Muslims Say NYPD Surveillance Is Already Changing Behavior

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NYU Law Student Elizabeth Dann says families are pressuring Muslim students to avoid Muslim student gatherings (WNYC/Arun Venugopal)

Reports of the NYPD’s surveillance program targeting Muslim student groups, businesses and mosques across the region have provoked outrage, even as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials have defended the program, arguing the practice is keeping the city safe.

But the news is having side effects: prompting some Muslims to stop frequenting places out of fear of being monitored, or avoiding discussion of politically sensitive topics.

"A lot of families are pressuring their sons and daughters to either not be involved in anything to do with the Islamic Center at NYU, to not pray there, to not go, to not hang out with other members," said Elizabeth Dann, a third year law student at New York University, and the outreach director of the school's Muslim Law Students Association.

While Dann says it's too early to say whether attendance at Muslim gatherings at NYU will dip, CUNY undergrad Dania Darwish says the impact is already being felt at her Muslim Students Association.

"I used to go there and we used to barely have room to sit down," Darwish said. "And now, I just come in and it's sort of empty."

She thinks students have been "traumatized" by the revelations, and also notes that discussions have been stifled, ever since the Hunter College Muslim Students Association posted a sign asking students to refrain from having political discussions when initial reports of NYPD surveillance surfaced last year.

The sign has since been taken down, she said, but the idea behind it remains, "not to talk about world affairs, and not to talk about the uprisings in the Arab Spring, or not to talk about anything political, it makes me feel oppressed."

In addition to student groups, attendance may also be down at some mosques.

Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdul Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, says that while African American Muslims haven't changed their patterns of worship at mosques, Muslim immigrants have.

"In some cases people are coming, really just being uneasy, and in other instances people are actually staying away," he explained

Other Muslim leaders say the fear extends to Muslim business owners. Some are hearing from customers who are increasingly antsy about the idea of frequenting a store or restaurant that's been under NYPD surveillance, not only in New York, but in New Jersey, where the NYPD conducted surveillance of Muslims in Newark.

The NYPD argues that the surveillance of Muslim Student Associations is justified because a dozen alumni of the groups went on to be arrested or charged with terrorist plots. They include Anwar al-Awlaki, the chief propagandist for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, until he was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last year, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the Underwear Bomber.

However, Dann says students worry they'll be the victims of guilt by association, even years from now.

"The fear is that, if at any point, you come into contact, whether intentional or not, with someone who later becomes a criminal, or later becomes a suspect or terrorist, that taint can never be scrubbed off," she explained

That's the same fear felt by Bay Ridge resident Zein Rimawi. He has six children, one of whom is studying at Columbia, another at Harvard. They're both actively involved in their school’s MSA. Rimawi says he doesn't discourage them from staying active in the groups. but he worries for their future, arguing that being under constant surveillance will only amplify any of their routine lapses.

"Because if you keep watching these kids, year after year, and they make small mistakes,” he explained, “and [if authorities] collect all these mistakes, and talk about them in front of a jury, of course all these mistakes, will be a big, big mistake, and to some people here, maybe they will be criminals."


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Comments [22]


Law student, eh? Started thinking about that future job yet? May I make a suggestion? Check out JD Match in between the papers and exams. I work with JD Match and it’s a great step for any law student looking for an AmLaw firm job and a little weight off their shoulders.

Mar. 06 2012 01:22 PM
Truth Prevails from Toronto

Why are the muslim students abandoning the mosques and gathering areas? They should in fact be increasing in numbers, as this is the beginning of a fight against rights. Furthermore there is nothing to hide within the mosques and MSAS, Islam addresses real issues and highly regards the rights of their people and how to make facilitate easy living for the Muslims of America. STAY in the mosques, KEEP COMING, and do NOT let NYPD stop you from attending, because THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT. They want to see nobody coming in. Are the Muslims going to walk away? Where is your emaan guys, if anything see this as an opportunity to show NYPD that Islam is certainly peaceful and they would not find anything suspicious from surveillance but rather they will see Islam as a religion trying to RID the tyranny that is dominating humanity in the West as well as the Arab spring through awareness and education. Please, stay in the MSAS and continue going. DO NOT let them stop you, for that will be stepping down and we are not a people of cowardice. Thank you

Mar. 01 2012 09:07 PM
Habib - setit from Riyadh - K S A

HI every body , in order to participate from Arab world would please translate to Arabic languages , thank you

Mar. 01 2012 03:51 AM

@Tara from NYC Feb. 29 2012 11:25 AM

Are you seriously comparing Muslim student associations with 'Christian Identity' groups? 'Christian Identity' is a particularly violent subset of the white power movement that advocates oppression and even deportation and death against those of us who are not both white and christian.

