In the wake of September 11th, 2001, Americans found themselves navigating a profoundly altered reality. Against the backdrop of apprehension that followed the attacks, the nation collectively embraced a spirit of unity to mourn the innocent lives lost and summon the resilience needed to address the perpetrators of these heinous acts. However, this collective sentiment was not universally experienced. Within the Chicago metropolitan area, a significant number of individuals who shared either the same religion or physical characteristics as the September 11th terrorists struggled to engage in the atmosphere of togetherness. For them, it was a challenge, as they felt thrust under a microscope of suspicion, not only by their neighbors but also their own government. Human rights, universally believed to be inherent to every individual, are at the forefront of our contemporary concerns, whether its addressing human rights impacted by gun violence or tackling issues of racial profiling in Illinois. This article delves into the post-September 11th landscape in Chicago, specifically examining human rights challenges faced by the Muslim community and proposing potential solutions. Additionally, it aims to spotlight organizations actively combating hate in the pursuit of fostering a more inclusive society.
Current Human Rights Challenges:
In the context of the Arab and Muslim communities in greater Chicago, a significant portions of the American public had preconceived misinterpretations and judgements about these groups even before September 11, 2001. The aftermath of the terrorists attacks further brought these misconceptions to light. Individuals of color, including Muslims, Arab Americans, Southeast Asians, and other found themselves unfairly targeted for discrimination and hate crimes based on their shaped appearance or cultural and religious background within the accused terrorists. Post 9/11, data reported in the community forum indicates a substantial rise in hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and those mistakenly identified as members of these communities (USCCR). Beyond hate crimes, some Arabs and Muslim Americans continue to face discrimination in their daily lives, with numerous complaints reaching federal and state authorities overseeing employment, education, and housing regulations. In certain cases, these grievances persisted well beyond September 11, possibly due to a less intense environment for disclosing discriminatory practices after the initial period (USCCR). While fear itself may not be a “legal” civil rights concern, a thorough examination of Arab and Muslim communities post September 11th must encompass the anxiety stemming from hate crimes, discrimination, and government actions experienced by many community members.
Advocacy and Solutions:
In response to the challenges outlined, several influential institutions have emerged to address human rights issues affecting the Muslim community. Organizations such as the Arab American Bar Association of Illinois, Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview, and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago play crucial roles in combating discrimination. The Arab American Bar Association of Illinois is a professional association of attorneys committed to the principles of the rule of law, equal justice, fellowship, legal education, and community service. Open to license attorney and legal students supporting these objectives, memberships is inclusive, irrespective of background, race, color, or creed. The Mosque Foundation actively supports the spirtual, religious, and communal needs of local muslims, nurturing faith, upholding values and contributing to the well-being of the community through worship, charity, education, outreach, and civic engagement. Meanwhile, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) operates as a nonprofit grassroots civil rights and advocacy organizations. Established in 1994. CAIR focuses on promoting a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America through media relations, lobbying, education, and advocacy efforts.
CAIR endeavors to ensure the representation of the Muslim voice in various spheres. Through their initiatives, CAIR works towards empowering American Muslims, striving to encourage their active engagement in both political and social activism. Their efforts aim to amplify the influence and participation of the Muslim community, fostering a broader and more impactful presence in the fabric of American society.
An ongoing and impactful initiative at CAIR-Chicago is the Prison Project which seeks to provide incarcerated Muslims with necessary resources to freely practice their religion. Many prisoners undergo a transformative experience in their understanding of Islam during their incarceration but without bias or discrimination. In partnership with IFANCA, CAIR-Chicago addresses various concerns faced by incarcerated individuals, including access to religious materials, accommodations for congregational prayer, and the provision of Halal and Zabiha cuisine. This initiative reflects CAIR-Chicago’s commitment to ensuring that individuals in prison have the support and resources needed to maintain their religious practices and rights.
The Biden administration announced in November 2023 that it will develop a national strategy to counter Islamophobia in the United States. This collaborative effort between the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council aims to create a comprehensive plan to protect Muslims and those perceived as Muslim from discrimination, hate, bigotry, and violence based on their race, national origin, ancestry, or any other reason. This initiative comes at a time when concerns about Islamophobia have heightened in the U.S., partly due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Despite being seen as a positive step, some major Muslim American organizations have criticized President Biden’s handling of the situation.
