interred at Manzanar.

According to the film, Manzanar was one of 10 concentration camps in the U.S. that interred 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II.

NCRR was initially formed to fight for redress of the internment and continues now to fight for civil rights issues, Masaoka said.

Recalling the treatment of the Japanese in the U.S., NCRR knew what was going to happen next, and felt they had to stand up for those who would be racially targeted, she said.
CAIR is a one-stop shop organization to fulfill the needs of the Muslim community, Shaikh said. Among the issues the group addressed was civil rights, the First Amendment, freedom of religion, and domestic violence.

“Our mission is providing the Muslim community a voice,” Shaikh said.

After Sept. 11, many people in the immigrant community were afraid of law enforcement, and many Islamic religious leaders did not know how to respond, he said.

“People immediately associated me with terrorism,” he said.
The Japanese-American community reached out to Islamic leadership and told them they had to stand up for their rights,  Shaikh said.

“To be Muslim in our society today is to be equated with terrorism,” he said.

People  do not realize that 300 Muslims were also victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Shaikh added.
“I really feel Muslims have to show their loyalty in this country,” Shaikh said.

Loyalty was also an issue for those of Japanese descent during World War II, Masaoka said.

If they volunteered for the draft, they were considered loyal and if they didn’t, they were seen as disloyal, Masaoka said.

“Isn’t it more patriotic to say, ‘I’m going to stand my ground?’” she said.

The recent controversy over building the Park 51 Community Center two blocks away from Ground Zero was also discussed.

It is scary that political leaders can say there are certain places where people  cannot practice religion, Shaikh said.

“I think it’s just sheer ignorance, bigotry and hatred,” he said.

In addition to the community center issue, some politicians have recently discussed repealing the 14th Amendment which protects privileges for non- U.S. citizens.

“Very few people are saying anything in opposition to this,” Masaoka said, adding that “we really need to question our society” when fundamental rights are brought up for debate.

This issue of fundamental rights was related to the immigration law that was enacted in Arizona recently, he said.

Shaikh said CAIR was one of the first Muslim organizations to speak out against law AB 1070 and they bussed members out to Arizona to boycott. Additionally, they organized Muslims to contact legislators of other states considering similar laws.

The recent controversy of a  Florida pastor announcing  he would publicly burn copies of the Quaran was also discussed.

Though he does not agree with the action itself, Shaikh said he would support it due to the First Amendment that grants free speech.

Junior Robert Lieu, 25, psychology major, said he attended the meeting to become more informed about current events.

“Sometimes we don’t get this stuff in classroom textbooks,” Lieu said.

People’s experiences are more real than what can be found in a book, he added.
DeGuzman said he wanted attendees to learn about the Japanese internment because it has happened before and he doesn’t want it to happen again.

“Religious freedom is very connected to racism,” said DeGuzman,  an Asian American studies major. ”Racism is based off of stereotypes and stereotypes are based off of limited knowledge.”
Masaoka said she did  not know anything about Islam prior to  Sept. 11.

“Question it. Speak up. Be that voice,” Masaoka said. “The more you’re educated, the more you can speak up about these things.”