I hope you can see the difference between these bigots and associations of students who practice the Islamic faith.

Mar. 01 2012 02:45 AM

i was stopped and questioned by the nypd in westchester during my lunch break. at the time I was 22. I have never been a muslim, but my grandparents were. To this day I regret not demanding he give me his badge number. This was back in 2009. I was too scared when I saw the NYPD paperwork to question what was going on, I just answered his questions - where I worked, what I was doing etc..

Feb. 29 2012 03:42 PM

Tara, innocent individuals ARE being harassed by the NYPD every day. In fact, almost 1900 times each day in 2011 - it's called "Stop and Frisk." And this amateur-hour surveillance program is simply one more instance of the NYPD focusing on an end while ignoring the means.

Feb. 29 2012 02:45 PM
Gloria E. Lopez from NY

This issue with Muslims being targeted as being kept under surveillance is very troubling to a person such as myself. I am a reasonable person so therefore I can understand fear and apprehension in light of the past events referring to terrorism here in the USA and the rest of the World. However, to target a whole culture because the perpetrators were of a specific religion? I don't see it and definitely cannot condone it. Then for that matter why not target Zionist Israelis who have done their share of terrorism on the Palestinians?, For example. Just asking.

Feb. 29 2012 02:08 PM
Ahmad from USA

Priscilla King:

There's been plenty of condemnation of terrorist attacks by Muslims. Here's a long list:

I personally don't believe Muslims should apologize for criminal acts they have no connection to simply on the basis that people who don't know about or care to know about their religion assume all 1.5 billion Muslims on Earth think alike or know what each other are up to.

How childish, naive, and clueless. It's a common idea, unfortunately.

Again, incredible ignorance in a country which is, oddly, one of the most diverse in the world.

Feb. 29 2012 01:31 PM
Priscilla King from USA

Christians hate bigotry and suspicion too...but I'd like to hear more Muslims denouncing those who commit murder, terrorism, and treason in the name of "The Way of Peace."

I mean, I'm actively looking for links, if any of these people have blogs.

Feb. 29 2012 12:54 PM
Ahmad from USA

I find this all pretty depressing.

There hasn't been a single actual terrorist attack conducted or planned by a US Muslim. The 9/11 hijackers avoided socializing with US Muslims before the attacks.

And every "plot" since then where a US Muslim was involved had very clear government involvement. It's called entrapment. In the latest Capitol Hill plot, the "plotter" was goaded every step of the way and even given the "weapons" by agents. Imagine: a "terrorist plot" where the only people involved were government agents and one person (of minimal intelligence: easy targets) who could be convinced to say "yes". What a victory.

Here's the ugly truth: The "threat" or risk of terrorism in the US is so minuscule, it's more likely you'll get struck by lightening than killed in a terrorist attack. And because of your delusional fear and ignorance, you not only don't care when democracy is being cut down, you actually encourage it. And when enough people in a country don't care to spend time and investigate what's going on and educate itself on civic matters (like why habeas corpus matters) and then act, democracy doesn't last very long in that country. Democracy is not built on fear and stupidity.

Feb. 29 2012 12:52 PM

MaryAnn and Hotdog have it right, the authorities are being stubborn and ridiculous in their defense of these idiotic surveillance missions. What a huge waste of resources and manpower. This is an example of the lack of creativity when it comes to actually preventing violent crimes, where tradition and habit rule the day.
As for Tara, no one is proposing to "watch one group, and not the other." You are correct in that all religious groups should have some equality in the eyes of the law. But when our public money is used on witch hunts, then the autorities certainly have to show that there have been productive results. No official has brought forth any evidence that the surveillance of Muslim groups in America has been worth the effort, other than 'peace of mind.' The few individuals that "John" mentioned in his comments are examples of violence put forth by citizens on their own behalf and they are not connected to 'organized plans of terrorism' by any groups whatsoever.
So these NYPD missions are not warranted, not at all. I believe they are still part of the 'gut reaction' that we had as a nation after the 9/11 attacks. However, that's not justification, nor is it sensible.
All that aside, I don't know if anyone caught the sarcasm in Hotdog's comments: "catch the Communists," get it? It is about citizen's rights to privacy and not having big brother looking over our shoulders. McCarthyism is a good example of the authorities gone haywire. They were looking for Commies under every couch and chair and they actually made up 'bad guys' out of regular American folks, just to satisfy their dangerous zeal.

Feb. 29 2012 12:16 PM

I'm with MaryAnn Johanson. It's amazing to read all these comments which make the same arguments that were used during McCarthyism era and when the gov't ran the Japanese internment camps.

