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Muslim group plans Sacramento lobbying blitz

A Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group will focus its California lobbying blitz next month on bills dealing with police surveillance, equal pay for women, and a freeze on tuition at state colleges and universities.

CAIRCalifornialogoThe California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is planning its 4th annual California Muslim Day at the State Capitol for Monday, April 27. They’ll be reaching out to legislators about issues that impact the Muslim community broadly, and to push for three bills in particular.

SB 178, the California Electronic Communication Privacy Act by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide protection against warrantless government access private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are held on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. Police would have to go to a judge and get a warrant before accessing such information.

SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would will help to ensure that women are paid equally when they do the same work as men, and protect workers from retaliation when they inquire or speak out about wage differences at work. CAIR notes that in 2013, a California woman working full-time earned 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man doing the same job; the gap is considerably wider for women of color.

AB 42 by Assemblywoman Young Kim, D-Fullerton, would require the California Community Colleges and California State University – and ask the University of California – to freeze tuition and fees at their 2014-15 levels while the tax hikes enacted by voters as Proposition 30 of 2012 remain in effect.

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Some Muslim-American thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

As Bay Area residents prepare to stage a solidarity and support vigil outside the French Consulate in San Francisco tonight, here’s a sampling of some Muslim-American thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

From Haris Tarin, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Washington, D.C. office:

“The tragic irony that these criminals displayed is that if they actually gave a cursory look over the Prophet Muhammad’s life, they’d see how he reacted to insults and degrading treatment. The Prophet always responded with mercy and forgiveness. No matter what grievances individuals or communities might have, violence is never the answer.”

From Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad:

“We strongly condemn this brutal and cowardly attack and reiterate our repudiation of any such assault on freedom of speech, even speech that mocks faiths and religious figures. The proper response to such attacks on the freedoms we hold dear is not to vilify any faith, but instead to marginalize extremists of all backgrounds who seek to stifle freedom and to create or widen societal divisions.

“We offer sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed or injured in this attack. We also call for the swift apprehension of the perpetrators, who should be punished to the full extent of the law.”

Zahra Billoo, who directs CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter, posted to her Facebook page and Tweeted that she “supports free speech. ‪#‎CharlieHebdo‬ ‪#‎ParisShooting‬.”

From the Facebook page of Hanif Mohebi, who directs CAIR’s San Diego chapter:

“To my French Muslim brothers and sisters, its absolutely important to condemn the recent violent act, and be very vocal about it. I also recommend that security for Mosques, Islamic Schools and to be very cautious in general. May Allah(swt) save us all.”

From the Facebook page of Shireen Qudosi, who runs a Southern California content, marketing and design agency:

“Home sick today to find more distressing news that should be another wake up call for the fundie-coddling West. Amidst catching up on the news, I see a once-again mushrooming of ‘Where are the Muslims voices speaking out against this?!’ To the nay-sayers, I say this: Please explain to me how you expect reform-minded Muslims, to practically overnight, go toe-to-toe with well-funded radical and sympathetic organizations, who on top of all their funding receive ample Western media support. On the other hand, I’ve had reporters and journalists straight up walk out of the room or not use a single line of interview time because it didn’t subscribe to a victim agenda. We’re speaking out, and we’re doing the best we can on a grassroots level. I can only speak for me personally when I say that I do my best to research and write pro-reform work and network with like-minded individuals, while also working almost two full time jobs and raising a toddler with special needs. I wield my war against radical Islam with a pen, and not with useless hippie protests on a street when I need to be at work fulfilling my commitment to my family. People are so quick to say ‘where are the Muslims’ and very slow to actually understand the juggernaut obstacles we’re working to overcome along with very awkwardly balancing a personal life… and we are overcoming our reform obstacles. When I started my reform work nearly ten years ago, reform wasn’t even an idea and there were only maybe 3 or 4 people speaking out. Now we have a legion. It’s in fact one of the projects I’m working on and you’re welcome to walk the talk even if all you’re doing is sharing this link and message with your network: http://www.gofundme.com/Islamic-Reform
I don’t have time to deal with naysayers, internet trolls, doubters and arm-chair generals. We have real wars to fight and, in this, we don’t have the luxury of entertain people who like to think they’re experts and philosophers. You don’t like Muslims? That’s fine. You don’t need to and I’m not asking you to. But I also don’t need to answer to your petulant demand for answers.”

