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December 04, 2020
Unholier Than Thou
The military is watching you pray

In This Episode

Show notes:

Attend MPV’s Celebration of Life

 

Transcript

 

Phillip Picardi: We all want to win the Georgia runoff, so that’s why we’re supporting the people making it possible, the organizers on the ground. They delivered the win for Joe Biden this year and we want to make sure they can do it again for January’s Senate runoffs. Our Every Last Vote, Peaches and Dreams Fund supports organizers on the ground via America Votes Georgia, which has long been helping groups that have built the infrastructure to mobilize their communities to vote. If you’re able to support donate at vote at VoteSaveAmerica dot com/everylastvote.

 

Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, this is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. We’ve got a doozy of an episode to kick off our holiday season today. A little bit later, we’ll hear about the recent revelations that a popular Muslim prayer app was selling the data of its users to, wait for it . . . the United States military. What this says about Islamophobia and the United States government and the disturbing trend of citizen surveillance, we’ll dive into in just a moment. But first up, we’re taking a visit back to our old friend, Amy Coney Bigot. Oh, goodness, I’m so sorry, that says Barrett, Amy Coney Barrett, and her early abuse of her position on the Supreme Court to advance the agenda of the religious right. To chat more about SCOTUS, we’re welcoming Dan Mach, the director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

 

Phillip Picardi: Dan, thanks for being here.

 

Dan Mach: Thanks for having me.

 

Phillip Picardi: So I guess to get started, can you tell me what the Supreme Court recently decided about church gatherings despite the rise of COVID-19 cases happening across the United States?

 

Dan Mach: The Supreme Court recently issued an order that essentially put on hold, a restriction that had been placed on New York, which covered certain hot spots that had seen COVID outbreaks. And there were red zones, orange zones, depending on on how much spread there had been there. Those restrictions had been imposed based on scientific analysis and objective criteria, but they were challenged by several houses of worship, church and synagogues. And the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the houses of worship.

 

Phillip Picardi: Now, how exactly did Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment inform the decision made by the Supreme Court here?

 

Dan Mach: This is one of the first times that we’ve seen the influence that Justice Barrett will have, because cases like these are already now coming out differently than they did just a few months ago. So there were cases out of California and Nevada in May and July where—this is pre-Justice Barrett—where the court rejected challenges to assembly restrictions, and the Chief Justice was in the majority in both cases. And in those cases, this is pre-Barrett, the court held that as long as there’s no discrimination, states have some leeway to craft responses to address public health crises. But now with a different makeup on the court, they’ve gone the other way. And so this has really changed things.

 

Phillip Picardi: OK, so I guess the confusing thing for me is what I think you’re saying is that before, the states were basically saying it’s not discrimination of religion if nobody is allowed to gather. But now with Justice Barrett joining the Supreme Court, it does appear that they are alleging that this is—or ruling, I should say—that this is discrimination against freedom of religion. Is that accurate?

 

Dan Mach: Yeah. And one of the big questions in these cases is what should you compare these churches and synagogues and mosques to? What is the relevant comparison? And in the earlier cases, the majority of the court said what you have to do is you have to compare them to similarly situated non-religious places. So that includes things like indoor lectures, concerts, movies, sporting events. And in these cases, the churches are not being treated any worse. And in fact, in New York, they’re being treated better than those types of locations. But under the new decision by the Supreme Court, they compared the restrictions instead to the rules that govern other things, things like grocery stores or liquor stores or that sort of thing. And so the question is, what is the relevant comparison? And in the earlier cases, the court said the relevant comparison is what is truly comparable from the perspective of limiting the spread of COVID. And that’s why indoor gatherings, where people are close together for long periods of time, singing, talking—those pose special challenges. And so the rule in that earlier case was, as long as you’re treating everything in that category the same, you the state, you’re fine, you’re allowed to do that. But now, under this New York case, not so much.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. And this is just, I’m assuming, the beginning of many cases alleging religious freedom as their premise that are going to reach the Supreme Court. I’m wondering what other sorts of things are groups proclaiming to defend so-called religious freedom, looking to fight in the Supreme Court in the next couple of years?

