A new report on the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims suggests the program has impacted nearly every facet of Muslim life in a negative way.
“This report provides a powerful rebuttal to the NYPD and its supporters’ assertion that surveillance is harmless and victimless,” Diala Shamas, a Liman Fellow at the CLEAR project and one of the report’s authors, said in a statement. “It is a first-of-its kind opportunity to hear directly from affected community members, many of whom would only speak with us on condition of strict anonymity.”
The NYPD launched its surveillance program in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, monitoring Muslims in New York City and beyond. The intelligence gathering effort was revealed by the Associated Press has faced heavy criticism for both trampling the rights of Muslims and failing to produce any leads of terrorist activities.
The study of 57 American Muslims in New York City found the NYPD’s surveillance program was perceived as suppressing religion freedom, chilling freedom of speech, creating strife within communities, and harming trust of law enforcement officials. Many of the American Muslims in the study were “directly mentioned in leaked NYPD Intelligence Division documents,” according to the report.
Many Muslims reduced their involvement with mosques or refused to be seen in them altogether after news of the surveillance program broke, the report stated. Many also became skeptical of new congregants, worrying they could actually be police informants. An imam complained Muslims stopped coming to his mosque for daily prayers due to the NYPD camera placed right outside the building.
The report also noted that many Muslims engaged in self-censorship and avoided political events after learning of the surveillance program, fearing they could become a target of the intelligence gathering operation. The owner of a hookah bar refused to allow Al Jazeera to be aired, while another Muslim avoided discussing the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The stifling of free speech extended to college campuses as well.
“If you don’t have a comfortable place in class and with other students to say or try ideas out, say what might be considered ‘radical’ things, to draw parallels comfortably, and to get inside of ideas, you’ve lost one of the most important aspects of colleges. That’s devastating. Both in terms of Muslim students being able to think through things, but also devastating because the range of discussion in class is diminished,” Jeanne Theoharis, a professor at Brooklyn College, said in the report.
The report was prepared by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project.
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