Muslim American groups and individuals are boycotting the White House’s Iftar dinner and will instead be participating or supporting a protest outside the White House against United States government policies, which disproportionately impact Muslims all over the world.
The Iftar is when Muslims break fast during Ramadan. In the past, the White House has held its Ramadan dinner with members of Muslim groups and various distinguished Muslim Americans. The dinner has been seen as an opportunity for Muslims to engage with officials in power. And, while there will still be Muslim Americans who attend the dinner, there is a growing concern that policies simply keep getting worse and they would be complicit if they attended the Ramadan dinner.
More than a hundred Muslim advocates, activists, and scholars put out an open letter the day of the dinner explaining why they believed a boycott was necessary. They claimed the dinner “represents nothing more than an attempt to whitewash state violence, absolve government institutions from taking responsibility and creating mechanisms of accountability and transparency for the civil rights violations that have been perpetrated towards Muslims and Muslim Americans, and Americans at large, beginning from even before the onset of the War on Terror.”
In particular, Muslims intend to protest the ongoing indefinite detention of Muslim prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. They intend to protest US support for Israel’s assault on Gaza as well as the mass surveillance being directed at Muslim Americans; in particular, the revelations that five prominent American Muslims have had their email accounts targeted by the NSA and FBI.
Ramah Kudaimi, one of the organizers involved in building support for the boycott, told Firedoglake, “One of the main reasons we’re calling for this boycott is to say this is just an opportunity for the United States to have a publicity stunt where it whitewashes its crimes against Muslims.”
“Our action is going to be focusing on Guantanamo and the fact that, during last year’s Iftar, the prisoners at Guantanamo who were on hunger strike were being force-fed, and it was very shameful that there were Muslim Americans going to the White House Iftar to break their fast while their fellow Muslims” were being force-fed in Guantanamo, Kudaimi added.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) announced that it will not be “attending the government iftars” and called on Arab and Muslim communities to boycott, “given the government’s condoning of the current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically.”
“Political engagement is important and having a seat at the table is crucial—but only when that seat is intended to amplify our voice as a community, not tokenize or subdue it,” the ADC declared. It also stated, “Government iftars, such as the White House Iftar, are highly politicized events that will be taking place in the shadow of the government’s lack of representation of the community, and will provide no room for this productive dialogue.”
Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, who is a chairperson of Kinder USA, an American Muslim organization which focuses on the health and well-being of Palestinian children, wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. She indicated she would not be attending the State Department’s dinner.
“The US government as the main supporter has all the tools at its disposal to implement an immediate ceasefire,” Al-Marayati suggested. “As an American taxpayer, it is hard for me to understand why the State Department and White House are unable to leverage American support to bring the attacks to a halt.”
According to the Washington Post, White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest responding to calls for a boycott by restating the obvious, which is that this is an “opportunity for the president and other senior administration officials to pay tribute to the important role that Muslim Americans play in American communities all across the country.” He did not want the protest of Muslim Americans to overshadow the effort of the Obama administration to pay tribute to Muslim Americans at this year’s dinner.
Earnest said exactly what infuriates Muslim Americans, repeating the mantra of Israel having a right to defend itself while at the same time ignoring whether Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. He also did not outright call for a ceasefire and instead said both sides have been encouraged to “consider the best way to deescalate this conflict,” as if there is some balance in the destruction that has been unfolding.
“As it relates to the recent reports of spying on Muslim Americans, I would point out that unlike some other countries, the United States of America doesn’t target individuals based on their race or ethnicity or religion,” Earnest stated. “That is a principle to which we scrupulously adhere, and that hasn’t changed.”
Kudaimi responded to this idea that the US government does not target Muslims. “They can claim all that they want that none of it is being targeted, but if you look at the reality, who is being victimized by these policies?”
“How many non-Muslims have been extrajudicially assassinated by the United States government?” she asked.
She highlighted the extrajudicial assassination of Muslim American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen.
“If he was not Muslim, I believe his case would have engendered a huge outcry from other government officials instead of the shameful responses from government officials who will say things like, oh, well, he should have had a more responsible father.”
“How many non-Muslims have actually been rounded up and arrested for doing simple things like watching a YouTube video? Or speaking out against the US government?” Kudaimi also asked. She later concluded the White House can claim that the government doesn’t intend round up Muslims and focus on Muslims, but “when the overwhelming majority of the victims are Muslims,” they can’t really hide behind that claim anymore.
The FBI has deployed undercover agents and informants (often with criminal pasts) into Muslim communities to frame, entrap and prosecute individuals for terrorism-related offenses. In fact, a recent study by the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project Salam found that nearly ninety-five percent of individuals on a Justice Department list of “terrorism and terrorism-related convictions” from 2001-2010 were preemptive prosecutions. That means the defendants were pursued because of their beliefs, ideology or religious affiliation.
Mariam Abu-Ali’s brother, Ahmed, a US citizen, was detained and held without charge by intelligence officers in Saudi Arabia for two years. When he was brought to the United States, he was charged with “conspiracy to assassinate” President George W. Bush. The main evidence in this case was a confession that had been obtained through torture.
At Huffington Post, Mariam wrote, “The White House iftar is a slap in the face to those in the Muslim community who have been victims of US civil-rights and human rights abuses.
“Year after year Muslims attend the iftar, arguing that this is a way to engage policy makers in an attempt to effectuate real change,” Mariam argued. “Yet year after year more and more egregious violations of Muslims’ human and civil rights are uncovered. For our American Muslim leadership to not address our government’s civil rights and human rights abuses is a disservice not only to the community they claim to represent but to their country as well.”