Fired Somali workers dispute leads to flyers urging "Behead those who insult Islam" in JBS Swift cafeteria
September 13, 2008
MIM: For background on this story see: "Ingrate Somali Muslim Workers On Rampage - Again- This Time At Colorado Meat Packer, JBS Swift" http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/3601
Fired Somali workers observe Ramadan as leaders prepare for future action
Jakob Rodgers The Greeley Tribune (Colorado)
Local leaders prepared to hold a meeting today, however, to advise the workers on how to proceed. No Somali workers visited the local unemployment office on Friday as originally planned, according to Graen Isse, spokesperson for the local Somali community; such actions could happen on Monday.
Meanwhile, an investigation continues concerning threatening fliers that were distributed in the plant's cafeteria on Wednesday night that appeared to show people in a protest with signs reading "Behead those who insult Islam." Isse vehemently denied that anyone in the Somali community was behind the fliers. Tamara Smid, spokeswoman for JBS Swift, said in an e-mail that "we did find inappropriate material Wednesday night -- it was immediately confiscated." Nothing has been found since, Smid said, and while the company does not comment on internal investigations, she said that JBS Swift "in no way condones these types of things; we promote a best work environment atmosphere and in the event something like this were to happen, those employees would be disciplined accordingly."
What's next? A meeting for the fired Somali workers will take place at 3 p.m. today at the Union Colony Civic Center, 701 10th Ave. in Greeley.
MIM: The Council on American Islamic Relations a Saudi funded front group for Hamas and an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holyland Foundation Hamas funding trial is involved in the negotiations between the Somali Muslim workers and JBS Swift.
Muslim group tries mediation in lunch break spat
By IVAN MORENO The Associated Press
"Usually in these cases we're able to come to an amicable solution," said Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman. Swift announced the terminations in an e-mail Wednesday. Swift spokeswoman Tamara Smid said 101 workers were fired, but United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 spokesman Manny Gonzales said the number was as high as 150, based on what workers told union officials. Gonzales said the union plans to file grievances against the company on behalf of those workers.
The conflict began Friday, when about 220 workers, according to Swift estimates, walked out during the evening shift, blaming the company's refusal to allow their breaks to coincide with sunset so they could pray. Hooper said the timing of the sunset prayer for Muslims is the only one of the five daily prayers that can't be changed. "You can't really say, 'Well I'll delay it for an hour and do it then.' You have a very narrow window of opportunity," Hooper said.
During the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, workers can't eat or drink until that prayer, he said. Hooper said CAIR attorneys in Chicago are now involved as mediators, and may pursue legal action if religious accommodations are denied. But they're hoping it doesn't get to that point. "Really, you don't need attorneys in these cases," Hooper said. "You just need a spirit of good will and cooperation."
Smid said Swift had changed the timing of worker's lunch schedules by more than an hour to accommodate them. She said the assembly line usually breaks at 9 p.m., and that schedule was changed to 8 p.m. She said workers who were suspended for walking out of work Friday were told that if they didn't return to work on Wednesday they would be fired.
The Greeley plant was where 270 Hispanic employees were detained after a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in 2006. Paul Stein, coordinator for the Colorado State Refugee Services Program, said the raid created a vacuum filled by Somali refugees. Stein said data from six months ago show that about 500 refugees from the war-torn country either work or live in Greeley and Fort Morgan.
Swift, which was purchased by Brazil's JBS SA in March, has had problems with Muslim workers in the past. At a Swift plant in Grand Island, Neb., dozens of workers from Somalia quit their jobs last year because they said they weren't allowed to pray at sunset. They eventually returned to work.
This month, officials at the Tyson Foods Plant in Shelbyville, Tenn., reached a compromise with union workers to observe Eid al-Fitr as a paid holiday. The day, which falls on Oct. 1 this year, marks the end of Ramadan. The firings in Colorado came on the same day as Gold'n Plump Poultry Inc. in Minneapolis agreed to let Muslim workers take short prayer breaks under a settlement mediated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Swift dispute, radical Muslims DVD flare scrutiny of Islam
ENLARGE The Muslim workers of JBS Swift & Co. who were fired Sept. 10 over disputes regarding breaks to pray gathered outside the company's parameters after receiving their walking papers. Sentiment has spread among some that the newcomers are pushing their religion too much on their adopted community. SARA LOVEN/[email protected]
Abdiamar Bare, 21, walks up to the nondescript mosque in Greeley for noon prayers and pauses a moment to talk about his faith.
He is asked by a visitor if he's seen the DVD "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West." No, he says. He's asked if the principles of Islam allow other religions to coexist with it.
