Liberty: A Muslim-American Perspective

By Priscilla Galstaun-Khader

 Liberty On Tap’s guest speaker for February was Priscilla Galstaun-Khader. There have been several requests for us to share her presentation.  Priscilla has graciously submitted her written speech for us to share.

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You could have been anywhere tonight but you chose to be here and I am very thankful to you for that. I am especially thankful to TC Ryan and Samantha Jones for inviting me to speak at LOT. TC was very generous by allotting me 20 minutes and as much as I will try to respect that generosity, please pardon me if I go over by about 5 minutes. If at anytime you feel that I’m droning on and on (pun intended) I will totally understand if you need to leave because if you’re anything like me, by the time its Thursday evening, I’m so ready for Saturday. So, when I asked TC what it was exactly that he would have me speak about he said he’d like to have the LOT attendees hear about my version of liberty and how it can be achieved. So to that end, I’d like to speak to you tonight about Islamic Shari’a! I’m just kidding!!

HONESTLY though, while I feel privileged to be provided an opportunity to speak at LOT, my conscience will not allow me to ignore the countless millions who have been adversely affected in their struggle for liberty in these last 13 years and so what good is my voice if I use it only to speak for myself but ignore those who have a voice but are silenced, who are screaming on the inside but have been stripped of their rights to be heard and who have sacrificed their freedoms so that we may be free to fight for ours.

NOW I am not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about liberty and claim to have all the answers, but I can tell you right off the bat that I do know what liberty isn’t and what it doesn’t look like and what are its major deterrents and what the authoritarians in power (especially in the last 2 administrations) would like to have me believe to be liberty today is nothing but the abuse of liberty via the abuse of power.

IT is true that we don’t really appreciate and truly understand what we have until we lose it and liberty for me started its slow but steady descent into oblivion on Sept. 11 2001, a day that went down in infamy not just for America but for the entire world. In the days and weeks following, it became apparent to me that nothing would stay the same and slowly but surely and all in the name of “security” and “freedom” the days and years following the horrid events of Sept.11 paved the way for a barrage of infringements on my rights as a human being and as a citizen.

IT was a time when I first observed how the “lame stream” news media went to bat for its puppet masters and were introducing a slew of talking heads for the State. And as I watched and read and researched and reflected, I started to realize how it wasn’t just Muslims who were being targeted but this assault on our liberties encompassed vast swaths of the population.

THE long arm of the government, via the power of state-mandated control, state-mandated oppression and state-mandated aggression, that was claiming to have our backs, was inflicting upon us, and the world alike its idea and its version of “democracy”, a word that is as hollow in its implication as it is in its implementation. It was during the course of these events I came across a very insightful and interesting quote by Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher who said:” “Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.” And that led me to wonder about our situation as a people and as a country and which of these four appearances were we being subjected to?

THIRTEEN years into and with no end in sight, this so called war ON terrorism has morphed beyond a shadow of a doubt into a war OF terrorism waged upon insurgents and innocent civilians alike. By signing the NDAA into law, the State has gone on to wage a war on the constitution and has enabled a painful quietus to the Republic. With the near demise of the free press under the statist coup d’état and the introduction of programs like PRISM by King George III, I mean federal agencies like the NSA, we can rest assured in the knowledge that we are now officially living in a surveillance state targeted at dissenters and to crush dissent.

KEEP in mind however that the erosion of liberty doesn’t end here. For such is the politics of Empire where nowhere on this Earth will you find a  tyrannical government living in peaceful coexistence with an armed citizenry. So I am all for strict gun-control laws requiring every police agency in  the United States — local, state and federal, to be disarmed.

AND while I am addressing Empire it would be gross negligence on my part to overlook that major travesty of justice of catastrophic proportions more commonly known as “The War on Drugs” and the systematic problems inherent in U.S. drug prohibition which has led to an increase in crime across the board, extensive corruption, modern day slavery and unprecedented mass incarceration; because the war on drugs does nothing to stem drug use and does everything to disproportionately target minorities with 65% of prisoners identified nationwide by the ACLU as African American.

ACCORDING to the Drug Policy Alliance, “combining state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost of the drug war in this country adds up to at least $51 billion per year and over four decades, the American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war”.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world with:

  •  2.3 million people in custody. This means if you count only adults, 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars .
  • According to the 2012 FBI Crime Report, 749,825 people were arrested for marijuana and 87% of these arrests, were for simple marijuana    possession. A marijuana consumer is arrested for possession ever 48 seconds.
  • Almost 80% of the prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent offences nationwide are incarcerated for drug-related crimes.
  • We could fill up the states of Nevada and Kentucky with all of the Americans under correctional supervision (4.8 million people are on  probation/parole).

