Category Archives: Uncategorized

Website update: Joining the Mondoweiss team

If you’re reading this blog, you probably read me over at Mondoweiss, and this won’t tell you anything new. Otherwise, here’s some important website/personal updates:

I have joined Mondoweiss as a staff reporter (announcement here), and so most of my writing will appear there.  Here’s my author page.  If you want to keep up with my writing on Israel/Palestine, stay tuned to Mondoweiss.

Otherwise, I’ll be using this website less frequently, and mostly to post other articles that have not appeared on Mondoweiss.

 

 

Mosques, students and NGOs: Journalist blows the lid off police spying on NYC Muslims

Two weeks after an Associated Press investigation exposed the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s  “demographic units” used to spy on a wide array of Muslim New Yorkers, a journalist has published startling new details that reveal the breadth of that operation.  The details are sure to raise new alarms in the Muslim-American community in New York City (NYC) as the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approach. 

Leonard Levitt, a long-time writer on the NYPD beat, reports:

The New York City Police Department has been spying on hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, NYPD Confidential has learned.

The spying operation has targeted virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City, according to a trove of pages of Intelligence Division documents obtained by NYPD Confidential.

The documents do not specify whether the police have evidence or solid suspicions of criminality to justify their watching the Muslim groups.

The breadth and scope of the surveillance described in the documents suggest that the police have been painting with a broad brush and may have targeted subjects without specific tips about wrongdoing.

Specifically, Levitt reveals exactly who the NYPD spied on:

The NYPD’s spying operation has compiled information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations, 263 places it calls “ethnic hotspots,” such as businesses and restaurants, as well as 138 “persons of interest,” according to the Intel documents.

Police have singled out 53 mosques, four Islamic schools and seven Muslim student associations as institutions of “concern.” They have also labeled 42 individuals as top tier “persons of interest.”  

At least 32 mosques have been infiltrated by either undercover officers, informants, or both, according to documents, which are dated between 2003 and 2006 and marked “secret.”  

The NYPD has also been monitoring Muslim student associations at seven local colleges: City, Baruch, Hunter, Queens, LaGuardia, St. John’s and Brooklyn.

The department calls the two student groups at Brooklyn and Baruch colleges “of concern” and has sent undercover detectives to spy on them, the documents reveal.

The department defines a Muslim student association as “a university based student group, with an Islamic focus, involved with religious and political activities.”

The documents reveal that an Intelligence Division Cyber Unit has monitored MSAs at Brooklyn, City and Queens colleges.

The department also lists 10 non-governmental organizations as “of concern.” According to the documents, all 10 organizations have been spied upon by NYPD undercovers, informants, detectives with the Joint Terrorist Task Force or what the documents describe as a “secondary.”

On the NYPD list of 42 top tier “persons of interest” are: a corrections officer, a former imam, an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a lecturer at Brooklyn College and what the department describes as a “Brooklyn College MSA member [who] has expressed desire to be a suicide bomber in Palestine.”

The police have spied on all these people with either an undercover officer, an informant, or both, the documents say.

The spying operation–which appears to run afoul of a 2004 NYC law that prohibits racial and ethnic profiling by the NYPD–was created by former CIA agent David Cohen.  Cohen has previously been criticized for helping spearhead an expansive NYPD operation that saw the department travel the globe to monitor social justice activists ahead of the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Muslim-American and civil liberties groups have slammed the NYPD operation.  A statement by the Muslim-American Civil Liberties Coalition demands:

• the New York City Council to investigate and oversee the NYPD’s operations, as well as a City Comptroller Audit;
• the Obama Administration to initiate a federal investigation into the extent to which the CIA has engaged in domestic spying within the United States, in violation of law and its manadate;
• Congress and the New York State Senate to hold hearings into the NYPD’s, FBI’s, and CIA’s  surveillance and policing practices in Muslim communities with a focus on the role of informants;
• Congress and New York State Senate to pass enforceable anti-racial profiling legislation;
• NYPD and the Department of Justice to revise their internal guidelines to disallow the use of surveillance and informants absent suspicion of specific criminal activity. 

The response to the relevations about the NYPD casting a large net over NYC Muslims is by no means the first time civil liberties and Muslim-American advocacy groups have clashed with the NYPD.  As I reported for the Gotham Gazette last November:

Arguably the biggest irritant came when the police department released a 2007 report, titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report detailed the process by which it saw some American Muslims as being “radicalized” into terrorists and said that, while Americans Muslims are “more resistant to radicalization than their European counterparts, they are not immune.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations promptly criticized the report, saying, “Its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community.” In the wake of the report, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition formed and critiqued the report for presenting “a distorted and misleading depiction of Islam and its adherents.”

