At a forum on Muslim community issues that took place last week, several of New York’s Democratic mayoral candidates were asked if they support the surveillance of Muslims, and the leading candidates responded with a resounding “Yes.”
During the forum, the responses of mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn demonstrated to New Yorkers that even among Democrats, spying on Muslims is still considered a justifiable and acceptable practice. Following the terrorists attacks on September 11,2001, Muslims were portrayed in the media as the national "other," creating a situation in which their surveillance was viewed as a necessary measure in the name of national security. However, many of those being spied on had no prior records and have never demonstrated any anti-American sentiment. Essentially, the NYPD set out on a witch-hunt of American citizens based on their religion and ethnicity. The overwhelming support of leading political candidates for this type of activity causes one to wonder whether New York is just one step away from becoming a verifiable police state.
In a country that prides itself on being built upon traditions of religious freedom and personal liberties, the outright endorsement of the violation of an entire community’s civil liberties seems particularly hypocritical. As an Associated Press article from 2001 pointed out, since September 11, 2001 the NYPD has far out-stepped its boundaries by becoming one of the most aggressive spy agencies in the United States. The NYPD’s activities include the creation of a human mapping program through the infiltration of communities and student groups by undercover police, and the constant monitoring of mosques, cafes, bookstores, and any other establishment frequented by Muslims. To make matters worse, the results of these operations have been far from successful, as the NYPD has compiled endless amounts of data on innocent civilians while failing to apprehend those who pose a real threat.
As a study from CUNY law school pointed out, these programs have created an atmosphere of mutual distrust between Muslim Americans and the NYPD. Additionally, they have made Muslim American students hesitant to discuss political issues and international affairs for fear of being targeted. Lawyers have begun to question the legality of such activities and many Muslim American students in Universities across the east coast are up in arms. Despite the fact the debate surrounding the trade-offs between civil liberties and security seems to have died down significantly, these practices are hardly going to be abolished if they have the staunch support of politicians from every end of the spectrum.
Although the situation appears bleak for Muslim Americans in New York, hope that the privacy of innocent civilians could find a champion among the Democratic Party’s mayoral candidates still exists. At the aforementioned conference in Brooklyn, John Lui and Erik Salgado raised their hands high to the sound of applause as they expressed their opposition to the targeting of innocent Muslims for surveillance. John Lui is without a doubt the favored candidate among Muslims. The Asian American politician makes a habit of visiting a mosque every Friday, and has demonstrated his deep respect for the Muslim community. A supporter of civil liberties, he has also called for an end to the NYPD’s stop and frisk program. Meanwhile, Salgado is an evangelical reverend who has demonstrated a real concern for social issues and for the inclusion of immigrants throughout his career. Whether either of these candidates will have what it takes to land New York City’s highest office remains to be seen, but what does appear certain is that the debate in New York over whether or not to spy on Muslims will be not be over after this year’s mayoral election.