 

Dan Mach: Well, there’s one case that the court has already heard oral argument in, the argument was actually the day after the election, and they have not yet issued a decision. And that is a case called Fulton. And there, there’s a religious foster care agency that says it has a right to discriminate against prospective foster families, using taxpayer dollars when performing a government service. So in other words, they argue that they have a constitutional right to get a government contract to perform this core government service, which is certifying foster parents, and then not only to get the contract, but to change the terms of that contract and to be able to discriminate. And that would result in turning away qualified families.

 

Phillip Picardi: Sounds more like religious freedom is actually a cleverly veiled term for the religious right to discriminate. But I won’t make you comment on on that. And instead, I wanted to point to a recent Op-Ed that Pope Francis—who is no ally of mine, but I was I was thrilled to actually read a recent article that he penned for The New York Times. And I’ll just share a quote that he said, “Some groups have protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions, as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom. Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals.” Let me repeat that. “Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.” So after this ruling, Dan, we heard from Pope Francis before the ruling came down, what were other religious leaders saying?

 

Dan Mach: Yeah, I mean, you heard a wide array of responses from religious leaders, but it is important to note that this is not just a battle of religion versus other rights. And I think what, the passage you read, I think is illustrative of that point, that there are many deeply religious folks who care greatly about religious freedom but do not think that it is a license to harm others. Religious freedom, it’s a core constitutional right. But like other rights, it’s not absolute. And so you don’t have an unfettered right to harm others and to jeopardize the public health or to discriminate.

 

Phillip Picardi: So I hate to end on this note, Dan, but as an American citizen, I am concerned for where this religious freedom battle is heading. I’m wondering, just from a pure citizen perspective, what can we do to protect ourselves, protect our communities? How do we help support, I guess, a more logical and common sense interpretation of religious freedom?

 

Dan Mach: Well, one thing I think is exactly what you’re doing, which is speaking out and making it clear in the public discourse that this is not a, again, religion versus, let’s say, LGBT rights, or religion versus public health. At least it shouldn’t be that. And religious freedom is a right that belongs to all. And it also includes, by the way, the right not to have the government imposing the preferred faith on its citizens, right, so that, this is the establishment clause. The separation of church and state is a very key component of religious freedom. And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to keep speaking about this, advocating in our city halls, in our state legislatures, that sort of thing, in Congress, and just in the court of public opinion.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes. And I would add in your faith communities, these are conversations faith communities should be having and you shouldn’t be afraid to raise your voice in your church, of all places. Dan, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

 

Dan Mach: Thank you.

 

Phillip Picardi: OK, let’s hop from the Supreme Court to another part of our government. Recently, Vices Motherboard unveiled a report about a prayer app known as Muslim Pro. The app they revealed was selling the data of its users to the military. To help shed light on the report and its repercussions, we have Joseph Cox, a journalist covering hacking, privacy and crime for Vice.

 

Phillip Picardi: Joseph, thanks for joining us.

 

Joseph Cox: Thank you for having me.

 

Phillip Picardi: So I want to start with kind of a bigger question before we dive into the Muslim pro app. I’ve been seeing on the news that journalists are able to see, through something called cell phone data, the travel or migratory patterns of people all over the world. And I guess I didn’t realize that my data of how I’m moving about the world is being tracked by someone and then made available. How is all of this happening, and what does this mean for our privacy?

 

Joseph Cox: Yeah, absolutely. So lots of journalists and critics and privacy campaigners have been focused on, you know, people like Facebook or Google or YouTube or whoever it may be, these big tech giants when it comes to privacy. That’s all well and good, but basically in the shadows and the very opaque way there is the location data industry, and these, the companies in this space, they will get data from ordinary apps and stored it on your phone. So a dating app, a religious app, something which you may use to put shelves in your bedroom to make sure they’re straight, it’s completely innocuous, banal apps. Anyway, they all provide, a lot of these apps provide location data to this industry, and they’re sold for a lot of different purposes, as you say, maybe to show groups of people moving across borders or going on holiday and maybe for marketing, real estate, that sort of thing. But primarily what we’ve been focused on is how private intelligence may also buy this, how the military may buy it, or how law enforcement such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement may buy the sort of data as well. It’s basically a free for all where, Senator Ron Wyden has been especially vocal on this, saying that law enforcement can essentially buy their way around the Fourth Amendment. And there’s largely no regulation about this in the US at the moment.