IN my struggle for real liberty for all and as an immigrant myself, I feel compelled to draw attention to my “tired, poor, huddled masses, tempest-tost” brothers and sisters from Mexico, Latin America and further who are braving the undeclared War On Immigrants waged by the Obama Administration that has ripped families apart. On average, 17 children are placed in state care each day as a result of the detention and removal of immigrant parents, according to ICE.

BY this year alone and in his 6th year of presidency, Mr. Obama will have deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported before 1997. His administration has not only deported more people than any President; he also has separated more families by focusing on interior enforcement.

ABOUT 5,100 U.S. children in 22 states have lost parents to deportation, according to the ‘Applied Research Center’ – a 30-year-old racial justice  think tank. Some 15,000 more face similar threat in the next five years and an estimated 340,000 babies born in the United States in 2008 were the children of unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Deportation and violence inflicted upon “illegal” immigrants is nothing but state mandated aggression and if the initiation of aggression employed by an individual is immoral then how does it make it any more moral when it is employed by the State, especially against a people who are simply seeking to move across arbitrary geographic lines?

MY pursuit for liberty for all has also brought some awesome and inspiring people into my life and I’m honored to have many of them with me in this room tonight and I also recognize a few denigrators present and what to my mind sets them apart is not that the former accepts me for who I am while the latter rejects me for who I’m not, but because the former is more focused on judging itself while the latter is more intent on judging others. While the former is consistently a voice for the marginally disenfranchised, the latter is always a voice for the haves and rarely for the have-nots. While the former is intent on pursuing liberty for all, the latter is more focused on pursuing liberty for itself and if you’re offended by my words then make no mistake that my intent and purpose here is not to placate or prostrate nor to deride or denigrate but to appeal to your conscience that your ethnocentric fear mongering and dissemination of false propaganda comes with devastating consequences; which inevitably leads to more loss of life, more erosion of our liberties and the usurpation of property.

AND while you may chalk my assertions down to naivete, I feel compelled to remind you that when soldiers, insurgents and innocent civilians alike are dying for you to feel safer, while children and infants are losing their life, limbs and loved ones at a rate unprecedented only for your idea of liberty to prevail, while Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are somehow making it through their life by self medicating and redeploying only to make you feel secure and when the “free press” is no longer free to speak the truth but is dominated by “official sources” and establishment interests, it is no longer a matter of vacuous viridity but a matter of death, tyranny and misery for all, except a few.

IF al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or in the African Maghrib and their warlords believe that God is on their side then that is laughable and if your  warmongers think that God is on your side then that is equally laughable as well. Wars of aggression, tyranny, oppression and crimes against humanity, whether conducted by an Islamic state, a Hindu state, a Jewish state, a Christian state or a secular state is iniquitous, narcissistic and xenophobic and when it is said to be carried out in the name and interests of its people then the demise of our liberties and freedoms is imminent.

Imagine this for a moment:
A slim teenage boy, Sadaullah Wazir, whose legs were smashed to a pulp by falling debris and an eye torn out by shrapnel as a result of a drone attack says, “I dream that my legs have been cut off, that my eye is missing, that I can’t do anything …Sometimes, I dream that the drone is going to attack, and I’m scared. I’m really scared.” Tell me, does this make you feel safe and free?

AN ‘OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM’ SURVIVOR, Orifa, an Afghan mother and wife whose house of mud and stone had been destroyed and 8 members of her family along with 6 children were killed by one of our 500lb bombs says, “I saw his head was covered and his chest was broken and his hand was in pieces. One daughter’s flesh was stuck to the floor. We collected flesh in plastic bags. Anothers’ head was bandaged but you could see her face…but her back was missing. One daughter’s neck was broken. She was almost headless.” Tell me, does this make you feel safe and free?

YANAR Mohammed, for the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, “After 10 years of war, we do not have electricity, we do not have water, we do not have basic rights, women are not equal to men. And on top of that I went to the town of Haweja and I found that almost the same kind of disabilities with 600 children and I asked the question that why aren’t their limbs working, why are they paralyzed and I found out that they all lived around a US base that was training on ammunition that released depleted uranium in the air.” Tell me does this make you feel safe and free?

