An Open Letter to Rep. John Lewis: You're Pushing for Anti-Muslim Discrimination, Not Real Gun Control

News & Politics

Editor's Note: After the Senate rejected four gun control measures this week, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), along with many other Democrats, stood in front of the speaker's podium trying to force a vote. After the Republican leadership blocked this effort, Lewis led a sit-in on the floor of the US House that continues at the time of publication. The sit-in is an aggressive political-publicity effort to highlight Republicans' inability to get serious on gun control, even after the deadly shootings in Orlando.

Congressman Lewis, your sit-in in support of HR 1076: “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” is a sit-in supporting disastrous legislation that uses the Orwellian scare-tactics of the Bush administration to legitimize a blacklist that discriminately targets Arab and Muslim Americans, all while likely having zero effect in actually reducing gun violence, which should be a major legislative priority for the US Congress.

Before I begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Hamzah Raza. I am a Muslim, born in Brooklyn, New York, where my grandfather still resides today. My grandfather’s mosque, like every single mosque in New York City, was spied on by the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program.

In addition to targeting every single mosque in New York City, the NYPD(outside of jurisdiction) also engaged in suspicionless surveillance of every single mosque within 100 miles of New York City, including the mosque my family attends at our home in New Jersey: the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey.

Despite targeting hundreds of mosques in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, being able to invade the privacy of hundreds of thousands of mosque congregants, the NYPD did not uncover one single terrorism lead.

Instead, the NYPD created a culture of damaged relations, fear, stigma, and infringed on the Muslim community’s Constitutionally guaranteed religious rights.

HR 1076 seeks to prevent any member of the “no-fly list” to be able to purchase a gun in the United States. Just like the NYPD’s surveillance, this sweeping measure will not bring about any effectiveness in stopping gun violence, and will only contribute to a culture of hostility towards America’s Muslims.

In looking at the no-fly list, it is important to recognize that it does not comprise a comprehensive database of legitimate threats to national security. It is instead a list that indiscriminately targets innocent Muslim Americans, based on secretive and arbitrary measures.

The city with the second-largest population(after New York City) on the no-fly list is Dearborn, Michigan, which has a population of only 98,153 people.

Despite many big cities having exponentially larger populations than Dearborn(nearly 40 times larger in the case of Los Angeles), Dearborn has the most people per-capita on the no-fly list.

There seems to be no plausible reason for this other than that Dearborn, Michigan has one of the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East.

In light of the Democrats’ highly publicized sit-in, it is worth noting that not a single mass-shooting has ever been perpetrated by anyone from Dearborn. But it is communities like this that have been targeted by the kind of watch lists that congressional Democrats want to expand.

It is also useful to examine a few documents leaked by Edward Snowden, which outline the backgrounds of some of the Muslim Americans that the National Security Agency chose to spy on such as:

Faisal Gill, a Navy veteran, Republican Party operative and former candidate for office, who had top-secret security clearance while working for George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security.

Asim Ghafoor, a former Capitol Hill staffer and high-profile attorney who defended clients in terrorism-related cases

Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University

Agha Saeed, a former professor of political science at California State University

Nihad Awad, the founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil rights’ organization

The reality is that warrantless surveillance on a minority community’s leaders and activists is something that you, as a veteran of the Civil Rights’ movement, know all too well.

Martin Luther King, who you marched with, was an individual who was not only spied on by the United States government, but also someone the FBI tried coercing into suicide.  

Angela Davis was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Nelson Mandela was on the no-fly list and considered a terrorist by the United States government until 2008.

The no-fly list has also included Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and Nabih Berri, the Speaker of Parliament of Lebanon, in addition to 4 year-old boy, Edward Allen.

Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan was also detained in April of 2009 because “his name came up on a computer alert list,” meaning that he also was likely on the no-fly list.

The list goes on and on.

You, Congressman Lewis, were actually once on the no-fly list. Unless you believe you are more susceptible to harming the United States than the 99.99812% of the population not on the no-fly list, you have to know that it will do nothing in stopping gun violence.

In addition to the fact that this list would have prevented individuals like Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Shah Rukh Khan, and yourself from getting a gun, this blacklist is enormously ineffective -- and deeply un-democratic.

From 2005 to 2015, 71 Americans were killed as a result of terrorist attacks. 301,797 were killed by gun violence.

Between 94 and 99.2% of gun violence is committed by non-Muslims. To arbitrarily target the 0.00188% of the population that is on a secret, racist list is not a path to sensible or effective gun control legislation.

The path to ending our society’s problem of gun violence comes not in legislation that uses the language of fear-mongering, paranoia, and Islamophobia.

As a veteran of the Civil Rights’ movement, it is disappointing to see you participate in a sit-in for such disastrous and discriminatory legislation.

I hope you can return to opposing bills that promote policies with racist implications, instead of lobbying for them.


Hamzah Raza

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