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Munira Syeda

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The Heroes Who Uncovered the NYPD's Muslim Surveillance

Posted: 03/ 5/2012 10:32 am

Not frequently, heroes come along who ought to be recognized.

I am talking about the Associated Press's Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan, who together sifted through hundreds of pages of New York Police Department documents and wrote some 40 stories on the agency's shameful monitoring of law-abiding Muslims.

NYPD's devious surveillance tactics included, as reported by the AP: developing detailed maps on Muslim houses of worship, restaurants, home schools; sending in "rakers" and "mosque crawlers" to spy on innocent Muslims; affixing cameras to light poles to monitor mosque activities; focusing on Muslim student groups in areas out of their jurisdiction; keeping track of Muslims who began to use more Americanized names; and using White House funds reserved for fighting drug trafficking for surveillance of Muslims' First Amendment activities.

However, the White House wants to avoid the issue altogether. Janet Napolitano is tight-lipped. Attorney General Eric Holder for months side-stepped the issue of investigating NYPD's intelligence-gathering techniques before finally saying his office will look into it, in response to a question by Rep. Mike Honda. And, Mayor Michael Bloomberg summed up his erroneous sentiments this way (even as Jewish businesses became a target of NYPD monitoring): "The police department goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true. ... Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight."

The subject -- monitoring of Muslims -- isn't news. Worse, it isn't exactly jaw dropping for Americans.

Day in and day out, citizens of the free world -- that's us -- hear about this subject and grow more accustomed to the idea of sacrificing freedoms to protect freedoms. That is, sacrificing someone else's freedoms to somehow protect their own.

This complacent attitude suggests that our Constitutional principles of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are so fragile that they can only be held up during peacetime, but not during war.

Nonsense!

The AP team has done an amazing job in its months-long investigation of the NYPD, reminiscent of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigative reporting of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately resulted in President Nixon's resignation and other subsequent action.

The revelations involving the NYPD come at a critical time when we, as a nation, cannot afford to waste resources or implement ineffective measures in counter-terrorism efforts to protect the homeland. Absent the AP articles, there has rarely been a sustained, in-depth and independent scrutiny of the NYPD or most other counter-terrorism efforts across the nation.

Moreover, the AP reporters' work emanates from loyalty to the truth, ensuring government transparency and protection of the public's right to know, and not necessarily from sympathy for the Muslim community. They know well that a free press is the hallmark of a free society.

But sadly, for doing their job, their news organization has been slammed by some from within the profession.

New York Post's Michael A. Walsh wrote that the AP "for months now has been waging a journalistic jihad against the NYPD and its counter-terrorism tactics in the name of 'civil rights.'"

"Was the AP born yesterday?" Walsh asked.

No, it wasn't.

Were you, Mr. Walsh?

The Post carried on with its attacks, including publishing a cartoon which stereotypically depicted hook-nosed terrorists calling up the AP to complain about NYPD's surveillance of them. The cartoonist, Sean Delonas, previously depicted President Obama as a chimpanzee.

The New York Daily News joined in by asking in its editorial pages: "What is the matter with New Jersey politicians that they are raising a stink because the NYPD keeps an eye out for terrorists on their turf?"

Both the Post and the Daily News don't want to recognize that Raymond Kelly's NYPD actually evokes memories of the "red scare" and Japanese American internment. History will show just how Kelly will be remembered.

In the meantime, questions remain about the effectiveness of NYPD's methods to catch the bad guys (in the absence of agency oversight), how resources were diverted from another program only to be wasted on spying on the legal activities of Americans and the ability of New York's Muslim community to report suspicious activity after having been betrayed by Kelly.

Back in 1954, a distinguished journalist stated: "We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason... and remember that we are not descended from fearful men."

The subject was Joseph McCarthy, and the addressor was Edward R. Murrow.

Let's take a moment to thank the AP for raising critical questions about whether all Americans, including American Muslims, can safely turn out the light at night in our post-9/11 society?