Activism & Civil Rights Domestic Affairs

Spying Is Not OK, No Matter What the Polls Say

By Imraan Siddiqi relationship between the Muslim community and the NYPD has grown contentious in the last few months in light of the rash of recent revelations of Islamophobic training materials and extensive spying on the community. First, there was the controversy regarding NYPD officers being trained with the anti-Muslim film “The Third Jihad.” Next, came the ensuing cover-up/mistruths about the department and Chief Ray Kelly’s participation in the film. Now, the most explosive news has been the revelation that Muslims throughout the northeast have been targeted by the NYPD’s surveillance for the better part of the past half-decade. From mosques and MSAs to conferences and restaurants—all have been fair game for keeping tabs on Muslim-Americans’ habits and social activities. And while the long-term implications of the spying scandal are not limited to Muslims, there are many out there who are defending and supporting the NYPD’s actions. What is most concerning, is that spying programs like these are now being revealed in many Muslim communities throughout the U.S.

From the majority of the Muslim community, there has been an outcry, a feeling of violation and mistrust that law enforcement has run a continual program gathering information on mosques, MSA’s and social hangouts. The intelligence that was gathered was negligible—no terrorist plots were thwarted, no sleeper cells infiltrated, and no pattern of radicalization was uncovered.  All they did uncover was how long a person’s beard was, how many times per day they prayed and what conferences students attended. Oftentimes, the NYPD deployed plainclothes officers to photograph and monitor Muslim individuals, businesses, and congregations—all without any prior criminal record or probable cause for doing so.

“But a Recent Poll Says…”

Many media outlets are quoting a recent Quinnipiac Poll, that shows that a vast majority of New Yorkers support the NYPD’s efforts—namely monitoring the Muslim community. There are so many things that are wrong with this that it is hard to know where to begin. First and foremost, a public opinion poll does not justify the abuse of civil liberties on Americans. We are all afforded the same rights as Americans regardless of race, religion or gender—if those who were polled are ok with the NYPD’s actions, it is primarily due to the fact that their rights have not been infringed upon yet.

In a poll just this week, the majority of GOP voters surveyed in Alabama and Mississippi thought that President Obama is a Muslim—which goes to show that the rhetoric that shapes public opinion sometimes has far more influence than the facts of the matter. There was a time in our nation’s history where public opinion supported the internment of Japanese Americans, along with a time where public opinion agreed with enacting Communist witch hunts. If the phraseology of the Quinnipiac Poll asked, “Would you be ok with the NYPD monitoring you and your family at church, restaurants or movies?”,it is guaranteed that the findings of the survey would be very different.

There are also some Muslims who have stood up in support of the NYPD’s spying program.  A group of Muslims recently held a pep rally with Rep. (R-NY) Peter King, in support of the NYPD and their actions. Other media personalities have stood in solidarity with the NYPD, claiming that it is perfectly ok for the Muslim community to be subject to special rules and regulations. If we examine these personas a little closer, we see that they are political opportunists who are profiteering from opposing the Muslim community on civil liberties issues while assigning collective guilt to the community on the subject of terrorism.

As Americans and as Muslims—it is our duty to stand up for the rights of the people. As we move forward from these stunning allegations, the Muslim community can shift from a position of stress to a position of leadership on the issue of civil rights in America. We find ourselves at the forefront of protecting civil liberties for our great nation as we are the ones primarily targeted right now.

For those who think that the NYPD case is an isolated incident, it’s time to think again.  It has been revealed that the FBI has been deploying its informants at mosques throughout Southern California, and through the Midwest. These informants have often been ex-criminals, or individuals with immigration violations posing as converts to Islam.  Check out this shocking video:

Just as in the case of the NYPD spying scandal—no actionable intelligence was gathered from the Southern California infiltration case. Rather, the informant was given carte blanche by the FBI to seduce women from the Muslim community, then record their interactions—all to be held against them in the hopes that they would also flip and become potential informants. Once again, it is important to state that the Muslim community should have an open and honest relationship with law enforcement—however the influx of spying cases that are coming out are doing far more damage, along with fostering an environment of mistrust. The question is, what will we do to protect the rights of not only Muslims, but of all Americans alike?

In the annals of American history, the most memorable individuals who helped advance and protect the civil rights of the people are the very ones who bucked public opinion and stood upon sound principle. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both were under intense scrutiny and surveillance by the FBI and law enforcement until their respective untimely deaths. This did not allay them from their goal of achieving equality and justice under the system that affords us those very rights. The same can be said about the Muslim community. If we allow ourselves to sit back and allow our rights to be taken away, or be adjudicated in a biased manner—we will be doing a disservice to our civic and religious rights.

There are many ways we can stand up and support this cause. You can write or tweet your local congress member and let them know that the NYPD spying case should be federally probed. Click here for more info.

Many Muslim communities have local police advisory boards.  These are great opportunities to discuss cases like these, along with other concerns with your local law enforcement agencies.  If we are able to get in front of these issues, and address them with law enforcement—it will show a good faith effort being put forth by the community, along with an absolute denunciation of tactics such as entrapment and spying. If your community does not already have an advisory board, talk with local leaders about forming one.

You can write an op-ed in your local paper and let them know that this is an American issue—not just a Muslim issue.  By doing so, it will highlight our community’s commitment to justice and civil rights in this great nation.


