Muslim-American Leaders Meet with Obama at White House
President Barack Obama met behind closed doors Wednesday at the White House with 14 Muslim Americans, including a leader with a Dearborn-based group, for an hour-long discussion about civil rights, anti-Muslim bias, and extremism.
It was the first time the president has held a round-table meeting with Muslim-American leaders, said participants. He’s had round-table discussions in the White House with African-American, Jewish-American and labor leaders, but never Muslim-American advocates.
“It was a very frank and candid exchange,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, who attended the session. “I commend the president for sitting down and hearing the hopes and dreams of American Muslims.”
It came at a time of renewed discussion about the issue of potential radicalization of Muslims in the West. After the terror attacks last month in France, Obama said that Muslims in the U.S. have assimilated better than those in Europe.
Also at the Wednesday afternoon’s meeting were Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Among the participants was Farhan Latif, chief operating officer at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a think tank in Dearborn founded and led by Muslim Americans. Other Muslim-American advocates who attended the meeting were former residents of metro Detroit, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, and Sherman Jackson, a professor who teaches Islam at the University of Southern California and used to teach at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
In a statement about the meeting, the White House said: “The president reiterated his administration’s commitment to safeguarding civil rights through hate crimes prosecutions and civil enforcement actions,” according to The Hill. Obama talked about countering ISIS “and other groups that commit horrific acts of violence, purportedly in the name of Islam” and he urged Muslim Americans “to remain civically engaged in their communities.”
The Muslim-American leaders at the meeting said they were told they should not talk afterward to the news media about what Obama said during the discussion.
Khera said “the timing of the meeting couldn’t have been better” because in recent weeks, a growing number of people have attacked Islam and Muslims in the West, saying they pose a threat. After the terror attacks in France, some have again claimed that cities like Dearborn with big Muslim populations are under sharia, Islamic law, or have no-go zones. This week’s revelation that ISIS had burned alive a captured Jordian military pilot has also stoked some anti-Muslim sentiment.
Khera said she asked Obama “to use his bully pulpit” to speak out against “anti-Muslim hate and bigotry.” She suggested that the White House hold a summit for Muslim-American youths similar to one it had for LGBT youths “that really raised a heightened level of public consciousness around the issue.”
Khera also expressed concern about the new revised profiling guidelines issued by Attorney General Eric Holder in December. The guidelines restricted some racial and religious profiling but continued to allow it at borders, airports, and for national security efforts, which Muslim Americans say often targets them.
“It fell short,” Khera said.
Khera asked Obama to nominate a Muslim American as a federal judge, saying there has not been a federal judge in the U.S. who is Muslim.
Also discussed at the White House meeting was a program by the Obama administration to counter radicalization by working with Muslim Americans in cities with sizable Muslim populations.
Other participants at the meeting included Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America, which held its annual convention in Detroit last year; Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah; Rahat Hussain, a leader with the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), a Shia Muslim advocacy group; and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a graduate assistant with Indiana State University’s women’s basketball team who played basketball while wearing the Islamic head scarf.
The meeting with Obama took place for about an hour, followed by 45 minutes of additional discussions with Jarrett and Rhodes.
It sparked a discussion online Wednesday night, with some conservatives saying the meeting promoted extremism, while defenders mocked their criticisms with a hashtag on Twitter called #MuslimMeeting that poked fun at the idea that Muslims are trying to take over the White House and U.S.
This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.