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Lynne Stewart's Victory

October 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

They were energetic and vocal on this early Monday morning (October 16, 2006) in downtown Manhattan. Yet it was palpably not a cheerful group that made its way across the city square to the US Federal courthouse.

Six TV crews crowding around the white haired woman were not from mainstream press but from community rights organizations. Individuals behind her held banners calling: "Free Lynne Stewart", Justice for Lynne", "We Love You Lynne", and "Win Lynne Win".

Civil Rights attorney Lynne Stewart made a short speech thanking supporters--those 2-300 who eschewed work that morning to give witness to her ordeal. She assured the crowd of her struggle, then slowly made her way to court. Along the route, she reached out to grasp hands of well-wishers, recognizing many in the crowd. Then she moved a few more meters, arm in arm with her husband Ralph, a retired schoolteacher and union organizer. Three of their fourteen grandchildren pressed close to her side.

The crowd passed police barriers and guards that now encircle every American courthouse. Office workers, unaware of this historic moment, rushed past, uninterested. At the courthouse gate, we found extra security guards posted--'in case of trouble'. The crowd clearly was reluctant to let Lynne and her husband proceed forward, even though they knew she must. They knew, as Lynne herself did, that she might be taken from the courtroom in shackles, never to see these streets again, forbidden to see even her grandchildren. US government prosecutors requested a 30-year sentence! At 67, this meant the rest of her life in prison.

"I brought my medications and my books to the courtroom with me today", Lynne announced to her well-wishers. She tried to smile. If the judge this morning followed the government's directive, she knew that she might be escorted straight to a prison cell.

 Two years ago, this well-known civil rights attorney with a long and distinguished record for aiding the poor and voiceless, was found guilty by a US federal court of aiding 'terrorists'. In this case, it was her own client Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman whom she had visited in prison where he is serving life.

Lynne Stewart has been a vocal defender of civil rights all her life. During the many months between the time of her conviction and her sentencing she refused to do what most fearful citizens awaiting sentencing would, i.e. lay low and try to appease the government. No. Lynne Stewart traveled to every corner of the USA speaking to community groups and college students about the erosion of American civil liberties in recent years and the injustice being directed to her.

Stewart was willing to become a martyr. She would cross the country, speaking wherever she could, warning fellow Americans how the current (Bush) administration had eliminated civil liberties and eroded constitutional protections.

Behind Stewart's conviction is the issue of the government's invasion of attorney-client privilege. This had been a sacred right in American law: namely that any exchange between an attorney and his client is private and protected. After the imposition of the first US anti-terrorist laws in the mid-1990s, the government began to wiretap attorneys' conversations with their clients. Thus the 'evidence' on Lynne's exchange with Abdul Rahman.

When Stewart herself was charged as 'abating terrorism', it was a very serious matter. Lynne took up the challenge of her defense arguing that the evidence was obtained illegally. "This is a constitutional issue," she said to me several years back in one of our many radio interviews. "This is not just about me. I am challenging the government's invasion of an attorney's rights and the erosion of our Constitution that protects this." Not only did Lynne appear on my program and other alternative media. The legal professional across the country saw her challenge as a test case for the Constitution. Thus, her struggle began to receive wide attention. She spoke out forcefully. Legal experts closely followed the case.

How was it that, in a case of terrorism, the most serious of all legal issues in the USA today, Stewart was traveling across the country addressing public gatherings. "I have two sons, both successful, and they were able to meet my half million dollars bail. So I am not in a cell. And I am going to use my freedom of movement to speak out about these injustices.

"The government has said I cannot practice law, the core love in my life--I am disbarred during the time the case is being heard. So I intend to use my 'time out' speaking wherever I can about my case. All Americans must be informed how our government is depriving us of our rights."

I've worked with Ms. Stewart since the mid 1990s when we profiled on my radio program the US government's use of 'secret evidence'. Most of those cases involved Muslims and Arabs. Stewart and a handful of attorneys successfully defended those accused men when government prosecutors had withheld evidence on the claim that it was too sensitive to share with the court. They forced the government's hand, revealing that in fact the 'secret evidence' was baseless.  It was a victory.

