Boston Review — Elizabeth Shakman Hurd: Muslims Need Not Apply
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is being sued for religious discrimination. And for good reason. The government watchdog agency was created in 1998 to officially promote and protect religious freedom abroad, but it actually suppresses religious freedom, rather than supporting it. It should be shut down.
In 2009 Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, an American lawyer from Arkansas, fluent in Urdu and Hindi with a master’s degree in international development, accepted a USCIRF position as a South Asia policy analyst. The Commission hired her to conduct research on South Asia’s human rights and religious freedoms. According to the complaint, four weeks after she’d been offered the job, and after she had already left her previous job at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the offer was rescinded. Instead, she was given a temporary 90-day position that began in late July 2009.
The suit alleges that the Commission withdrew its job offer because Ghori-Ahmad is Muslim. She was told, she says, that the job couldn’t start because of a hiring freeze—but she saw others hired during that same period. Once on the job, according to the suit, her supervisor told her that Commissioner Nina Shea “would be upset that USCIRF had hired her because she was Muslim and had been affiliated with a Muslim organization,” and then “suggested ways that Ms. Ghori-Ahmad could limit the negative impression her beliefs and background would create with members of the Commission.” The suit claims that the supervisor recommended that she push back her start date to avoid certain commissioners and “call in sick” on days when certain commissioners might be in the office, to avoid running into them. This supervisor also allegedly told her to “downplay her religious affiliation,” and “emphasize that she was a mainstream and moderate Muslim” who “didn’t even cover her hair.” Legal briefs also claim: “Internal USCIRF email and discussions make clear that Ms. Ghori-Ahmad’s national origin and religion drove USCIRF’s ultimate decision to rescind its job offer. For example, Shea wrote that hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the U.K. twenty years ago.’”
In an open letter to the Washington Post in June 2012, Ms. Shea claimed that she did not use the words “hiring a Muslim.” She countered that “the first 13 words of this quote—as is clear in the legal complaint—are not mine … What is especially problematic are the words ‘hiring a Muslim,’ which imply that I am a religious bigot … I voiced opposition to Ms. Ghori-Ahmad because of the bias evident in some of her writings.”