Following meetings with Muslim organizations, the police department quietly issued a two-page clarification that stressed that the “NYPD’s focus on al Qaeda inspired terrorism should not be mistaken for any implicit or explicit justification for racial, religious or ethnic profiling.”

While Muslim organizations welcomed the clarification, criticism of the report remains.

“It’s not clear what the NYPD really thinks, because it’s leaving the bulk of its assertions and its conclusions in place,” said Faiza Patel, who works with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Project. The clarification “didn’t address all of [the Muslim community's] concerns. The way it was done — really kind of hidden there — makes it seem as if the police department is talking out of two sides of its mouth.”

A separate Associated Press article on the NYPD documents states that they “paint the clearest picture yet of how the past decade’s hunt for terrorists also put huge numbers of innocent people under scrutiny as they went about their daily lives in mosques, restaurants and social groups. Every day, undercover officers and informants filed reports from their positions as ‘listening posts’ inside Muslim communities.”

The expansive intelligence operation is representative of perhaps the most enduring legacy of the September 11 attacks:  the harassment and surveillance of the Muslim-American community and the alarming rise of a national security state that strips away Americans’ civil liberties. 

 

 

Anti-Muslim law enforcement trainer cited by Norway killer rakes in U.S. taxpayer cash

The U.S. government has strongly denounced the recent massacre by a right-wing extremist in Norway, which killed at least 76 people.  But at the same time, sectors of the U.S. government have paid an anti-Muslim activist who helped fuel Anders Behring Breivik’s twisted ideology.  Breivik has admitted to being behind the massacre in Norway.

The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer writes:

Walid Shoebat, a “terrorism expert” with a dubious background who was paid by the U.S. government to train law enforcement in counterterrorism, is frequently cited in the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the alleged right-wing terrorist who is accused of killing more than 90 people in Oslo last week. Brevik cites Shoebat more than 15 times.

Brevik cites Shoebat to support his arguments that immigration from Muslim countries threatens the West. “This is why the face of Islamic fundamentalism in the West has a façade that Islam is a peaceful religion,” Brevik cites Shoebat as saying, “Because they are waiting to have more Islamic immigrants, they are waiting to increase in number, waiting to increase their political power.”

As I reported here, Shoebat, the subject of a recent CNN report that debunks his purported life story as a former Palestinian terrorist, rakes in U.S. taxpayer cash.

Two months ago, Shoebat delivered a keynote address to law enforcement officers attending a South Dakota conference on homeland security.  Shoebat was paid $5,000 for the appearance by the South Dakota Office of Homeland Security–the money coming a federal grant administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

At a similar counter-terrorism event held last year in Las Vegas, Shoebat reportedly told the audience that the way to solve the threat of Islamic extremism was to “kill them…including the children.”

Shoebat is one of many anti-Muslim activists from the United States cited in Breivik’s online manifesto.  It’s a disturbing reality that Shoebat’s views on Islam are being funded with federal grants and listened to by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The revelation that Breivik’s manifesto is laced with citations of Shoebat should be a wake-up call to the U.S. government that Shoebat, and others like him, have no place training law enforcement officers, and should certainly not be taking money from U.S. taxpayers.

(VIDEO) Breaking: Palestine solidarity activists disrupt Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech

Five Palestine solidarity activists, most of them Jewish, interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech tonight at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.  See the video above.

From the Move Over AIPAC press release:

The speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was interrupted repeatedly by protesters opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The activists are from the Move Over AIPAC coalition led by CODEPINK: Women for Peace.

The protesters, 5 in all, rose one by one, unfurled banners, and chanted slogans. In response to Netanyahu’s claim that returning to the 1967 borders would be “indefensible,” activists called out that various aspects of Israel’s policy are indefensible. They were escorted out by security, but not before they made a highly visible protest against the theft of Palestinian land, the siege of Gaza, denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees, silencing dissent, and destruction of homes and schools.

“Growing up as the son of Holocaust survivor, I learned that it is everyone’s job to stand up for others when they are persecuted, and I learned what happens when we don’t defend humanity. Now, it is my job to stand up in support of Palestinians, saying, ‘bombing schools is indefensible, bulldozing homes is indefensible, ’” said Jewish American protester Rick Colbath-Hess, 53 from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“As a young Jewish person it is important for me to stand up today and tell Netanyahu and AIPAC that their voices do not represent me,” said Ariel Vegosen, 30, from Valley Stream, New York, “I will not allow my faith to be misused as a weapon, covering up the theft of Palestinians’ homes and livelihoods. Judaism teaches me to stand up when I see oppression— discrimination is not a Jewish value and does not make Israel safer. Occupying Palestinian land is indefensible.”

