New York City
A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims can proceed, the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 13, opening the way for a trial on the constitutionality of spying on New Jersey mosques, schools and businesses. Likening the surveillance program to the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Third Circuit found that it was based "on the false and stigmatizing premise" that Muslim religious identity 'is a permissible proxy for criminality." Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit in 2012 on behalf of 11 individuals or organizations, including business owners, students and a decorated Iraq war veteran, who said they had been harmed by the surveillance. Plaintiffs alleged that NYPD detectives monitored stores, schools, restaurants and at least 20 mosques in Paterson, Newark, Rutgers University, and other New Jersey locations. The surveillance program, ostensibly suspended last year, was first reported in a Pulitzer-winning Associated Press series. The Third Circuit reversed a February 2014 dismissal of the suit, remanding it to a US District Court in New Jersey.
Last night, this blogger visited the 9-11 Museum—invited by a friend who got free passes that evening because she worked in the area of disaster in September 2001. I certainly was not going to pay the absurd $24 entrance fee. There was also a surreal irony to the fact that entering the museum entailed a full airport-style security check, complete with X-rays, full-body metal-detector scans, complete emptying of pockets, removal of belts, and so on. And this at a supposed memorial to American freedom. Talk about the "terrorists win." The museum itself is in many ways impressive—starting with its sheer scale. It is actually built in the World Trade Center "Bathtub," the huge foundation pit with reinforced walls to keep the waters of the Hudson River at bay. These walls are left visible, loaning an atmosphere of stark industrial majesty. The Mohawk iron workers who risked their lives in the construction of the WTC are, at least, briefly mentioned. There is inevitably a lot of maudlin and/or bellicose patriotism on display, but any honest presentation would have to reflect that, and it is generally shown with a sense of objectivity.
From Gothamist, Aug. 11:
Cobble Hill Locals Mourn Death of
Beloved Oriental Pastry & Grocery Co-Owner
Cobble Hill shopkeepers and local residents are reeling from the sudden death of Muyassar Moustapha, who was fatally run over on Atlantic Avenue on Sunday night. Moustapha, 66, was a neighborhood fixture who for decades operated the Oriental Pastry & Grocery on Atlantic, just steps from where he was struck by a Mercedes driver after picking up ice cream at the Key Food across the street.
Two young men living in Brooklyn were arrested Feb. 25 and charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight under the banner of ISIS. A third Brooklyn man was charged with helping organize and fund their activities. All three are immigrants from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and were living in the Midwood neighborhood. One of the men who reportedly sought to fight for ISIS, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, worked in a gyro shop. The other, Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, worked at cellphone repair kiosks owned by the third man charged, Abror Habibov, 30. (NYT, DNAInfo, Feb. 25)
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton announced Jan. 29 a new 350-strong unit, the Strategic Response Group, dedicated to "disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities." An invoked example was the December hostage crisis in Sydney, which NYPD deputy commissioner for Intelligence John Miller said was an inevitability in NYC. But Bratton made clear the new unit will also be used against protesters: "It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris. They'll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not... They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances." (Gothamist, Jan. 29)
Today's depressing news that some 10,000 joined a "New York Stands with Israel" rally at the UN (overseen by Chuck Schumer, of course) was compounded for me by a demoralizing encounter outside St. Mark's Church. I was biking down Second Ave., and saw the "FREE PALESTINE" banner outside the church, and stopped to check it out... To my disappointment it was the highly problematic group "If Americans Knew." It is obvious from its name that this is basically a right-wing nationalist formation with (at least) an anti-Semitic streak. Right, "Americans" are pure and righteous (never mind Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and "shock & awe"), but are being hoodwinked into supporting atrocities by those wily Jews... I nonetheless took one of their flyers just to see what it said, and was dismayed to find it was a big quote from the vile Gilad Atzmon, a peddler of the most rank anti-Semitic garbage...
A new development in the interminable culture wars over New York City's Ground Zero emerges as the site's museum finally opens. We've already noted outrage over the crass commercialism at the museum's souvenir shop (!). Now a Jews Against Islamophobia coalition is planning a May 21 vigil at the site to demand that the National September 11 Memorial Museum edit a six-minute video to be screened there, entitled "The Rise of Al Qaeda," that "contains disturbing terminology linking Islam with terrorism and that fails to contextualize al-Qaeda." The probem is that this assertion is being made despite the fact that only a select few have actually viewed the video. Daily Beast informs us that Peter Gudaitis, "chief executive of the New York Disaster Interfaith Network" (they apparently mean New York Disaster Interfaith Services, and Gudaitis is listed on their website as a member of the board of directors) "said that after the screening, every single one of the 10 religious leaders present voiced concerns that the video didn't do enough to separate Al Qaeda from mainstream Islam. He called the film in its current form 'reckless.'" According to the Daily News, Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, imam of Masjid Manhattan, resigned from the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council, a group advising the museum, after officials rejected the group's suggestions to alter the film. Apparently the offense is that the film calls the 9-11 attackers "Islamists," and describes their mission as "jihad."
The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) William Bratton announced April 16 the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit, established in 2003, utilized plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for "hot spots" of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 "ancestries of interest." At a pretrial examination (PDF) before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.