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I Traveled to Geneva to Deliver a Report on ‘Stand Your Ground’

Muslims can’t afford to be silent about these dangerous laws, says a Florida-based civil-rights activist.

Ahmad Abuznaid serves as the legal and policy director of The Dream Defenders, a Florida-based group working to halt the spread of Stand Your Ground laws.
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Ahmad Abuznaid
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Ahmad Abuznaid
March 11, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

Ahmad Abuznaid, 29, serves as the leg­al and policy dir­ect­or of the Dream De­fend­ers, a Flor­ida-based group work­ing to halt the spread of “Stand Your Ground” policies to oth­ers states, push for re­form in Flor­ida, and en­gage and train a new gen­er­a­tion of so­cial-justice act­iv­ists.

This week, he joined a co­ali­tion of Amer­ic­an civil-rights act­iv­ists in Geneva to re­port to the U.N. Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee about what they see as the dan­ger­ous and deadly ef­fects of Stand Your Ground policies. Abuznaid, a Palestin­an-Amer­ic­an, is also a Muslim. Is­lam has be­come one of the fast­est-grow­ing faiths in the United States. In Geneva, Abuz­in­ad has wondered why Muslims — the fre­quent vic­tims of hate crimes and blanket sus­pi­cion — have not been more vo­cal about the dangers presen­ted by Stand Your Ground. 

Abusnaid shared his views with Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Next Amer­ica pro­ject.

As a young, Palestini­an-Amer­ic­an man, I am ex­tremely wor­ried about the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Stand Your Ground laws and the ease with which they have been ad­ap­ted, and even ex­pan­ded. I’m so wor­ried that I traveled to Geneva, Switzer­land, with a co­ali­tion of like-minded part­ners to present our con­cerns about the ef­fects of Stand Your Ground policies to the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee this week.

In­ter­na­tion­al bod­ies such as the U.N. Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee were cre­ated to bring broad, glob­al at­ten­tion to in­justice. Late last year, U.N. ex­perts called on our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to com­plete its in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the death of Trayvon Mar­tin, the 17-year-old black teen whose death brought Stand Your Ground policies to the world’s at­ten­tion. But with glob­al in­justice on the agenda, there must also be prac­tic­al rules and lim­its. For in­stance, our en­tire group had just two minutes to dis­cuss Stand Your Ground laws, po­lice bru­tal­ity, and the in­her­ent ra­cism which drive both.

Still, those two minutes con­tained truth, power, justice, and love.

The shad­ow re­port that our group de­veloped and presen­ted to the com­mit­tee laid out the on­go­ing as­sault on people of col­or and wo­men, com­plete with stat­ist­ics and stor­ies of real tra­gedies that have oc­curred be­cause of Stand Your Ground policies. We high­lighted the stor­ies that have be­come a part of all of our lives — Trayvon, Jordan, Marissa, Ri­cardo, Jonath­an, Ren­isha. Un­for­tu­nately, they aren’t the only hu­man be­ings who have been taken from us or lost their liberty due to Stand Your Ground policies and their grossly un­even and in­con­sist­ent in­ter­pret­a­tion by pro­sec­utors, po­lice, and jur­ies.

To be clear, Stand Your Ground policies ef­fect­ively give state sanc­tion to those gun own­ers who are in­clined to view cer­tain hu­man be­ings as tar­gets, threats, and dare I say “en­emy com­batants”. Many of the cases re­ferred to above were an­im­ated by a very real “Us vs. Them” dy­nam­ic and ended in ut­ter tragedy. People com­mit­ted to peace or at least no plans to en­gage in vi­ol­ence were pit­ted against those com­mit­ted to vi­ol­ence then armed with weapons, the leg­al pro­tec­tion provided by Stand Your Ground laws and the con­fu­sion they seem to cre­ate for jur­ies.

