The New York Civil Liberties Union is in court to stop the Department of Homeland Security from detaining interrogating, fingerprinting and photographing American citizens at the border because they attended an Islamic conference.
The NYCLU and the American Civil Liberties Union brought the case to Judge William W. Skretny in Buffalo, N.Y., on behalf of five Muslim American citizens who attended the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto in December 2004.
Federal officials argue such conferences have been used to provide cover for pro-terrorist operatives.
The men were stopped at the U.S-Canada border, where agents detained, frisked, photographed and fingerprinted them.
The NYCLU, noting the border agents were acting under orders from the Department of Homeland Security, wants to ensure it doesn’t happen after this year’s conference, which opens Dec. 23.
“The government continues to insist that it’s essential to national security to detain, frisk, photograph and fingerprint law-abiding American citizens simply because they are Muslim exercising their right to participate in a religious conference,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Our Constitution does not permit religious or ethnic profiling – but that’s precisely what the government has done in this case.”
The NYCLU said some of the Muslims detained last year were held overnight for as long as six and a half hours and were prevented from contacting attorneys or family members.
“I was treated like a criminal for no other reason than because I was Muslim,” said Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, a Buffalo orthodontist.
Catherine Kim, ACLU staff attorney, argued the government “cannot criminalize American citizens for their religious beliefs.”
“Americans need to know that they can practice their religion and attend religious conferences without fear of government reprisals,” she said.
Held annually in Toronto since 2003, the conference is billed as promoting a strong message of building friendships with and alliances between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. This year, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to give a speech.
But as WorldNetDaily reported, while media stories have depicted the conference as a harmless “religious” event for “mainstream” Islamic groups, it has featured controversial Muslim speakers and attendees, and U.S. officials say such events have been used in the past to provide cover for pro-terrorist operatives.
The two-day conference in January 2003 advertised Sheik Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais as the main speaker. The previous year, al-Sudais, the chief cleric of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, reportedly prayed to Allah to “terminate” the Jews whom he called “the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, prophet killers … pigs and monkeys.” The sheik also has characterized Jews as “evil,” “evil forefathers,” a “continuum of deceit,” and full of “tyranny” and “treachery.” Due to logistical problems, the sheik, the headliner of the event, missed the conference. Jeewan Chanicka, media relations director for the Toronto conference, called the sheik’s absence “unfortunate.”
The same conference featured Zulfiqar Ali Shah, the former president of the Islamic Circle of North America, an organization linked to Jama’at-I-Islami, a fundamentalist Pakistani group that calls bin Laden the “hero” of the Islamic world and raises millions of dollars for global jihad.
Mokhtar Maghroui, who spoke at an event featuring suicide-bombing supporters, also was a speaker at the last two RIS conferences.
The 2003 RIS conference featured William W. Baker, who was outed as a neo-Nazi by the Orange County Weekly.
Some writers and commentators, such as Daniel Pipes, a specialist on Islam, have supported the U.S. government policy, arguing it’s a matter of national security. Controlling the border flow, he said, is absolutely necessary and of “paramount importance.”
Pipes argues, “Were the plaintiffs to prevail in this case, attending religious conferences would instantly become the favored method for terrorists and other Islamists to cross the American border without hindrance.”