 

Phillip Picardi: And then, and I’m sorry, forgive me, the Fourth Amendment is the amendment that says what, Joseph?

 

Joseph Cox: The Fourth Amendment is to do with sort of the searching stuff. So ordinarily you would need to get a warrant or at least some sort of court order to get people’s location data, especially, you know, stuff is highly specific. But in this case, when you just have, you know, the random app on your phone sending off the location data and then selling that, there’s no need to get a warrant because the cops just buy it. Which is the most Americans thing I’ve ever heard of.

 

Phillip Picardi: Oh! God, OK.

 

Joseph Cox: That’s the issue there.

 

Phillip Picardi: That’s terrifying. And that’s not at all reassuring. I’m wondering, Joseph, how did this, or your expertize in this area, lead you to a prayer app called Muslim Prayer?

 

Joseph Cox: Yeah, it’s a weird one. So I’ve been looking at this industry for a while. As I said, we looked to the private intel, we looked at the law enforcement, that sort of thing. But I really wanted to find out which specific apps, which, you know, ordinary people installed on their phones, actually sent this data. And that’s pretty hard to find out. But through some technical tools, I eventually found that a selection of apps was sending data to a broker called X-Mode. This is one of the middlemen companies that will collect load of data with their own code embedded into apps, and then they sell it on for different purposes. When I eventually made this list of apps that send data to X-Mode, there was a Muslim dating app called Muslim Mingle. I think there was Black Mingle as well, obviously, you know, catered specifically to that demographic. And various ones likes that. But the one that really jumped out, of course, was Muslim Pro. This Koran app, sort of an all-in-one shop for, you know, your religious needs in one piece of software. And that has something like over 96 million downloads. So this is clearly a very popular up around the world.

 

Phillip Picardi: And so were you drawn to Muslim Pro because of the size of its audience, or were you perhaps drawn to Muslim Pro for another reason that has to do with government surveillance?

 

Phillip Picardi: Yes, exactly. You’re right to touch upon that. It is both. Of course, initially it was the size. But then as the investigation went on, we found that X-Mode, was part of the supply chain, it was ultimately giving data to the US military. And of course, with the Muslim Pro app there’s, you know, an extra piece of context there when it comes to the US’s wars abroad or even, of course, domestic surveillance of Muslim populations as well. But finding that that sort of gap was part of the supply chain that ultimately ended up, you know, the US military contractors who then do provide information to the US military as well. It did provide sort of an extra religious context, security context, and certainly a much more worrying privacy angle as well.

 

Phillip Picardi: OK, so let me make sure that I have the basic facts of your story correct, if I’m following you properly. You basically are a journalist specializing in privacy and you have been interested in this shadowy world of the location service data industry. And what you’re saying is that apps on your phone may be able to gather your location data and then sell that to a third party, and then that third party is then able to sell it ostensibly to law enforcement and the United States military. Is that right?

 

Dan Mach: I mean, you put a lot more simply and concisely than I ever did. So— [laughs] My article is like 2,000 words or something and you just did the whole thing in one go. Yeah, that’s basically it.

 

Phillip Picardi: OK, well, great. So if that’s the case, right, I guess my first question is if I’m a person downloading Muslim Pro so that I can pray and I know what direction to face when I pray, I am assuming that like many other apps on our phones, we see a lengthy, very fine print terms and conditions agreement that I have to press agree to. And usually when I see those on my phone Joseph, I don’t know about you, I just hit agree and I’m like, whatever and they move on with my day. Is there anything in those terms and conditions that a Muslim person could have seen that would have said, by the way, we can sell your location data to the military?