Ali Abunimah at the Electronic Intifada interviewed Sasha Gelzin, a CODEPINK activist who interrupted Netanyahu:

Gelzin told The Electronic Intifada by telephone, “The word indefensible has a more significant meaning than just borders. It also means ‘unjustifiable.’ We had to reclaim this word because all these types of Israeli apartheid are indefensible.”

Among the slogans the five protestors called out were:

  • “Occupying land is indefensible”
  • “Starving Gaza is indefensible”
  • “Bulldozing homes is indefensible”
  • “Silencing dissent is indefensible”
  • “Displacing refugees is indefensible”

Gelzin said that as protestors stood up, AIPAC delegates immediately began chanting and booing in order to drown the dissenting voices out. The protestors were escorted out of the building but none were arrested, Gelzin said.

Far-right Jewish white supremacist authors Tennessee anti-Islam bill

The wave of Islamophobia continues to spread across the United States, as a Tennessee bill now on the table would make “following the Islamic code known as Shariah law a felony, punishable by 15 years in jail.”  The author behind this bill, one of 15 similar pieces of legislation being considered in states around the U.S., is a notorious, far-right figure:  David Yerushalmi.

Mother Jones‘ Tim Murphy has the story:

Yerushalmi, a lawyer, is the founder of the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which has been called a “hate group” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). His draft legislation served as the foundation for the Tennessee bill, and at least half a dozen other anti-Islam measures—including two bills that were signed into law last year in Louisiana and Tennessee.

With the exception of SB 1028, much of Yerushalmi’s legislation sounds pretty innocuous: State courts are prohibited from considering any foreign law that doesn’t fully honor the rights enshrined in the US and state constitutions. Because a Taliban-style interpretation of Islamic law is unheard of in the United States, the law’s impact is non-existent at best. But critics of some of the proposed bills have argued they could have far-reaching and unintended consequences, like undoing anti-kidnapping statutes, and hindering the ability of local companies to enter into contracts overseas.

But Tennessee’s SB 1028 goes much further, defining traditional Islamic law as counter to constitutional principles, and authorizing the state’s attorney general to freeze the assets of organizations that have been determined to be promoting or supporting Sharia. On Monday, CAIR and the ACLU called for lawmakers to defeat the bill.

Yerushalmi has quite the checkered past.  Here’s what I wrote on him following an event in which two Congressional Republicans were presented a report, co-authored by Yerushalmi, on the “threat” sharia law apparently poses to the U.S.:

Yerushalmi has been aptly described as a “Jewish fascist” by blogger Richard Silverstein.  As Silverstein highlighted in August 2007, Yerushalmi has said:

One must admit readily that the radical liberal Jew is a fact of the West and a destructive one…Indeed, Jews in the main have turned their backs on the belief in G-d and His commandments as a book of laws for a particular and chosen people…What interest does America have in a strong Israel? If your answer is democracy in a liberal or western sense, know you have sided with the Palestinians of Hamas.

Yerushalmi was a member of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, which was instrumental in the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim smear campaign that brought down Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a dual-language Arabic school in Brooklyn.  He has followed his Islamophobic buddies Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in joining in their war against the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, and is an attorney with the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is run by Geller and Spencer.

That’s not even the worst part.  Charles Johnson, the blogger at the formerly right-wing, hawkish website Little Green Footballs who “parted ways with the right” for, in part, its “Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.),” has the rundown on Yerushalmi:

This is a good time for some background information on Pamela Geller’s associate David Yerushalmi, who is an advocate for criminalizing Islam itself and imposing 20-year sentences on practicing Muslims. Yes, really.

He’s not simply anti-Muslim, though; Yerushalmi also wrote a now-infamous article titled “On Race: A Tentative Discussion, Part II,” in which he advocated a return to a pre-Bill of Rights Constitution, and the restriction of voting rights to white male land-owners. Again … yes, really.

Here’s a lengthy article at Talk To Action on the bizarre views and causes of David Yerushalmi: Anti-Semitic White-Supremacist Orthodox Jew Tries To Ban Islam In US.

Yerushalmi has deleted as much evidence of the “On Race” article as he could; he removed it from the Internet Archive and the Google cache, and put his entire website behind a registration wall. But here’s a PDF that contains the full article, and it’s as ugly and twisted a piece of racism as anything I’ve ever seen. Yerushalmi opens by calling Islam “an evil religion,” and “blacks … the most murderous of peoples.”

A quote:

“There is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote. You might not agree or like the idea but this country’s founders, otherwise held in the highest esteem for their understanding of human nature and its affect on political society, certainly took it seriously. Why is that? Were they so flawed in their political reckonings that they manhandled the most important aspect of a free society – the vote? If the vote counts for so much in a free and liberal democracy as we ‘know’ it today, why did they limit the vote so dramatically?”

