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TX Paper Does Puff Piece On Radical Muslim

From deep in the heart of Texas, the San Antonio Express-News:

She’s Muslim — and determined


Lisa Marie Gómez

Before 9-11, Sarwat Husain rarely wore a hijab — the Muslim headscarf.

But just as the attacks on the United States changed the world, they transformed Husain.

Practically overnight, this product of a privileged upbringing in Pakistan became an activist, determined to defend Muslims from discrimination and to educate San Antonians about Islam and Middle-Eastern culture.

The most visible sign of her transformation was the hijab, now ever-present since a group of Muslim women complained to her about the ugly looks and threats they were getting on the street.

"At first I thought, ‘No, that can’t be happening in San Antonio,’ so I agreed to wear the hijab for a week to see how people would react to me," said Husain, now in her mid-50s, who became a U. S. citizen in 1975 and moved to San Antonio with her family in 1989. "I wanted to see if anything would change from before."

What happened next not only would open her eyes to the reality that anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise, it also would motivate her to become the public face of the San Antonio Muslim community. Today, she’s the founder, president and sole woman on the board of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based anti-discrimination group.

Last year, Husain was featured in a book, "The Face Behind the Veil," which profiled 50 prominent Muslim women in America. The book’s author credited Husain with her patriotism and opposition to terrorism.

Her admirers almost uniformly describe Husain as strong and fiercely dedicated to stamping out discrimination against Muslims wherever she finds it. Her detractors say her outspoken style and what they describe as a hypersensitiveness to perceived slights limit her effectiveness.

She has both engaged and clashed with community groups and local media, such as the National Conference for Community and Justice (now called United Communities of San Antonio), and the San Antonio Express-News, whose coverage of the Muslim community she has criticized. In addition, CAIR itself has been the subject of controversy.

In the aftermath of 9-11, CAIR was in the spotlight nationally after a former employee was indicted for being part of a conspiracy to support jihad overseas and sentenced to 20 years. A second man, Ghassan Elashi, a founding board member of the Texas chapter, was sentenced to 80 months for conducting financial transactions with Hamas leader Musa abu Marzook.

Husain and other San Antonio CAIR board members regularly meet with the local FBI office to discuss issues facing their community.

She defends CAIR and her work with it.

"This is something that happened not while he was with CAIR," she said of Elashi, calling CAIR critics "fundamentalists."

"They create all these accusations and the public gets confused," she said. "These kind of things give you more strength because we know there are people out there who don’t want us to succeed."

But CAIR is succeeding locally and that is due, in large measure, to Husain’s energy and commitment, said Abraham T. Iftikhar, the national legal director of CAIR in Washington.

"She’s a one-woman dynamo," he said. "It’s interesting that although San Antonio is one of our smaller chapters, it is one of our most active, primarily because of her energy and drive."

Much remains misunderstood about the Muslim community. What’s clear, Husain and other Muslim community advocates say, is that 9-11 made everything from holding down a job to buying a few things at the grocery store more difficult…

Husain gets a lot of hate mail. Although she reads through it, she never responds because, she said, "What would be the point?"

In her work, Husain stands up for the right to wear a hijab one day, then organizes a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless with a group of young Muslim volunteers the next.

When her two grown children still lived at home, the family celebrated Ramadan, and enjoyed decorating a Christmas tree. She said she has taught her daughter and son — both born in the United States — the importance of understanding two cultures.

She reads the Koran and the Bible, and espouses her convictions in a way that contradicts the submissive stereotype of a Muslim woman and has won her many admirers…

Husain and others in the Muslim community estimate about 20,000 Muslims live in San Antonio, but no official study has been conducted and the U.S. Census doesn’t track religion. And while outward displays of discrimination are rare here, arsonists torched several Muslim-owned businesses in the aftermath of 9-11, and Husain has fielded dozens of complaints from Muslims ranging from employers who fire or demote them to children who are beaten up at school for being Muslim

Husain quickly moved to work for unity.

Soon after 9-11, she accepted former Mayor Ed Garza’s invitation to sit on a community task force with people representing different religions. She also started a monthly Muslim newspaper, Al-Ittihaad, which means unity in Arabic. The growing, 12-page English-language Muslim newspaper is distributed free throughout Texas and mailed to paying subscribers in 25 cities across the United States. It can be found at 570 grocery stores, gas stations, churches and mosques and even City Hall in San Antonio.

Husain, who also writes opinion columns for the Express-News, felt the mainstream media aren’t reporting news stories in a fair manner when it comes to Muslims.

"It was something I felt the community needed," she says of her newspaper. "There is so much out there that never makes it to your paper or the television news."

