They Don’t Speak for Me! Muslims meeting with law enforcement; They are not our ‘Leaders’

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf

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The upcoming meeting of the so-called “outreach committee” created by NJ Attorney General (AG) Jeffrey Ghiesa should be ccanceled Under different circumstances, such a gathering would be welcomed as a venue to nurture the trust between law enforcement and the Muslim community. However, after assessing the committee’s makeup and objectives, doubts have arisen concerning its ability to act as a go-between and indeed as the voice of the Muslim community to law enforcement. We appeal to the appointed Muslim committee members to decline the AG’s invitation. Our dignity and our rights are too precious for a passing photo-op.The NYPD espionage activities and the complicity of certain NJ law enforcement agencies have severely affected the once promising relationship that has been developing for over a decade now.The idea to create such a committee was part of a letter of recommendations we submitted to the AG’s office on April 3, 2012. It should be noted that these recommendations were submitted before the fateful May meeting in which the AG told us that “the NYPD broke no state laws in its surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey.” While we laud the Attorney General for accepting the recommendation to create the Committee, we feel certain concerns remain elevated and need remedy.

The 20 member committee will include ten Muslim representatives and ten from law enforcement. The Muslim leaders were selected by the Attorney General’s office, and to the best of our knowledge, they are all known entities from previous contacts with law enforcement. While honored and respected in their own mosques, and we of course do not doubt their intentions, these people were not presented to the Muslim community with their credentials and none appear to be of legal or academic backgrounds. Significantly, the selection process seems to have been limited to Mosque leaders ignoring the fact that less than 30% of NJ Muslims are mosque-affiliated.

In fact, it was brought to our attention that one committee member has been barred through a court issued restraining order from entering or representing a Paterson-based mosque. Yet, his attendance is certain. Conspicuously, we learned that CAIR NJ, the Council on American Islamic Relations was not invited. CAIR NJ, as the largest Muslim civil rights organization, is the ideal entity to represent the interests of its members and the community at large. They are being excluded, according to some of its leaders, due in part to their public and consistent disagreement with the excesses of law enforcement’s actions.

The Muslim members of the Committee will not have the requisite legal and specifically, law enforcement backgrounds to deal with the issues of civil rights violations. We have expected the inclusion of Muslim attorneys in this committee. It seems the AG expects the Muslim members to be merely a source of information rather than a venue for policy recommendations. Only law enforcement members will wield such knowledge, and subsequently the decision making powers.

Both law enforcement and Muslim Americans universally agree that such a relationship is an essential partnership to eradicating extremism, and assuring civil rights protections. Effective nationalsecurity entails partnered solutions, which draw from the public, private, academic and non-profit sectors. Continuous engagement on policy and law enforcement issues is essential to the safety and security of our nation.

However, the paradox if not the dichotomy of the committee shall become very apparent when we realize that the AG, as the chief law enforcement officer in NJ, has already degraded the rights of the community vis a vis the actions of the NYPD and presumably future actions by similar NJ entities. The AG has already rendered his judgment that New York City police did not violate New Jersey laws when they conducted surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups, rejecting demands by Muslim leaders for a formal investigation and a clampdown on cross-border police operations.

Unless the AG is about to change his opinion, I fail to see a tangible value in talking. ‘Our’ representatives fundamentally disagree with the AG’s view. Or don’t they?

In the many conversations I’ve had with members of the community, I have argued that we should resist being tricked into this feel-good entrapment. While some have called for a total boycott of contacts with law enforcement, I have argued that a conditional suspension of contact was more appropriate.

When the AG changes his mind (and especially after the recent revelations of no credible leads derived from the NYPD spying), the community will and in earnest reengage with law enforcement. We have vested interest in this endeavor.

Aref Assaf, PhD, is president of American Arab Forum, a think-tank dedicated to accurate representation of Arab and Muslim American issues.

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