by Kanishka Shrivastava
The Stanford Review
“The basis on which our founding fathers established this country has been lost since 9/11. Since that date, the people of America have gone mad. We have all lost our minds.” These strong views and language were mixed with some more moderate appeals for greater international understanding at “Hope not Hate”, a panel discussion on how relations between the US and Muslim world can be improved. The event, held in Jordan Hall on Thursday, October 23, brought together four distinguished intellectuals for a stimulating discussion.
The above quote is from Ms. Banafsheh Akhlaghi, an attorney at Akhlaghi and Associates in Berkeley. Ms. Akhlaghi, who has taught constitutional law at the John F Kennedy school of law, works today almost exclusively as a civil rights advocate for the Muslim Middle Eastern community.
Ms. Akhlaghi, originally from Iran, spoke of how, as an American, she is “horrified” by what she termed the abuse of civil rights taking place in this country in the wake of 9/11. “Muslims in the US today are being held, merely on suspicion, without any charges being framed, for months on end.” She spoke further of the conditions of confinement a “people are shackled, handcuffed, made to sleep on floors, to skip meals, and all the time subjected to a torrent of physical and verbal abuse. And these are not criminals, these are people who have been part of the society for years and contributed to it in various ways.”
Her source for this data was the Inspector General’s report on the year 2002-03. Later, women in the audience spoke of the kind of indignities their family members a husbands, brothers, friends – had to suffer because of their nationality.
First year grad student Faisal Tajdar of the EE department, for example, commented that “[O]ne of my good friends, working in a finance company in New York, was forced to go back to Pakistan-soon after 9/11 the Department of Justice contacted him for questioning, and his company fired him immediately-he later sorted out the misunderstanding with the Department-but by that time he no longer had a job, and was forced to leave.”
Mr. Azmat Abbas, the 2004 International Knight Fellow at Stanford University and a prominent Pakistani journalist, also narrated similar instances from his homeland. He described 18-hour flights to Islamabad where the passengers were, literally, handcuffed to their seats for the entire duration of the flight. “These people were deported without having committed any crime. They were normal, hard-working members of American society. They even paid taxes regularly a something they would never do back in Pakistan!” he quipped.
All four speakers at the discussion, which included Dr. Donald Emmerson, Director of the Southeast Asia Forum and Senior Fellow, Institute for International Studies, and Mr. Syed Muazzem Ali, former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and an experienced diplomat a agreed that the bombings of 9/11 were a deplorable act. They spoke of the great outpouring of goodwill for the United States, including from Muslim countries, immediately after the bombings. Describing the American people as “extremely innocent”, Mr. Abbas spoke of the positive feeling in his country towards the Amercan public.
The panel criticized the Bush Administration for the policies it has followed in the wake of 9/11, and in particular the war on Iraq. The panel attacked recent legislation like the Patriot Act, which Ms. Akhlaghi called “un-American.” The Act, passed in 2001, allows federal agents to detain suspected terrorists for as long as they deem fit without having to frame formal charges, she claimed. Ms. Akhlaghi was also extremely critical of the “Special Registration” requirement, introduced in December 2002, which is mandatory for all citizens of certain Middle Eastern countries. “I don’t want to be part of a history that sits back and lets these things happen,” she announced.
The discussion then turned to the current state of the Muslim world. Mr. Ali noted that moderate views in most Muslim countries have been sidelined in favor of hardline Islamic groups. The diplomat felt that the root of the problem lies in the abysmal socio-economic conditions prevalent in these countries. The religion of Islam is spread over 57 major countries and counts 1.3 billion human beings among its adherents a yet the GDP of the entire Muslim world is less than one-third that of Japan alone. He cited “wrong interpretations of the Quran” as a cause for this. Such interpretations, he felt, had caused most Muslim scholars to concentrate only on theology, and neglect science and technology.
He felt that the United States, as the most powerful country in the world, could play a leading role in helping to develop the Muslim world. Dr. Emmerson, who has addressed the U.S. Senate on East Asian issues, spoke of the positive role the United States has played in countries like Indonesia. All panelists felt that fostering the growth of democracy, and of modern scientific education, were urgent needs. Mr. Ali, in particular, spoke of exploring non-military solutions to the problem of terrorism.
Former Stanford professor John Martin, one of the audience members, agreed. “The people of the world must reach out to each other in positive ways-Americans must believe in the ideals that this country was founded upon. We must look beyond governments and connect with people, who are the same everywhere.”
The panel discussion was sponsored by a number of student organizations, including the Muslim Students Awareness Network (MSAN), Americans for an Informed Democracy (AID), Stanford International Affairs Society (SIAS), International Undergraduate Community, the Stanford Democrats, and a number of other regional student organizations at Stanford. First year law student Nicolas Dumont, campus representative of AID, said, “We feel that such candid discussions are more pertinent today than ever before.” Roughly thirty people attended the event.