Michigan Lawsuit Highlights Growing Islamophobia in U.S.

Michigan Lawsuit Highlights Growing Islamophobia in U.S.

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DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich.  — A local woman was thrown into the national spotlight last week after she filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Dearborn Heights Police Department for forcing her to remove her hijab when she was arrested last July.

Strong reactions rooted with racism and hate seemed to be a commonality amongst the general public after The Arab American News first broke the story about 27-year-old Malak Kazan’s lawsuit on Tuesday, January 20.

Within just a few hours, hundreds of commentators from across the country flooded The Arab American News Facebook page with hateful comments.

"Move back to the desert. Our Country, our rules," said one Facebook user.

"If I committed a crime in her native country, I'm sure they wouldn't abide by my American law and read me my rights," said another post.

"So how do they deal with this when they get arrested in their own country?" another commentator said.
The comments appeared to be fueled by ignorance, as many commentators disregarded the fact that Kazan is an American who has lived in Wayne County for nearly her entire life.

Attorney Amir Makled, who is representing Kazan in court, said she was shaken by the criticism she's received since going public with her case. Makled said backlash from her own community has affected her just as much as the racist comments lashed at her on social media.

"She's been extremely shocked by reading some of the racism and backlash that she saw on various websites and from members of the community," Makled said.

Questions regarding Kazan's arrest history arose last week after a mug shot of her wearing her hijab had surfaced online and on local news affiliates. According to Makled, that mugshot was taken after Kazan was originally arrested and forced to remove her hijab for driving on a suspended license on July 9. Kazan was terrified to return to the 20th District Court following her experience there that she decided to pull a no-show on her court date. As a result, a warrant was issued for her arrest.

Kazan eventually re-appeared at the court with Makled. She was booked for her warrant and immediately released. During her second booking, the department allowed her to keep her scarf on following resistance from both her and Makled.

Makled, who practices out of The Law Office of Cyril Hall, said they will keep pushing forward with the case, despite the strong mixed reactions.

"She is not letting this further discrimination stop her pursuit of a policy change," he said. "She is honored to be in a position to make a positive impact on the community and I feel she is a brave young lady."

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), told The Arab American News that he also received several racist messages when he shared Kazan's story on social media.

"The underlying factor is that there are certain people who view themselves as real Americans and therefore view us as being intruders in their society," Walid said.

Attacks in France, “American Sniper” film push Islamophobia propaganda

Islam's image in the U.S. is already off to a rocky start this year. The terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 17 civilians, plus three perpetrators of the attack, has received excessive coverage in the media. 

Television news networks appear to be using fear tactics in their coverage of the story, taking an angle which depicts that "Islamic extremism is spreading across Europe." A large number of Americans appear to believe that their country could be facing a similar trajectory.

"The sister's issue in Dearborn Heights has absolutely nothing to do with what took place in France, but people seem to be relating the two issues," Walid said.

Another large hit to the Muslim community this year was the Warner Bros. film "American Sniper,"starring Bradley Cooper, which received a wide theater release on January 16. The biographical drama, directed by Clint Eastwood, has received heavy criticism from the Muslim community.

The plot of the film revolves around a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper who is sent to Iraq after the attacks of 9/11 to kill civilians who are retaliating against the U.S. military. Critics of the film believe it glorifies snipers and prompts anti-Islamic propaganda.

Many Americans who've seen the film have taken their expressions to social media, often times making derogatory and racist comments against Muslims and Arabs.

"Nice to see a movie where Arabs are portrayed for who they really are—vermin scum intent on destroying us," said one user on Twitter.

Last week, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said threats against Muslims and Arabs have tripled following the release of "American Sniper."

The last time the organization had received such a large wave of complaints was in 2010, when controversy was brewing over an Islamic center that was slated to open near Ground Zero.

The "American Sniper" momentum doesn't appear to fizzling out anytime soon. The movie has already grossed more than $250 million and has received six Academy Award nominations, include one for Best Picture.

With Islamophobia at an all-time high in the U.S., some local Muslims took to social media to question whether now is the right time for Kazan to be pursuing her case in court.

Walid said it's "problematic" that some Muslims don't want to stand up for the civil rights of people in their own community.

"To sacrifice standing up for one's right our of fear of facing bigotry is in fact self relegation and acceptance of second class citizenship," Walid said. "We ourselves marginalize our community with such thinking. The bigotry was already there. It didn't come out the blue just because of a lawsuit."
Walid believes Kazan has a strong case in court. He compared it to civil rights issues that African Americans faced in the 1960s during a period of heavy segregation.

"She has every right to feel that her First Amendment rights and dignity were being stripped away from her by removing her hijab," Walid said. "It's just like a Black person being told they can't drink out of a White-only water fountain or eat at a White-only restaurant. That was a law in many states, but that law had to be challenged. That's why we have court proceedings."