She is also the president of the Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus and the founder of the American Muslim Youth Association. She gives talks on various issues including women, Islam, American Muslims, ethnic media and politics; travels out of state at least once a month; and logs about 2,000 miles in-state on a monthly basis.

She’s seen discrimination first-hand.

Standing at a checkout line at an electronics store in San Antonio one day, she noticed a woman glance at her, then clutch her husband’s arm.

"I’m with you," the man told his wife. "There’s nothing she can do to you. The guards are out there."

Looking back at the incident, Husain said she felt sorry for the couple.

"I wanted to reach out to them and say, ‘It’s OK, I’m just like you,’ and then hug them, but I was afraid the woman was going to scream if I tried to touch her or say anything at all," Husain said.

In another incident, in 2004, a group of men followed her home after she’d attended an event at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.

At first, she thought they were teenagers and ignored them as they pulled up beside her yelling profanities and discriminatory phrases.

Once she parked in her driveway and started taking the groceries out of her car, the men started shooting paintballs at her. Husain quickly took off running into the house.

"I thought they were using real guns," she said.

She called 9-1-1 and filed a police report, but as far as she knows, the men never were caught.

In her work with Muslims who have faced discrimination, Husain listens. She also helps people file complaints with the EEOC and the police and sheriff’s departments. Sometimes, she talks directly to the employer or, if children are being bullied or harassed at school, the principal.

She also meets personally with city leaders and executives to encourage sensitivity training and keeps all complaints confidential

Born and raised in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, Husain has long walked the line between fidelity to her culture and faith and a yearning for independence that is part of many Muslim women’s experience.

She grew up in an upper middle-class family, the daughter of a mechanical engineer, Abdullah Hassan, who left home to study in England. When he returned to Hyderabad, Deccan, a predominantly Muslim independent state in south-central India, he joined the army and married Husain’s mother, who was 14, in an arranged marriage. Both parents now are deceased.

When Husain became a teenager, she told her father she wanted to move to the United States.

"In my mind, the United States was such a huge free place," she said. "It was a place I knew I wanted to be in."

Her father refused, but Husain never let up.

"One day he told me, ‘Fine, but first you have to get married,’ and he said this knowing that I didn’t want to get married, so he thought I would change my mind," she said.

Much to her father’s surprise, she agreed to an arranged marriage. She was 17.

Her husband, Mohammed Zakir Husain, 11 years her senior, was working on his doctorate from the University of North Texas in Denton when he came home on vacation to marry Husain.

They had never met before their wedding day and are still married today after 36 years. They have two grown children, a daughter and a son, and three grandchildren…

She also prays five times a day, the standard for Muslims, and keeps a notebook by her bed so she can jot down ideas when they come to her in the middle of the night.

"You never know when an idea will come to your mind and you have to write it down right there and then," she said on a recent morning…

But San Antonio and the United States are her home now, and her new country is a place she’s willing to fight for.

"I’m so proud to be an American," she said. "This is a country where you can be free to be who you are, and that includes picking your religion."

Hey, this Sarwat Husain sounds like a pretty moderate Muslim, doesn’t she? A role model even.

Surely the San Antonio Express-News reporter checked out Ms. Husain’s other contributions to the understanding of our differences, such as this essay she wrote for Al Jazeera during the Mohammad Cartoon Riots last year:

Prophet Muhammed cartoons show media’s double standard

By Sarwat Husain

Al-Jazeerah, February 12, 2006

The anger shown by some of the Muslims around the world in response to the provocative cartoons of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) published in some of the Western media, is not the way prophet Mohammad himself would have reacted. All the Western Muslim organizations, leaders and Masajid (mosques) unequivocally denounced the violent reaction from some of the Muslims in those countries.

The unethical double standards that are shown by the Western media and from all the other quarters are not surprising or anything new. Starting during the centuries of Crusades, all sorts of slanders were invented against our beloved prophet Mohammad. Even today, in this modern age of enlightenment, the propaganda against Islam, its prophet and his followers continue through different channels of media, self proclaimed scholars, some politicians, and hate-promoting right-wing evangelists, only to cash in by creating misunderstandings and misperceptions.

These people have made it their core position to bash, one way or another, the faith of one-third of the countries of the world.

This attitude of ignorance, arrogance and hiding behind the dogma of free speech and the freedom of expression is destructive to the rest of the world.

In order to understand the Danish and other Western newspapers’ judgment to publish these cartoons, we must ask if it really is the right of freedom of expression or an intentional attempt to provoke a violent reaction when the tensions are already at their peak between the West and the Muslim world.

Long before publishing these particular cartoons of the prophet Mohammad, in April 2003, Danish illustrator Mr. Christopher Zieler submitted a series of cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten, the same newspaper that published prophet Mohammad’s cartoons. But the paper refused to run the drawings, according to UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian said the Sunday editor of the Danish publication, Jen Kaiser, sent an e-mail to Zieler saying, "I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them."

