A quick glance through leaked NYPD intelligence reports on Muslim communities in New York City and Newark, New Jersey should make Americans feel uneasy about the activities of law enforcement in the United States. Three months ago, the Associated Press released more evidence that New York’s finest went far out of its jurisdiction to conduct unwarranted surveillance on Muslim Americans.
The “Newark, New Jersey Demographics Report” was not an investigation into a crime, or even a probable crime, but was actually a mapping of Muslim life across the Hudson River by the NYPD. Furthermore, the NYPD didn’t find terrorists in the midst of Newark Muslim life. Instead, they found that owners of a halal meat shop chose to carry Mecca Cola, “in place of Coke or Pepsi”, and that more than one discount retail store sold “religious picture frames”.
Human Terrain System (HTS)-style mapping of Muslim life in the United States indicates once more that American law enforcement has gone abundantly haywire. Law enforcement has gone from prioritising the protection of the US constitution in day-to-day American life, to deploying militaristic HTS tactics developed by the US army to be used in a warzone context.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD intelligence unit has spent its resources meticulously charting, as the NYPD report put it, “the largest geographic population concentrations of people from countries of concern”. Photographs and details recorded of mosques and other institutions owned and operated by Muslims, such as numerous fast food restaurants, a Dunkin Donuts, and two schools for girls, fill the pages of the report and reveal an intensive and invasive practice spelling out assumptions about an “enemy within”.
Yet, it should not surprise us to discover that this is the handling of Muslim life by the NYPD. After a decade’s worth of training programmes in various branches of US law enforcement, teaching police officers, FBI agents, and US soldiers that “Islam is the enemy”, the subsequent antagonistic conduct by policing agencies is an inevitable result. American Muslims, who have been all too aware of surveillance and infiltrators in their communities in the years since 9/11, have been given a clear message: their presence within US borders will meet with suspicion from law enforcement. The lingering effect on Muslim communities has been detrimental.
“Let’s ask how [the] NYPD’s illegal unauthorised surveillance of American Muslims in New Jersey doesn’t lead to the denigration of a faith practiced by 1.3 billion people? NYPD’s spying programme does exactly that,” says one of the plaintiffs, Farhaj Hassan.
Hassan is also a decorated US soldier who was on active duty in Iraq for 14 months. He feels that surveillance schemes have lowered mosque attendance in his area:
“It’s too bad. Islam is a great faith that expresses the importance of community, good health, good moral character, and good citizenship.”
After the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and commissioner of the NYPD, Ray Kelly, defended the surveillance practice and the refusal of federal officials to launch an inquiry into the actions of the NYPD, this move by New Jersey Muslims to take on the City of New York on their own, to defend their constitutional right to practice their religion, is a courageous one. Says Hassan:
“I’ve been associated with the mechanisms of military power for over a decade – now I’m associated with a ground breaking civil rights case. Only in America.”
The United States was founded upon the principles of religious freedom and pluralism. The US constitution was written to protect citizens generally and minorities in particular, from the tyranny of governing powers.
So it falls to eight American Muslims from New Jersey to remind their fellow American citizens of this historic fact. After 10 years of laws that have undermined many constitutional rights, beginning with the USA Patriot Act, it is sobering that eight citizens must sue the authorities to maintain rights that should be inalienable.