"Every religion is the same. No religion is better than another religion," Bare says. "I believe in Islam. I like my religion, and I don't want it to interfere with other religions."
Bare is one of about 120 Muslim workers recently fired by JBS Swift & Co. for walking off the job after a disagreement on prayer breaks. He enters the mosque, off 8th Avenue near the University of Northern Colorado campus, to join dozens more for prayer.
It's a low-profile, unmarked building in which Greeley Muslims come to practice their faith, which again finds itself in the crosshairs of scrutiny locally and nationally.
In Greeley, the dispute continues on prayer breaks for Muslim workers at the meatpacking plant. Sentiment has spread among some in the community that the newcomers are pushing too much, exhibiting a desire not to assimilate but rather impose their religion on others.
Nationally, the DVD arrived on 28 million doorsteps as rhetoric on homeland security heats up in the presidential race.
The confluence of recent events -- the Muslim workers' dispute and, on its heels, the "Obsession" DVD -- is the talk of the town. Many Greeley residents have noticed the 400 mostly Somali refugees who've arrived in the past 18 months to take jobs at JBS Swift. The workers say they are here to escape the oppression of their war-torn homeland, build a new life and peacefully practice their religion.
A Greeley woman calls the disc "neo-con propaganda," while a history professor at Colorado State University says the film is factually accurate and shows it in his classes.
Meanwhile, in the day-to-day operation of the Greeley meatpacking plant, the African refugees' religion is at odds, especially during Ramadan, with the assembly line production.
Brianna Castillo, a JBS Swift employee for four years, said the Somali workers are asking for special treatment and making non-Muslim plant employees pick up the slack.
"With the Muslim religion, their practices will dominate over what your American practices would wind up being," he said. "And part of that is they believe that Islamic law should dictate over laws of man."
Greeley resident Marise Downing said she doesn't know enough about the JBS Swift labor dispute to decide which side is right -- the workers or the company. She said she has no problem with Muslim workers attempting to follow their beliefs.
Downing is more pointed about the "Obsession" DVD, which in an e-mail to The Tribune she called a "disgusting piece of neo-con propaganda." The film was a paid advertising insert in the Sept. 14 Tribune and 70 other newspapers nationally, including the Denver Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Downing said she hasn't watched the hour-long film, produced by the New York-based Clarion Fund, but said she's researched it enough to satisfy her belief that it's fear-mongering propaganda.
"I understand it's a matter of money I presume (for the newspaper)," she said. "To me, it gives it a kind of authenticity that it wouldn't otherwise have."
Seeme Hasan, a Colorado Muslim who co-founded Muslims for America and the Hasan Family Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes understanding between developing countries and the United States, said the DVD spreads hatred. The cost of the DVD's distribution would have been better spent on "actually educating people to what Muslims are," she said.
The packaging says the DVD's intent is to educate people about the threat of radical Islam. It adds that neither the presidential candidates nor the media are discussing the issue openly.
A story in Editor & Publisher said about 28 million copies of the DVD have been distributed so far, mostly in swing states in the presidential race. "An article at the group's site, www.radicalislam.org, all but endorsed John McCain this past week (Sept. 14) then was pulled down," Editor & Publisher reported.
A call to the nonprofit Clarion Fund for comment was not returned.
Hasan said she believes the DVD's main intent is to spread fear and sway the election.
"I don't know -- is this anti-Obama, is this for McCain?" she said. "Either way, this is a very bad way of doing things."
Mainstream vs. radical
James Lindsay, an associate professor of Middle Eastern history at CSU, takes an opposite view on "Obsession." He believes it's a straightforward look at radical Islam.
He said the producers are explicit that film is about the radical ideology within Islam, which is advanced by the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida and other groups. The film's introduction states that most Muslims are peaceful and don't support terror.
The militant Islamic branch -- which the film says makes up about 10 percent to 15 percent of a worldwide Muslim population of 1.2 billion, the world's second-largest religion behind Christianity -- has a conquest ideology, Lindsay said.
"It's one of subjugating the world to their ideology. There is not room for another ideology, according to the radical Muslim ideology, and it's frightening," he said. "But it's part and parcel of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Qaida types that they want to impose their will on everyone."
The film acknowledges that part of that mindset stems from a fear that the West is out to destroy Islam, and that the religion's followers must strike first.
Hasan agrees that there is a radical strand that claims adherence to Islam. But she dismisses them as brainwashed and "sick, sick individuals" who don't practice Islam but rather a singular and misguided hatred of America.
