Why Muslims should organize against this mega corporation
By Maha Hilal and Kris Garrity
A small group of Black and Muslim attendees who had registered for the May 24, 2022 Amazon Web Services (AWS) Summit in Washington, D.C., were racially and religiously profiled by AWS staff. They were confronted not long after checking in by a large group of AWS staff, building security and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD). After denying them entry to the keynote event , AWS leadership demanded their credentials and called the MPD. Attendee Dr. Maha Hilal — co-author of this article — questioned why AWS was singling out this group, a group of Blacks and Muslim people, to which a white AWS staff member, identifying himself as John Dove, responded that he “didn’t see color.” This was astoundingly racist and hypocritical, considering Amazon’s performative activism and professed liberalism.
The Muslim and African Ban
When former President Trump first introduced his Muslim and African Ban on Jan. 27, 2017, there was a litany of unexpected voices who opposed it, including Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder and former CEO). Within three days of Trump signing the first iteration of the ban, Bezos came out against it — not only dedicated legal resources to fighting it, but also supported the Washington state attorney general who was mounting a legal challenge. According to https://techcrunch.com (Jan. 30, 2017) Bezos then reiterated his position in an email to Amazon employees, stating that, “This executive order is one we do not support.” Further reassuring them he wrote, “To our employees in the U.S. and around the world who may be directly affected by this order, I want you to know that the full extent of Amazon’s resources are behind you.”
Like any good billionaire of a tech company and founder of the go-to platform for buying almost anything, Bezos’ concern about the ban almost certainly doesn’t seem rooted in his sympathy for the Amazon workers’ plight in general, but rather — and like other symbolic gestures such as placing a Back Lives Matter banner on Amazon’s website — his interest was in the company’s revenue. Given Amazon’s track record when it comes to the total disregard of workers’ rights (Casey Newton, www.theverge.com, April 1, 2020) Bezos’ concern over religious freedom doesn’t seems genuine. Moreover, when it comes to Muslims, Amazon’s history with Islamophobia portrays a much different story.
Case in point — Somalia was one of the countries targeted by the ban. Many of Amazon’s warehouse workers in Shakopee, Minn., are Somali Muslims. Despite assurances of support for its workers impacted by the ban, Amazon functionally treats its Muslim workers along the same principles that Trump did — Muslims are disposable, suspect and other. Shakopee’s Somali Muslim workers have been subjected to a lack of religious accommodations. Workers who take time to pray are penalized and threatened with write-ups or firing for not keeping up with the grueling quota Amazon imposes. And those who began to organize for these reasons faced retaliation (Caitlin O’Kane, www.cbsnews.com, May 9, 2019).
Less than three months after the first ban was signed, Amazon was under heavy scrutiny because Muslim workers employed by the corporation’s security contractor company — Security Industry Specialists (SIS) — complained that they weren’t being provided with religious accommodations, including little to no space to perform prayers (South Seattle Emerald, Feb. 18, 2017). When they expressed their grievances, Amazon allegedly retaliated (The Stranger, May 8, 2017). Also, security staff working directly for Amazon experienced opposition. Though not as acute as what Muslim SIS workers faced, those working for Amazon directly reported issues such as managers keeping track of how long it took for a worker to pray and the dirtying of prayer rugs.
Amazon and the Facilitation of Violence Against Muslims
“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” This is the slogan of The Order — a white supremacist group, which borrowed its name from William Luther Pierce’s (writing under the pen name of Andrew Macdonald) “The Turner Diaries” (National Vanguard Books, 1978), which is a novel about a violent race war that leads to systematic extermination of people of color, race traitors and Jews. If not for the Ōtautahi/Christchurch massacre at an Aotearoa/New Zealand mosque three years ago, we would not have known that this group — or the book that inspired it — existed. But because the shooter adopted philosophies espoused by The Order when he murdered 51 Muslims while they were praying, we’ll never forget it.
