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.

About

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

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.