Hasan, who is married to a physician and has homes in Denver and Beaver Creek, returned from Washington, D.C., Thursday after being invited to the White House's annual dinner observance of Ramadan. Hasan, an ardent supporter of the Bush administration, said she spoke last week with a Brazilian ambassador about the problems at the Brazilian-owned JBS Swift plant in Greeley.
"American Muslims are very happy, very satisfied because they are allowed to enter mainstream America," she said. "We are not held back. We are not judged against."
Lindsay, the CSU professor, said the Muslims who flew the airplanes into the Twin Towers felt they were doing God's work.
Muslims who say "jihad" means the struggle for personal betterment aren't giving the full picture of what's written in the classical text, he said. Rather, the text says the Islamic practitioner is preparing himself to be a better warrior.
"The idea of the jihad as laid out by extremists is one of the doctrines within the Quran itself," Lindsay said. "It's a fundamental tenet of Islamic religion and it has been in Islamic history -- engaging in warfare against the enemies of Islam."
Conflicts between the West and Islam are inevitable, Lindsay said, because the demands of Islamic law are in conflict with the West's approach to law and religion. The Quran speaks of creating a society that's obedient to God's law, not obedient to men's model, he said.
Lindsay believes the way to deal with Muslim immigrants -- as in the case of the JBS Swift workers -- is to explain how employment rules and policies operate in the United States. "I have no desire to make any accommodations to Islamic law, and that's my opinion."
Amin Kazak, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at the University of Colorado-Denver, said he believes a middle ground can be reached between JBS Swift and the Muslim workers.
"The workers have to be flexible as much as the owners of the (company) have to be flexible," he said. "Not jeopardize the ritual and spirit of Muslims, and not jeopardize also the other (non-Muslim) workers' rights and so on."
On the wider issue of religion, Kazak said a conquest mentality is not representative of overall Islam. "Other than Saudi Arabia, it's not a subjugating environment. ... I think if one person or a certain group behaves incorrectly, it does not necessarily mean this is Islam."
He believes the Muslims coming here respect the United States for its many freedoms.
"This is a diversity of cultures and faiths, and (Muslims) are going to get along with other cultures and understand it, rather than leave it to circumstances of what's happening today to color it," Kazak said.
Alison Shah, a University of Colorado-Denver history professor who specializes in Eastern Islamic and South Asian history, said she is surprised the Greeley workers aren't being accommodated for their religious practice.
"I don't know a lot about how the industry works, but I do know that breaking fast during Ramadan is always at sunset, and this is not about jihad or anything other than devotion and correct practice," Shah said. "I suppose it would be like asking a Jewish person to eat during one of the fall fasting holidays, or to ask a Catholic to wipe the ash off his forehead on Ash Wednesday."
Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, was invited by the fired workers to meet with them at a recent meeting. He said work accommodations have been made in the United States for Christian and Jewish workers because there are significantly greater numbers of them.
Back at the Greeley mosque, Kaise Egal, a Muslim working to help the fired workers, said the meaning of the word Islam is peace.
"Any radical group, no matter their religion -- Muslim or non-Muslim, Christian or Jewish -- if their formal message is of violence, that's wrong," Egal said.
He said he believes the radical strands in Islam are isolated, adding that radical groups exist within other religions as well.
Egal said the 21st century, after the wars of the 20th century, should be an era of peace.
"It shouldn't be a century of ideological and religious fighting. It should be a century of knowledge and technology and global village," he said.
Egal and Bare represent moderate Muslims, who espouse practicing their faith in a compatible manner with other religions.
Hasan argues that they reflect the majority of Muslims worldwide. She believes moderate Muslims can help bring change.
"Everybody now in the world who really cares about this issue of spreading hatred is trying to bring the religions together and doing peace dialogue," she said. "That's mostly what needs to be done -- come closer together, sort out whatever differences that we have."
Lindsay has a more jaundiced view. He considers the gulf so wide, and the militant element within Islam so vehemently anti-West, that finding a path to peace is unlikely. He points out that the extremists believe they are doing the work of God and "that is a tremendous motivator. They don't mind dying."
BREAKOUT// PUBLIC OPINION ON MUSLIM RELIGION
a Washington Post poll in 2006 found that 58 percent of Americans say there are more violent extremists within Islam than in other religions and 46 percent have a negative view of Islam.
When asked, "Do you think mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, or is it a peaceful religion?" 33 percent said it encourages violence and 54 percent said it's peaceful (13 percent said no opinion).
In 2007, a CNN poll found that 53 percent of Americans believe conflict between Islam and Christianity is "inevitable," up from 45 percent in 2003.
BREAKOUT//Greeley's latest chapter in Islamic relations
It's an unlikely pairing.