Meeting of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
"Employment Discrimination in the Aftermath of September 11"
December 11, 2001
On behalf of the Muslim-American community and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, I'd like to thank you all for inviting us here today and for taking the time to hear me.
My name is Arshad Majid. I am an attorney from Long Island, New York.
As a result of events that followed in the aftermath of the attacks suffered by our country on September 11, 2001, many American-Muslims from all walks of life have encountered discrimination in the workplace.
I am here to convey just a few instances of employment discrimination experienced by Muslims in America since September 11th. The material I will present to you today contains actual cases collected in consultation with members of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, an organization of Muslim-American legal professionals.
I'd like to start by asking us all to remind ourselves that we live in a country that prides itself on justice, tolerance and respect for the rule of law.
American-Muslims share that pride because Islam is a peaceful, tolerant and monotheistic religion that shares the Abrahamic foundations of Christianity and Judaism. Followers of Islam are found in every country in the world. There are estimated to be nearly seven million Muslims in the United States and it has been widely reported that Islam is the fastest growing religion both globally and in America, second in followers only to Christianity.
Muslims in America comprise a diverse demographic group within a wide range of professions and industries. They work with us, live amongst us, are professionals and entrepreneurs, own businesses and are prominent in academia, the sciences and medicine.
American-Muslims have worked very hard and sacrificed much to educate themselves in the hope of creating a better future for their loved ones and their communities. Due to the Islamic emphasis on knowledge and education, a large proportion of Muslims in America hold advanced degrees and work in highly prominent fields.
Yet Islam remains far from being truly understood by the average American. In fact, although American-Muslims are heavily represented in well-respected professions and perform functions vital to our local and national economies, they have repeatedly been victims of prejudice and misinformation in private, public and corporate settings.
On September 11, three difficult months ago, a horrific and immoral crime committed against our country by a cult of murdering individuals set into motion a series of events of which we are yet to see the full consequences.
From the perspective of those unfortunate Muslim Americans who have been victims of employment discrimination, their American dream has turned into a nightmare, where as a result of the criminal acts of persons they have never heard of nor had any connection to, they have nevertheless been forced from their jobs, labeled as criminals and shunned from their professional communities for no perceptible reason other than the way they look, dress, speak or worship.
This unjust persecution has caused many faultless innocents in America to lose their livelihoods, their careers, their homes and in some cases, their lives.
Here are but a few specific examples of employment discrimination reported by American-Muslims since September 11, 2001.
Shortly after September 11th, a Muslim nurse in New York City was threatened by a co-worker who vowed to do what she could to "kill Muslims". When this threat was reported to a supervisor, the Muslim woman was encouraged to take some time off. Prior to returning to work after her leave, she was informed that her duties had been modified and that she had been transferred to a different department. When asked why she was, in effect, being demoted, she was told by her supervisor that it was for her own safety. The co-worker who threatened her was not asked to take time off, nor were her duties changed.
A young Muslim man was questioned by a colleague why he had a screen saver showing the World Trade Center on his laptop. He responded that he had downloaded the screen saver shortly after the attacks as a memento of the city skyline that he had admired so much. Shortly thereafter, he was summoned to his supervisor's office, asked to turn in his security clearance, keys, laptop and all other office property and ordered to immediately leave the office. When he asked what was happening, he was told that he was now considered a security risk and therefore, he was being terminated.
A middle-aged Muslim man had worked for a firm. Like many Muslims, he attended a mosque for congregational prayer each Friday. As a service to the mosque and in the hopes of creating a greater understanding of his faith, he had been distributing pamphlets with information about Islam to non-Muslims in his free time. For purposes of convenience, he kept some of this written material secured in his office desk.
A few days after the attacks on September 11, he was told to report to the corporate security office. There, he was questioned about the material recovered from his office desk and repeatedly harassed and threatened by corporate security officials who accused him of being associated with terrorism. His explanations were met with ridicule as were his supervisor's supporting statements about his exemplary record with the company. A short while later, he was informed that he was being terminated from his position.
Each of these individuals that I have described to you has a spouse and children who depend on them for the basic necessities of life. To this date, none of them has found new employment.
These are but a few instances of blatant and insidious employment discrimination of Muslims in the United Stateswhich I am able to convey to you in the time I have been given.
Hundreds of other cases have been reported to Muslim-American organizations and agencies that are responsive to the plight of these unfortunate persons. Hundreds and possibly thousands more have gone unreported due to the diminished faith in our legal system by those who have been the targets of discrimination.