 

Dan Mach: So you’re right. These privacy policies are massively long documents that barely anybody reads, me included, unless I’m doing, you know, specifically an article on it. I’m not going to read through the entire thing myself ordinarily. But to answer your question, there was nothing in the Muslim Pro privacy policy that ever mentioned X-Mode, which was, again, the data broker that we found taking location data and then passing on to military contractors. It did mention some other location data brokers, but ones that don’t seem to provide to the military. But at least for the military security context, there was nothing in that policy. Even if you had bothered to read it, there was nothing in there that mentioned X-Mode whatsoever. And I should just say that after our investigation came out, Muslim Pro did say it’s going to sever ties with X-Mode. So ostensibly that data transfer has stopped, but they weren’t warning users in the first place. And I mean, if you want to download an app and use it, by all means, go ahead. We all have apps on the phones. We all want to have a bit of convenience in our lives. But ideally, it should be up to the user to make an informed decision. You know, if they read that privacy policy and they’re okay with that data transfer, hey, that’s fine. That’s their decision. But they weren’t able to make that informed decision in the first place.

 

Phillip Picardi: Well, let me ask you that question, because I think probably a lot of people are kind of wondering, like, why should I care? You know, why should I care if the government has access to my location? What’s the big deal? What do you say to those people?

 

Dan Mach: It really depends on the entity that is getting the data, and, of course, your own individual risk assessment, is what we would probably call it in the industry. But let’s say you are a particularly at risk individual and maybe that data is transferred not just to the military, but all of the middlemen along the way and those sorts of companies in between. There is technically nothing, at least depending on the individual company, there’s nothing technically stopping an employee at one of those companies, potentially looking at data and using it for their own, for their own uses. And as we’ve seen, these companies can sell off any other number of purposes that perhaps the original user isn’t even aware of. So I understand when the Snowden disclosures came out and some people were like, well, you know, I don’t have anything to worry about the US government. I don’t have anything to worry about the UK government. I’m not particularly concerned of these. Yes, but, you know, there were cases of NSA employees using that powerful capability to look up their wives or their ex-girlfriends or the lovers or whoever. So even if there are these capabilities, there are you know, they’re still humans who access them. There are still people with their biases, with their prejudices and whatever it may be. And sure it may not be, you know, everybody has to worry about that on the planet, but some people do at least.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah. And maybe something else that you’re getting at here, and I’m inferring this from what you’re saying so correct me if I’m wrong, but that when it comes to Muslim folks in America, you know, the United States government has had a very fraught relationship with predominantly Muslim countries. Of course, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, infamously, I should say, ran on a campaign that included a platform known as the Muslim ban, and certainly that that was shown to later be prejudiced against folks who come from predominantly Muslim countries or who travel to predominantly Muslim countries. So there’s this kind of added element of stigma where like, sure, you know, if you’re not from a specific background or if you’re a white person who’s traveling to Florida for spring break and then going back home, yeah, maybe it’s not an issue for you, but maybe this could be used somehow to paint you as a problem if you happen to have a different kind of travel pattern or a different kind of faith background.

 

Dan Mach: Yeah, absolutely. It really does depend on who the individual is or even more broadly, what the particular type of population is. I mean, not specifically with X-Mode or that data, but another company we’ve looked at and The Wall Street Journal has looked at as well, is one Venntel. And they provide basically the same sort of location data, but to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or to Customs and Border Protection. And The Wall Street Journal reported that ICE has arrested people crossing the border with this sort of location data. So there is a tangible impact here is not just ones and zeros on the screen. It, in some cases ends up with people being detained.

 

Phillip Picardi: You know when you’re on your phone and you can see the list of apps that you have downloaded and then you can check a little box, or ding a little green icon that says enable location sharing or enable location services. I forget what it says on the iPhone. If I turn that off for all of my apps, does that mean that my location data is not being sold to potentially the U.S. military? Is it as simple as that?

 

Dan Mach: It is as simple as that, at least for the location data that is being taken from apps. So let’s take the iPhone example. Let’s say you had just Muslim Pro, because what we’re talking about. If you have Muslim Pro installed on the iPhone and you turned off location services on your phone, that app would not be able to get your location. And that’s a great thing for users, at least on the iPhone and Android. Google has improved recently as well. You go into the settings, it’s pretty clear that you’re not going to be giving up location data, at least to those apps. There are some of a ways that location companies could get your data potentially by your Web pages you viewed. But to be honest, there hasn’t been much journalistic interest in that. It’s a very technical subject and we don’t know much about that. But very generally speaking, if you turn off location services, you can rest assured, you know, at least those apps aren’t going to be getting your information. That’s a solid decision users can make if they want to.

