Friday, July 29, 2016

Helping Refugees in North Carolina

Helping Refugees in North Carolina

by James (Munir) Perry, Muslims for Social Justice organizer

Suleiman Alzoubu, 35, and Tawfeek  Alzoubi, 37, not related but both are from the Syrian City of Daraa. Sitting and talking with them about how they came to be refugees from Syria living in Raleigh NC, I realized they’re no different from any other family from any part of the world except for the fact that they have lived through the trauma of Civil War and becoming refugees.

Tawfeek says prior to the civil war they were normal people living normal lives in the city of Daraa, Syria. The town had a lot of shops, restaurants, and activity. In 2012 things took a sudden turn that changed the course of their lives.

 I purposely did not use the terms; rebels or terrorist, I wanted to hear from them what they thought was the cause of the violence. They never once brought up politics, ethnic conflicts, or religion. They shared, the only force protecting them from the Syrian Army attacks were the Syrian Free Army.

Suleiman was living and working in Dubai when he received news that civil war had broken out in his homeland and the government soldiers were causing residents of other villages close to Daraa to flee for their lives. So, he bravely returned to Syria from Dubai to be with his family.
One by one the shops began to close as the situation became more and more dangerous, until there were no more shops open in the village. Tawfeek shares how the people had developed a civilian network from village to village that allowed people of his, and neighboring villages to get supplies to each other. Daily life had become a struggle to survive. Their village was fired on by bombs, rockets, and sniper fire. Tawfeek shares too many of his neighbors and friends died due to short range gunfire, too many to comprehend.

Suleiman Alzoubu
Photography by James Perry

Things deteriorated to the point that Suleiman and Tawfeek had to flee to other villages with their families to survive. While fleeing their village on a crowded bus full of men, women, and children, the bus was attacked by the Syrian Military. 

Suleiman was shot in his arm and leg during the attack, and his wife Demah was shot in her leg and has suffered some hearing loss from the bombs and rockets blast, others on the fleeing bus were also injured or killed. (From Allah we come...)

Suleiman had to leave his family in a Daraa village so he could travel to Jordan for 4 months to receive medical attention for his injuries, which he is still recovering from.

Their story is the horrifying reality of civil war that most people have never seen, these unarmed citizens trying to flee for the safety of themselves and their families were like sitting ducks fired upon with rockets, bombs and sniper rounds by their own army, which should’ve protected them instead. “I’m trying to understand what would drive Muslim Syrian soldiers to kill children?

Tawfeek relates that it was a very hard on the children particularly in the tent camps, fleeing violence and living in makeshift camps along the way to Jordan, and getting refugee status. He says it was very negative and rough living in refugee camps. A bright spot; The people of Jordan including the soldiers treated them kindly.

Tawfeek Alzoubi
Photography by James Perry

Tawfeek's brothers were captured by Syrian soldiers and tortured but later released. His cousin wasn’t as fortunate, he was killed. (From Allah we come...) Suliman and Tawfeek along their families lived in refugee camps eventually making renting an apartment in Jordan in 2012 until June 2016.

Moving to Jordan and eventually the US was difficult for the children because of the cultural differences It has taken the children time to adjust. While in Jordan they made contact with the UN and eventually received refugee status which allowed them to get services from organizations that work with refugees, in their case the International Organization for Immigration. They accepted immigration to the United States, Raleigh NC arriving in June 2016, less than two months ago.
Since arriving in Raleigh the brothers and their families have received relocation support services from Lutheran Services Carolina and U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants – NC, Muslim Net, North Raleigh Masjid, and many others generous local Muslims and businesses. Suliman and Tawfeek biggest surprise was how welcoming and supportive the Raleigh Muslim Community has been to them.  As you can imagine moving to a new country and new culture, were you are forced to start life over is not an easy transition. These two families and many others like them here in Raleigh need our continued support and prayers while adjusting to their new life in America.

I interviewed Nasser Shahin, Director of Al-Muslim Net. He shared with many the wonderful comprehensive support they offer to new immigrant families to the Triangle.  Muslim Net is notified by Lutheran Services or USCRI that a new family is coming to Raleigh or Durham NC. Muslim Net is a 100% volunteer and donation driven organization, however, the work they do is amazing. When a new immigrant family is arriving Muslim Net gets right to work preparing for their arrival. Social Service agencies could learn a lot from this volunteer organization. They setup transportation and “meet and greet” from the airport; they provide completely furnish apartments for the arriving families with just about everything they need:
Stocked refrigerators; pots and pans; washer and dryers; hot food; transportation to appointments; translation services; orientation to their new city; cell phones; job searches; children’s school registration; school supplies; toothpaste and just about anything else they may need to make their transition from refugee to new immigrant as comfortable and worry free as possible. 

