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When news broke that the NYPD had been spying on whole Islamic neighborhoods, it didn’t just prompt Muslims to mistrust cops.
The issue has stirred up strong reactions from American Muslims — some are vehemently pro-surveillance, while others have decried police tactics as attacks on civil liberties.
And then there are the Muslims who take a very middle-of-the-road approach to this issue.
Enter Fatima Thompson, who is on the board at Muslims for Progressive Values. Fatima, who herself was monitored by cops directly after 9-11, says her group supports a moderate approach, but that blanket monitoring threatens to discourage Muslims from policing themselves. Runnin’ Scared chatted with Thompson a bit about this.
Runnin’ Scared: Tell us a little bit about Muslims for Progressive Values…
Fatima Thompson: Muslims for Progressive Values was founded in 2007, and it’s part of a movement started right after 9-11 in response to violence and the reality that radical ideology leads to that kind of violence.
Runnin’ Scared: What’s your organization’s take on the NYPD Muslim spy scheme?
Thompson: The position of the organization is that while there is a need for rooting out the radical element, we should not be casting a light on Muslims in general — as though they’re all terrorists. We actually do report individuals or activities of individuals who might be dangerous.
Runnin’ Scared: Wait, so you are a Muslim organization and you monitor other Muslims?
Thompson: Yes, our organization itself is trying to counter radical ideology. When you look at the news reports and different instances where events were reporter, they were largely reported by Muslims themselves. They were reported by other Muslims on the street. The Nigerian bomber, the young boy, his father reported him — his own father. Down in Texas, in Fort Hood, it was reported by other Muslims. So, Muslims are working on being the authority to try to make our country safer.
Runnin’ Scared: How could the spying impact this?
Thompson: A lot of the rhetoric is Islamophobic. We are interested in the safety of this country just as much as anybody else. There’s been a wide range of reactions. From : ‘Do we stand behind the New York Police Department and their activities?’ to ‘How dare they make this so bad?’ And then there’s the in between…by and large, the opinion is that we had better find the happy medium, while allowing individual civil rights to be honored.
Runnin’ Scared: How has spying impacted the relationships between fellow Muslims?
Thompson: It does cause divisions. It divides us in the sense that we begin to develop suspicion and it also makes it uncomfortable. I’ve been surveilled. I’m not doing anything wrong, so they’re not going to come bash down my door. I just had that in my mind, but for a lot of people, it’s an uncomfortable experience. It casts a certain suspicion on them.
Runnin’ Scared: What did it feel like being monitored?
Thompson: It was a little spooky because things could happen which wouldn’t normally happen.
Runnin’ Scared: OK, we need to hear more: When did this start? What was this like, etc?
Thompson: It happened after 9-11, and went on for a number of years. They monitored our apartment buildings in Upstate New York. It was a two-building complex, six floors each. They used one apartment to set up their office to survey the building because a lot of the residents were Muslims. We were being followed. It was like, ‘Oh, our phone has been tapped again lately.’ We would compare notes.
Runnin’ Scared: You weren’t freaked out?
Thompson: Some of the women, it really bothered them. It made them feel scared. And you have to understand, a lot of the immigrants came from countries which were police states.