 

Phillip Picardi: Wow. OK, well, Joseph, I guess in closing, is there anything that the government, like our lawmakers, our elected officials, or that we as consumers should be doing to protect each other and ourselves from this kind of potentially harmful and discriminatory practice?

 

Dan Mach: Sure. As a journalist, obviously, I can’t say whether this is a good or a bad thing. It’s just what is happening. But, you know, Senator Ron Wyden and is putting his own legislation forward that would stop, I believe, law enforcement and potentially intelligence agencies buying the sort of data which, as I said, would ordinarily require a warrant. So that’s sort of the legislative approach there. But when it comes to users, it always comes back to consent. Ultimately, privacy is consent, it’s deciding what information you want to give up, and what terms and when. And being able to read a privacy policy, being able to, as you say, go into your phone and turn off location services if you want, maybe cut off location services to that random game app that was on your phone and you don’t really know why it needs to know where you are, those are individual smaller decisions that the ordinary consumer can make. But the power is in their hands to do that, fortunately, but they just have to be aware in the first place. And that’s, of course, where the companies like X-Mode and Muslim Pro should be the most transparent.

 

Phillip Picardi: Excellent. Joseph, thank you so much for bringing light to this issue and for your excellent reporting that resulted in hopefully some positive changes. I really appreciate it.

 

Dan Mach: Thank you so much.

 

Phillip Picardi: We’ll be right back after this quick break.

 

[ad break]

 

Phillip Picardi: So now that Joseph has helped us understand all the technical elements of the story, I wanted to make sure we understood its real-life implications. Unfortunately, the surveillance of Muslim people in America and the rampant Islamophobia that compels it, isn’t exactly a breaking news story. Here to shed some light on that is Ani Zonneveld, the President of Muslims for Progressive Values.

 

Phillip Picardi: So Ani, I’m assuming that you may have seen the recent story about an app called Muslim Pro selling the data of its users to the United States military. I was wondering if you or your organization happened to follow this story, and if so, can you tell me a little bit about your reaction?

 

Ani Zonneveld: Well, my reaction was, I’m not surprised.

 

Phillip Picardi: Oh, no.

 

Ani Zonneveld: Yeah. Duh. What an easy way to collect data on Muslims and traditional Muslims. And the thing about it, as a Muslim, it is annoying because a lot of times when we do go through security checks or the airports, for example, some of the questions they ask as well, do you pray and how many times you pray? And it’s as if the number of times you pray is equated to being potentially a terrorist. And so this is sort of the, what I see as a very negative and misguided way of profiling terrorism or anyone inclined to be terrorists. Because the fact of the matter is, the 9/11 folks, they really went incognito. I mean, they shaved, they dressed Western, they tried to blend in, they actually visited strip joints and so they did these unholier things. [laughs] And so I’m laughing in sarcasm because I think it’s a misguided policy. But as you well, very well know Phill that all our data is being mined regardless of what our religious beliefs or non beliefs are or what have you. So it’s, I think, part of life right now. And the fact that this has been uncovered for me, it’s not a surprise at all.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. And I understand, and you certainly alluded to this, but that the surveillance of Muslim Americans by the United States government at least, is nothing new. In fact, it has deep and troubling roots. So I guess what I’m trying to understand is the real-life repercussions of this data gathering, of this systemic Islamophobia, of this suspicion that Muslim people must be affiliated with terrorism in some way. How does this impact Muslim people in their everyday lives, especially those folks who are just trying to go about and survive like the rest of us?

 

