Racial and religious profiling and assaults on constitutional freedoms enacted by the Bush Administration have continued unabated under the administration of Pres. Barack Obama.
This was the message of Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, who keynoted the annual civil rights banquet sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Buttar called for broad united action by people of all backgrounds to restore democratic rights and block “the creeping onset of fascism.”
Speaking to an audience of 300 including Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and representatives of other public officials, Buttar said Obama has thus far failed to keep campaign promises to repeal abuses established under the Patriot Act.
The law, giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on individuals and infiltrate law-abiding organizations in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack, was renewed in February and Obama signed a one-year extension of provisions permitting warrantless wiretapping and seizing records.
“The National Security Agency monitors all email,” Buttar said “and the FBI continues its policies of racial and religious profiling and placing of undercover agents and agent provocateurs in mosques and other organizations.”
“You are the canaries in the coal mine,” Buttar said. “You must stand up for American democracy.”
Buttar criticized the Justice Department for failure to prosecute Bush Administration officials responsible for torture.
“Waterboarding is killing someone and then reviving them,” he said. “It is recognized everywhere as torture and it is a war crime.” Obama has outlawed the practice by the U.S., but failure to act against those who authorized and committed the crimes allows the practice to continue elsewhere, he said.
But, he added, Obama cannot restore constitutional rights alone. “It will take a mass mobilization. You need to work with Latinos and African-Americans who are also victims of profiling and you need to work with everyone who believes in democracy.”
He called on Muslims to “get loud” and be proactive in fighting for new rights in areas of education, health care and equality for women.
Similar themes were sounded by other speakers. CAIR staff attorney Romin Iqbal said he must continually go to court to fight delays in granting citizenship and green card status to Muslims subjected to “background checks that can take years.” Muslims also face discrimination in employment and denial of insurance claims, he said.
The audience was shown a segment of the Rachel Maddow show exposing a campaign by four Republican congresspersons for an investigation of CAIR because it issued a memo encouraging Muslims to seek employment as Congressional interns. Cleveland CAIR director Julia Shearson denounced this effort as “McCarthyism.”
Brunner presented CAIR with a proclamation commending its efforts on behalf of civil rights and democracy.
“We can’t be silent,” she said. “As President Obama said when he was here in Strongsville, ‘we need courage.'”