For all of the great work that Nasser and his organization is doing coordinating donations and services they are not in search of praise Alhumdulilah! They say if it wasn’t for the great response and generosity from the Triangle Muslim Community, they wouldn’t be able to provide for the needs of our new immigrant families.

During the month of Ramadan Muslim Net provided all of the services and donations listed above to 1 new family every 4.5 days.  Nasser says providing all of the support services to a new family every 4 days is very intense and demanding. Muslim Net is in need of volunteers and continued donations so they can continue to provide these amazing services to new immigrant Muslim families.

If you like to volunteer or donate to Muslim Net contact them at,, and request to be added to their email list. Nasser says no donation or volunteer effort is too small. This is the real Islam the media tries to hide, but the light of Islam will continue to shine on.

Thank you to Tawfeek, Suleiman and their families for sharing their life-changing events with us.
Thank you to Tareq Ali for facilitating and translating for the interview. Thank you to all of you who have assisted our brothers and sister in any way at all. May Allah reward you and bless you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#BlackLivesMatter Action in Durham on 7/21/16

Hundreds of people gathered in front of Durham police headquarters at 6pm on Thursday (7/21) evening. As the crowd grew, the rally took over the intersection (Chapel Hill St and Duke St) blocking the flow of traffic in all directions. Seven Black and POC organizers chained themselves to the railing outside of the police department. Meanwhile, white comrades, connected to one another with lockboxes, blocked Duke St. 

The program featured speakers from a number of organization, including MSJ (thank you to Q for speaking), as well as Black Youth Project 100, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), Workers World Party, Durham Solidarity Center, Showing Up For Racial Justice - Triangle (SURJ), Black Workers for Justice, SpiritHouse, and others. Speakers denounced violence and terror the police systematically inflict against Black people and spoke about the need to re-invest in the welfare of our communities—by prioritizing community needs, first and foremost, and re-directing resources to job programs, affordable housing, education, healthcare, etc. Many recognized that we find ourselves in a moment within the larger movement that is spreading nationwide, and we cannot afford to stay silent.

Importantly, many speakers uplifted the names of those killed by police nationwide, as well as here in our state—just this year, Akiel Denkins was killed in Raleigh, Deriante Miller in Kinston, and Jai "Jerry" Williams in Asheville. Their names were lifted up throughout the evening.

Further, rally organizers paid close attention to the role police plays locally. Annually, the Durham Police Department already receives nearly $60 million of the city budget. The Durham Police Department this year was found to demonstrate alarming racial bias against Black residents in their policing but has not faced any funding restrictions from city officials. Over the past year, Durham Beyond Policing, a local campaign opposing the building of a new police headquarters and demanding investment in Black and Brown community, has called city’s attention to the harm that the police bring to communities of color.  

After the larger crowd dispersed, protesters engaging in civil disobedience and their supporters remained at the intersection until midnight, having blocked traffic in all four directions for six hours total. The rally was part of #FreedomNow national day of action, a call for which was issued by the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of Black racial justice organizations. 

The rally received significant coverage in local media: 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Black Lives Matter/End Islamophobia Forum at UE150 Biannual Convention

North Carolina Public Workers Union, UE Local 150, organized biannual convention in Raleigh on July 16-17, 2016. Delegates from 16 workplaces from across the state gathered to discuss the current political landscape, to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and show important gains of the Fight for $15 movement and plan steps for the next 2 years of struggle! UE Local 150 is rank-and-file and predominantly Black workers led organization. Nationally, UE (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America) is one of the most progressive unions in the country that believes in workers empowerment than business unionism. UE has embraced the movement for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israeli occupation, based on a motion by UE Local 150 chapter. This makes UE the only national union to adopt such a measure.

During the convention, a panel on Black Lives Matter and Ending Islamophobia was organized. This invited speeches by Danielle Purifoy from Durham Beyond Policing and Manzoor Cheema from Muslims for Social Justice. This panel explored the theme of police oppression and envisioning a future without policing. Islamophobia is an extension of anti-Black racism and it is increasingly employed as a divide-and-conquer strategy. The following is the speech on Islamophobia:

