NJ Muslims Meet Their Accusers But Doubts Linger

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf

The castigation of American Muslims is now a national pastime. From unforgiving Internet defamation to political candidates’ indignant statements, to a massive spying campaign by the NYPD, and to more of the so-called Congressional Hearings by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), all represent the ugliest manifestation discriminatory practices and xenophobic sentiments against American minority citizens. If you were to believe the polls, Americans are readily willing to sacrifice the liberties of American Muslims for the sake of the country’s security and safety. However, you would not have guessed this: last Sunday, at the 15th Annual Community Brunch organized by the American Muslim Union (AMU), speaker after speaker made statements and promises to portend a complete rejection of anti-Muslims rhetoric or policies.

Founded in 1987, the AMU’s endeavors to serve the American Muslim community, “through education: partnership initiatives with other community groups, agencies and institutions, coordination and collaboration with elected and appointed governmental representatives and institutions to promote, enhance and seek equal access and opportunities for improved quality of life for all.” Mr. Mohamed Younes, an Egyptian engineer, has been president of AMU since its inception. Until a year ago, its general counsel was Sohail Mohammed, who was nominated by Governor Chris Christie in 2011 and was later approved by the Legislature for a superior court judgeship in Passaic County.

The Glenpointe Marriott Hotel in Teaneck, New Jersey has been host to most, if not all, of the previous AMU brunches. Around four hundred people made their way there, including Senate Democratic candidate Gwen Daikos. Invited guests Representatives Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman in addition to Senator Bob Menendez did not attend due, we were told, to a labor union picket at the hotel. I personally saw no one picketing the hotel. Representatives from the three faiths offered a prayer for peace and harmony. The bulk of the attendees came from local, County, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies. I have attended most of the previous 14 brunches and while their themes were a variation of this year’s, “Citizenship- Rights and Obligations,” they were always overshadowed by speeches about the relationship between law enforcement and the American Muslim community.

I recognize the recent revelations about the NYPD spying may have required some mention and many did just that. Have we been reduced to a security risk community? Frankly, this self-actualized profiling of our community sickens me. It seems in the eyes of our government, we only exist on their security radar screen. We seem to have no role to play in matters of healthcare, education, immigration, the economy and the environment. This I say must change and it must change now. The linkage between Islam and terrorism is now more complete because American Muslims are now seen as potential terrorists.

I struggled to believe the statements by Mr. Paul Fishman, US Attorney of New Jersey and Mr. Jeffrey Chiesa, New Jersey Attorney General. They seemed very sincere about their desire to overcome the asymmetrical and inherently adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the citizenry. They shared personal anecdotes about their children being offended by the very notion of collective and unwarranted spying and their repeated their promises that “We do not do this in New Jersey.” But what guarantee can they offer us that it has not happened here or in other places? Ask Craig Monteilh, the ex FBI agent who was recruited to infiltrate a California mosque to entrap mosque worshipers. He would later turn on the FBI, disgusted and guilt-ridden for what he brought onto the quiet community of mosque worshipers. Which is more sinful: the NYPD spying on our mosques or the FBI’s infiltration of fake Muslims? These fake ‘terror plots’ are so synchronized to coincide with certain political events with the full intent of solidifying the link between American Muslims and terrorism. In the New Jersey case of the Fort Dix Five, which involved a fake plan to attack a New Jersey military base, one informant’s criminal past included attempted murder, while another admitted in court at least two of the suspects later jailed for life had not known of any plot.

The picture in my mind is now more complete. My doubts run deep that the FBI while claiming to the contrary has violated our Constitutional rights and liberties. Their leaders’ attempts to convince us otherwise have failed the litmus test of reality. And the demarcation between perception and actuality is often murky at best. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I now believe the back-and-forth accusations between the FBI and NJ on one hand and the NYPD on the other is really a ploy, a delaying, and soothing tactic to divert our attention from the real travesty here. For the FBI and indeed NJ Governor Christie are more concerned with jurisdictional violations than with civil and religious rights violations of an entire community. In fact, this is what Governor stated in a recent town hall appearance: “The only objection we have with the NYPD is that they did not tell us what they were doing.” See my interview on MY9 News where I responded to a question about the Governor’s stance.

I attended at the February “Summit” meeting in Trenton and I heard Mr. Michael Ward, FBI Agent-in-charge of New Jersey almost eloquently chastising the NYPD for the disrepute and tangible harm they have created because of their unlawful spying. I heard him say,” the FBI does not spy on mosques.” I also heard Mr. Fishman remind us of the 40-pound manual of procedure that governs FBI operations. I also heard Mr. Chiesa plead with us for patients to find out what the NYPD has done. Even today, I still am having difficulty believing their promises.

There is no question in my mind and that of many in the civil rights movement that the entirety of American Muslim community has been as unjustly defined as an existential threat to American security. Entrapment and spying are but two of the tools, which have been successfully employed to infiltrate their homes, place of business and their mosques. “Monteilh says that is exactly what happens. ” The way the FBI conducts their operations, it is all about entrapment … I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It’s such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It’s fixed,” he said.

The distrust between law enforcement and the Muslim community serves only the interest of Muslim haters. Our country is less equipped to eradicate extremism when it treats millions of Americans as part of the problem, not the way to resolve it. Come talk to me when you really trust me. When you respect me.

Unless law enforcement comes clean and begins to protect the religious and civil rights of Muslims- instead of violating them- the relationship with Muslims will never rise to a mutually beneficial level. And American Muslim leaders have contributed to their current unenviable fate. It was not started by the NYPD, the spying, the entrapment and total criminalization of Islam and its adherent has been an essential tool for all levels of law enforcement agencies.

Therefore, Mr. Chiesa and Mr. Fishman, I will begin to change my mind when you commence a formal investigation of what the NYPD has done in New Jersey. Until then, I will continue to harbor doubts about our friendship. A relationship that is built on distrust is unsustainable, never lasts and it invariably leads to an indefensible moral dichotomy.

Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum.