The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.

Earlier this week, the NYPD disbanded its Muslim surveillance program.

Good riddance.

Through all the pain, suffering, and headlines this operation caused over the course of a decade, it generated zero leads. A decade of surveillance should have crushed anyone’s hope for a hopeful future. So how did New York Muslims cope in the past few years?

In 2008, civic-minded Linda Sarsour organized the largest voter registration drive in the Arab American community’s history in Brooklyn.  With the Arab American Association of New York, Muslim groups, and others, Sarsour also raised a lot of awareness about the NYPD surveillance problem. In early 2011, New York Muslims passed out thousands of fliers in Times Square reading “Muslims for Loyalty.” These fliers highlighted that loyalty to one’s country was a part of a Muslim’s faith. This led to a blood drive in honor of the 9/11 victims started in NYC, called “Muslims for Life.” It collected over 11,000 pints of blood in its first month and is now an annual campaign that gets showtime at Capitol Hill. NYC comedian Dean Obeidallah was a key part of the “Axis of Evil” comedy tour from 2005-2011, which was instrumental in showing America that Muslims are normal. Now, he teams up with a NYC Jewish comedian in a show called “Stand Up for Peace.” And many New York Muslims have made media appearances dispelling Islamophobic rhetoric.

In a nutshell, in an era of surveillance, New York Muslims carried forward. This peaceful jihad has been nothing short of amazing. Kudos to American Muslims for showing that peaceful progress is possible even when you’re being offered neither peace nor progress.

All Americans should care about this story, not just Muslims. NYPD Mosque surveillance is not a lone wolf operation. There’s NSA surveillance on people all over the world, the Heartbleed bug exploited all of us for years before becoming news, and our personal information sold out of corporations’ back doors to the government. Like a Hydra, every time we get rid of one problem, two more pop up in its place.

But as New York and American Muslims have modeled, we can forget the hate, forget the fear. We can be civic-minded like Linda, humanity driven like Muslims for Life, funny like Dean, or anything else that progresses society. Let’s accept the fact that we’re all in this together. But, let’s also make sure that no amount of scapegoating ever “justifies” such acts of surveillance again.


Salaam Bhatti Salaam Bhatti is a practicing attorney in New York and regularly lectures on Islam and human rights. He is a co-editor of the books "By The Dawn's Early Light" and "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Follow him on Twitter @Salawm

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