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Secret Surveillance of Muslims Should Concern Us All

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Recent news about the New York Police Department (NYPD) and its surveillance of the Muslim community makes me frightened for my country and my fellow citizens. Not only have we started two illegal, lengthy and expensive wars and are now threatening a third, but we have seemed to abandon some of our core principles in the process.

Our justice system is supposed to operate on the premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, it seems the NYPD has put that aside and is classifying a whole community as suspect, simply because of their religion.

Most of the mainstream media responding to this story have described this as an issue between Muslims and the government. While Muslims' civil rights and civil liberties are under attack, let me be clear -- Muslims aren't the only people concerned. Concerns about the NYPD's activities extend beyond the Muslim community to all those who want the United States to uphold the Constitution.  

Lessons learned during World War II led Pastor Martin Niemoller to observe:

First they came for the   communists ,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the   trade unionists ,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the   Jews ,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


"The idea of Muslim students being monitored by the NYPD genuinely scares me," said Jessica Camacho, a student at Bloomfield College. "I feel as if we are entering another period of history where people of a certain background will be rounded up and kept away to ensure safety without due process. This fear of all Muslims because a few extremists committed horrible crimes is unjust and misplaced. As a society, we can't allow fear to guide our judgments."

Mayor Bloomberg's refusal to launch an investigation into the practices employed by the NYPD because he asserts they were "appropriate, legal and constitutional" is misguided. Not only did the NYPD seem to employ "profiling" rather than follow specific leads, their surveillance extended to Upstate New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey locations that included Muslim Student Associations (MSAs) at Rutgers University. The fact that over the past 40 years, some dozen individuals arrested in connection with "terrorist" activities once belonged to a Muslim Student Association does not provide nearly enough evidence to secretly monitor meetings of today's MSAs and employs a common logical principle that is important for policymakers to remember -- correlation does not imply causality.

NYPD activities now being publicized are already having a chilling effect on Muslims and their right to peaceably assemble and to freely exercise their religion. Students are afraid to attend meetings for fear of using the wrong word or discussing a sensitive topic. Muslim leaders are concerned that people are shying away from attending their mosques out of fear that their mosques are under surveillance.

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Madelyn Hoffman is the Executive Director of NJ Peace Action, based in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She has held that position since August 2000. Madelyn Hoffman traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange in June 2005 and has given dozens of (more...)
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