AS Beat Reporter
A recent decision by United States District Judge William Martini on a lawsuit brought to federal court in 2012 by eight Muslim citizens against the New York Police Department serves to once again highlight a troubling trend in the U.S. relations with those of the Muslim faith—a trend of suspicion and ignorance, interrupted by tolerance only when it best serves U.S. interests.
The suit was brought about after a series of Associated Press stories that, based on confidential NYPD documents, revealed the department’s plans to infiltrate several mosques and Muslim student groups as part of a post-9/11 investigation into potential terrorist activities. The plaintiffs’ central claim was that these surveillance programs targeted these groups on the basis of religion and national origin rather than actual criminal motive.
On Feb. 20, the suit was dismissed as a result of Martini’s decision that the Associated Press was more at fault for releasing accounts of the prejudiced programs than the NYPD was for executing them. He stated that because he could see no evidence of the plaintiffs’ having suffered injury before the release of the documents, essentially it was the AP’s fault for causing the plaintiffs’ discontent.
I mean, come on guys, you know what they say—always shoot the messenger.
Christopher Brauchli of the Huffington Post said it best in his assessment of the precedent set by the verdict: “the case of Hassan v. City of New York stands for the proposition that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” It stands also for the permissibility of submitting certain groups to increased scrutiny on the basis of the same speculation that would stand as insufficient evidence when attributed to other groups.
Despite the findings of scholars such as Charles Kurzman, who stated in his report “Muslim-American Terrorism in 2013” that Muslim-American terrorism since 9/11 has been responsible for a mere 37 out of over 190,000 total murders that took place during that time, the stigma assigned to Americans who practice Islam has remained pervasive enough that even today, verdicts such as Martini’s are widely accepted by society. If events such as the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996 or the 1994 bombing of Planned Parenthood in Brookline, Mass., are any indication, it seems doubtful that an attack of a comparable magnitude to 9/11, if carried out by extreme factions of the Christian Right, would result in such an enduring prejudice against Christian Americans as a whole, much less mass surveillance of their institutions.
While American government and society are quick to label such Christian radicals as the exception rather than the norm, they are infinitely more inclined to translate instances of Muslim extremism to broad generalizations about the religion in its entirety. This is a tragic testament to the secularism that we as a nation so pride ourselves on but that in practice never truly proves itself valid; for instance, a set of Christian values has been an unspoken prerequisite for the election of almost every U.S. president to date. That certain religious practices deviating from the Christian norm instill such heightened suspicion in a supposedly secular government is a troubling paradox indeed.
Another particularly interesting aspect of this pervasive Islamophobia is the role the U.S. plays–but would like to pretend it does not–in perpetuating Islamic extremism on a global scale. It is a persistent contradiction that has characterized U.S. interventionist policies throughout recent history. In the 1980s, the U.S. was quick to heavily support the Afghan mujahideen in its efforts to overthrow Soviet occupation, despite the group’s known radical Muslim motives that would surely come to fruition once the Russians withdrew. During the Iran-Iraq War, the government elected to provide aid to the Sunni-dominated Iraqi government and its leader, Saddam Hussein, despite the CIA’s definitive knowledge (revealed more recently by declassified files) of chemical attacks inflicted upon Iranian troops by the Iraqi government, attacks of a far greater magnitude than the Syrian strikes that have caused so much worldwide controversy in recent months.
This information considered, it is hard to be sure of the logic surrounding a foreign policy dynamic that does little to suppress–and in some cases even endorses–religious extremism’s blatant continuance, even as domestic persecution of evidently innocent citizens fosters more and more distrust within society the longer it is allowed to continue. As citizens of a nation perched upon a theoretical platform of freedom and diversity, we cannot set precedents for our authorities that allow them to perform this sort of unfounded infiltration. Global terrorism is a force unlikely to ever be totally eradicated, but fueling domestic suspicion and prejudice without grounds to do so will merely weaken any chance at creating a united front against it.
Could the argument be made that these particular plaintiffs simply didn’t seem “American” enough to question the practices of U.S. law enforcement? Probably not, at least in the eyes of Farhaj Hassan, one plaintiff who served in Iraq and is quoted by Al Jazeera saying, “I have dedicated my career to serving my country, and this just feels like a slap in the face–all because of the way I pray.”