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Towards A Police State in New York

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by Belen Fernandez (AlJazeera English)

Joseph Goldstein’s New York Times article of February 3 outlines a request from US civil rights lawyers to federal judge Charles S Haight Jr for an independent evaluation of the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism techniques.

Writes Goldstein: “The lawyers said the police’s tactics have placed Muslim communities under surveillance in violation of longstanding federal court guidelines.” Among these guidelines is a prohibition on the retention of information collected during surveillance operations unless it pertains “to potential unlawful or terrorist activity”.

As the Associated Press revealed in 2011, Muslim populations in the New York area had been targeted by a pervasive spying apparatus known as the Demographic Unit, the fruit of collaboration between the NYPD and the CIA.

The network, which has since been promoted to the more politically correct title “Zone Assessment Unit”, relies on undercover officers and informants to perform critical national security tasks such as – the AP notes – “gather[ing] intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims”.

According to Goldstein, the civil rights lawyers who filed the motion with Haight based their allegations on over 1,200 pages of reports on Zone Assessment Unit monitoring activities at Muslim establishments, including shops and cafes, where invasive demographic details were allegedly compiled and retained despite the lack of “potential unlawful or terrorist activity”:

“The NYPD is continuing a massive, all-encompassing dragnet for intelligence concerning anything connected with Muslim activity through intrusive infiltration and record-keeping about all aspects of life, politics and worship”, the court filing stated. “The NYPD operates on a theory that conservative Muslim beliefs and participation in Muslim organisations are themselves bases for investigation”.

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Of course, the absence of apparent “terrorist activity” is not always an obstacle for well-funded NYPD informants. The Egyptian informant Osama Eldawoody, for example, actively encouraged young Pakistani-American Shawahar Matin Siraj to undertake the bombing of a New York subway station – a plot for which Siraj was convicted despite his stipulation, recorded on tape, that he was against killing and that he would need to acquire his “mother’s permission” before signing on to the project.

These sorts of machinations lend a secondary, ironic layer of meaning to the so-called “homegrown threat” of Muslims “radicalised” in the West rather than abroad, a topic meriting especial hysteria from the NYPD.

In a lengthy 2007 police department report [PDF] complete with a colourful chart depicting “Trajectories of Radicalisation Inside the United States”, we learn about homegrown Syed Hashmi, a Brooklyn College alumnus who “travelled to the UK and joined-up [sic] with elements of al-Qaeda”. Hashmi is said to have become involved in “terrorist activities overseas” and then charged with “aiding the al-Qaeda plot to attack targets in London and… delivering military equipment and funds to radical Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

A glance at other sources confirms the true heinousness of Hashmi’s mission. Particularly incriminating is a 2010 Huffington Post column entitled “Kidnapped by the State“, in which acclaimed author and professor Amitava Kumar explains:

[W]hen Hashmi was extradited to the US [from Britain], the FBI revealed that a man who had stayed at the detainee’s apartment in London had supplied “military gear” to al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. Then, Hashmi’s lawyer found out that the items being labelled as “military gear” were socks and rainproof ponchos. The rest of the details of the indictment remain shrouded in mystery.

Kumar also notes that, as a Brooklyn College student, Hashmi had been “articulate and very critical of the ways in which the civil rights of American citizens, especially Muslims, had been curtailed by the Bush administration”, while a part of his thesis had concerned “the government’s surveillance and harassment of four or five Muslim groups in the US”.

No hope for urban hip-hop gangsters

It’s worth noting that neither Bush nor his successor – two homegrown characters who have blatantly pursued “terrorist activities overseas” including continuous drone strikes on civilians – has been subjected to the “special administrative measures” applied to Hashmi, who was placed in solitary confinement for over three years prior to being convicted.

Efforts to provide the US Executive with a carte blanche to assassinate US citizens abroad might be viewed as constituting another kind of “homegrown threat”. The delivery of billions of dollars a year and items far more militarily destructive than socks and rain ponchos to a state that subsists on terror meanwhile further underscores US hypocrisy.

Incidentally, in its 2011 report on the NYPD’s “human mapping” of Muslim communities, the AP cited a former police official who described the programme as being modelled partly on Israeli operations in the West Bank. Moustafa Bayoumi, Brooklyn College professor and author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, commented in an email to me on common denominators between security regimes in New York and occupied Palestine: “Both seek to become systems of total surveillance [and] both are invested in the idea of essentially dangerous Muslims.”

Total surveillance would indeed appear to be a prominent NYPD aspiration given the comprehensiveness of its list of common “radicalisation incubators” for germinating terrorists: cafes, student associations, non-governmental organisations, butcher shops, book stores, and so on.

According to the official “Homegrown Threat” manual [PDF], “[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes” may indicate a Muslim’s “progression along the radicalisation continuum” toward “Jihadisation”. The report fails to advise persons who continue to sport hip-hop gangster attire on how to go about avoiding disproportionate subjection to other violations of civil rights in the form of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk campaign.

