My name is Hamzah Khan and I am a junior in the School of Diplomacy majoring in International Relations and minoring in History, Arabic, and Economics. I interned at the Council on American Islamic Relations-NJ Chapter, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the country as a legal research intern. In my role, I supported the organization’s civil rights department with case intakes and researched laws and government policies in New Jersey that impact the Muslim community. I also worked with the Communications department in researching and writing op-eds, advocating for policies that impact the Muslim community such as free speech laws, Islamophobia in local governments, and religious rights for incarcerated Muslims.
One project I am proud of is our anti-Islamophobia campaign in Edison, New Jersey. Earlier this summer, the Indian Business Association held a parade in Edison for India’s Independence Day but excluded most Indian minority groups like Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. They also ran an offensive Islamophobic float of a bulldozer which Hindu Nationalist governments in India use to demolish the homes and businesses of Muslims. They also invited a renowned hatemonger from India’s BJP to be the grand marshal of the parade. The local community in Edison was shocked by this event and CAIR spearheaded a multi-organization condemnation and pressure campaign on the local mayors to apologize for attending the event and promise further screening of parades before issuing permits. We also put enough pressure on the Indian Business Association that they publicly apologized for the offensive imagery at the parade and agreed to work with local officials to prevent this from happening in the future.
I also worked on multiple op-eds criticizing the state of New Jersey’s policy of defunding investments in companies that exercise a boycott of Israel on humanitarian grounds. These op-eds criticized this policy’s coercive nature, which stifles the free speech rights of individuals and corporations who want to exercise a peaceful boycott of a country to advocate for human rights. These op-eds were published in renowned New Jersey and national outlets like NorthJersey.com under USA Today, and the Palestinian magazine, Mondoweiss. The opportunity to get published was big for me because I am interested in journalism as well and passionate about issues such as these.
These are two instances where international issues correlated directly with our work as a civil rights organization because we advocate for human rights not only in NJ but internationally as well including India and Israel. I had the opportunity to do research into international human rights as they relate to those two countries and learn more about the geopolitics of the Middle East and South Asia. This internship has allowed me to combine things I have learned in classes like Comparative Foreign Policy and Public International Law to get on hand experience in the field of civil rights advocacy both domestically and abroad. I also got to enhance my research skills which I gained from classes like Investigating IR and DiploLab. I am interested in pursuing a career in law or journalism in the future and this internship helped me to combine both disciplines while also gaining valuable insights by working with experienced lawyers and journalists.