As a young man born in East Jer­u­s­alem who has lived in the West Bank and South Flor­ida, I know vi­ol­ence, I have been afraid of vi­ol­ence, and I cer­tainly know what it’s like for that vi­ol­ence to be tied to ra­cial/eth­nic dif­fer­ences, ig­nor­ance, and out­right ra­cism.

However, here in the U.S., most Muslim and Ar­ab com­munit­ies still have not joined the fore­front of the fight against Stand Your Ground. No dis­respect meant to those cham­pi­on­ing oth­er causes with­in the Is­lam­ic com­munity. There are those out there which I per­son­ally ad­mire and sup­port. With that said, I do think Muslims have to break the bar­ri­ers. We have to get in­volved in more than just stop­ping the “anti-sharia” le­gis­la­tion pop­ping up around the coun­try.

We must be ag­gress­ive and vi­gil­ant in mak­ing this coun­try bet­ter for all, in­clud­ing us. Muslims have been re­volu­tion­ar­ies every­where, even here in the United States of Amer­ica. Mal­colm X, Muhammad Ali, and oth­ers were able to util­ize Is­lam in the civil-rights move­ment to push for­ward the is­sues plaguing black Amer­ica at the time. Most box­ing his­tor­i­ans would ac­know­ledge that Ali was nev­er known as the “Greatest” be­cause of his box­ing prowess. He earned that monik­er be­cause of the man he was, and still is today, the things he stood for and the things he con­tin­ues to stand for. He lost everything re­fus­ing to serve in an un­just war against oth­er people of col­or. For that, he is a hero to us all.

While Muslim com­munit­ies of­ten lag be­hind in over­all civic en­gage­ment, we are cer­tainly at risk of fall­ing vic­tim to the many in­justices that plague the coun­try. In a so­ci­ety with grow­ing levels of Is­lamo­pho­bia, and dec­ades of anti-Ar­ab/Muslim rhet­or­ic and im­ages in the me­dia/en­ter­tain­ment in­dustry, Muslims have be­come a “sus­pect group.” Even people per­ceived to be a part of the Is­lam­ic com­munity have ex­per­i­enced dis­crim­in­a­tion, ab­use, vi­ol­ent and deadly at­tacks, spy­ing, en­trap­ment, de­port­a­tions, and ar­rests. After the hor­rible tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, I was im­me­di­ately the sub­ject of jokes re­gard­ing Ar­abs and Muslims. State­ments such as “Your cous­ins went crazy” and “Don’t mess with those Ar­abs” were thrown around of­ten. The real danger of the think­ing be­hind those jokes have be­came more ap­par­ent in the years since 9/11.

Today, Stand Your Ground policies make me fear that the next time a big­ot with a hot tem­per is at a gas sta­tion, or patrolling “his” neigh­bor­hood, the vic­tims could be a group of young Ar­ab kids wear­ing kef­fi­yehs and blast­ing Mo­hammed As­saf’s latest hit, or a group of Muslims head­ing to the mosque, who hap­pen to use the phrase “Al­lahu-ak­bar” (“God is great­er”).

So, as I pre­pare to re­turn from Geneva, I won­der: Where are the Muslim and Ar­ab com­munit­ies on these is­sues? How long will we re­main si­lent and al­low oth­ers to de­cide our fates?

The Dream De­fend­ers and oth­er groups are on the ground in the state of Flor­ida, or­gan­iz­ing and edu­cat­ing people about the in­justices that Stand Your Ground laws fa­cil­it­ate. There is space in this move­ment for those who are fight­ing Is­lamo­pho­bia.

The dream so elo­quently de­scribed by a man who drew the world’s at­ten­tion to 20th-cen­tury in­justices, Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr., be­longs to Muslims, too. The dream be­longs to Ar­abs, and any oth­er people who have been mar­gin­al­ized but are not will­ing to give up.

We, too, must be the power be­hind so­cial change.

Ahmad Abuznaid serves as the leg­al and policy dir­ect­or of The Dream De­fend­ers. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @dip­lo­mat­esq. 


Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email us. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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