To be a Muslim in America Right Now



To be a Muslim in America right now is to fear that your best days — your most ordinary days — are behind you. Anti-Muslim hate and fear-mongering is going mainstream, and the future is a startling unknown.

Many fear that the vicious rhetoric we are hearing is a harbinger of things to come: discrimination, harassment and violent attacks on Muslims, or people who look Muslim that spreads and even becomes a new normal. That could set the stage, one day in the not-so-distant future, for government policies like mandatory registration of Muslims and internment.

Could that really happen? Perhaps my background as an American Muslim makes me more sensitive to the possibility. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Hate and Intolerance Find Support in Brazil's House of Representative

Hate and intolerance have a new stage: Brazil’s House of Representatives.  While the legislative body was created for reason and discourse, one of its elected officials has found ways to degrade the federal body by promoting racism and intolerance.  Rio de Janeiro’s congressman Jair Bolsonaro is flagrantly using the legislative chamber to make racist comments against blacks and LGBT citizens, and to disseminate militaristic ideals.

During an interview with a national humoristic program, Mr. Bolsonaro was asked how he would feel if he found his son dating a black woman. He took this as an opportunity to make racist comments and indicated that he would “never allow this kind of promiscuity” (youtube video in Portuguese).  While this interview was widely publicized and has led to a huge debate about racism in Brazil’s society, it is a shame that an elected official would even dare to speak this way of any civil group or minority.   As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bolsonaro has also expressed his support for military regimes over democratic governments.

It is absurd that an elected official would dare to utter such words.  A person that believes that the military regime is better than democracy and who thinks that minorities aren’t humans with equal rights, ought not to be called a legislator.  Mr. Bolsonaro is on his sixth consecutive term as Federal Representative for the State of Rio de Janeiro. It has been 21 years since he was first elected… What’s even worse is that he is not alone in his attitude and racist ideals.

Another Representative, this time from the State of Sao Paulo, Mr. Marco Feliciano, wrote in his Twitter account that “the filth in homoaffective feelings are conduits to hate, crime and rejection” and that “Africans descend from ancestors cursed by Noah.”

When elected official make comments such as the ones quoted in this article, racist and oppressive groups feel empowered and justified when attacking vulnerable groups.  Just last week, Sao Paulo’s police identified 200 members of skinhead gangs that attacked and in many cases killed members of the black and homosexual communities in the city.  According to a Brazilian gay group, 260 LGBT individuals were killed in Brazil in 2010, which represented 31% increase from 2009 and a 113% increase from 2005.

It is disturbing to know that those who are in charge of approving laws to protect society are the same people responsible for spreading hate and intolerance. We will only be able to reduce the number of hate crimes in Brazil when the country’s citizens demand that the rights of everyone, including the country’s minorities, are respected and protected.  It is imperative that the legislative system focuses on the creation of  laws designed to fight racism and hate crimes. Brazilians deserve better, much better.


Kenyans Face a New Vote Tomorrow

By Mariah Ortiz, Kenya Human Rights Commission in Nairobi

Kenyans are eagerly preparing to vote tomorrow on a proposed new constitution, less than three years since the presidential election that led to a disputed result and widespread violence that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 500,000.

Kenya's most recent elections in December 2007 led to a wave of violence.

Many Kenyans have read the entire proposed constitution back to back, and a number of non-governmental organizations are distributing “summary versions” of the constitution so that the public can easily inform themselves. Media coverage has been constant. The debate is heated, with both sides rallying, debating, and distributing campaign materials.

Some feel that rather than encouraging the democratic process and allowing Kenyans to vote and to make up their own minds, many organizations are strongly pushing either YES or NO. At the moment, most polls show that the YES campaign is ahead and likely to win with at least 65% of the vote. But this could change in a moment.

Some key issues have emerged from the debate: the devolution of power from the central government to the regions, reduced presidential power, land rights, the role of Muslim courts and abortion. Muslim courts and abortion have come to the forefront in the media because they are very political, polarized and emotional issues. Abortion is currently illegal and is a taboo subject. This emphasis on these divisive issues has drawn attention away from important constitutional provisions such as a proposed decrease in the share of the national budget for development from 30% to 10%.

It is fascinating to be here in Nairobi right before the referendum. Kenyans are eagerly preparing to have their say — many will travel great distances to their local polling station and wait starting at 6:00 AM in very long lines to cast their vote.

People are hopeful that this election will be peaceful and that this vote will be different from the disputed 2007 presidential election. Still, as Amnesty International reported, there is concern that some politicians have used hate speech to stoke the flames of ethnic hatred and that this rhetoric could lead to violence.

It’s important that the Kenyan government be prepared to protect its citizens from any potential human rights violations during and after the vote. I will be watching carefully, and will report again later this week about the referendum and its outcome.