I spent most of my childhood in a small town called Texarkana, Texas, where my brother and I were the only Muslims at an Episcopal grade school. When I came home singing Christian hymns and asking whether Jesus was the son of God, my parents taught me to say Muslim prayers in school while everyone else said their Christian prayers. In an effort to find a socially acceptable way to teach me about my Muslim and Pakistani identities, they told me, "Say these prayers in your head, in your heart. You don't have to say them out loud." As the years went by, I began to actively identify as a Muslim American and grew stronger in my conviction that no one has to hide who they are or what they believe in our country. Unfortunately, it has been challenging to hold onto this belief in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. As we approach the 12th anniversary of 9/11 this week, it seems that the advice I heard as a young girl might be the message our government is sending youth today.
Last week, I, along with many other Americans, learned that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been spying on the Muslim-American community for years, designating our mosques as terrorist organizations and trying to "infiltrate" our community organizations by recruiting informants to place on their boards. I learned that some of my colleagues were subjected to these civil rights violations, even as they were trying to build positive relationships with the NYPD. For many, the NYPD's disregard for our civil rights does not come as a huge surprise. Post-9/11, we have seen far-reaching measures of profiling by our government, starting with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System which targeted individuals from predominantly Muslim countries, to immigration enforcement initiatives like 287(g) and Secure Communities that allow local law enforcement to target those who they "perceive" to be immigrants, and most recently, immigration reform proposals that allow for profiling based upon religion and national origin. We have seen NYPD Commissioner, Ray Kelly, repeatedly claim that the NYPD was not using an anti-Muslim training video only to find those claims were untrue. And now, we are witness to alarming information about the NYPD's national security tactics that only cause greater distrust between law enforcement and the people it is supposed to protect. Our rights are being eroded under the guise of national security, yet none of these measures have proven effective. To the contrary, our tax dollars have been wasted, law enforcement and community relationships have been severely damaged, and all the while, we are no safer as a country.
We should be outraged by the fact that our nation's values have been trampled upon through the violation of our civil rights and the restrictions upon the fundamental freedom to practice one's faith. The NYPD has extended its reach into our safe spaces -- from student groups to places of worship and even to social service organizations.
While this is not the first time our government has spied upon particular communities, it is important that we raise our voices against this type of intrusion and disregard for basic human rights. Violating the civil rights of thousands of Muslims in New York City affects the rights of all Americans because it calls into question the constitutional right to practice one's religion.
We must demand answers, accountability, and a demonstrated commitment to improve our country from our government agencies and public officials. We must demand that the Department of Justice launch a formal investigation of the NYPD as it has done with other law enforcement agencies regarding discriminatory treatment. We must demand that Ray Kelly, under whose watch the NYPD has committed unprecedented civil rights violations, step down from his position as commissioner and be removed from consideration as the potential next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. We must protect our fundamental freedoms and the values of our nation on behalf of all communities. Otherwise, it won't be long before our children are being told "Say your prayers in your head, in your heart... otherwise, the government may tap your phones, follow you into your personal and professional spaces, and disregard your values and rights as an American."