Tonight, continuing a White House tradition started by Bill Clinton, President Obama is hosting his sixth iftar, the meal that breaks the day of fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
But this year, as Israel continues to bomb Gaza, and recent revelations proved that the US government has been spying on key Muslim-American community leaders under “secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies“, a leading Arab-American rights group and some prominent Muslim-American activists are boycotting the official iftar.
A statement released by the influential Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) today said: “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.”
— Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (@amanialkhat) July 14, 2014
The Washington DC guest list usually includes diplomats from Muslim-majority countries, politicians representing American-Muslim constituencies, and key leaders from the 3.5 million-strong American-Muslim community. This year Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer is also invited.
Wajahat Ali, a prominent Muslim-American activist and lawyer, award-winning playwright and co-host of AlJazeera America's The Stream wasn't invited to this year's iftar, but posted this on his public Facebook page:
I am glad Muslims are attending the White House Iftar.
I am glad Muslims are boycotting the White House Iftar.
I welcome the disagreements.
There can and should be no uniformity of opinion in the most pluralistic religious communities in the most pluralistic society in the modern, globalized 2014 world populated with the most pluralistic identities.
Say Assalam Alikum to Brother Obama from me. And tell him to look outside at the protests and placards so the government can please stop spying on me…unless, of course, they wants biryani recipes and Game of Thrones links.
The US government has been holding iftars to celebrate Ramadan for over a decade, with events hosted by the White House and other government agencies. These events were initially lauded by the Muslim-American community when they started, but the last few years the official dinners have been criticized by many who see these attempts at inclusion ‘hypocritical‘, since the US government continues to engage in policies largely condemned by the Muslim-American community – force-feeding and imprisoning people at Guantanamo Bay, state surveillance targeting Muslim-Americans, and US tax dollars funding the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Attending #WhiteHouseIftar this year will give the gov an opportunity to use us as shields to claim approval by our community. 9/n
— Josh Shahryar (@JShahryar) July 14, 2014
In a strongly-worded open letter 100 Muslim-American scholars and activists called for a boycott of this year's White House Iftar:
We are a group of scholars, advocates, activists and grassroots organizers who are outraged and deeply concerned by the violence that the United States has committed under the guise of national security. We are outraged that human and civil rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike are so callously rejected in favor of a national security state that purports to be a democracy and the leader of the free world, while furthering undemocratic policies and ideals. We are outraged that so many individuals have suffered from profiling, detention, torture, and murder by virtue of specifically being Muslim or looking Muslim.
One prominent Texas-based Muslim scholar whose Facebook page has more than 250K likes tweeted:
— Omar Suleiman (@omarsuleiman504) July 13, 2014
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress in 2006 tweeted:
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) July 14, 2014
Addressing last year's White House iftar, President Obama said:
Every day, Muslim Americans are helping to shape the way that we think and the way that we work and the way that we do business. And that’s the spirit that we celebrate tonight — the dreamers, the creators whose ideas are pioneering new industries, creating new jobs and unleashing new opportunities for all of us.
Muslim-American writer and civil rights activist Mariam Abu-Ali wrote a moving piece about her brother, a case that has gotten little mainstream media coverage in the US, in a post called, Another White House Iftar, Another Ramadan Without My Brother:
President Obama, just as he has done every year since coming to office, will probably include in his remarks stories of successful Muslims making significant contributions to American society, attempting to show how interwoven Muslims are in the fabric of this country. What he won't mention, and what most in the room would rather not think about, is the growing number of Muslims who are victims of the U.S government's ruthless persecution of Muslims that includes spying, torture, and unfair trials.
I believe that my brother is one such victim. In June 2003 Ahmed Abu-Ali, a U.S citizen, was detained by intelligence officers in Saudi Arabia while studying at the University of Madinah. He was only 22. The Saudi government, apparently at the behest of the U.S government, detained him without charges for nearly two years. Ahmed was then brought home and charged with conspiracy to assassinate then-President George W. Bush. The only evidence admitted in court was a videotape of a confession obtained in a Saudi Arabian prison — a confession that my brother maintained was coerced through torture. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to 30 years (and later life) in prison. My brother will serve life in perpetual solitary confinement for an alleged crime that the judge himself stated “did not result in a single actual victim.”