Civil Rights Coalition Denounces ACT For America’s Anti-Muslim Online Campaign; Calls on the President to #CounterACTHate

Washington – Civil rights leaders, faith based, human rights, and community organizations condemn today’s bigoted, anti-Muslim online campaign by ACT for America, reportedly the nation’s largest anti-Muslim hate group.  This online campaign was scheduled for just two days before the anniversary of September 11 to target and manufacture hatred for American Muslims at a time when violence against Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh communities is reaching historic highs.

ACT originally planned to coordinate 67 anti-Muslim rallies across 36 states under the theme “America First.”  However, after thousands of Americans came out in peaceful resistance to white supremacy and racism in Charlottesville and Boston, ACT decided to call off its rallies and shift to today’s online campaign, a clear signal that messages of justice and solidarity are drowning out messages of hate nationwide.

This is not the first time civil rights groups and anti-racist protestors stared down ACT’s bigotry.  In June ACT held anti-Muslim rallies in 30 cities across the nation under the theme “March Against Shariah”.  This campaign was met with strong resistance from civil rights groups who held alternative events that telegraphed calls for love, fairness, and justice. The Trump administration was silent in response.

ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has made her racism clear. She has said, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” and has argued, outrageously, that Muslims are a “natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western society.”  In a video message launching the America First rallies, Ms. Gabriel exclaims, “Let’s show our president that we are behind him in securing our nation.” In accordance with the bigotry that ACT promotes, its previous anti-Muslim rallies have attracted a host of armed militia-type groups and white nationalists.

Likewise, President Trump has made no secret of his bigotry,, stating on the record, “I think Islam hates us” and moving forward with his administration’s dogged pursuit of a “Muslim Ban,” among other policies.  The words and actions of the administration, including high-level advisors who are known standard-bearers for white supremacist movements, as well as the President himself, increasingly fuel and validate violence targeting Muslims and people perceived as Muslim. The FBI’s 2015 hate crimes statistics, the most updated data available, show a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, while violence aimed at South Asian, Sikh, and Arab communities continue to rise. The xenophobic statements by the President and Gabriel run counter to the values of justice and inclusivity that we seek to uphold.

Peaceful resistance by civil rights groups, immigrant and faith communities, and communities of color has been the strongest counterweight to the insults and injuries of white supremacists and this administration. We demand this administration, and all elected and appointed officials, condemn groups that peddle hate in the strongest possible terms, and back that condemnation with swift action and policies that contribute to the transformation of our institutions. The hatred must stop now. As a coalition of diverse organizations representing communities of color and immigrants at the national, state, and local levels, we are committed to condemning bigotry of all kinds and advancing the principles of racial justice.

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together, said, “ACT for America’s racism and fear mongering are incompatible with core American values of justice and equality in a nation where people of color will constitute a majority of residents within the next two decades.  ACT’s decision to shift from nationwide rallies to an online campaign, while still toxic, is in no small terms a victory and emblematic of the power of standing together, united from all faiths and backgrounds against bigotry. The Trump administration must end its anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant campaign that emboldens hate groups to commit horrific acts of violence against our communities. Silence is no longer an option. The President, along with all elected and appointed officials, must condemn Islamophobia and white supremacy and ensure that our communities can live in a just and inclusive society for all Americans.”

Impact of NYPD Surveillance: Limiting the Voices of Our Youth

Like any student who embarks on their journey through college, I spent much of my undergraduate years at American University discovering my identity, sense of belonging and interests in life.  As I reflect on those days not so long ago, I now realize how important being a part of a cultural student group was for me and the impact it had on my sense of identity. For me, my involvement in the Philippine Student Association played a significant role in how I came to identify, both individually and within a community. Knowing that, it is difficult for me to imagine experiencing those moments of self-searching and struggle while also having restrictions on my ability to find my community.

Imagine having your student organization be the target of a police surveillance program just for the mere fact that your student organization is racially, ethnically, or religiously-based.

Well, it happened in New York and beyond. Student groups, in this instance Muslim student groups, were targeted by the New York Police Department (NYPD). But, it doesn’t just stop there.

It’s not a secret that the NYPD has long-been spying on student organizations, places of worship and businesses.