Then came September 11, 2001. New anti-terrorist laws were enacted and a new government aggressively prosecuted people on the slightest suspicion. Some of those men acquitted in the phony secret evidence charges were back in jail. Thousands of Muslims were apprehended; hundreds of thousands were questioned by FBI and other security officials; many were deported secretly without trial, and most of the few who were able to mount a defense were convicted. It was and remains a very tense and troubling atmosphere for Muslims in the USA.

In Lynne's prosecution, the government reached beyond Muslim victims. It targeted any attorney who dared to defend a terror suspect. It threatened that they too could face possible imprisonment. This was another reason for Stewart to fight back... and win.

The case had a chilling effect in the legal profession. Attorneys who had once defended Muslim suspects had already stepped back from taking their cases. Some even distanced themselves from Lynne when she dared to challenge the government.

As the 'war on terrorism' expanded, the political atmosphere across the USA grew less tolerant. The government has managed to thwart attempts to apply the rule of habeas corpus for the Quantanimo captives and others accused of association with al-Qaeda or terror. This mood was not a promising one for Lynne Stewart.

She had been extraordinarily brave in speaking out. She summoned extraordinary energy to fight back. With the result that thousands began to rally in her favor. Over 1,200 letters were written to the judge attesting Lynne's fine character and her life of service. Defense funds were raised. Stewart herself wrote a lengthy letter to the judge explaining her actions and asking for mercy.

Something worked.

At 2 pm yesterday afternoon, Lynne Stewart emerged from the court to be met by hundreds of cheers and a now expanded national media.

The judge had been extraordinarily responsive. He handed down a 28-month sentence: two years and 4 months. It was a victory. "Heck, I can do that standing on my head," was Lynne's tearful although smiling response.

Moreover, Lynne does not have to serve this sentence until her appeal on the original charge is settled. That will take another year, perhaps longer. So Lynne is gearing up for another court battle. Forty-eight hours later she attended an ifthar dinner in Brooklyn and gave a rousing speech to the crowd.

Stewart's is one of the few victories in the long struggle to restore democratic rights in the USA. Citizens must seize it and follow this woman's courage.

Details of the case are available on www.LynneStewart.org.

[ Lynne Stewart's Victory ]

Ramadan is here

October 03, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Ramadan Is Everything I Ever Had 

by Rachida Mohammedi

Ramadan is our literature: words received from AllahRamadan is our sociology: we pickup the phone to call "come to ifthar with us".Ramadan is our psychology: each wants to prove to himself how patient he is, he doesn't eat or make love the whole daytime.Ramadan is therapy: our yearning stomach can still enjoy the quiet of its emptiness.Ramadan is art: all around, nasheed sinks into our souls, singing tunes of Allah.Ramadan is catering: a space to offer creative flavors from across our world.Ramadan is meditation: on dawn at al-Fadjr, on setting sun at Al-Maghreb.Ramadan is childhood memories: togetherness and sharing favorite delights.Ramadan is a full basket: spiritual and physical fruits together in a heap.Ramadan is a book to read, a mouth to feed, a soul to welcome faith's seed.Ramadan arrives.Marhaba Ramadan!        24/09/2006

"Ramadan is here"

The city sounds, pipes twang, motors roar by, clock ticks,sick baby's cry. Many layeredsymphony orchestratedelsewhere, played outhere. But in the

irony of opposites, elsewhere is here, it is

here that is elsewhere. So it is by the tight scrutiny of the indefinable Wayhere that it is orchestrated. There where it isplayed out, and it is even bothorchestrated and played out here as well.All far dimensions fit into onepassing sphere.Here.