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  • Jazakallah khair for shedding light on this very important issue! I completely agree that just because one public opinion poll is showing approval of this program it certainly doesn’t mean its the right thing to. I’ve learned from my American History class that during the time of slavery in the U.S. not every southerner had a slave but a lot of southerners were in favor of this cruel practice.

  • Very profound and educational article…thank you for the share.

    You brought up a good point in that the tactics and reasoning behind the tactics aren’t vile only because they are being used on some Muslims…but they are vile on principle and moral basis…it is wrong irregardless of religion, race, creed, ethnicity, culture, national origin, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, handicap status, etc.

  • Please try to remember that for every bad, stupid cop there are more good cops who put their lives on the line to defend innocent people, Muslim or not. We are disturbed by some voices who have condemned the entire force while they do not acknowledge the good work being done.

    Abu Hurairah reported: The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

    لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ

    “He has not thanked Allah who has not thanked people.”

    [Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 40, Number 4811]

  • I have very mixed feelings about the MSA spying case. I belonged to an MSA at a major university in DC and our MSA definitely received large sums of money from Saudis and other rich Arabs who were not students of the University. Some of these individuals even recruited students jobs in engineering/comp science in Saudi Arabia after graduation. I’m not trying to imply that these acts of charity were shady or subversive to the govt, but I still found it to be very odd. This was, of course, over 10 years ago in a pre-9/11 environment. But to deny that MSAs attract certain radical elements or individuals is wrong. In EVERY MSA there are those few individuals who are hardline Muslims who want to convert as many non-muslims on campus as possible and work on making those liberal and moderate muslims more conservative and practicing of their deen. Sometimes these hardliner Muslims can guilt trip other students into a radicalized view of Islam, which can result in dangerous ideas and thoughts. This is not to say that every radical Muslim is danger or a threat to Americans or society. Muslims in America have the right to practice Islam to whatever degree they feel comfortable. On the other hand, we must take into consideration that it is the FBI’s job to protect American citizens — including Muslim American citizens. If they feel the need to spy on MSA activities, and MSAs have nothing to hide (which they shouldn’t) then we should be welcoming them with open arms. Let them learn about Islam and learn about Muslims. Let them learn about the different types of Muslims (liberal, moderate, conservative, indifferent, etc) that live and work in our country and all the good things that MSAs do for their universities and communities. And PLEASE, let us not get sidetracked by these little juicy tidbits like “the FBI is seducing our sisters.” Seriously? If you are genuinely concerned about the FBI’s monitoring activities, let’s focus on the civil rights issues and not turn this into a bad reality show. Reality is a hard enough pill to swallow as it is.

    • Assalaamu Alaikum Mae.

      First let me say that this comment is intended for all to read but relates a little bit more closely with the comment you left. Also, this is not a criticism of your post at all, just some thoughts that arose from reading it.

      I understand why you’re uncomfortable with donations coming from people in Saudi Arabia. Through mass media, we have become conditioned to assume the worst of any good that comes from that region. These suspicions may be well founded in some cases, and not in other cases.

      I do have to say that this rhetoric about the “us and them” between the muslims is incredibly unsettling. For example, you talk about those stricter muslims who are really passionate about dawah, and you also talk about welcoming the police officers with open arms (which I actually do partially agree with) and showing them how many different types of muslims there are.

      The thing is, there have always been different mind sets among Muslims. For example, we should reflect on why there are the four great Imams, who differed with each other on certain things, but all really respected one another. It has only been until recently that the division among Muslims has accelerated to such an extent that this rhetoric and mindset is being perpetuated with our own words. And we don’t even realize it half the time!

      The tactic is simple: Divide and Conquer. That is exactly what islamophobic organizations are successfully doing every time we imply that one group of Muslims is “good” and the other is “bad.” The world just isn’t that simple.

      After reading this article and contemplating about the direction that the ummah is going, I was a little bit heart-broken. I opened the Quran to read Al-Shura (Consultation) because that is simply where I had left off last. SubhanAllah, the surah couldn’t have addressed my concerns more clearly.

      The middle of verse 13 reads “Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions within it.” Then continues on to say, “They divided, out of rivalry, only after knowledge had come to them, and, if it had not been for a decree already passed by your Lord to reprieve them until an appointed time, they would have already been judged.” It then goes on to say that there should be no argument between Muslims. The surah also emphasizes that the prophet was only sent down to deliver a message.

      I’m not very religious (unfortunately), but I think it is especially important for the ummah to join together and turn to Allah swt and trust in him during these times. InshaAllah that’s what will happen, rather than us turning our backs on each other and dividing up into even more factions.

  • 1. Why was this even a surprise? Did anyone seriously think that post 9/11 there wouldn’t be spying on American Muslims? I can’t understand why people are so shocked by this.

    2. As a Muslims, I have no problem with law enforcement spying on me, as long as it’s in a public place (i.e. don’t bug my private property without a warrant). Look, we don’t have anything to hide. Are they detaining us? No. Are they physically threatening us? No. If in fact all they did was OBSERVE our PUBLIC BEHAVIOR, then what exactly is the issue? Who exactly got hurt because of this spying? The most that’ll happen is that some agent is going to realize that we are in fact advocates of peace and justice.

    3. As much as I disagree with the point of view of this particular outcry, I STRONGLY RESPECT the fact that you are making your voice heard. We as Muslims need to take a more proactive role as American citizens. That means getting involved in our communities and being part of the social and political processes. Whatever our view may be, please let’s not sit on our couches and complain. Vote, write, advocate, whatever.

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