Ani Zonneveld: It’s very difficult. It’s tough to be a Muslim right now and not just in the United States, but also in Europe. And a lot of it has to do with the way, how the media reports Muslims. I mean, if you’ve noticed, I’m sure you have, that every time when there is a terrorist attack, even when it’s just questionable, even if it is a terrorist attack, it’s always equated to Muslims. And so the identity of the perpetrator is always highlighted over and over again. And yet in the United States, when it is being perpetrated by a right-wing neo-Nazi, or what have you, that they are, they’re not even categorized as domestic terrorism. So you have number one the double standards. Number two the way the media reports, doesn’t report enough on good things Muslims do. And so this is one issue that I think really is the omission of what Muslims are doing in countering terrorism and countering radicalism within their societies and in uplifting and challenging human rights. The omission of that does this dichotomy in people’s head that all evil things is perpetuated by Muslims and all good things are perpetrated by non-Muslims and particularly non-Muslims in the West. When you hear the reports on what’s happening in Nigeria or what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, for example, this young woman who’s court case was transferred to the terrorism court, which is like a horrible trajectory of how it’s going to end, the media reports quotes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch—all Western-based organizations. But there are a lot of Muslim organizations that have been advocating for all these women’s rights. Muslims for Progressive Values have been doing that but were never called upon. Well, what is your position on this particular case? How do you challenge Saudi Arabia on this issue, etc., etc.? So I’m very happy Phillip that you’ve reached out to me. So, but this is the narrative that is not being framed. And so as a result, the general audience have a very warped perception of what Muslims are and are not, unfortunately.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah, and not only that, I can also imagine that it must be extremely demoralizing to constantly have your faith, especially you pointed out, if you’re particularly devout of faith, that that must insinuate that you are violent or that you are wishing harm on someone when really, as your organization points out, Islam is really tied to anything but violence, right. And so it’s this bizarre manipulation of faith that is so demonizing and so othering. And it must be really hard to just think that something that provides you fulfillment and spirituality and helps you live your life by a code of values that you deem important to yourself is being seen by the wider world as being evil in some way or twisted in some way. I can imagine that that must really suck.

 

Ani Zonneveld: It sucks big time. But, you know, it’s being used by everyone that wants to use it, right? So it’s being used by the political right and it’s also being used by the religious Muslim right. And it’s being used by anyone that wants to hate on Islam and Muslims. And so it’s a very easy ball to kick around. And I think the fact that it’s not being reported in a more accurate manner, it would be, I would say, would be equivalent to the media identifying Orthodox Jews in America as the majority and as representative of Judaism and Jews in America. Now, the reformed Jewish entities would have a fit because they are, the Reform Judaism are the majority and the Orthodox are the minority. And that is the same as Muslims in America. 69, no 74% four percent of American Muslims do not attend mosque. Only 23% attend mosque and 69% of Muslim women find spiritual inspiration outside the mosque, and 72 Muslim men find spiritual inspiration outside the mosque. And 52% of American Muslims support LGBTQ rights. And I can go on and on about the set of American Muslims have become more progressive in the last 10 to 14 years. And this is documented by Pew. And so these so American Muslims are very mainstream values, we are as American as they come. We just so happen to be Muslims in our faith tradition. That’s it.

 

Phillip Picardi: I wonder, you know, in talking about stories like these that are unearthing that the military is tracking Muslim people, I wonder how present this idea of fear is or the feeling of fear is for Muslim Americans. Is that something that you have to counter? I know that Muslims for Progressive Values obviously is asserting the progressive, inclusive, egalitarian values of Islam. But I wonder how much work you have to do to help your own community not feel so afraid, to just be proud of who they are?

 

Ani Zonneveld: Yeah, it’s being proud of who you are is actually, it’s actually a really tough order because when what is being reported and what is being, the attacks towards Muslims, a policy with Trump, with the Muslims ban, all these, all this really adds up. And especially children that grew up during the post 9/11 era and how they become, they basically disassociated their identity, their Muslim identity, or their closeted Muslims. So as a progressive Muslim, what we try to do is like, no! Islam it’s about human rights, it’s about social justice. And so you should be out and loud and out of the closet as a Muslim. I had to come out of the closet as a Muslim. And so it takes a lot, it takes a heart of steel. It takes a lot of courage to come out of the closet even as a progressive, because as a progressive Muslim, you also have to deal with conservative Muslims that take issue with you having progressive values. And then you have to deal with yourself as a progressive Muslim outside the Muslim community itself. It’s just too much. And the best way for us to empower our Muslim population, progressive or not, is to say these are our progressive values, these are Islamic values. These are our stance on human rights and social justice. So just be proud of it. And, you know, that’s all there is. And so that’s why we have this event called a Celebration of Life. And it’s a human rights annual event that we have, and it’s really highlighting our human rights work. But the Muslims who are doing that work in the field and getting jailed, tortured even. And so the first year we have in 2016, we had Mayor Eric Garcetti and she read in the first person as a Libyan, a human rights lawyer, who was abducted in front of her family and found dead. But so much these really sad outcomes of real Muslims really doing that fight, that good fight, with a celebrity name so that their lives are not lost in vain, right? And so that’s the kind of work that we like to do in order to highlight Muslims and non-Muslims about the work that we do and the work that Muslims in the Muslim world do, because that’s what’s really missing in the narrative.

