Spying on Muslim-Americans must stop

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJuly 14, 2014 

The U.S. government has been snooping on prominent members of the Muslim-American community, according to documents released by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and publicized in a story by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain of the online publication Intercept.

That story reveals that the NSA and the FBI covertly monitored the emails of five Muslim-Americans who have "all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives," the article said.

Among the five is Faisal Gill, who served in President George W. Bush's Department of Homeland Security and is a longtime Republican Party activist.

"I've done everything in my life to be patriotic," Gill told the Intercept. "I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community. I've done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do."

Another victim of this snooping is Nihad Awad, who heads up the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States.

The three others are: Asim Ghafoor, whom the article identifies as "a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;" Hooshang Amirahmadi, "an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;" and Agha Saeed, "a former political science professor at California State University, who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights."

It appears that the government spied on these five not on the basis of reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal or terrorist activity but simply because of the expression of legitimate religious or political opinions that the government considers unacceptable.

The Intercept article revealed what it called "blatant prejudice against Muslim-Americans." And it showed good proof: One NSA document instructed staff on how to draw up a target list for surveillance. In place of the target's real name, the memo used the following fake name: "Mohammed Raghead."

These documents suggest that the government is viewing all Muslims - be they Arab, Asianor African-American - as suspect because of their membership in a religious community. And when their Islamic belief is combined with political opinions critical of U.S. foreign policy, they become even more suspicious - to the point of being treated as possible terrorists.

This violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prevents discrimination on the basis of one's religious or political opinions. It is also a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unlawful searches.

The spying on Muslim-Americans is all too reminiscent of the FBI's COINTELPRO and the NSA's Project Minaret decades ago, which spied on people like Joan Baez, Jane Fonda and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

We have to strongly reject the surveillance of Muslim-Americans and recognize that an attack on the rights of one group of people inevitably fans out to others. As the U.S. labor movement once put it - an injury to one is an injury to all.


Arun Kundnani is the author of "The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror," and Deepa Kumar is the author of "Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire." Readers may send the authors email at pmproj@progressive.org.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

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