Runnin’ Scared wrote yesterday about Asra Q. Nomani, a Muslim-American author who wrote a Daily Beast op-ed defending the NYPD’s decision to spy on entire Islamic communities. Nomani, who co-directs the Pearl Project and is the subject of a documentary about Muslim feminism, thinks the cops’ spy scheme is OK because, she says, Muslims don’t do enough to police themselves. She is even “relieved that our country’s largest police agency was monitoring our Muslim community as closely as the reports indicate.”
Runnin’ Scared took the time to catch up with Nomani and chat a bit about her polemic position. She explains that she doesn’t just mistrust Muslims in the U.S. — but American Catholics and Jews, too.
Runnin’ Scared: Unlike a lot of Muslim-Americans, you are pro-profiling and pro-blanket monitoring of communities. How did that happen?
Asra Nomani: I sort of ended up with this opinion, really — I didn’t begin with it. It wasn’t until after Sept. 11, when I was in Pakistan, and I wanted to go to the mosque with my uncle and he would go in the mornings for the dawn prayer and lock the door behind him, so my aunt and I were locked in the house because it was the safest thing for him to do. And then when my friend Danny Pearl was kidnapped, we learned that those photos were dropped off at a mosque. The light bulb went on in my head. I thought: ‘That’s so messed up, these guys use it as a safe haven for their dirty work.’
Runnin’ Scared: Explain…
Nomani: The cops I knew, the Pakistani cops, would investigate the mosques. It wasn’t like the mosques there were no-go, like in America. That’s where militants would hide out. Also, when I was in grad school, I studied the Iranian Revolution — mosques had been used by Ayatollah Khomeini for meetings.
Runnin’ Scared: But in the U.S.?
Nomani: The 9-11 hijackers here in America went to mosque. We have to have scrutiny of illegal behavior, and I do believe that if folks have a sense of violence, of disruption, it’s got to be outed. It has to be outed.
Houses of worship of all religions can give protection to people inside a community who want to harm others — including Catholic priests. They get their cover inside the church. And then there’s Jewish orthodox rabbis who got into trouble for their circumcision ceremonies, which were illegal and inappropriate.
Runnin’ Scared: So if this is a general problem with religious gathering places, what’s the solution?
Nomani: We can’t use religion as a cover to protect us from scrutiny. And in the Muslim community especially, I just feel that we have a sense that’s so defining — that we would rather save face than go public with our own problems. Every community, however, does have to deal with the consequences when violence is involved.
Runnin’ Scared: But even if you made the case for monitoring other communities, how would that address legality?
Nomani: I don’t know the exact letter of the law, but gathering intelligence is part of law enforcement, and we’re not actually arresting people. But we have to know what’s happening in these specific communities.
Runnin’ Scared: Do you feel like these tactics might clash with the civil liberties you rely on as a reporter?
Nomani: I have to be honest, as a journalist, I was conflicted. I like to have things in out in the open. But as a citizen of this country, I was a little bit upset by the investigation. People who are watching this, who have ulterior or nefarious ideas of what they want to do, they now know the level of detail at which law enforcement is operating. I think that as a citizen we have to be careful.
And I’m also saying this because, when Danny was kidnapped, the kidnappers released his note via e-mail, and then the Pakistani press wrote how the FBI was following the internet protocol address, and it really made it harder trying to find Danny. I’m even surprised at myself for having this kind of reaction. I think it’s really easy to mock and make fun of law enforcement but oftentimes, we don’t know the other half of the story….
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.