But when it came to the respect of Muslims feelings, the same newspaper takes a 180-degree turn from its policies of respect for Christians and Jews and publishes the disgraceful and inflammatory images in the name of freedom of speech, civility and the "we don’t care about you" attitude.

In addition, publishing anything anti-Semitic and against the Holocaust is against the law in much of the European countries. The Danish Constitution says, "The law prohibits publicly disseminated statements, which threaten, insult, or degrade persons based on their religion."

But they have a free passport and an open season to degrade Islam, Muslims in whatever, whenever and however they want. There are no laws to protect the Muslims citizens of the country. Double standards?

In journalism classes, it is taught that the concept of freedom of expression in a democratic society must always be balanced by the no-less-important notion of social responsibility. In this case, the West has crossed all the boundaries of civility for the followers of Islam.

If the Western media and the rest of the hemisphere could get to know who really the prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was as a human being if not as the messenger of God, they may learn a thing or two about how to behave in a civilized and responsible manner.

Many non-Muslim writers gave him the credit for being the most effective leader in the history of the world.

One of them is French writer, poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine who says in his Histoire de la Turquie, "If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Mohammad?

"The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, people and dynasties, but millions of men in one third of then inhabited world; and more then that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls."

In order to practice what they preach, perhaps the West can learn from Mohammad: "the greatness of purpose, smallness of means" in place of a "we-are-better-than-you attitude" to become civil once again to achieve peace.

How many hundreds of people died because of this preposterous feigned outrage? And what did the moderate Ms. Husain do to try to stem it?

Nothing. Instead, she helped whip it up with her lies and re-writing of recent events and ancient history.

Speaking of which, here is another sampling of Ms. Hussain’s thoughtful ponderings from the Islamic Research Foundation:

What is wrong with Islam

Sarwat Hussain, leader of the San Antonio chapter of CAIR, called herself a born again Muslim and was proud to wrap her head in the traditional Islamic woman’s headscarf known as the hijab.

The Islamic women are the most misunderstood women in the world, Hussain said.

Hussain lectured mostly on women within Islam and her time as a Muslim woman in the United States. She felt privileged to be a part of a religion that gave so many rights to its women. The fight for feminism in the West has been done already for Muslim women in Islam, Hussain said. She discussed how women were oppressed throughout history all across the world, from the lack of property rights in Greece to American women receiving their right to vote only within the last 100 years. All those rights were given to women 1,400 years ago [in Islam], Hussain said.

Hussain also praised the institution of marriage as a vital part of Islam and the rest of society. In Islam, men and women, husband and wife, complement each other, she said.

As the leader of CAIR in San Antonio, Hussain volunteers to stand up against injustices locally, just so a Muslim voice has a say in the matter. CAIR provides legal assistance to Muslims who are discriminated against. Hussain says this assistance is also available for non-Muslims who feel their rights as citizens are being undermined.

By the way, Ms. Husain is also violently opposed to the war in Iraq. Which the San Antonio Express-News should know, since she graciously sent them her worthy sentiments on the issue:

Blame game won’t save lives, but withdrawal from Iraq will

06/29/2006 12:00 AM CDT

Sarwat Husain

The recent deaths of the two young American soldiers in Iraq are another extremely painful reminder of the unnecessary war we are fighting in Iraq and its tragic consequences.

On behalf of the American Muslim community, I extend our sincerest condolences to the families of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, for their tragic loss.

We are deeply disturbed by the way they were barbarically tortured and killed. We do not know for sure who perpetrated these crimes or who the killers were. They could be insurgents, al-Qaida affiliates or just petty criminals. Regardless, there is no doubt that they are cold-blooded murderers.

As soon as the news reports of the slayings appeared, the Muslim community started receiving blame, accusations of collective guilt and demands for apologies. If such apologies and condemnation statements, which Muslim organizations and groups issue each time any such crime is committed against coalition soldiers, would prevent further killings, these latest murders would not have taken place.

Instead of this juvenile blame game, which does not achieve any constructive understanding, let all of us Americans join hands and truly start working together to stop any more loss of lives.

These brutal, savage and barbaric killings are a product of every war fought in history. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said, "The truth is that in the name of fighting terrorism we are creating more terrorists." …

For the sake of not losing anymore lives to this unprecedented war, we must demand an unconditional withdrawal of all American forces from the war zone

Instead of blaming terrorists for kidnapping, torturing and beheading two of our soldiers, we should surrender to the terrorists.

What a hero. What a great role model for our young women.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, February 7th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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