America Is the Land of the Free – Unless You're Muslim
To most Americans, Thursday was perfectly mundane. The Olympics were drawing to a close, people were still discussing House of Cards, and things were gearing up for the weekend. All of those were things I should have been mulling over, but none of them were.
For me, Thursday was nowhere near normal. It was the night that the Land of the Free's justice system ruled that my voice meant nothing, that my rights were a joke and that I, along the rest of my faith community, was not allowed to feel protected in the country I called home.
I am Muslim-American, and I am not protected under the laws of the United States.
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that it was within the framework of the Constitution to treat Muslim religious centers, businesses and student associations as terrorist organizations following revelations that the New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students and professors beyond the city limits. Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization, filed a lawsuit in June 2012 on behalf of 11 Muslim individuals, businesses and organizations in New Jersey. The lawsuit alleged that the surveillance program violated their constitutional rights by targeting them on the basis of religion.
Within the program, the NYPD did every possible thing in order to find and convict potential "terrorists" of wrongdoing. They spent years poring over Muslim websites on a daily basis, attending whitewater rafting trips organized by Muslim college students, and making note of who attended what event and how many prayers people engaged in. The Associated Press revealed that the NYPD built frameworks with help from the CIA to monitor Muslims where they eat, shop and worship.
With all this hard work, it's almost a joke as to how many people were found guilty of terrorist activity: not one Muslim American.
Yet the judge felt it was permissible — that it was covered under the rights of the Constitution — to spy on law abiding citizens because "plaintiffs did not show discrimination or injury."
On Thursday, it was ruled in a federal court that silencing a vibrant minority community by threat and reality of surveillance was a thing to be celebrated, not condemned. The reality for Muslim Americans in the nation today is that we face suspicion, anger and accusation on a daily basis. This is not a recent development.
I grew up being told to keep my head down, and when I was younger, I thought that maybe it was because the community elders were paranoid.
We all knew about the weird guy that would show up at our religious center out of the blue and talk crazy about al-Qaida and his anger against America. Funny enough, once everyone ignored him, which everyone did because we all had our own jobs, lives and families and were law-abiding citizens, he would disappear, just as mysteriously as he had appeared.
I grew up knowing that trying to speak out against any sort of injustice faced in America would cause for my name to end up on a list, that wiretapping was not an urban myth and that I could never feel truly at home in the nation I worked so hard to give back to and be a part of. Standing up for my rights would not necessarily be rewarded with justice, and it was in my best interest to remain silent and stay safe.
It was a common truth that the Muslim-American community deserved to be watched, that we were unstable and that we were not going to provide anything of benefit to the greater American community. Our rights were not ours. Our voices were not meant to be heard.
When Edward Snowden revealed the egregious truths that the government was wiretapping everyday citizens in America, the uproar that followed made me laugh. Suddenly, everyone cared about what was going on. Now that the stereotypical innocent American citizen was being targeted, people cared. The argument that there was a purpose to the wiretaps, that watching random individuals to be safe rather than sorry, everything that had been used to justify the injustices was thrown out the window. We were focusing on innocents, that their lives were disrupted and that their privileges taken away.
Suddenly, the silencers were silenced. For a brief second, the nation held its breath. For a brief second, the nation knew what it meant to be a Muslim American.
The second passed.
Things went back to normal, even as the reality had shifted.
But the reality of Muslim Americans remained unchanged.
Last Thursday, we were told that it was constitutionally conscientious to be watched if you ascribed to a certain faith tradition. A judge said that the lack of evidence within the surveillance program of finding any one guilty was enough to keep the program going. The American justice system tried to strip away the voice of the Muslim-American community. The Muslim-American community refused to let that be a reality.
I discovered my voice that day, and I will never allow it to be taken from me under the guise of freedom. Until it is freedom for all, justice in America remains freedom for none.