[Author’s note: When originally written this post contained two incorrect quotes and has since been edited to reflect accurate statistics. The two statements “We are now in a state much further than what Orwell could have even imagined” and “In America, you are 15 times more likely to be struck dead by lightning than killed in a terrorist attack” have been updated with direct quotes.]
Over 100 people came out on Thursday night to take part in a panel and discussion entitled, “Islamophobia, Racism, Surveillance and Empire”. The talk was organized by the UMASS Amherst branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) but boasted an impressive group of student co-sponsors including the Graduate Employee Organization, Graduate Student Senate, Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos, Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, Social Thought and Political Economy, Middle Eastern Studies Program the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies and the recently founded chapter of Students for Justice with Palestine.
Islamophobia, Racism, Surveillance, and Empire, Over 100 people attend the UMASS event, photo by @DaveWoodsome
The event was the first in a series of two discussions led by renowned authors and scholars Deepa Kumar and Arun Kundnani held at UMASS and Hampshire College to further the discussion on Islamphobia and surveillance and to spread awareness and gain support in the campaign for freedom of local organizer Ayyub Abdul-Alim.
For over two years Ayyub has sat in Hampden County jail awaiting trial for the crime of refusing to become an informant on the local Muslim community. Facing trumped up gun charges that carry a sentence of up to 20 years, Ayyub is awaiting justice. He recently learned that his spouse is currently working as an informant with the local FBI and has received anywhere from $12,000 – $100,000. In late 2013 a group came together under the banner “Justice for Ayyub” to organize around his case and call for his release. The group has organized vigils in front of the courthouse for each of Ayyub’s trials, raised funds, and is planning to observe and support Ayyub at the beginning of his trial, set for April 10.
Ayyub calls in to deliver a message
Deepa Kumar, Associate Professor at Rutgers and author of the book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire started off the talk with a short reflection on the state we are now living in recalling Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 that describes a future of constant surveillance, obedience and endless war.
“George Orwell could not have imagined the extent of the surveillance state we have today. It is not only cameras and tvs that monitor us, but a whole host of other means that are used by the current surveillance state.”
Kumar traced the development of the “terrorist threat” from the 1970s to the present. She cited the beginning of this transformation following the hostage situation at the 1972 Munich Olympics where the labeling of rogue militants changed from simply, “hijackers” or “rebels” into the blanket term of “terrorists”. She argued that the terrorist was racialized in the 1980s and 90s when Arabs and Muslims came to be seen as the face of terrorism.
She shared powerful statistics. “In America, you are twice as likely to be struck dead by lightning than killed in a terrorist attack.” She continued, “45,000 people a year die from lack of access to healthcare in this country.” (Harvard)
Arun Kundnani, Professor at NYU and author spoke next on more individual cases of how the war on terror and classification of “terrorist” have affected communities. For his recently published book, The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, Arun interviewed dozens of activists, organizers, FBI agents and police officers to understand better the effects of the Global War on Terror.
One striking story Arun shared was the story of Abdullah Luqman, a veteran and black Imam from Detroit. Abdullah Luqman converted to Islam while he was in prison, influenced by the work of Jalil al-Alim (otherwise known as H. Rap Brown, chairman of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee and Black Panther organizer in the late ’60s). On October 28th, 2009, following a prolonged investigation and the use of informants, Imam Luqman was shot and killed. Autopsies reveal that he was shot over 21 times*.
Both speakers had insightful and moving analyses on the current surveillance state and very clearly broke down this myth of the “terrorist threat”.
“You’ll always know who the terrorist is, he’s the one with the smallest bomb.”
When the United States government is spending over 700 billion dollars on military every year and people in this country are starving, there is a problem.
Rather than spending millions on “national security”, the infiltration of communities, and to drone attack innocent children and civilians in Pakistan, the US government should focus its energies on opening schools, creating better access to healthcare and housing, and bringing jobs into this country.
Here in Massachusetts (defense contractor) Raytheon is the largest employer. Why are we paying people to fund and funnel endless war?
And when are we going to stop it?
As Deepa reminded us, “We are the 99%. They are the 1%. We are the many, and they are the few.”
We know what’s happening. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it?
To learn more about Ayyub’s campaign and get involved in the fight against Islamophobia locally visit www.justiceforayyub.org
*Imam Luqman was in a warehouse with some members of his congregation. At a set time, small explosives were set off and the informants quietly and safely made their leave while a team of over 60 trained military officials including SWAT, FBI, local police and the Royal Canadian Mounties surrounded the warehouse. Several agents entered the warehouse and ordered everyone onto the ground. When Imam Luqman was on the ground, a trained police dog attacked his face. When attacked, Imam Luqman lifted his gun and shot the dog.
Immediately police forces attacked, shooting Luqman over 21 times. Though he was dead, officers then put his hands behind his back and placed him in handcuffs while the police dog was lifted on an emergency helicopter out of the warehouse for treatment
Peace & Solidarity
Vanessa W. Lynch/Zorlu