MALALAI Joya is an activist, writer, and a former politician from Afghanistan. At the age of 25, she was the director of a clinic and orphanage in Afghanistan’s Farah province. She served as a Parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Afghanistan from 2005 until early 2007. She says, “These twelve years, we’ve lived in civil war. In the Taliban time, we had one enemy: the Taliban. Now we have three: the Taliban, warlords and the occupation forces.” Tell me, does this make you feel safe and free?

A little Afghan girl named Emaan wrote these beautiful and haunting words:
“I want to write, I want to write about My dreams, which never come true, My power that has always been ignored, My voice, which is never heard by this deaf universe, My rights, which have never been counted, My life decisions, which are always made by others.” Tell me, does this make you feel safe and free?

WITH targeted killings of American citizens to annihilating wedding parties in sovereign nations, the State is waging a war on many fronts. The war on drugs, the war on immigrants, the war on healthcare(with its “one size fits all” paradigm), the war on dissent, the war on our liberties and the war on our privacy in our beds, baths and beyond is why it is imperative that I stay the course as a voice for peace, liberty and justice for all; because this is not just about me and those with whom I share my religious faith tradition but also about those with whom I share a common humanity; because war and its profiteers is one of the single biggest and bipartisan deterrents to liberty.

THE tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, were used as a tool for a far more nefarious purpose and that being to dupe us into offensive wars for imperium and imperialism and the most effective stratagem used to justify this jingoistic war on liberty was to sell us this idea of the “Islamic threat” which, contrary to popular belief, is an exploitatory means to the States’ global supremacist ends. For more than a perfunctory study of history, religion and media studies reveals that Islam became the convenient “other”, not in September 2001 but around the 11th century.

IT was born out of political conflicts and “competing imperial agendas” and originated when Pope Urban II in his speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095 charged all of Christendom to unite against the “enemies of God”. This conflation of Christianity with imperial hegemony wasn’t in essence about the defence of their religion but primarily about seeking papal authority and uniting the Greek and Latin churches. Thus, “using religion to cement identity and loyalty, the papacy sought to create a united Christian Europe over which it could hold spiritual authority.”

THIS narrative infused its way later into the colonial 1900s when in 1917 British Prime Minister David Lloyd George ordered General Allenby saying “I want you to take Jerusalem before Christmas” and then into the 1970s when the “Hostage Crisis” gave rise to the “Arab terrorist” who after the 1979 Iranian revolution morphed into the “Islamic terrorist”.

BUT it was in the late 1990s when ideologue and neo-con shill, Bernard Lewis went to bat for his buddies by coining the term “clash of civilizations” in his essay “The Roots of Muslim Rage”, that the “Muslim enemy” was elevated to a whole new level. Come September 2001, Lewis’ term, further  propelled into our rhetoric by political scientist Samuel Huntington aided the neo-cons and the theo-cons in their turgid narrative and their unanimous declaration of the “War on terrorism” was the coup de grâce on the “enemies of God” or in more contemporaneous terms, the “enemies of freedom”.

THE idea of a “Clash of Civilizations” is a unifying and compelling rhetoric whose rules of engagement change from one presidency to the next and  this myth must be academically and directly challenged and deconstructed and shown for what it truly is; a medieval form of coercive conscription wrapped up in ethnocentric demagoguery that is intended to shape public opinion in support of our domestic and foreign policies.

AND a major reason for the continued success of this idea today is that it has been easy, convenient and profitable by terrorists on both sides of this feud to misuse religious doctrine and create a discourse embedded in co-optation, contortion, conflict. The narrative that Islam is a violent religion of 1.6 billion people (or not a religion at all as some assert) which seeks to convert everyone and kill those who resist, and it’s “good” adherents seek only to further this agenda by way of “stealth jihad” and imposing Islamic Shari’a” is a false narrative as history has disproven this myth time and again.

ONE pertinent example was pre-Islamic and violently tribalistic Arabia prior to and during the early 7th century A.D, which was overwhelmed with  constant and petty disputes resulting in intertribal warfare, torture and killings. However by the end of his prophetic mission in 632, when Pr.  Muhammad died, the region was transformed into a pluralistic society made up of Pagans, Muslims, and Jews living in relative peaceful coexistence.
And if this were indeed a “clash of civilizations”, then there wouldn’t exist within the pages of the Qur’an, verses that are far more liberating and pluralistic in content and meaning than I have found anywhere else. The very first word revealed in the Qur’an was the word “Iqra” or “read” and to none other than a man who was illiterate, thereby making academia worthy of a pursuit for a lifetime and forever elevating the excellence of scholars and academe.

