Young New York City Muslims speak out on how Islamophobia impacts daily life

Israel/Palestine
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Muslim youth
Namia Sulaiman, center, speaks out on anti-Muslim sentiment at a New York City press conference August 14. (Photo: Ali Haridopolos)

Namia Sulaiman made her way to the subway like it was a normal day. It was mid-April 2013, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Muslim teenager was trying to take the train. But instead of an easy subway trip, Sulaiman was stopped by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer who asked to search her bag.

“Now I’m thinking it has to be because I’m Muslim,” said Sulaiman. While she eventually got on the subway, the next day she was searched again by the police, who told her they search large and suspicious bags. Sulaiman was carrying a purple flowered backpack. “This made me feel angry, because I am not accepted in a country I call my own. I’m standing here today to make people aware that the issue of Islamophobia is real, and it needs to stop before it destroys us as a community.”

Sulaiman told her story in front of New York’s City Hall yesterday as part of a press conference where Muslim youth spoke out against anti-Muslim sentiment. Over a dozen young Muslim women stood beside Sulaiman, waving American flags and holding signs that read, “Youth Against Islamophobia.” The press conference was the culmination of the MY NYC (Muslim Youth NYC) summer leadership program started by the Muslim Consultative Network (MCN), a local advocacy group. The MCN works to empower the Muslim community–which boasts of more than 800,000 people in New York City–through a variety of programs that encourage dialogue, interfaith solidarity, and activism.

Over the summer, Sulaiman and her colleagues joined together to take on the issue of Islamophobia in New York City, and to learn about combatting anti-Muslim sentiment. The press conference was held to make “our voices heard,” said Ahlam Almoflihi, a 15-year-old from Brooklyn, in an interview before the press gathering was held. “People basically look at me different because I wear a scarf…It’s not fair, it’s not right for a whole group of people to be targeted…But it’s kind of made me stronger because I know that we have to speak up about it.”

Other young Muslims told similar stories of feeling discriminated against in New York City. Sauleha Husain, who is about to enter her junior year in high school in Brooklyn, spoke out about the New York Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims. In 2011, the Associated Press began to expose the NYPD’s program of suspicion-less spying on Northeast Muslims. When all was said and done, the AP had blown the lid off of how the police infiltrated student groups and catalogued Muslim-owned businesses all across New York City, as well as in New Jersey and Connecticut. Despite revulsion at the program within the Muslim community, the spying continues.

“The NYPD is still unconstitutionally profiling us with their informants,” said Husain. She was referring to how the NYPD’s spy program employs an untold number of informants who infiltrate Muslim groups and mosques. One of them named Shamiur Rahman denounced his former work in 2012 as unconstitutional and said he was tasked with what the police called “create and capture.” That phrase, according to court testimony from Rahman, meant that he was to “pretend to be a devout Muslim and start an inflammatory conversation about jihad or terrorism and then capture the response to send to the NYPD.” Before quitting, Rahman was paid $1,000 a month.

The police department was also criticized in early 2012 for training its officers with an Islamophobic film called “The Third Jihad.” Produced by a right-wing, pro-Israel group with settler connections called the Clarion Fund, “The Third Jihad” is “72 minutes of gruesome footage of bombing carnage, frenzied crowds, burning American flags, flaming churches, and seething mullahs,” as the Village Voice’s Tom Robbins wrote in 2011. The aim of the movie is to inform Americans that Islamic organizations in the U.S. are taking part in a “cultural jihad” to impose their agenda on the U.S.

The young Muslims who spoke out at the press conference say that the NYPD’s Islamophobia and the media have contributed to a climate where being Muslim is seen as suspect.

“What they need is fairness, opportunity, justice and equality,” said Ashleigh Zimmerman, the executive director of the Muslim Consultative Network. “We need you to act today” to end NYPD spying.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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12 Responses

  1. fnlevit
    August 15, 2013, 1:48 pm

    Will now the regular participants of this site call NYC the APARTHEID CITY? Or perhaps parphrasing an earlier article piblished here under the title

    Shimon Gapso and the racism of Israeli life

    to change the title of the present article to :

    NYPD and the racism of American life.

    • Talkback
      August 15, 2013, 5:03 pm

      @ fnlevit

      Get some education and read what the Crime of Apartheid is about
      I give you a hint what it can be: Keeping people expelled and denationalized to maintain a certain regime.

    • The Hasbara Buster
      August 16, 2013, 7:46 pm

      Shimon Gapso has stated that he wants Nazareth Illit to be a Jewish city. As far as I know, Mayor Bloomberg has not stated that he wants New York city to be a Judeo-Christian city or any other kind of city that would exclude Muslims. And while many New Yorkers have opposed the Park 51 Islamic Center, which is indeed racist and reprehensible, the Mayor has welcomed the idea and supported its building.

      That being said, there’s no doubt that a lot of Islamophobia is in place in NYC coming from the political authorities — the NYPD’s surveillance program being a paradigmatic example. But it has not gotten to the point of the authorities overtly and explicitly displaying their hate, as in the case of Gapso.

  2. fnlevit
    August 15, 2013, 3:57 pm

    On the other hand in Apartheid Israel a Muslim Arab MK Hanin Zoabi from one of the Arab parties Balad considers running for Mayor of Nazareth. Imagine this – she is not only a Knesset Member but also an ardent anti-Zionist.
    View original Ynet publication at: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4417078,00.html

    By Hassan Shaalan

    • Inanna
      August 16, 2013, 3:48 am

      Israel maintains a show of democracy inside the Green Line while they have historically underfunded Arab schools and municipalities, passed laws that discriminate against Israeli Palestinians in all sorts of areas including housing, employment, welfare etc and then allow token representation of Palestinians in the Knesset whom they then either ignore when it comes to forming government or try to strike them off the ballot, take away their parliamentary privileges etc. A point like this one will only convince the ignorant and credulous, of which you are certainly one.

