Pledging Solidarity with the Muslim Community

Carol Baum

On February 26, 2003, while investigating the local charity Help the Needy, government agents aggressively interrogated 150 Muslim and Arab families in Central New York. The agents were intimidating and intrusive, treating every Muslim family as if it were under suspicion, and asking inappropriate questions about religious practices. What had these families done? They had donated to the charity in good faith and in accordance with a Muslim duty to aid the less fortunate. Among the Muslim community, this encounter with the State generated deep anxiety and the fear of future unwarranted interrogations, detentions and prosecution.

One year later, February 26, 2004, 222 people participated in the Pledge of Solidarity with the Muslim and Arab Community to send a strong message that discriminatory treatment is not acceptable in our community. The day’s events were organized by the CNY Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, a coalition of over 20 CNY organizations dedicated to restoring civil liberties curtailed by the Patriot Act and other government actions since 9-11.

Participants pledged to do one of the following acts of solidarity that day (the numbers indicate how many people pledged that activity):

• vigil in downtown Syracuse (89);

• if a woman or a girl, wear a head scarf in the Muslim tradition for the day (54);

• send a symbolic donation to a Muslim community organization (106);

• stand in silent contemplation or prayer three of the five times Muslims do (92).

The actions were both public and private. The very public part of the day started a group of women put on scarves. A well-attended press conference immediately followed. The names of pledgers who were willing to be public (almost 200) were displayed at the press conference, the vigil, and later at the mosque.

Close to 100 people came to the vigil. From there, about 30 people went to the Federal Building to deliver letters to the offices of the federal legislators, asking them to “provide leadership for vigorous oversight for the FBI and other federal agencies which, in the course of their investigations, may target Muslims and Arabs in the name of national security.…We ask you to ensure that these [very broad surveillance and detention powers granted by the USA Patriot Act] are not used in violation of the civil liberties of Muslim and Arab Americans based solely on their religion or ethnic heritage.”

The day closed with a gathering organized by the Interreligious Council at the mosque.

For more information about the CNY Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, contact Carol Baum at 472-5478 or <carol@peacecouncil.net>; or Barrie Gewanter of the CNY New York Civil Liberties Union at 471-2821.