“The Turner Diaries” is called “the bible of the racist right,” and for good reason. Despite its ability to inspire targeted violence, it’s readily available for purchase on Amazon alongside other neo-Nazi and white supremacist products, says “Fanning the Flames” (The Action Center on Race and the Economy, 2019), months after the Aotearoa/New Zealand massacre.
When it comes to the Ōtautahi/Christchurch tragedy and other similar atrocities, Amazon has allowed the sale of products rooted in white supremacist violence. Amazon’s “content guidelines” for books only include illegal content and poor customer experience as areas of exception that warrant removal. A note under “other prohibited content,” states, “As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable… we reserve the right not to sell certain content, such as pornography or other inappropriate content.”
In 2021, Amazon finally stopped selling the “The Turner Diaries” — but only after the Capitol insurrection. The idea of diverse viewpoints is a misnomer when it comes to books, films and so on that celebrate violence — especially white supremacist violence — because as the Aotearoa/New Zealand massacre demonstrates, people’s lives are really at stake. Amazon not only facilitates the dissemination of violent ideas, but also provides financial support for those ideas to thrive. So far it has done nothing to change this.
This is where Amazon’s Smile program enters the conversation. Amazon Smile has allowed organizations the opportunity to create accounts and earn a small percentage of the sale of products sold on the site. Unfortunately, this extends to some groups promoting the worst forms of bigotry and violence, such as Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum (est. 1994) and Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism (est. 1995) — two groups that advocate criminalizing Muslims and encourage violence towards Muslims by demonizing and dehumanizing them. Amazon has ended this program, which since its creation has donated almost $850 million to charities domestically and globally. However, the donations’ recipients remain undisclosed (NPR, Jan. 19, 2023).
Why Muslims Should Organize Against Amazon
In Islam, seeking justice is imperative. The Qur’an calls on Muslims to stand against injustice, even against their own. In today’s interconnected world, issues impacting Muslims impact other communities as well. Where state violence isn’t inflicting harm on Muslims, corporations such as Amazon are filling the gap. Quran 11:85 speaks about this ongoing struggle, “And do not deprive the people of their due and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” This verse applies directly to Amazon, devolving a responsibility upon Muslims to agitate and push back against its abuses that harm Muslim communities and beyond.
Amazon touches every aspect of peoples’ lives, from hosting countless websites that many of use daily, to its online retail shopping, its fulfillment centers, delivery hubs and data centers in our neighborhoods. It employs members of the community while inflicting environmental pollution and degradation, extracting huge amounts of water and resources from the land and leaving too many former employees disabled without meaningful compensation due to the backbreaking pace involved in filling orders. Some workers have even died. Amazon’s headquarters also fuels rapid gentrification of neighborhoods and the displacements of Black, Indigenous and Brown communities, as we are observing now in Northern Virginia, a pattern that was previously seen in Seattle.
Additionally, its technology and cloud platforming both facilitate and engineer the surveillance technology that police and ICE use, which fuels colonialism and neocolonialism, imperialism and militarism in our communities both here and abroad.
Amazon touches all people and harms us and all our communities in countless ways, which is why it will take collective action to fight this behemoth. As the co-coordinators of the For Us Not Amazon (FUNA) Coalition in DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia), the authors invited to join us in organizing against Amazon in coalition with area organizations.
Dr. Maha Hilal, a Muslim Arab American and an expert on institutionalized Islamophobia, the “War on Terror”, and counternarrative work, is the author of “Innocent Until Proven Muslim” (2022). Her writings have appeared in leading media. She is founding executive director of Muslim Counterpublics Lab.
Kris Garrity, a Muslim who lives in Washington, D.C. on the unceded Lands of the Nacotchtank, Piscataway, Doeg-Tauxenants and Pamunkey Peoples, is a parent, researcher, writer and community organizer. They organize with Serve Your City/Ward 6 Mutual Aid, and the For Us Not Amazon Coalition in the DMV. Their research focuses on surveillance, state violence and whiteness.
Tell us what you thought by joining our Facebook community. You can also send comments and story pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org. Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.