Sahar Aziz

  • February 1, 2012

    by Joseph Jerome

    Last fall’s Occupy protests had the unintended consequence of drawing media attention to the increasing militarization of local police departments. But even as questions have been raised as to whether police departments, large and small, actually need tanks, a larger examination of some police decision-making at the top would likely be helpful. 

    For the young, the poor, and people of color, individual encounters with police are becoming more and more uncomfortable and increasingly abusive despite historic lows in the incidence of crime In the wake of an AP investigation into the New York Police Department’s aggressive surveillance of Muslims, the takeaway is that if you are a young Muslim, “the government has you in its crosshairs,” writes Sahar Aziz, Associate Professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and former Senior Policy Advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    Police decision-making, according to Norm Stamper, former head of the Seattle police, is the product of “archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets.” Stamper argues that the top brass treat their departments like unruly children rather than professionals charged with serving the public, explaining why police misconduct refuses to go away “no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.”

    Leadership -- or lack thereof -- has long been identified as a primary challenge to maintaining police discipline. Stamper should know: he resigned in the aftermath of his violent response to World Trade Organization protests in 1999. 

  • August 24, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Sahar Aziz. Ms. Aziz is the author of Sticks and Stones, Words That Hurt: Entrenched Stereotypes Eight Years After 9/11 published in the New York City Law Review. She is a Legal Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and serves as counsel to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

    The political backlash and opportunism surrounding President Obama's defense of Muslims' First Amendment rights jeopardizes religious freedom for all Americans.

    On August 13, 2010, the White House sponsored the annual Iftar, a tradition started by President Clinton in 1996, commemorating the month of Ramadan. Diplomats, members of Congress, and community leaders from diverse backgrounds celebrated America's venerable support for religious diversity and freedom.

    At the dinner President Obama accurately summarized the Founders' intent to preserve religious freedom in America, for native-born and immigrant alike. He commendably stated, "As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan."

    Republicans were quick to criticize President Obama for "endorsing" of what has misleadingly come to be known as the "Ground Zero Mosque." Facing a tough reelection, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke with Obama, joining those who call for the mosque to be built somewhere else. Leading critics claim that they aren't opposed to building the community center and mosque per se, but rather its location. But their claim is belied by growing protests against mosques in cities across the country, not to mention escalating religious bigotry on the internet and a scheduled Koran burning on September 11. Statements from major figures like Newt Gingrich comparing supporters of the community center to Nazis make it clear that, in fact, all Muslims are being falsely tarred with the brush of extremism.

  • July 16, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Sahar Aziz, a civil rights attorney and principal of the Law Office of Sahar Aziz. Ms. Aziz serves on the Advisory Committee of the Charity and Security Network and as counsel to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
    Days before Secretary Clinton urged foreign governments to promote rule of law through an independent civil society; the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow to American civil society's commitment to international human rights.

    In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), the Court ruled it is unlawful to train organizations designated as terrorist on how to resolve their disputes through peaceful means. Allowing Americans to provide training in nonviolent conflict resolution, the Court reasoned, would legitimize terrorist organizations.

    The outcome is quite the opposite. Rather than bolster national security, the HLP ruling ultimately undermines America's leadership in the international community. Take for instance Secretary Clinton's statements on July 3, 2010 at the Community of Democracies. Speaking to civil society leaders and government officials from across the world, Secretary Clinton highlighted the important role an independent civil society plays in promoting democracy, combating corruption, and countering terrorism. She aptly noted "[f]reedom of association is the only freedom defined in the United Nations declaration of human rights that does not enjoy specific attention from the UN human rights machinery. That must change."

  • April 2, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Sahar Aziz, a civil rights attorney with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Ms. Aziz previously served as a senior policy advisor with the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard argument in Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder. The plaintiffs, a human rights organization and a retired federal judge, sought to teach international human rights law and provide training on nonviolent conflict resolution to the Kurdistan Workers' Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both organizations are designated as terrorist by the U.S. government.

    Oral argument focused on whether such training and advocacy aimed at promoting peace constitutes pure speech protected by the First Amendment, thereby shielding plaintiffs from prosecution under laws that prohibit material support for terrorism. But rather than delve into the complex constitutional questions presented, the Court should follow the established doctrine of constitutional avoidance by interpreting the challenged provisions to require a showing of intent to further illegal activities. The avoidance doctrine dictates that if a case can be resolved on an alternative basis, the court should refrain from ruling on constitutional issues.

    In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Supreme Court held in Scales v. United States that laws criminalizing membership in the Communist Party must be interpreted to require a specific intent to further the group's illegal aims. Mere knowledge that a group advocated violence was insufficient to justify infringing on cherished First Amendment associational rights. Consistent with that principle, in 2004 Congress amended the law prohibiting material support to terrorism to require that "[n]othing in this section shall be construed or applied so as to abridge the exercise of rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

    In addition to complying with legal precedent and congressional intent, requiring prosecutors to establish proof of a defendant's specific intent to further illegal ends would rectify several unfortunate policy effects.