"Islamophobia, or bigotry against Muslims, is an extension of anti-Black racism. Islam and Muslims are not a race, but they have been reduced to a race or racialized. We should also keep in mind that a significant number of Muslims are Black Muslims. Significant number of Muslims came to the USA through slavery. About 30% of slaves were Muslims. Their religion and heritage was robbed. After slavery, many Black people converted or reverted to Islam and established some of the first mosques in the country. Large number of immigrant Muslims came to the USA after 1965 visa policy change that allowed Black and Brown immigrants to come to the USA. This was a result of the civil rights movement's demand to increase quote for non-European immigrants. As immigrant Muslims, we owe a debt to Black Muslims and anti-racism movement.
Islamophobia, like other oppressions, is a result of the crisis of capitalism. Capitalist forces have always required tools to divide people and pit victims of exploitation against each other. Working class whites have historically supported anti-Black policies that have also hurt their class interests. As the country witnesses one of the highest inequalities in more than 100 years; capitalist and white supremacist forces employ homophobia, xenophobia against immigrants and Islamophobia to further divide-and-conquer working and oppressed people. The work by UE Local 150, the largest rank-and-file public workers union in North Carolina, is exemplary in building intersectional movement. UE Local 150 is led by Black workers and has brought Black Liberation perspective to labor organizing. UE Local 150 has also supported global anti-colonial movements, namely support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Israel occupation. Your achievement in working outside the “business unionism” model and connecting issues of race, class, gender, sexuality (UE150 came out strongly against transphobic HB2 law) and wars abroad is an inspiration for progressive allies.
As Muslims for Social Justice, we are committed to linking the movement against Islamophobia with Black Liberation and worker rights movement. We do not take the issue of solidarity lightly. Solidarity is beyond sentimentality. Our goal is to organize Muslims working class and link them with the movement led by Black Workers for Justice and UE Local 150. This organizing work in the Muslim community and joining the broader workers and progressive movement is essential to topple the oppressive balance of power. Nothing short of that will solve the root cause of oppression. Muslims for Social Justice will launch a paper “Muslims Workers” soon that will be used as an organizing tool in Muslim working places. We look forward to learning from and developing a longterm partnership with Black Workers for Justice and UE Local 150, as we launch this important chapter of organizing Muslims workers."
Here are pictures from the event

From Mourning to Organizing for Justice

Anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon exclaimed decades ago, “When we revolt, it's not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe!” His prophetic words became a tragic reality for Eric Garner who repeated "I can't breathe" eleven times as he died on July 14, 2014, while in a chokehold by a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer. I can't breathe has become a metaphor for oppressive survival in a racist society.
There was an outrage when images of Alton Sterling being shot multiple times circulated on the media. Sterling was killed while he was held to the ground by Louisiana police officers. This outrage turned into a revolt when, just one day later, a video of fatal shooting of Philando Castile, this time by a Minnesota police officer, circulated on the media. Anti-racism activists mobilized across the country against these killings. However, they were quickly demonized in the wake of the tragic shooting of five police officers in Dallas, TX. Before the dust settled on Dallas tragedy, former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh declared on Twitter, "3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you." What started as a revolt against police brutality was met with an immediate attempt to criminalize the movement and suffocate dissent. 
Mourning the death of Sterling and Castile, and not allowing the Dallas tragedy dampen the #BlackLivesMatter movement, were major themes during vigils in Raleigh. North Carolina-based Black Workers for Justice, condemned police brutality and institutional racism. They also emphasized the need to raise voice against other oppressions, including Islamophobia. Muslims have been all too familiar when tragic instances are hijacked to de-humanize the entire Muslim community. Black Workers for Justice statement read:
"We must not be deterred from challenging these police killings of our people. Like the mainstream media and government efforts to use the Orlando, FL, massacre to promote Islamophobia, the Dallas, TX, shootings of police will be another attempt to place the blame on the movement for Black liberation highlighted by the slogan Black Lives Matter."
Raleigh has seen police brutality of its own when Black youth Akiel Denkins was killed by a Raleigh police officer on February 29, 2016. His killing led to the establishment of a coalition demanding justice in policing, called Raleigh PACT or Police Accountability Community Taskforce. PACT played a key role in organizing the vigil to create a space for mourning and healing in the wake of murders of Denkins, Sterling, Castile and a Black man Jerry Williams killed in Asheville on July 2, 2016. Denkin's mother, Rolanda Byrd, spoke against police brutality and called for justice during the vigil. "It has taken a tragedy, the five officers that were killed in Dallas, to wake up the conversation on how black families are being treated on a daily basis," Byrd said during her speech.
The fact that Alton Sterling was killed while selling CDs and Eric Garner was killed while selling loose cigarettes has highlighted the oppressive subsistence living conditions for many Black Americans, whose real crime is being Black and poor. During a prayer vigil at As-Salaam Islamic Center in Southeast Raleigh, there was a call for diverting money to Black-owned businesses and banks. South East Raleigh has established a Black and Brown led food co-op, called Fertile Ground, in a predominantly Black neighborhood designated by the local government as a “food desert”. Building indigenous economy and providing healthy food to the marginalized communities are at the core of co-op's mission of grassroots empowerment.
The recent murders of Black people have taken place at a distance, but they are close to the lived experience of many in North Carolina. After mourning, there was a movement in the community to organize for justice.