The recent surge in hate crimes reached a distressing culmination last month with the tragic incident in Plainfield, where a six-year-old boy was fatally stabbed by his 71-year-old landlord. President Joe Biden expressed profound outrage and disgust over this appalling act. Highlighting that the child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America in pursuit of a peaceful place to live, learn and pray, Biden unequivocally stated that such an act of hatred has no place in America. He emphasized that it contradicts the nation’s core principles of freedom from fear based on identity, beliefs, or religious practices (Sainato & Ramirez-Simon, 2023).
The impact of this heinous event extends beyond physical trauma for the mother; the emotional trauma resulting from a hate crime can be enduring. As discussed earlier, while fear itself may not be a “legal” civil rights concern, the anxiety experienced by many community members due to the recent surge in hate crimes and discrimination can have lasting effects on the Muslim community. This case underscores the urgent need for concerted targeting individuals based on their identity and beliefs.
Examining the landscape of Muslim Human rights in Chicago reveals parallels with discrimination and hate experienced in other parts of the world, including Europe and countries like China. The fundamental principles of human rights, initially outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – such as universality, interdependence, indivisibility, equality, and non-discrimination – have been reiterated in various international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions (UN, 1948).
In the years following 9/11, human rights concerns have played a significant role in shaping U.S. – Muslim relations and U.S. policy toward Muslim nations. Efforts to promote the democratization of Muslim societies from the Middle East to Southeast Asia has been a focal point, reflecting a prioritization of human rights and democracy in U.S. policy (CSIS, 2005). This global perspective underscores the complexity of the debate within the Islamic world, where both secular and moderate Islamists increasingly view human rights as a central concern.
While some conservative Muslims contend that Islam is incompatible with Western ideas of democracy and human rights, reformist Muslim scholars and activists argue otherwise, asserting that there is no inherent incompatibility when interpreting Islamic principles that support these values. This debate is further complicated by the skepticism of many Muslims – both secular and conservative/reformist – regarding the sincerity of the United States in promoting democracy and human rights in the Muslim world. They raise concerns that the U.S. selectively implements human rights laws to advance its geopolitical and economic objectives (CSIS, 2005). This international context highlights the multifaceted nature of discussions surrounding human rights within the Muslim community on a global scale.
To address the recent surge in domestic hate, a crucial step is to target the root of the problem: media influence. Establishing an unbiased and trustworthy media outlet can help reduce ignorance among the American public, curbing the media-induced rampages that have tragically resulted in violence, as exemplified by the landlord killing his tenants. Increasing Muslim representation in society is another key action to foster inclusivity and understanding.
Examining the global perspective, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations (UN) in 1948 set the standard for fundamental human rights. In the 1980s, Muslim states, guided by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), reexamined these ideas, culminating in the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. This document outlined rights based on conservative Islamic values and Sharia, or islamic law (Kayaoglu, 2020). Although the Cairo Declaration incorporation many UDHR rights, it omitted rights for women and non-Muslims, raising concerns about its compatibility with the global human rights framework.
In the early 2010s, the OIC began updating the document, resulting in the OIC Declaration on Human rIGHTS (ODHR) over a decade later. While the ODHR reflects concepts ingrained in the international human rights law, it falls short in addressing political involvement, freedom of speech, and family values concerns. Despite these limitations, the development of the ODHR signifies a positive step as it indicates the OIC’s willingness to align more closely with the fundamental human rights principles of the UDHR. To ensure the actual upholding of these freedoms, the new declaration offers an governmental organizations (NGOs) to engage in discussions with the OIC regarding areas of convergence include the outlawing of torture, women’s rights, and the right to education. (Kayaoglu, 2020). This ongoing dialogue presents an opportunity for collaboration and progress in promoting human rights within the Muslim community and beyond.
This article has delved into the complex landscape of Muslim human rights issues in Chicago, drawing comparisons to global standards inn the pursuit of identifying potential solutions to this persistent problem. The fundamental premise emphasized throughout the universality of the right to be treated and respected as an individual, irrespective of one’s race, religion, age, or any other characteristic.
Quoting Nick Lacata from his novel “Becoming a Citizen Activist,” the article underscores the role of citizen activists in encouraging politicians to act on their convictions. Lacata emphasizes that politicians may know what the right course of action is but may require organized constituencies to exert pressure and provide the necessary support for enacting legislation. The article thus emphasizes the importance of citizen activism in fostering positive change and encouraging politicians to address human rights issues.
In conclusion, the examination of Muslim human rights issues in Chicago and the global context serves as a call to action, highlighting the need for collaborative efforts to promote inclusivity, combat discrimination, and uphold the fundamental rights of individuals from all walks of life.