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County GOP chair blasts ‘surfing rabbi’s’ tirade

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles and Progressive Christians Uniting want Republican Party leaders to repudiate a candidate who at a Bay Area gathering this month proudly proclaimed, “I am an Islamophobe, and everything we need to know about Islam, we learned on 9/11.”

That’s Rabbi Nachum Shifren – the “surfing rabbi” from Santa Monica who’s among the 23 candidates challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the upcoming primary election – speaking at a May 3 candidates’ forum cosponsored by the San Mateo County Republican Party and the MyLiberty Tea Party group.

“There should be no place for hate speech of any kind in our nation’s political discourse. Whenever one faith or ethnicity is targeted by hate, it is our duty as Americans to challenge that hatred and to instead promote mutual understanding and tolerance,” the Muslim, Christian and Jewish organizations said in a joint statement issued Monday. “We urge GOP leaders in California and nationwide to repudiate this candidate’s hate speech and to encourage greater respect for diversity within party ranks.”

San Mateo County Republican Party Chairman Chuck McDougald agreed Tuesday.

“That’s absurd, it’s ridiculous – the guy is way out of line and he does not represent the mainstream Republican Party,” said McDougald, who said he didn’t attend the May 3 forum because he was out of town. “Anyone who espouses hatred, we don’t have room for them in our party.”

McDougald said all 24 Senate candidates including Feinstein were invited to the event, but only a handful attended, including Shifren.

I’ve emailed and left a voice mail for MyLiberty’s director, but haven’t heard back from him yet.

UPDATE @ 3:07 P.M.: “I will tell you categorically I do not agree with his statement – as an individual I don’t think that’s an appropriate perspective to have,” MyLiberty director Leonard Stone said this afternoon.

In fact, he said, he’d sort of tuned Shifren out after the rabbi told another candidate his military service didn’t really count because he’d flown airplanes and never was in harm’s way on the ground.

“We had a variety of candidates and I would not suggest I agree with all those candidates by any stretch of the imagination, but every one of those candidates got polite applause at the end of their presentation,” Stone said. “We wanted them to say what they had to say, to let the public who came to the meeting see them in the way they wanted to portray themselves. … It really wasn’t a night for making judgments.”

“Speech can get messy, and people who say things have to live with it,” he said. “Everybody should speak their mind and let the chips fall where they fall.”

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Rights groups say local cops should shun FBI

Civil rights watchdog groups say police in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities should stop working with the FBI on terrorism investigations so long as doing so means they can violate local privacy policies.

“Under the state constitution and local policies, Californians are protected against government intelligence gathering unless there is a factual basis to suspect them of wrongdoing,” Alan Schlosser, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s legal director, said in a news release today. “It is now clear that the FBI has been authorized to conduct thousands of investigations that are just fishing expeditions and run contrary to California law. It is an outrage that San Francisco and Oakland police officials are not being forthcoming about whether their JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) officers are complying with state and local law.”

The ACLU’s complaint comes as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., holds a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today on civil rights violations against American Muslims, coming soon after a New York Times report that the FBI is using intelligence gathering powers expanded significantly during the Bush Administration to investigate thousands of people and groups without any factual evidence that they have done anything wrong. The FBI admits having compiled 70,000 such files on Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Local police departments including those in Oakland and San Francisco assign officers to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which they cooperate with FBI investigations. They do so under “memorandums of understanding” with the FBI, which in the past included assurances that officers must follow state law and department guidelines.

But when civil rights groups used the Freedom of Information Act to get a look at the standard MOU used in the Bay Area, they found it lets police assigned to the JTTF violate local privacy policies like those in place for years in Oakland and San Francisco, reflecting state constitutional standards.

Neither San Francisco nor Oakland police department has yet to make available its current, specific MOU with the FBI, the ACLU said; in Oakland, police officials say they didn’t keep a copy and the FBI has refused to provide a copy to the department.

So today the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on these police agencies to sever those ties with the FBI at least until they make their MOUs public and reassure the public that officers are adhering to the standards of state and local law.

“Unless and until those agreements are made public and assurances are given that local police cannot investigate people without criminal suspicion, San Francisco and Oakland police departments must withdraw from the JTTF,” Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Veena Dubal said.

“Community trust is the most important tool of law enforcement,” said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. “By infiltrating organizations and interviewing people who they do not suspect of any wrongdoing, the FBI is obfuscating their ability to counter domestic crime. We do not want our local law enforcement in the same predicament.”