By Imraan Siddiqi
The 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.