      • seafoid
        August 16, 2013, 4:23 am

        Sah Inanna. There was once an “Israeli Arab” deputy Minister so Israel can’t be racist. Once an “Israeli Arab” child got a bicycle for Ramadan and that never happens in the Muslim world because they are so poor and if the child didn’t like the bicycle he should go and live in Mauretania , etc….

    • Woody Tanaka
      August 16, 2013, 7:10 am

      Lmao, Jim Crow South within the Green Line; Apartheid South Africa outside the Green Line. Ah, the Light unto the Nations.

    • Citizen
      August 16, 2013, 9:00 am

      @ fnlevit

      Arab members of the Knesset are effectively powerless. Israel does not support equal rights; in fact it supports equal rights only for its Jewish population; every non-Jewish citizen is a second class citizen. A summary of how Israel does this is here: http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/v5i2/html/arabmi.htm

  3. tanoli
    August 15, 2013, 8:54 pm

    ‘ she is not only a Knesset Member but also an ardent anti-Zionist’ …probably AIPAC don’t know about her yet. LOL

  4. seafoid
    August 16, 2013, 4:13 am

    Financial times journalist Anna Fifield is married to an Iraqi and she knows about Islamophobia in the US

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/42275248-ef46-11e2-bb27-00144feabdc0.html

    “Islamophobia has become institutionalised in New York – by our police department, elected officials, politicians who are running for office,” says Ali, a 28-year-old of Pakistani heritage, who became a student activist after being harassed in the wake of the 2001 attacks. “The environment is really difficult. It’s as if we are walking in a city that is our home but feeling like we are strangers,” she says in her office, where the walls are decorated with signs bearing slogans such as “Praying while Muslim is NOT a crime!””

    “I feel like the anti-Muslim feeling has really become more pronounced in the last few years,” says Moustafa Bayoumi, a literature professor at Brooklyn College and author of the book How Does it Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America.He cites polls from The Washington Post and The Economist that found that the number of people admitting to negative feelings towards Muslims had risen from the 20 per cent bracket in 2002 to more than 50 per cent by 2010….
    “It took a while for the narrative to take hold, that Muslims were the enemy population,”he says ”

    “Hegazy, an 18-year-old of Egyptian and Moroccan descent, is studying political science at a college just north of New York City, while Tabit, two years her senior, has a part-time job at the local police station but is studying to become a nurse.

    Both can rattle off tales of petty harassment – such as being called a terrorist and enduring “random” searches – that have been a constant presence in their lives since 2001, when they were just children. “We are singled out as a race,” Hegazy says, and Tabit chimes in about the times she has been told to “go back to your own country”. Hegazy bursts out: “This is not nobody’s country, yo.”

    Many of the young Muslim Americans in Brooklyn can recount stories of public accusations of being a terrorist, rocks being thrown through their car windows, being targeted for “flying while Muslim”. Many know someone who has answered a knock at the door and found the FBI.”

    More than one-third – 36 per cent – of the American Muslim population is aged between 18 and 29, compared with just 22 per cent of the general public, according to the Pew Research Center. That means that an entire generation of Muslim Arab Americans has never known an adult experience where 9/11 was not somewhere in the backdrop. ”

    Islamophobia is as hateful as any other form of baseless discrimination.

  5. Citizen
    August 16, 2013, 9:45 am

    Jewish groups get 97% of Homeland Security grants when Jews are 2% of US population. http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/islamophobia-shmislamophobia-97-of-homeland-security-security-grants-go-to-jewish-orgs.html

    Seems to me those grants should be going mostly to America’s muslim groups. Chabad groups alone got tons of US taxpayer DHS grants. Are they being threatened as US muslims are? No. Since those funds are to protect against domestic terrorism, shouldn’t Planned Parenthood groups also get more of those grants? How about Christian churches?

    Another related issue is how our police departments are getting to look and act like military police, or even more like SWAT riot police. The Boston police appeared right after the two pressure cooker bombs went off at the Marathon. They looked like an invading army, and the people of Boston were put under house arrest for a good time, “to protect” them of course. NYPD trained on paper targets in Muslim garb. Seems DHS and Officer Friendly, the old local copy, don’t have any contact with each other. DHS looking for a way to stay on the tax-paid gravy train? The only Al-Quaida types focuses on these day must be the ones on US payroll in places like Syria and Yemen.

  6. Citizen
    August 16, 2013, 10:18 am

    Since September 11, 2001, the United States has foiled nearly three dozen credible terror plots, and more than 170 terror suspects have been arrested. The Jewish community was targeted directly in only four of these attempts.

    Only a handful of Muslim institutions have received federal assistance to upgrade security. “We have a real need for these kinds of grants,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Though he pointed to several recent attacks against mosques, Hooper said he did not believe that Muslims are intentionally sidelined by the grant process.
    “There is nothing nefarious about it,” he said. “I just think the Jewish community is more plugged in than us and that is why we see this disparity.”

    The application for DNS grant heavily favors organizations associated with a religion, and those may point to an incident anywhere in the world where they were targeted by terrorists. Nothing like an earmark program spending nearly all the taxpayer grant funds on 2% of the population, and within that 2%, the giant chunk going to Chabad when Reform Jews make up so much more of that 2%. Not to mention, this makes the US Constitutional divide between church and state pretty pale pink, doesn’t it?

    Read more: http://forward.com/articles/142542/how-an-anti-terror-program-became-a-jewish-earmark/#ixzz2c8pBsLx2

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