Apr 17 2015

M4L Attends Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill

By Ramy Osman
April 2015

This past Monday, April 13th , I attended an event that was the first of its kind for the Muslim American community. It was the first ever Muslim Advocacy Day held on Capitol Hill, #MuslimHillDay. Over 250 state delegates from almost a dozen different Muslim national organizations came together to speak out against racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, and to advocate for federal funding for after-school student mentoring programs. The delegates split up into groups according to their state, and met with the offices of their State Senators and with Representatives from their congressional district. Many of the offices were expecting a discussion on foreign policy, but were surprised to see that the discussion remained about domestic issues. The topics of discussion were relevant to all Americans, but it was Muslim Americans who shared how these topics affect them personally and affects the nation as a whole.

I attended as a delegate from Virginia, in the name of Muslims4Liberty, and attended four congressional meetings with the Virginia delegation. I was tasked with talking about racial/religious profiling in view of the “surveillance state”, and speaking out against aggressive policing. I talked about how racial/religious profiling has affected me personally, how most Muslim Americans have a story they can tell about themselves or someone they know being mistreated by law enforcement, and that by its nature, security and surveillance laws create paranoid and aggressive law enforcement. I intentionally went off script a couple of times to plug Thomas Massie and Mark Pocans “Surveillance State Repeal Act“, but was “guided” back to the script by a USCMO facilitator who was part of the meetings (I’ll have a follow-up post detailing my speech to the offices). Other delegates also spoke about profiling, and then talked about federal funding for after-school student mentoring programs (not something most liberty advocates would be interested in). Overall we were received well, and were able to get our message across.

Muslim Advocacy Day was organized by USCMO (United States Council on Muslim Organizations). USCMO is the latest attempt at creating an umbrella organization that national Muslim organizations can join and work towards presenting a unified voice from the Muslim community. It has the noble mission of addressing social problems within the Muslim community, creating consensus on certain issues, uniting the efforts and resources of Muslims, and helping Muslims to better themselves and their country. Among their plans, is to perform a census of the entire Muslim American community. And they hope to use that as a tool for mobilizing Muslim Americans for important causes, like bloc voting and holding annual lobbying days.

I think the inaugural Muslim Advocacy Day was a success. In my brief interactions with USCMO members, people were excited to be working with such a broad coalition of organizations. No organization or personality tried to present themselves as better than the others. The MC of the event, CAIR’s Robert McCaw, even went out of his way to clarify that the order of speakers was in alphabetical order, as opposed to order of “importance”. The main message that was relayed was the importance of uniting around common causes and agendas.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in the coming months and years with USCMO. If more organizations join the council, there will be more diversity of opinion and ideology. The challenge will be keeping the spirit of unity and inclusiveness in the face of such a diverse Muslim community.

The coalition is made up of the typical well-known organizations such as CAIR, ICNA, and MAS. But what’s significant is that it also includes, as founding members, a sizable portion of the indigenous African American Muslims. The ministry of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (rahimahulla), called The Mosque Cares, is part of the coalition. And MANA (Muslim Alliance in North America) is also part of the coalition. Beyond that, there is MUNA (Muslim Ummah of North America), which does a lot of work in the Bengali-American community; And then there are a number of issue-based organizations (like charity and political/legal advocacy).

One of the concerns I have, and which was mentioned to me by USCMO organizer Robert McCaw, is that the coalition might end up turning into a Muslim Democratic lobby. That’s definitely a possibility considering that many of the attendees played a role in getting the Muslim community to vote for Obama in the last two elections. I even thought I heard someone there talking about starting a “Muslims for Hillary” group. It’s clear that one of the objectives of USCMO is to bolster the “Muslim swing vote”. But given how horrible the voting track record is for Muslim Americans, I can see this swing vote causing more harm than good when used for presidential elections. A fundamental flaw in the Muslim American psyche when it comes to voting, is that they accept the immoral and defeatist attitude of the “lesser of two evils”. And unfortunately I can foresee USCMO going down that path.

But to USCMO’s credit, Robert McCaw did personally tell me that he wishes more people from M4L can get involved in future Muslim Advocacy Day’s and give a different perspective. I agree. This is a unique opportunity for people on board with the M4L mission to articulate our position to lawmakers, while showing Muslim leadership the logic and rationale in our views.

Throughout the day I didn’t pass up a chance to talk to people about M4L and the work we’ve been doing. I told USCMO’s Ossama Jammal, CAIR’s Nehad Awad, many of my fellow delegates, and staff members at the congressional offices, that M4L is an organization that teaches that freedom and liberty are not foreign concepts to Muslims; that these concepts are rooted in our religion; and that M4L is hard at work spreading this message. Many people were surprised to hear this, and most were interested in learning more.

Overall, I feel like I spent the day not just advocating for putting a check on the out of control security and surveillance policies, but I was also advocating for M4L and teaching others that there are Muslims out there who cherish the ideas of freedom and liberty just like any other American. Some of the USCMO members had heard about M4L before, or personally knew Will Coley, but most did not. My hope is that people who support the M4L mission will get more involved with our work, and help spread the message of Islam, freedom and liberty.

As it stands, my recommendation to M4L leadership is to hold off on becoming a member of USCMO. There are still a lot of variables to consider, and plus M4L still needs to step up its organizational structure, and its commitments between members. In the mean time, I hope that M4L will continue to send delegates from around the country to future Muslim Advocacy Days, and advocate for the issues that we think are important and relevant. Insha Allah.

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