IN chapter 2, verse 256, God says, “There is no compulsion in religion”, a verse that categorically condemns the enforcement of my standard of morality and way of life on another. This verse went on to become the very basis for Clause 25 in the Charter of Medina which pre-dated the English Magna Carta by almost six centuries and penned by Pr. Muhammad in 622 A.D, wherein he stated specifically that “Jews and non-Muslim Arabs are entitled to practice their own faith without any restrictions as it is explicitly stated in the second chapter in the Qur’an.”

WRITTEN in mind for a multi religious pluralistic society consisting of 45% non-Muslim Arabs, 40% Jews, and only 15% Muslims, at the start of this treaty, the Charter of Medina was arguably the first document in history to establish religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

FURTHERMORE, when God in the Qur’an declares, “You may fight in the cause of God against those who attack you, but do not aggress. God does not love the aggressors.” (2:90) and “You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship God freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.” (2:193), He categorically repudiates the authoritarian use of compulsion in religion and violence and aggression as a recourse for differences.

THE Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews at least 6 times by the complementary title of “ahlul kitab” or “the people of the book” and in chapter 3 calls attention to them in the highest regard by saying “Not all of them are alike; a party of the people of the Book stand for the right, they recite the Verses of God during the hours of the night, prostrating themselves in prayer. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right and forbid evil and they hasten in good works; and they are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knows well those who are the pious.” (3:113-115).

ESTABLISHED in 1817, Harvard Law School, the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and home to the largest academic law library in the world posted at the entrance of its faculty library, what it described to be one of the greatest expressions of justice in history. This “expression of justice” is the 135th verse found in chapter 4 of the Qur’an wherein God says, “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed God is ever, with what you do, Acquainted”.

THE Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years to a society that relied mainly on trade for its livelihood and some of the most noteworthy Muslim traders at the time were Pr. Muhammad along with his first wife of 25 years who was also his employer and a very successful businesswoman. In fact, the longest verse in the Qur’an (2:282), which is about a page long, is not dedicated to warfare, or apostasy or about how to stay happily married to four women at the same time, but to the importance and procedure of writing down a loan contract, endorsing and preserving its terms, all while maintaining the rights of the parties involved.

IN another instance, Prophet Muhammad stated that if a Muslim hurts a non-Muslim living under the rule of Islam (dhimmi) or commits any  injustice toward him, then on the Day of Judgment, the Prophet will be the advocate on behalf of the non-Muslim against the Muslim.

IT was as early as the 14th century and almost three hundred and seventy years before Adam Smith, when Muslim physicist, philosopher,  mathematician and a major forerunner of economic thought, Ibn Khaldun, who was also educated in the religious studies of Quran, Hadith (traditions of Pr. Muhammad), jurisprudence, and law, opposed State involvement in production and trade activities and against involvement of fixing the prices of goods and services. He opposed authoritarian policies to control the value of currency fearing that this power may enable them to “build palaces and finance mercenary armies”.

LONG before Adam Smith, Ibn Khaldun presented a strong case for a free market economy and for freedom of choice. Based upon Islamic law which essentially aims at preserving the freedom of religion, the sanctity of life, intellect, progeny and property (including monasteries and synagogues), Ibn Khaldun argued about the importance of property rights and how Islam emphasized it as a matter of justice in order for a society to prevail and  flourish.

HE said, “…men persist only with the help of the property…People who collect unjustified taxes commit an injustice. Those who infringe upon property commit an injustice. Those who take away property commit an injustice. Those who deny people their rights commit an injustice. Those
who, in general, take property by force, commit an injustice”. IBN Khaldun asserted that “the best State is the one that has minimal bureaucracy, minimum law enforcement and minimal taxation on its citizens. The Islamic civilization of Al Andalus or modern day Spain and Baghdad, comprised of economists, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, cartographers and more like Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Haytham, Ibn Rushd or Averroes, and Al Khwarizmi (to name but a few) who went on to become the conduit for and the advancement of Muslim scholarship in the fields of economics,  science, medicine, agriculture, architecture and much more. Their works, translated from Arabic into Castilian and then into Latin were disseminated to Europe which was languishing in the dark ages at the time.

