DEARBORN — The Council on American-Islamic Relations has been at the forefront of the challenging civil rights movement for American Muslims, and many of the most important issues faced by the community have occurred in Michigan.
|CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid (left) presents the Peace & Justice Award to the Amer family (Rehab and Ahmed to his right) at the banquet on March 25. PHOTO: Nafeh AbuNab/TAAN|
CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid spoke about two recent examples of racism and injustice, telling the crowd that Shaima Alawadi, and Iraqi American Muslim who was killed in California, was murdered by the same racist mentality that led to the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American teenager in Florida who was shot by a neighborhood watch member.
He noted that Martin was black and wearing a hoodie while Shaima was an Arab wearing a hijab, making them both targets in these incidents.
Keynote speaker Sahar Aziz, who served as a senior policy adviser for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also drew parallels between the challenges faced by both minority groups. She spoke about the importance of standing up for liberties for all despite the toll it can sometimes take, giving a nod to great leaders of the African American civil rights movement before speaking about the similar challenges faced by Muslims.
"Fighting for justice has its cost, whether as a lawyer or respected citizen, there isn't one of us who doesn't have figurative scars on our backs," she said. "But we're willing to pay the price because we have a moral obligation to protect our children from the systemic civil rights violations unleashed on our communities because of a handful of criminals who committed an atrocious act (9/11).
Aziz is also a prominent Egyptian American Muslim civil rights lawyer, commentator, author and professor. She spent time in Bahrain where she created a report that challenged the narrative pushed by the government that its uprising was only sectarian in nature, calling that narrative a "pretext and excuse for engaging in brutal human rights violations." She said that the Islamophobes and bigots in the United States would love to create or feed the same type of real, or perceived, division within the American Muslim community as well, urging unity in the fight for the restoration of liberties.
Aziz enjoyed the hospitality of the people in Bahrain but said living under a repressive regime with no right to speak out made her long for the freedoms of America, freedoms she again reiterated must be protected.
"I realized how fragile our First Amendment rights are...Our freedoms belong to us, not to the government or the bigots, they are a right, not a privilege...and let no one fool you, these rights have to be guarded at all times."
Donations were raised to fund CAIR-MI's operations by Imam Siraj Wahhaj of New York, while Senior Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Radio, a Wayne State journalism professor served as Master of Ceremonies.
Speaking of journalism, CAIR-MI made 214 total media contacts in 2012, up by almost 50 from the year before, continuing its evolution as the go-to source for information and well-informed opinions on the local American Muslim community and the challenges it faces as well as the stereotypes that must be dispelled to move forward.
CAIR-MI had a busy year yet again, as it filed a lawsuit challenging a zoning decision by Pittsfield Township to deny the Michigan Islamic Academy's planned construction, launched a trademark infringement lawsuit against a local anti-Islam blogger, represented dozens of community members during FBI interrogations, launched a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Patrol profiling (by aggressive, armed officers) that spurred a DHS investigation, and more. Staff Attorney Lena Masri was also awarded by the American Muslim Diversity Association in Sterling Heights for representing the group in a contentious zoning issue paving the way for the city's first mosque.
Awards were also given by CAIR-MI at the banquet to deserving student winners of the Rosa Parks Scholarship initiative, and the Peace & Justice Award was presented to Ahmed and Rehab Amer and family for their longtime pursuit of justice and passage of Michigan's landmark Amer Act giving preference to family members and religious considerations in foster cases.
For more info on the organization, visit www.cairmichigan.org.