Muslim Civil Participation and Islamophobia

Regrettably, our nation is beginning to head down a path where certain groups are discouraged or excluded from holding public office or otherwise contribute to the defense of the U.S. Constitution. Historically, minorities have always struggled to socially or politically engage in the U.S. whether it be the Italians, Irish, Japanese, Mexican and, of course, African-American. Now the torch has been passed to the Arabs and Muslims who are victims of an insidious campaign. Arabs and Muslims have been excluded from public appointments or office not because of individual shortcomings, but rather based on vicious smear campaigns and guilt by associations. The whole idea of excluding a person or a group of people based on their racial, ethnic or religious affiliations contradicts the foundation of this nation as the rich and diverse land of freedom.

Most recently, Mr. Pervez Ahmed was nominated to be a Human Rights Commissioner in Jacksonville, Florida. His nomination was viciously opposed by radical anti-Muslim groups including ACT! For America and Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA). Both organizations, and their bigoted followers, continue to smear Muslims who strive to serve the American public and even defend the U.S. Constitution. They claim six degrees of alleged terror ties. They cry about a top secret Muslim conspiracy to replace the Constitution with Shariah law. They cry about any preposterous claim they can conjure about Islam and Muslims with utter disregard to facts and reality.

The campaign against Mr. Ahmed was reminiscent of another campaign against a human rights commissioner some eight years earlier. In 2002, Omar Mohammedi, an Arab-American and Muslim attorney, was up for the position for the New York City Human Rights Commission. While Mayor Bloomberg stood by his appointment, many anti-Islam groups protested at Mr. Mohammedi’s appointment. Even during Mr. Ahmed’s appointment eight years later, the same Islamophobes once again attacked Mr. Mohammedi and urged supporters to call for his removal.

What exactly was there complaint against Mr. Mohammedi? According to SIOA, the main complaints against Mr. Mohammedi were his representation of the Six Imams and some defendants in the 9/11 civil litigation. In both cases, Mr. Mohammedi had chosen the side of the U.S. Constitution—not the side of Muslims.

Ironically, the treatment of Mr. Mohammedi’s reputation during these cases was not based on his professional ability to offer the best representation to his clients. Such advocacy can only praised by the ethical standard as well as the Judges. Mr. Mohammedi’s professional work is only questioned because he is a Muslim and an Arab. Peter King expressly questioned Mr. Mohammedi’s professionalism in representing the six Imams when he asked “does his legal position taken on behalf of the imams represent his personal beliefs or is he just acting as a law?”

Mr. Mohammedi, as an Arab and Muslim, was treated differently for exercising his rights and freedoms than non-Arab and non-Muslim lawyers. In fact, co-counsel for Mr. Mohammedi on this case, Mr. Frederick Goetz—a white attorney—did not get the reputation of “terror lawyer” as a result of this case. Mr. Mohammedi, meanwhile, received death threats and public protests.

Similarly, the 9/11 litigation is a complex multidistrict litigation case with thousands of plaintiffs and defendants involved. Likewise, there are hundreds of law firms on both sides of the case. Many of the 9/11 defendants are represented by major American law firms such as Jones Day, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, Busch & Nubani P.C., Bernabei & Katz PLLC and many others. Each of these firms play a major role in the litigation and none of them have earned the reputation of “terror lawyers.” However, Mr. Mohammedi is the sole attorney to earn that reputation over this case as he is the only Muslim attorney on this case.

Objections to Mr. Mohammedi’s representation of defendants in the 9/11 litigation also raise an eyebrow as to the objectives of these radical anti-Islam movements. Many, if not all, of these movements claim a respect for the U.S. Constitution, yet they frequently advocate for that which is unconstitutional. For example, it is a constitutional right for every defendant sued in an American court to retain counsel. Furthermore, when an attorney represents a defendant he/she does not become immediately responsible for each and every act of that defendant whether related to the litigation or not. If this were the case, then no attorney would ever choose to represent unpopular clients resulting in a stark violation of the Due Process rights promised by the U.S. Constitution.

So what is the message being sent? The message is that Arabs and Muslims have no role in defense of the U.S. Constitution whether as professionals or public officials. Hate campaigns that are gaining more steam continue to vilify all Arabs and Muslims in everything they do even if it is a positive contribution to this country, while non-Muslims do not receive the same treatment for the same acts. Omar Mohammedi has a sterling reputation of upholding the laws of the land and defending the rights of all people whether Muslim, Jew, Christian or anything else. Yet, many in the blogosphere and in growing Tea Party movements have him dubbed as a terrorist lawyer who has a secret agenda to take down the U.S. Constitution from the inside.

Frankly, this has to stop otherwise it will have an erosive effect on the constitutional freedoms ensured to all Americans. Those who vilify Arabs and Muslims in the name of the Constitution are, ironically, undermining the Constitution itself. Those who do truly value the principles upon which this county was founded must take a stand and drown out these preposterous voices every time an Arab or Muslim is up for a public appointment or election—not for the sake of those individual Arab or Muslim candidates, but for the sake of preserving the U.S. Constitution in the public sphere.

By: Tariq Hussain, Esq.