IN the words of Dr. S.M. Ghazanfar, professor-emeritus of the Department of Economics at the university of Idaho, “The medieval Islamic civilization absorbed Greek Hellenism, Judaism, Christianity, Hindu Mathematics and Chinese Alchemy, but developed its own intellectual edifice. This is true also for Western civilization whose evolution was crucially impacted by the “intermediate” Islamic civilization….Islamic scholarship not only absorbed and adapted the rediscovered Greek heritage but also transmitted that heritage along with its own contributions to Latin Europe. Thus was provided the stimulus for developing the human intellect further, for conveying a mold for shaping Western scholasticism, for developing empirical sciences and the scientific method, for bringing about the forces of rationalism and humanism that led to the 12th century European Renaissance, the 15th century Italian Renaissance, and, indeed, for sowing the seeds of European reformation.”

AND to me, this is what it is all about; being a conduit for good, sharing the advancement of thought, the free exchange of ideas, the free movement of labor for the enlightenment of civilization and individual empowerment, progress and liberty.

FOR God says in the Quran in chapter 49:13, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that  you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted.”
THE timeless wisdom contained in these pages of divine guidance in conjunction with the great literary works of Muslim as well as non-Muslim academia is what informs my entire worldview on liberty; that is, my right to life, liberty and property is conferred upon me, not by the State, but by God and I am inspired by His Supreme justice to espouse individual liberty and reject the initiation of aggression against any individual or creature for any reason, with one exception, spiders.

FOR unlike man, God Who is perfect and just and merciful and disdains the initiation of aggression and oppression in all its forms, loves and wills peace and liberty above all else. For the very word Islam is derived from the root word Salam which means peace and one of God’s names or attributes is As-Salam, meaning “the peace” or “the source of peace.”

PEACE as in, not merely the absence of war or as in pacifism, but peace as a disposition, peace as a principle and way of life, peace as an underpinning for non-interventionism and for the rejection of the initiation of force. Peace as the rock upon which policies that seek to resolve conflicts, do so, based not on exclusivism and ethnocentrism, but by striking a balance between inclusivism and pluralism, humility and dignity, respect and responsibility, and between collaboration and individualism. Peace is my querencia, a place in the ring where it is strong and safe, a place that provides a vantage point in my struggle for liberty and justice for all and against oppression and inequity by the few; that if not peacefully, consistently and honorably dissented against, a once thriving convivencia- the Spanish word for living together constructively, in harmony and friendship, will remain illusory and forever be relegated to the annals of obsolescence and history.

“MIKE Prysner, a former U.S. Army Corporal and Iraq war veteran joined the military and went for basic training on his eighteenth birthday in June of 2001 and was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and in March of 2003 was attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to northern Iraq.
I’d like to end with a part of his response to President Obama’s State Of The Union speech last week: “…Millions of lives were torn apart by the Iraq war. But not equally. It was working-class and immigrant families who had to bear the hair-pulling horror of seeing their children come home in
coffins. It was idealistic, college-and career-aspiring youth who were sent to be blown apart in those flimsy Humvees. It was Iraqi teachers, nurses, farmers, hotel workers—and their children, babies and grandparents—who were the so-called “collateral damage.” It wasn’t the general officers who built their careers on having the most aggressive strategy, which they watched from computer screens in palaces while their soldiers were blown to
pieces. It wasn’t the families of the CEOs of the defense and energy industry giants, bursting with profits from Pentagon contracts, or the families of the politicians they take to dinner. Some got promotions and career boosts. Some got bonus checks and fat dividends. But most are shredded, in body and mind. Most will spend the rest of their lives overwhelmed with trying to recover, whether it’s on crutches or with pills. Most will struggle to choke back tears whenever a reminder of those years enters their minds….Whatever Obama said in his address, from employment and immigration to  foreign policy, it was all about fixing things within a world like that—where only one class (which constitutes majority) is made to make the biggest
sacrifices, and another class—a much smaller one—is the supreme leader and benefactor. A system set up like this can only replicate the same
heart-wrenching tragedies for people like us. No need to watch the State of the Union—we need a revolution.”

3 thoughts on “Liberty: A Muslim-American Perspective

  1. Pingback: February Meeting Recap | Liberty on Tap

  2. Pingback: Liberty: A Muslim-American Perspective | The Freedom Watch

  3. Very Nice Post…i like it :)
    Quran is the best way to teach all humankinds about islam. Most Muslims do know the basic teachings of Islam such as the 5 important pillars, the way of performing salah, Islamic rituals and few more but Islam is not restricted to only these basic things.
    Here is my new blog about Online Quran Learning….
    Specailly invite you to like and follow my blog and also share it :)

    http://onlineislamicacademy.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/save-time-and-enroll-for-online-quran-tutoring/

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