 

Phillip Picardi: I wonder what else other non-Muslims can do to help eradicate Islamophobia and be more welcoming to Muslim folks in their own communities.

 

Ani Zonneveld: Yeah, I think the best thing is for you to challenge those within your communities that are Islamophobic or anti-Islam in their sentiment and to challenge it with, if someone says Muslims are X, Y and Z, and for the non-Muslim allies to challenge say, well, why don’t you replace Muslims with yourself, with your own identity, with a Christian or Jew or Black, what have you, and see if that makes you cringe. And it’s an easy enough of an exercise. And it really boils down to treat others as you want to be treated, right. It’s really that simple. But that would be like the lowest common denominator effort that I think we all and all our allies could help to push back against that mindset.

 

Phillip Picardi: In your opinion Ani, is there anything that the Biden administration is going to do to maybe help ameliorate some of the more rampant Islamophobia that Donald Trump helped to give such a platform to during his presidency?

 

Ani Zonneveld: Yes, I think what’s really important is that there were a lot of progressives that came our for Biden-Harris and there are 30% of American Muslims that voted for Trump. It’s shocking. So we have a lot of work to do within our within our own communities, right. And the thing of what Biden, that I hope Biden would do differently than—forget about Trump, because that’s a lost case—but different from Obama even is to have progressive Muslims at the table because Obama had conservative Muslims at the table, because the narrative then was conservative Muslims were the real Muslims, which is really sad. Which I’m finding also within our political dynamics, the landscape, you have Republicans who hate on Muslims, but then you have the political left who are, you know, well, they kind of put up with us and they’re not really sure about our values or there is, there are also the Democratic Muslims who, with a capital D, who are just putting up with the diversity, regardless of what the values are of those Muslims. I know Muslims who support LGBT rights openly, but as long as they’re not Muslims, right? Well, see, that doesn’t bode for me. That’s a hypocritical stance. And so what I’m hoping is, is that with Biden, we’ll see more true-blue progressive regardless of what religion or non religion at that table, because otherwise he’s just going to be kowtowing and again, just pedaling to the conservative Muslims that don’t share our progressive values. I was at Obama’s. One of Obama’s dinners, and he came up to me and I introduced myself and as the founder and President of Muslims for Progressive Values. And his response to me was, don’t give up, we need your voice out there. But, you know, that was nice of him to say that, to recognize the work that we do because he’s briefed for about everyone that’s in the room, but when it came down to it, you know, we were not at the table. And I hope with Biden and Harris, that’s going to be a different scenario. And we have a lot of work to do because the infiltration of religion in our governance, in our laws and our judiciary system is appalling. And how people have been using Religious Freedom Reformation Act to justify prejudice against LGBT people, against women’s reproductive rights, all that stuff, right? We’re going down the path of theocracy. And that is a sure path to a failed state. And take it from a Muslim to tell you that.

 

Phillip Picardi: I think that you’re absolutely right about that. Thank you so much for your perspective and for sharing that. I very much hope that your calls are heeded by the incoming administration as well. Thank you.

 

Ani Zonneveld: Thanks Phil.

 

Phillip Picardi: All right, folks, that’s all for our show today. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, leave a review, give us five stars. And yes, I’m still saying this, donate to the Democratic candidates in the Georgia Senate runoff. For more on how you can get involved to help save the Senate from Mitch McConnell’s demonic grip, head to VoteSaveAmerica dot com/Georgia. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next week.

 

Unholier Than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Brian Semel is our associate producer, and Sydney Rapp is our assistant producer, with production support for Reuben Davis. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa, and the show is executive produced by me, Lyra Smith and Sarah Geismer. Thanks for listening.