Similar to members of other faiths, the overwhelming majority of American-Muslims are peaceful, tolerant and law-abiding citizens. In fact, these qualities are specifically espoused by their religion of Islam. American-Muslim individuals and organizations openly and vociferously condemned the horrific acts of September 11, yet in the unfortunate fallout, many now find themselves unemployed or employed in capacities and circumstances that unjustly diminish their efforts and professional qualifications. Others find themselves working in hostile work environments where colleagues who once befriended them now ridicule and harass them for their faith or for their ethnic heritage. Some American Muslims have received death threats from co-workers. Others have been forced to leave their jobs fearing for their personal safety.
Though our nation has every right to defend itself and to be secure from any threat of attack, and though our government's efforts toward these goals may be well-intentioned, the harm to innocents singled out on the basis of their faith or ethnic origin is contrary to our democratic principles. To single out members of a vibrant, diverse, peaceful and God-fearing religion for the criminal actions of a handful of zealots undermines our nation's values and discredits our proud American heritage.
The hundreds of American-Muslims that have been, and the several hundred more that are expected to be detained in the ongoing dragnet search for terrorists present an additional employment discrimination problem for American-Muslims after September 11th. The overwhelming majority of those detained are the sole providers for their families. Often taken without notice and with no information given as to their whereabouts or conditions, these detainees are unlikely to be able to keep their jobs if they do not show up for work and no one is aware of their whereabouts.
What images are left in the mind of an employer when he learns why the detainee did not show up for work? Who pays the rent and the utility bills for the families of these detainees? Who will feed their children? What are their employment prospects when they are eventually released from detention but still bear the indelible mark of being a September 11th detainee and suspected terrorist?
The EEOC has done much to respond to employment discrimination faced by Muslims and other American minorities since September 11, and we applaud that effort. I offer a few suggestions to supplement this endeavor.
We believe an EEOC national toll-free hotline for victims of discrimination is crucial. All efforts must be made to encourage victims of discrimination to come forward and be heard with no fear of recrimination or further victimization. Next, harassment and discrimination in the workplace must be well-documented, and victims need to be counseled about their rights under the law and referred to legal and employment services. There must be ongoing supervision to ensure that the needs of those who have been victimized are addressed in full.
Employers should be required to create and maintain an environment where information is readily imparted to all employees regarding the treatment of religious, ethnic and racial diversity in the workplace. This information must be conveyed to employees on a regular basis in a group environment where any misunderstandings or miscommunications can be immediately addressed. The definition and identification of the various forms of workplace discrimination and the rights and remedies available for persons victimized by employers or co-workers should be made clear to all employees.
Special attention must be given to the forms of discrimination that have become all too common in light of the media's continued and narrow focus on the tragedy of September 11th and its aftermath. Finally, particular attention must be given to the reality that adverse employment action continues to be taken against individuals who have been fully cleared of any wrongdoing by an overinclusive law enforcement effort.
The EEOC must redouble its efforts to work with law enforcement and employers at all levels of to develop procedures to ensure that any person who is questioned in connection with the September 11th investigation is not subject to adverse employment action, and that their clearance or exoneration by law enforcement is made public to all those who may be aware of the investigation.
Tolerance for all religions, ethnicities and races must be stressed and employers must be held to the highest levels of compliance by strict agency oversight. Given the current atmosphere, employers of Muslims should be provided incentives to establish sensitivity training for management and all employees, and to remain vigilant against harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Special efforts must be made to regain the trust of those in the Muslim-American community, making it clear that cases of discrimination against them will be addressed quickly, fairly and justly.
Finally, corporations should be made aware that in the global economy, treatment of any one particular group in a negative manner will be reflected in the company's bottom line. When Muslims are discriminated against or marginalized in the United States, news of these events reported by the media reaches the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the Muslim world. This information serves not only to diminish the reputation and sales of that company but also negatively affects the image of our nation and the reputation of our leaders overseas.
The fact that we have been invited here today indicates that there is hope that these vital issues can be addressed and resolved. We are optimistic that the employment discrimination faced by American-Muslims in the backlash following the tragic events of September 11, 2001 can be corrected with ppropriate attention and care.
This hearing is an important step towards a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in the American workplace and the vital role that we play in our nation's workforce and economy.
I thank you for your time and attention.
This page was last modified on December 17, 2001.
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