By Hussam Ayloush
Published on Sunday, November 25, 2007
[Hussam Ayloush is the executive director of the Greater Los Angeles area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a graduate of the FBI Citizens' Academy .]
What a relief it was for me and about 20 other Southern California Muslim leaders to meet with the Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton along with Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing and Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Arif Alikhan on Thursday and be assured that the ill-conceived "mapping" program had been abandoned.
The LAPD is now moving forward and wishes to fully engage Los Angeles Muslims, creating a community forum to seek their input. That is the right path to reaching out to Muslims and helping ensure the safety and security of all Americans.
What was wrong with "mapping" of Muslims? On the surface, the proposal may have seemed well-intentioned. However, if given the green light, "mapping" would have effectively jeopardized the civil rights of all Americans, along with creating a host of other problems.
First, the '"mapping" program was based on the faulty and offensive premise that the local Muslim community is more prone to committing acts of violence than people of other faiths or ethnicities. It sought to map out Muslims according to factors such as which websites they visited, what mosques they attended, which Islamic schools of thought they followed, who they interacted with and their income levels.
The proposed project would have inevitably infringed on the First Amendment rights of law-abiding, peaceful citizens by holding them suspect based on legitimate religious and political views.
Secondly, "mapping" would have been impractical. Deputy Chief Downing said in his recent Senate testimony: "While this project will lay out the geographic locations of the many different Muslim population groups around Los Angeles, we also intend to take a deeper look at their history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions.
"It is also our hope to identify communities, within the larger Muslim community, which may be susceptible to violent, ideologically-based extremism and then use a full-spectrum approach guided by an intelligence-led strategy."
How did the LAPD exactly envision mapping out Muslims? Muslims are widely dispersed throughout Southern California. They are not a monolithic group deriving their identity from various cultures and heritages. Some are immigrants. Many were born and bred in Greater Los Angeles.
Additionally, it would have been impossible to map out Muslims because the Census Bureau does not track data by religion. Not only that, Los Angeles is home to Persian Jews and Arab Christians. Would they have been mapped as well?
The 'mapping' program, therefore, was morally, legally, and practically wrong. I am sure the LAPD recognized and considered those factors in addition to the strong opposition from the Muslim community when it decided to withdraw the plan.
However, the good fight must continue. Americans must oppose future attempts to map or profile any community. When one group loses its rights, America loses.
Let us remind ourselves of the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, when more than 110,000 men, women and children were interned based solely on their heritage. In the end, not one Japanese American internee was charged with espionage.
The struggles of African Americans continue. They were first humiliated and degraded as slaves. Then decades later, they were segregated and ordered which restaurants to eat in, which parks to let their children play in, and where to sit in buses. To this day, African Americans are profiled and singled out in cities and neighborhoods around the country.
And who can forget the prejudice and discrimination against Jews? They were grossly mistreated in Europe and the United States, which eventually culminated in one of the biggest tragedies in history the Holocaust.
Now is the time to stand up for the civil liberties of all Americans. Let us not be overtaken by fear and suspicion of the "other" and disregard the Constitution, which guarantees rights to every American including the rights to free expression and free practice of religion.
National security is a concern for us all. But there is a way to strengthen national security while respectfully upholding the rights of Americans, whether they are Muslim or another faith or ethnicity.
Muslims, too, consider Southern California home and proudly work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to keep America safe. They are doctors, teachers, business owners, soldiers, FBI agents, police officers and others who serve in all walks of life. Muslims stand with other Americans in seeking to ensure the security of our nation and of all Americans.
But we refuse to be treated as less than equal citizens. We reject "mapping" or profiling under any name, in Los Angeles or in any other city in America.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html