Monday, September 26, 2011

Chaplain speaks on racism toward Muslims after 9/11

Student Newspaper - The Daily Orange > News

Chaplain speaks on racism toward Muslims after 9/11
By Hailey Temple

Contributing Writer

Published: Monday, September 26, 2011

Updated: Monday, September 26, 2011 01:09

Earlier this month, Syracuse University students and Americans across the nation recognized the loss of thousands of lives from the terrorist attacks on 9/11 ten years later.

For former U.S. Army Chaplain James "Yusuf" Yee, the 10-year anniversary marked not only a tragedy for the nation, but the revival of the American ideology called Islamophobia, or the sense of fear and hostility toward Muslims that leads to discrimination and racial profiling.

Yee spoke at the Life Sciences Complex on Thursday to a packed lecture hall after being invited by SU's Muslim Students' Association.

When Yee served as a chaplain to Muslims at Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta in late 2002 into 2003, he said his purpose at the terrorist prison was two-fold: to be a religious adviser to the camp's command and to serve as a chaplain to both American Muslims and Muslim prisoners.

During his 12-month term at Guantanamo Bay, Yee saw firsthand the type of neglect and exploitation Muslim prisoners received from American counterparts.

"I saw religion being used as a weapon," Yee said. "Military guards would intentionally abuse the Quran in order to try and pressure these individuals in Guantanamo to give up some type of information, intelligence if they might have it."

"They wanted to try and break these individuals from their core belief as Muslims," he added.

Despite earning military recognition and high rankings for his religious efforts at Guantanamo Bay, Yee said he became a victim of Islamophobia in 2003 as he was traveling home to visit his wife and child in Seattle before finishing his term at Camp Delta.

While at a stop at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Yee said he was swarmed by security and intelligence officers, interrogated and secretly arrested and accused for taking classified documents from Guantanamo Bay.

Yee spent 76 days at the Naval Consolidated Brig, a maximum-security prison for American enemy combatants.

"There were stories swirling around in the media that I was this ‘terrorist spy,' that I was working for al-Qaeda and the Taliban as a spy for the prisoners," Yee said.

As a military prisoner, Yee said he experienced the same neglect he saw other Muslim prisoners endure. Much like those prisoners, Yee was shackled "at the wrists, at the waist, at the ankles, in a suit of chains."

Once Yee's name was cleared of these allegations, he was released and reinstated as a military chaplain. He resigned and was honorably discharged from the military in 2003.

Although Yee is no longer a military member, the exploitation he witnessed and experienced as a Muslim continues to be a part of American society, he said.

Despite promises that Guantanamo Bay would close following President Barack Obama's election, the prisons are open and continue to house Muslims that are arrested and accused of terrorist acts.

Yee said he was enthusiastic about Obama's campaign "because he had the strongest position on Guantanamo and taking care of this human rights situation, but it has yet to be done." Now, Yee said he is very disappointed in how Obama has handled the Guantanamo situation.

Yee also described how Islamophobia has taken many forms in American government. After a prominent imam was invited to give the opening invocation for a state legislature, a state representative left the meeting.

"The guy walked out because he said ‘Mohammed is not my God,'" said Yee, followed by a few chuckles from the audience. "Well, Mohammed is not our God either … and this shows the ignorance, the lack of knowledge even our elected officials have about Islam."

Despite the profiling Muslims have received since Sept. 11, Yee and other Muslims remain optimistic about the status of Islam religion in American society.

One way that Yee described as a means of eliminating Islamophobia is by sharing the ‘Muslim narrative,' or as Yee said, by sharing stories of Muslims who also lost their lives on 9/11. Yee said Muslims need to be proactive in the media and share the stories.

Ismail Pathan, vice president of SU's Muslim Students' Association and junior finance major, also said he feels that this message needs to be heard.

"Many people often don't understand that Muslims are Americans, too, and any act against America is an act that is against them, too," Pathan said.

Pathan said this is a time when Muslim Americans need to talk about their experiences, and Yee did that.

For Mushaf Haque, a freshman communications and rhetorical studies major, improving the image of Muslims in America starts at a personal level.

"I am a big believer in leading by example," Haque said. "If my actions portray a positive image of Muslim peoples' lives, then that is my main goal."

See related news items
Andy Worthington's Site here
No More Gitmos here

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