"Apprehension", Abdal Hayy Moore, from Ramadan Sonnets 1996, listen on RadioTahrir.org/poems www.danielmoorepoetry.com  

Here, where every Muslim reads Qur'an.Ramadan is not a Middle Eastern holiday. It is everywhere today--a month of reflection, readings, and community prayers for all Muslims. In Connecticut and Qatar, in Algiers and Jakarta and Hyderabad, it brings familiarity, anticipation and relief. Ramadan is here. We have a new meaning to our day; we try to mentally prepare ourselves and the children, we welcome the liberation from routine; we strengthen our family bonds. The month brings high prices in the market and nervousness on the roads as we rush home before sunset. Fasting raises tension; it is proved. In Amman, it's more than in Cairo, they say. In Saudi Arabia, I hear, no one is nervous. Not because of piety, but because they simply reverse the routine, sleeping through daylight to rise and pray and work after ifthar, all night. We go to school all month, and offices and businesses open, but only until 2 pm. That's it for the day. So if you need to read books, buy and sell, travel, and make decisions, do it before noon.

The month before, families celebrated triple the normal number of weddings. Every night, not simply weekends, crowds gathered to dance and sing for the married couple. Train schedules change; so do television programs. These last years, Ramadan brings us evening TV specials by satellite--comedies and dramas, singers, players, and poets. Egyptian channels vie with Syrian for the most compelling production of the year. Ramadan TV series are 30 days long, from the first to the end of the Holy Month. We remember stories years after that best Ramadan film.  Radio producers scour the country for sweet nasheed, and find the art of celebration of Holy Hadith and life of Prophet Mohammed. Nasheed vie with robust songs from our favorite vocalists all day on radio and television. Presidents and kings sit with their people reciting Quran. Small children endeavor to fast for a day, or two, maybe a whole week.  Above all, we remember our holy book, recall our favorite sura, speak it and hear it explained, ponder it, and savor its words.   B. Nimri Aziz, Ramadan, Algiers

[ Ramadan is here ]

Time Out for Lebanon

August 02, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Sixteen years ago today, Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait. Just four days later, August 6, 1990,  U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 was passed. It held far reaching implications and must have been designed months or years before. The U.N. plan doomed the Arab aggressor who had been armed to fight the American enemy, Iran, for eight years. Resolution 687 set in motion the notorious blockade of Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War, allowed Israel's disregard for the Oslo Accord and other treaties that might lead to Palestinian statehood, and prepared the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Is Israel's American-backed destruction by of Lebanon supposed to ease my worries about Iraq and to forget Palestine's sovereign rights? I read that fifty Arab souls were blown to bits in Baghdad. But today the toll in Lebanon is 57. One attack was carried out by my people in internecine war--Arabs killing Arabs. Distasteful. The other was by my enemy.

I mustn't mention that this same enemy was deeply involved at every stage in Iraq's demise; this same enemy gleefully supported the 2003 Iraq invasion; the same enemy entered Iraq behind U.S. troops, or perhaps at their side; this same enemy planned bombings in Iraq that helped fuel inter-religious attacks and inflame sectarian animosities. I must not remember that this same enemy supported the rise of Hamas in the 1980s as a counter to the PLO and Fatah's opposition to occupation. I mustn't let any feelings of pride in the Hizbullah's actions in the past and today, show.

I must only mourn for my dead brothers and sisters. Better still if I shout against our Arab leaders for their cowardice and their complicity with the United States. So Kuwaiti women have been given the right to vote, thanks to the lobbying of our American feminist and human rights advocates. There has been some progress; Arab people are catching up.

Numbers published about the attacks on Lebanon that most alarm me are not of deaths--I know how efficient a killing machine Israel is.

What I note is the list of Lebanon's American and European residents: 40,000 Canadians, 25,000 Americans; 20,000 British. More than 100,000 foreigners had homes and were raising their families in the country. Each must have invested over $75,000. to do this. Some surely helped rebuild the great, little nation, hiring teachers, patronizing local businesses, buying books and cars and ice-cream. Hardly 100 miles from Beirut, following the Oslo Peace deal in 1993, expatriate Palestinians, even those who did not wholly approve of the peace treaty details, said 'never mind, let's start to rebuild'. Within a few years, many thousands of families had resettled in the West Bank and Gaza; they opened shops and schools, clinics and construction companies. Early investors made a good return in businesses serving new middle class consumers; more profits were realized through land sales… for a while. Most benefit however went to Israeli suppliers since Palestinian communities were landlocked, local industry was thwarted, forcing Arabs to obtain their construction materials and almost all food through Israeli suppliers.