How the U.S. Government Promotes Islamophobia

I often focus on organizations and individual right-wing activists outside the U.S. government that have stoked anti-Muslim sentiment here.  But the U.S. government itself is just as culpable in promoting a McCarthyist climate of fear where every Muslim-American is considered a “terror threat” and Islam is turned into the new bogeyman of the day.

The latest installment in the Washington Post‘s investigative series by Dana Priest and William Arkin, “Top Secret America,” provides a look into how the U.S. government is mired in the deep swamp that is Islamophobia in America (emphasis mine):

Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies…

Ramon Montijo has taught classes on terrorism and Islam to law enforcement officers all over the country.

“Alabama, Colorado, Vermont,” said Montijo, a former Army Special Forces sergeant and Los Angeles Police Department investigator who is now a private security consultant. “California, Texas and Missouri,” he continued.

What he tells them is always the same, he said: Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here.

“They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House – not on my watch!” he said. “My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders.”

With so many local agencies around the country being asked to help catch terrorists, it often falls to sheriffs or state troopers to try to understand the world of terrorism. They aren’t FBI agents, who have years of on-the-job and classroom training…

Amazingly, the Center for Security Policy, a neoconservative think tank, is also being listened to by the U.S. homeland security apparatus:

A book expanding on what Shoebat and Montijo believe has just been published by the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based neoconservative think tank. “Shariah: The Threat to America” describes what its authors call a “stealth jihad” that must be thwarted before it’s too late.

The book’s co-authors include such notables as former CIA director R. James Woolsey and former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, along with the center’s director, a longtime activist. They write that most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for violent jihadists and that Muslims who practice sharia law seek to impose it in this country.

Frank Gaffney Jr., director of the center, said his team has spoken widely, including to many law enforcement forums.

“Members of our team have been involved in training programs for several years now, many of which have been focused on local law enforcement intelligence, homeland security, state police, National Guard units and the like,” Gaffney said. “We’re seeing a considerable ramping-up of interest in getting this kind of training.”

The fact that Gaffney speaks with law enforcement on how to combat “terrorism” is disturbing.  Matt Duss of Think Progress explains that Gaffney is a person who thinks that “Obama is a Muslim, question[s] whether Obama is an American citizen, [and] believe[s] that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s new logo is a sign of the president’s ‘submission to sharia.’”  Gaffney is not an expert on Islam.  In fact, Gaffney did not consult a single Islamic scholar on his “report” on shariah law, and only started studying the religion three years ago.

What’s more, as I explained here, the Center for Security Policy’s general counsel is David Yerushalmi, an advocate for criminalizing Islam and who once wrote that “blacks [are]…the most murderous of peoples.”

Another recent instance of the U.S. government promoting Islamophobia was the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Oregon, which in reality was, as Glenn Greenwald put it, the FBI successfully thwarting its own plot.

The next day, this happened:

U.S. investigators said a fire at an Islamic center in Oregon on Sunday was arson and warned they would tolerate no retribution for an attempt by a Somali-born teenager to detonate what he thought was a car bomb.

No Surprise Here: Palin’s PAC Tied to Islamophobic Dutch Writer

Mother Jones magazine reports on an “incendiary Dutch journalist” named Joshua Livestro who is apparently working on Sarah Palin’s political action committee (emphasis mine):

Not surprisingly, Livestro’s views skew to the right. He helped to found the Edmund Burke Foundation, a right-wing Dutch think tank created to push back against progressive politics in the Netherlands. In one manifesto, citing the number of Muslims in the Netherlands, the foundation warned of ethnic conflict and said the country’s borders should be closed. In the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland, Livestro once wrote that the gruesome photos depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib resembled little more than an out-of-control frat party; he complained that Abu Ghraib critics were “cry-babies” exaggerating the episode’s signficiance. On his blog, Livestro similarly quipped that the CIA’s torture techniques—with the exception of waterboarding—were milder than the hazing methods of fraternities.

Livestro founded the Edmund Burke Foundation along with a fellow Dutch journalist named Bart Jan Spruyt, who went on to advise the virulently Islamophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders.  Spruyt accompanied Wilders on a trip to the United States in 2005, the purpose being for Wilders to publicize here “what is happening to his country because of the rise of radical Islam and why he is promoting a moratorium on non-western immigration.”  (Spruyt has now distanced himself from Wilders.)

It’s no surprise that Palin would be tied to an anti-Muslim Dutch writer.  Palin has stoked bigotry against Muslims herself, from referring to the president as Barack Hussein Obama to calling on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero mosque” to defending Franklin Graham, who once called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.”  She’s also the hero of the Tea Party, a right-wing movement that’s no stranger to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Race and religion-baiting of President Obama and Muslims will be par for the course if/when Palin runs for president in 2012.