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Image from Politicker

In fact, just a few months ago, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released a report which documents this surveillance program and its impact on the Muslim community since its inception in 2002. Needless to say, the effects on the Muslim community have been drastic, causing individuals to restrict their speech and religious practice as well as their everyday activities. And, with the recent release of evidence that the NYPD has been conducting in-depth surveillance on Muslim Americans by designating them as “terrorism enterprises” and trying to infiltrate at least one local community organization, I can only imagine the impact that this will have on individuals. Moreover, as a recent college graduate, I can’t help but wonder what this means for 17 and 18 year olds as they embark on their college experience, a time many Americans use to find themselves, figure out where they belong, and build community.

Being a part of a student group and participating in cultural activities helped me to feel a sense of belonging and allowed me to learn more about Filipino culture and history during my four years at American University. It provided me a space in which to connect with peers who shared similar experiences and struggles. It’s disheartening to know that my peers will not have the same opportunity, which is such a big part of the college experience. What’s worse, if they chose to explore their identity in these traditional ways, their civil rights may be violated as well as their privacy.

We cannot not let the NYPD or other government agencies limit the ability of youth to find their identity or of anyone else to engage in their community by threatening their civil rights and religious freedom. We must demand accountability from our government agencies and officials. We must move forward — not backwards – because a better future is ahead of us. We owe this much to our youth, our communities, and our nation.

AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Why We Need to Care about Bias-Based Bullying

When I was 4 years old, I remember my older brother coming home one day from Junior High with distress and tears.  Although, at that age, I did not comprehend every single thing that was talked about, I knew one thing–my brother was hurt and upset.  Later, I found out that another student grabbed his turban from behind him while he was walking.  This same student had taunted him for weeks about his turban before the incident, but no administrator at the school did anything about it.  At the time, I did not even know about bullying or who a bully was, all I knew is I never wanted my brother to experience this again.  This situation was finally resolved only after the school administration saw to what degree the attack took place.

It is a known fact that bias-based bullying and harassment towards South Asian students and families is a growing problem.  According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education study, over 54 Percent of Asian American youth reported experiencing bullying, the highest percentage of any ethnic group surveyed. In SAALT’s report, In the Face of Xenophobia, the New York City Department of Education and the Sikh Coalition’s 2007 report indicates that in the nation’s most diverse neighborhood of Queens, 77.5 percent of young Sikh men reported being harassed, taunted, or intimidated because of wearing a turban.  Like my brother, many students and community members face harassment every day because of their ethnic and racial identity and religion.  But what comes across as more problematic than the issue itself is that there is no system in place to prevent bullying before it happens or so it never happens again.  Currently, legislation is being considered in Congress that will help vulnerable students and families. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a proposed federal anti-bullying law.  If enacted, it will require schools and school districts to collect and publicize data about incidents of bullying and harassment.  This will create incentives for school officials to protect students and allow government agencies to quickly identify schools and school districts where problems exist. It is important that our policymakers know that this is and important step in protecting all victims from bullying in our schools. Last summer, with the helpful guidance from the Sikh Coalition, I went to Capitol Hill and lobbied two congressional offices with the hope that they would consider this an important issue and act on it.

This piece of legislation is very important but creating effective tools to prevent bullying and educate students is just as critical. Personally, I was very distressed growing up seeing more and more Sikh children facing such gruesome bullying incidents.  I wanted to help in any capacity I could, even if it was small.  While in college, I created a “Combating Bullying” project with leadership training from the Sadie Nash Leadership Foundation.  I was able to develop lesson plans for 8 workshops bringing 8 Sikh youth together every 2 weeks to learn about bullying, understand that they are not alone in this process, and explore various resources that were available for them if they were bullied again.  Upon completion of the program, the students were more confident and better able to address the issue.

In July, SAALT will be bringing students from across the country to the nation’s capital to attend the 2013 Young Leaders Institute. The students will build leadership skills, explore social change strategies around bias-based bullying among South Asian and immigrant communities in the US, and develop exciting project ideas to enact change on their campuses and in their communities. I am excited to work with these Young Leaders and support their creative projects to educate peers, raise awareness, and campaign for change as they work for a safer schools, safer families, and safer communities.

Learn more about SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute and our incoming 2013 Young Leaders!

 

Manpreet Kaur Teji
Program Associate, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Volunteer Advocate, The Sikh Coalition