Lebanon is not the same as Palestine. After the end of its civil war in 1990--alas, another sectarian war--reconstruction began and proceeded smoothly and rapidly. Eventually major financiers, many of them Arab investors, joined the economic boom and expansion continued. Lebanon once again offered Arabs more liberties, greater cultural diversity, superior food, seminars, books, a first class Arabic education, entertainment and a rich cosmopolitan life that is quintessentially Arab. Rural life has always been integrated into Lebanese society. Many are amazed how Lebanon's much admired qualities were rejuvenated, even though economic disparities that were behind the civil war had not been addressed.

Iraqi refugees have moved to Lebanon and added to its flavor and energy; Kuwaitis and Canadians, and Argentineans and Brazilians built summer homes there. The export industry flourished. Arabs from around the world go to Lebanon to publish their books, study theater, meet grandmothers, and have cosmetic surgery.

Cosmopolitanism is as dear to Lebanon as the Hizbullah party is. After driving the Israeli occupiers out of the south in 2000, the Hizbullah  movement remained at work; as a legitimate party it widened its in social, political and economic programs. After the Syrians were threatened by the Americans and left Lebanon, Hizbullah remained true to its agenda.  It had always been genuinely Lebanese. Now it is truly Arab.

[ Time Out for Lebanon ]

At last: Muslim women having our say.

July 11, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Is it possible? Has the western media really begun to listen to Muslim women? A series of recent articles under the banner ‘Half The World’  in the Guardian (UK) features stories about Muslim women and interviews, including one with Noble laureate Shirin Ebadi, with people from Afghanistan to Somalia.

From these reports, we hear about the high percentage of Saudi women engaged in business, of women taking the leadership in Somalia’s call for peace. (In 1988, on my first visit to Kuwait, I myself learned how active Kuwait women were in the nation’s commerce, with many top Kuwait companies run by women. But publication of my report, and doubtless others like it, was sidelined by the 1990 war and the focus of Kuwaiti women’s right to vote.) The Nation magazine is now featuring reviews of books by mainly Muslim women and the reviewer is the insightful Moroccan (American Muslim) writer, Lalia Lalami (morrishgirl.com).

Writings by Muslim women about our achievements escaped western feminists and scholars for many years. The number of Muslim women heads of state also escaped notice. Women singled out in the past were the complainers, the victims who appealed for assistance in fighting injustices in their society. And of course, there was the veil, burqua, and chador to claw at. For so long, and it probably hasn’t ended, what examples western writers highlighted showed abuse and inequality rather than the pride, achievement and intelligence. That abuse, as presented through western writers, must stem from Islam. Our women became a powerful stick with which to attack Islam, reaching its apex with horrifying accounts of the treatment of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban. Never mind their suffering during the wars leading up to the Taliban’s ascendancy. No cries rose on behalf of Muslim women in the horrifying years of Russian occupation.Shirin Ebadi’s is receiving more attention today with the publication of her new book, Iran Awakening. There, she reiterates what the Egyptian activist, Nawal el-Saadawi has been arguing for many years, namely that women’s adversary is patriarchy, not Islamic teachings and values. And that is a universal opponent. Will the message finally get through?

For many years, Muslims could not write positively of their lives and cultures without becoming defensive of Islam. Our work went unpublished, or it was marginalized. Non-Muslims, especially feminists and anti-Arab advocates could get advance further by rushing to the defense of abused Muslim sisters. That would keep them in the leadership of the worldwide struggle for equality. Meanwhile anti-Arab advocates could add Islam to the reasons for their difficulties with Arabs and accept repeated Middle East political crises as acceptable.

For decades, Muslim lawyers and writers have been working hard to challenge patriarchal interpretations of Islam and the Hadiths, accounts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed from which many Muslim values derive.

Their scholarship was unmatched even though it did not reach into the lectures of Friday prayers across the world. The excellent work of sociologist Fatima Mernissi is followed by that of many other scholars, Asma Afsaruddin, Amina Wudud, Azizah Al-Hibri, Rafia Hassan. All are working in the USA. And the list is growing.

