Many of us take for granted the rights we have been given in America, be it the right to religion, free expression, freedom of association and much, much more. However, as the post-9/11 period in America has demonstrated so far, these civil rights are dangerously slipping away in big and small ways. Muslims across the country have been detained without charge, denied the right to an attorney, had their freedom of speech curbed, and lost their right to be treated fairly, to name just a few violations.
This is why it is Muslims who must now lead the second fight for civil rights in this country, which were first won by African-Americans over 30 years ago. Here are some simple but significant things you can do to enhance civil rights for all in America.
1. Know what civil rights are and when they are violated
For many of us, "civil rights" conjures up vague ideas about freedom, privacy and political activism. But the term refers to a package of hard won rights every single American (and non-American living in the US) is entitled to. Find out more about exactly what your civil rights are and how you can protect them. Also find out what is considered a violation of civil rights.
According to the Legal Information Institute, "a civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury." Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public place.
Some organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), provide information specifically aimed at Muslims, to teach about civil rights and what to do when they are violated.
2. Read about the civil rights movement
It's not enough to just know your rights. Understanding how hard Americans, particularly African-Americans, fought for these rights will give you a greater appreciation for civil rights. It may also motivate you to be even more protective of them as the threat to them will possibly increase with more anti-terror legislation.
3. Teach others about the civil rights and the movement
Let your parents, spouse, siblings, children and friends all find out about their rights. You don't have to just talk to them about it informally. You could hold a family meeting, read a children's book about the civil rights movement to your kids, or discuss a case in the news that involves violation civil rights with your parents. Be creative!
4. Hold a civil rights workshop at your local mosque or Islamic center
Work with your local mosque or Islamic center to educate fellow Muslims about their civil rights. In post-9/11 America, this is more important than ever before. Since Muslims tend to gravitate towards the mosque as the center of the community, this provides an excellent forum for educating the community.
5. Visit the civil rights museum
Don’t' just rely on books, videos, and CD-rom in your quest for civil rights education. Add some fun to it by taking a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Take a long weekend drive to this repository of civil rights information and history. Click here for more information about it.
6. Don't tolerate violations of civil rights
Knowledge is only half the battle. Once you know your civil rights, it's critical to be able to defend them. That means if your civil rights have been violated in any way (i.e. through discrimination at an airport), then be ready and willing to seek justice through the proper channels.
Also, be prepared to defend the civil rights of others.
7. Report civil rights violations to Muslim and non-Muslim organizations
This will help compile accurate data about civil rights violations. Don't just report it to Muslim organizations like CAIR, but also report to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
8. Support Muslim civil rights initiatives
Muslim civil rights organizations are few and far between, which is why they need our support. Donate your money and/or time by helping with fundraising, promoting and attending their programs, and signing up for their newsletters or alerts if they have them.