Discriminatory mapping of Muslims clearly does nothing to resolve such homegrown threats as were on display during the December 2012 massacre in Connecticut, though it presumably contributes to the surge in anti-Muslim violence in the US – a natural byproduct of the selective elimination of human rights in favour of a narrative of fear.

As the current legal motion by US civil rights lawyers reminds us once again, the only unviolated Muslim right in this country is the right to oppressive surveillance.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogThe BafflerAl Akhbar English and many other publications.

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  • Tanveer Khan

    Emir Solid Snake! I have it! All we need to do to infiltrate Dar-al-Harb is to have a bottle of Cobra beer in our hand and look like we’re smoking crack! We will simply stroll past them and then…all hell will break loose.

  • Ahmed

    Gangster clothes suck anyway. I’d rather dress like James Bond. The girls love it. Or I’d dress like Dave Mustaine. m/

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Oh God…

  • Talking_fish_head

    so a person refusing to allow harmful toxins and not wearing ridicules clothes indicate terrorism?

    I love that muslim youths are giving up smoking and drinking, these actions should be encouraged not suppressed, what the hell is wrong with them

  • golden izanagi

    so basically there is a good chance that muslims might have to buy packs of marlboros anytime they go to the store in order to avoid suspicion of being terrorists or act like this guy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti3UL_mVHHI this strange world would be complete if it had things like aging snipers who can pop out there eyes and command nature, cyber ninjas,masked psychics who can read memory cards, and a revolver wielding badass with a split personality.

  • JD

    Anti-Defamation League Blasts ‘SNL’ For Unaired Chuck Hagel Sketch

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/12/anti-defamation-league-blasts-snl-chuck-hagel_n_2672364.html

    The Anti-Defamation League has penned an open letter
    to “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels condemning
    an unaired sketch that they believe perpetuates inaccurate and unfair
    perceptions about the United State’s relationship with Israel.

    Watch the sketch here.

    In the sketch, which parodied Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings,
    senate Republicans such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott
    accused Obama’s defense secretary nominee of failing to support Israel
    properly. Much of the comedy came from the senators attempting to appear
    more pro-Israel than each other. McCain (played here by Taran Killem)
    finally said he would not vote for Hagel unless he pledged to perform
    fellatio on a donkey if requested by Israeli prime minister Benjamin
    Netanyahu.

    The sketch, which was cut before the live broadcast but was posted on NBC.com, exaggerated the real-life grilling Hagel received from senate Republicans.

    The ADL, however, was not laughing. Abraham Foxman, the director of
    the advocacy group, stated that while they “do have a sense of humor,”
    they think that the sketch went too far.

    Foxman went on:

    On the one hand, in taking this public controversy and
    skewering it to a degree that is absurd, this is a form of legitimate
    satire that serves to erode the hard edge of those who falsely claim
    that America is a tool of the Israelis. On the other hand, there
    inevitably will be those who say, “Yeah, it’s funny, but there is some
    truth to all of this.” And for a smaller minority among those
    individuals, elements of the skit could play into the worst kind of
    ideas, even reinforcing pernicious notions of Jewish control of
    government in the vein of those routinely espoused by anti-Semitic
    conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites by suggesting that U.S. officials
    would even engage in public sex acts if asked to do so by Israel.

    While he went onto say that he was glad the sketch did not make the
    final broadcast, he doubled down on his comments in an interview with The Daily Beast.
    He said that the sketch “reinforces the pernicious notion of Jewish
    control over this government … that Israel controls the Senate.”

    He also said that the fact that Lorne Michaels and many writers and
    producers on “SNL” are Jewish “doesn’t excuse their insensitivity and
    their playing on stereotypes and selling stereotypes and forcing
    stereotypes.”

    What do you think? Does the ADL have a point, or was the sketch typical political parody for which “SNL” is known?

    ===============

    Oh look the “Anti-Defamation League” is being the Anti Israel Protection League ” again

  • Solid Snake

    I know right? I wonder where they draw the line between “jihadist” and “gangbanger” or “thug”.

  • mindy1

    I do wish they would use their resources and focus on ACTUAL threats and not just made up threats.

  • mindy1

    So I am less suspicious if I become a degenerate drunken idiot??
    Hmm…. :P

  • Solid Snake

    ” “[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster
    clothes” may indicate a Muslim’s “progression along the radicalisation
    continuum” toward “Jihadisation”.”

    Wow…I think the message is quite clear. Some of my buddies have done this, we call that becoming a better Muslim, guess what the result of that was? They entered Uni, got degrees, got married, became educated, and became upstanding Muslim American citizens. I think its really troublesome the way New York is headed, it seems like the rest of the country is bound to follow if this type of behavior does not get addressed at the source before it grows.

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