Scholarship by and about Muslim women is augmented and complemented with collections of creative and critical work. Shattering Stereotypes edited by Fawzia Afzal Khan is a fine collection; another is Islam Out Loud, edited by Abdul Ghafur. Azizah, a magazine for “contemporary Muslim women,” edited by Tayyibah Taylor is another example of a lively forum, run by Muslim woman, where one can read critical and reflective essays about everything that concerns them from gay relationships to where women pray in the mosque.

It doesn’t matter that these books are not best sellers listed by a major newspaper. They represent an enormous body of thinking, and the thoughts of millions of women, Muslim women. It is long past time for us to tell our own worlds.

Am I giving the western press undue praise for a few recent features by our members? Yes, I think we need years to see if any really change is underway. Meanwhile take note of our women who are writing. Support them. Write any parallel experience you have. Show yourselves.

[ At last: Muslim women having our say. ]

Watching Torture--and the UN Report

May 24, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

So the United Nations has somehow found the spine to censure the USA on its treatment of foreign prisoners. Yet, we note that the UN report (Monday,May 22) refers only to Guantanamo Bay captives and the practice of transferring detainees for punishment outside US territory. Should we be pleased by the UN statement?

Should the captives themselves be hopeful? And if the US government is culpable, what can an American say to the men and women who, for more than 4 years, have being subjected to things we really cannot imagine, even with the photos?

I doubt that the tortures we saw practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq were invented for Muslims and Arabs.

African Americans say that Abu Ghraib exercises are neither new, nor unique to Iraq; American Black men are subject to similar humiliations and torture in US prisons. Remember how police treated the MoveOn prisoners in 1980 in Philadelphia when Black men were striped and marched naked in the streets?

Did you not see photos of naked Iraqi young men, captured and striped by US soldiers, immediately following the arrival of foreign troops in Baghdad? The youths had been forced to walk uncovered through the streets. Somehow, no journalist or human rights officers noted the racial underpinnings of that action.

We heard about how Jews were forced to desecrate their holy book during their persecution in Europe. We have photos of massacred Japanese and Vietnamese men and women, many of them mutilated and exposed. (It seems we maintain a taboo on photos of mutilated Whites —western men and women--except to demonstrate the savagery of enemies.)

On the www.afterdowningstreet.org site one can scroll through a collection of ‘disturbing’ pictures. It seems the bodies and body-parts posted there belong to Iraqi women and men...and children. In some pictures of the Arab ‘victim’ we see groups of American servicemen standing casually beside the dead.

Analysts point out that today’s high-tech, compact cameras and internet make it possible for these pictures of death, abuse, torture and gross immoral acts to reach the masses. As a result (we maintain), we now learn the truth. These awful facts can no longer be hidden from the public, we argue. We demand investigations ; we will make our government accountable, we say.

Our righteous, angry, progressive movement with hundreds of hard-working investigative journalists, prides itself on the discovery of US crimes against humanity. No matter that it takes years to uncover. The revelations seem to cleanse our culture and conscience. American is not so bad, after all-- because we expose the truth.

Hearing the UN’s call for the closure of Guantanamo prison, I and my families doubt if justice will be restored.

Long, long before the release of those shocking photos, most ordinary Iraqis and Afghans knew that terrible things were being done in the prisons. Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke across the world, mistreatment did not stop in the dozens of US prisons and other dungeons across Iraq.

Whatever journalistic essays reveal and the United Nations censures, the American vase of democracy seems broken. Perhaps the damage is irreparable. Too much humiliation has been heaped on hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. Its affect is cumulative, and unstoppable.

As we observe, resistance to US power and arrogance is accelerating globally. And across the world, Iraq’s insurgency might seem like a reasonable response—a justification not only for prison abuses but for the daily invasion of thousands of homes, farms, schools and streets, and for 12 years of a merciless and unprecedented UN-overseen blockade.

[ Watching Torture--and the UN Report ]


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