People like Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski were white, American citizens and terrorists of the worst kind so I guess we should just tap everyones phones, read your email, and go through your underwear drawer at home just to be sure everyone isn't a terrorist... I mean, you can't be too safe right?

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave indeed!

Feb. 29 2012 11:59 AM
Tara from NYC

Clearly not every single Muslim is being watched...certain GROUPS of Muslims have been targeted for surveillance. It's ok to believe this is wrong, but don't be a hypocrite. If it's ok for certain groups espousing Christian identity beliefs to be watched, then it should be ok for other religious identified groups as well. Personally I think that if there is a valid reason to believe (and I guess this would be the sticking point for most folks)that certain "groups", whomever they may be, are planning violent activities then surveillance by law enforcement is warranted.

Feb. 29 2012 11:25 AM

I just logged in here to thank MaryAnn Johanson for being one of the few that has commented so far that even understands and comprehends what liberty even means. I would add if you don't have the guts to stand up for it especially when you are scared you deserve to be next to come under government surverillance. But remember the government is out to protect itself as an institution not you as an individual with rights. you don't get to decide you are doing or have done nothing wrong. The government gets to decide.

Feb. 29 2012 11:10 AM
Tara from NYC

Just an FYI to folks who think that it is only Muslim groups who are watched for possible extremist activities that may turn violent...there are Christian groups that are watched as well. You may not hear about it in the news unless someone is arrested, but it's a fact. "Army of God" is one such group. I worked for Planned Parenthood for many years and know for a fact that there are many groups organized around religious beliefs that are watched. It's not only Muslims.

Feb. 29 2012 10:40 AM
Thewinemaker from New Jersey

Islam is relatively young religion; it will learn how to be better "deceptive" similar to the older religion(s) that it imitates.

Feb. 29 2012 10:34 AM
Tara from NYC

If innocent individuals were being picked up by the police and/or harassed, that would be totally different! I would have a huge problem with that. But just looking into certain Muslim groups to ascertain what types of activities they're up to as a preventative? I have no problem with that personally.

Feb. 29 2012 10:34 AM
MaryAnn Johanson

The comments here are horrifying. It's like these people have no idea what America is even about.

Here's some of what America is about: The presumption of innocence. Due process. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just for some people. For everyone.

My God, it is not "special treatment" to want to live your life without constant police surveillance!

All religions do not "live in peace" in the United States. Christian terrorists bomb abortion clinics and assassinate doctors. Unless you propose that everyone who is publicly Christian be under constant surveillance, and that Christian worship services be infiltrated and spied upon by the police, simply because a tiny minority of Christians have comitted terrorist acts, you are a bigot and hypocrite.

Feb. 29 2012 10:29 AM
Hotdog from nyc

Can they see if they can find some Communists while they continue their search for Terrorist. I know they are out there. Just wish the government would spend some ridiculous amount of money looking for Communist like they did during the "cold war".
The NY PD is doing a good job fighting the Colored folks with the "War on Drugs"(I would only add water boarding to the Unconstitutional search and frisks at the minority train stops). but they have totally give up on the Communists..

Now, lastly i would like to thank Bloomy for not searching or frisking our non criminal coke sniffing bankers. After all they are the ones that made it possible for him to take a $1 a year salary for being a Mayor.

Feb. 29 2012 10:27 AM
Herb from NYC

The world has changed. Look at the political/ violent intafada in liberal Europe. Islam is not as tolerant as Western society. All Religions live here in peace. Not Moslems. Where is their outrage for the killings that their Moslem brothers do to each other & others that do not agree with them?

Feb. 29 2012 09:51 AM
john from office

Redhogg, I agree. We have hand 911, london bombings, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the time square bomber I can go on and on. Some of these were westernized muslims. Sorry, we need to keep an eye on a group that has been shown to be prepared to kill in the name of Islam. If you dont like it, go back to the better societies you came from. India, Pakistan etc.

Feb. 29 2012 09:49 AM
redhogg from New York

On the one hand they want to be treated like everyone else than on the other hand they want special treatment. If they are innocent they have nothing to be concerned about. And in my view not only should the NYPD watch them but every citizen should as well.
You would be foolish otherwise.

And the fact that they are being effected by this is much in the same way society has been effected my the threat from Islam in general. When I was young I remember just waking in the WTC and entering an elevator and going ho to any floor without being stopped or questioned but because of Islam the world has changed. I fault Islam and I always will. So watch every single one of them with both eyes all the time without apologising.

Feb. 29 2012 09:34 AM

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