Saturday, February 25, 2012

The More Things Change...Part 2

Really, NY Post? Do we have to go through this again???
One of the first No Spoon posts dealt with the rather racist ever-classy New York Post cartoon of two white cops shooting a chimpanzee to death over the stimulus bill...the connection being the chimpanzee story in Connecticut at that time, and of course, a black American president being depicted as a chimp. No racism there. None. Have a look at the post here. Well, guess what? The Post is at it again, this time with a cartoon (cartoons again???) covering the controversy surrounding the New York Police Department (NYPD) spying on Muslim across the Northeast. Really funny stuff. And by funny, I mean the xenophobes who draw, write, and connect with this stuff are laughing, while the rest of us are is wrong with you?

As you can see from the picture, they are going with the obvious fact that all the Muslims the NYPD was spying on were terrorists, and that the complaints of Muslims about the invasion of civil rights was nonsensical. This is the common defense of this action - these people attacked us, have proclaimed a war against us, so it is naive to not do something like this. This is almost verbatim the argument Mayor Bloomberg, a man who was a champion for Muslim rights during the Park 51 (aka Ground Zero mosque) debate, gave regarding the complaints from, amongst others, the President of Yale University, over NYPD activity. Seriously. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Islamophobia is pretty kosher in America these days. Good thing,'s spreading like crazy. And the more we have people legitimating this irrational and inaccurate activity, the more likely it is to continue.

So, where do we begin. For starters, lets think through the actual problem. News that has been coming out pretty recently showed that the NYPD, sometimes in cahoots with the CIA, was spying on Muslims across state (i.e. NY, not the philosophical "state", though that also applies here) boundaries. They were spying on Muslim students, spying on Muslim institutions, spying on mosques...but...wait for it...without any actual evidence of trouble, other than, you know, being Muslim. kind of think that's a problem, what with the whole "rule of law" thing we're supposed to have here. Listen, if there was actual evidence that the people the NYPD was spying on were guilty of crimes, that would be one thing. But...I cannot stress this enough...there is nothing here. They spied on Muslim students from Yale, Columbia, UPenn, Syracuse, NYU, Rutgers, several SUNY schools...and found, not surprisingly, little valuable intel. Amongst the findings...

  • They learned that these students prayed multiple times each day and had discussions about religion. They also tapped students' emails and found out some of them were even promoting events to educate the public about Islam and further Muslim discourse on religion and the world. Breaking news! 
  • They went undercover on the Muslim Students Association from the City College of New York's whitewater rafting trip and learned that Muslims like whitewater rafting. Alert the press! 
  • They planned to spy on conversations between Somali professors and students at SUNY-Buffalo...just to see what Somalis were talking about. Get out the duct tape!
  • They infiltrated Muslim bookstores, cafes, businesses, and mosques...and found out Muslims are interested in books about Islam, lectures on Islam, ethnic food, consumerism, and coffee. The jihad is coming, people!
So...the NYPD crossed NY state lines to spy on Muslims, without a shred of evidence, and found out pretty much nothing in terms of national security. The documents show no wrongdoing by the targeted groups and individuals. These are the facts.

First of is this legal? I didn't realize it was okay for law enforcement to spy on Americans without any real evidence of wrongdoing. We're not talking about tapping Whitey Bulger's phone...we're talking about spying on some 19 year old philosophy major who's probably (hopefully) considering changing majors quickly solely because he/she is a Muslim. It's not just spying on people without any real reason...its targeted spying. The only reason these people were being spied on is because they are Muslim. In some cases (like the Somali example from Buffalo), spying was based on religion and ethnicity. actual evidence of wrongdoing. 

So, like driving while black, breathing while Muslim is apparently a problem in the northeast. And before anyone starts with the "they attacked us" crap (which is precisely what Bloomberg and other defenders have claimed), that is nonsensical. Really? The philosophy major attacked you? No, dumb ass, 19 guys, associated with a tiny violent extremist group representing a microscopic percentage of the Muslim population (if you want to even call them Muslim, which I kind of don't) attacked you. If you want to go down that line, understand that all white people are guilty for the crimes of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism. So...don't go down that road. Also, for those, like NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who are attempting some serious ass-covering here by claiming the spying was based on hard intelligence...explain why there was pretty much nothing found. Explain why huge numbers of Muslim college students were targeted. Do you really think a homegrown terror network is being formed at Yale (excluding Skull and Bones), Rutgers, CCNY, and Columbia? If you do, you are dumber than I thought you were, which is saying something.

Second of all, I didn't realize the NYPD was a national police force. How exactly can they go that far outside their jurisdiction? They've built a gigantic database of where Muslims shop, work, and pray...including Muslims outside of New York. The result is a massive catalog that includes names, businesses, ethnicities, in secret police files. So, does this mean the NYPD, known for this kind of surveillance of Muslims post-9/11, can just go to any state they want, undercover, and spy on that state's Muslims? That is precisely what was happening here. That seems to be a huge problem as well...on top of the already-stated problem that this spying was based on no actual evidence.

Third, this activity strikes me as being particularly damaging, not beneficial, for national security. First, lets not pretend that Muslims are concocting terrorist plots in droves. Right wing extremists across the world are doing so at a much higher rate. Second, as far as the number of Muslim plots go, you know who helps stop them often? Muslims! This is not surprising to people who actually work in this area, because research shows a very small percentage of Muslims actually radicalize, probably because the vast majority reject terrorism. In fact, more religious Muslims are less likely to support terrorism - religion here has a pacifying effect. So, the pool is small in the first place, and Muslims help shrink it even more. Still, despite all of this, we see the NYPD spying ring, which has a high possibility of turning Muslims away from, not towards, law enforcement. This would hurt national security, as noted by No Spoon friend and scholar Haroon Moghul in an excellent article in Foreign Policy. He writes:
Let's imagine you're a young, alienated, impressionable Muslim college kid. Every day you hear common stereotypes about Islam and Muslims; when you turn on the news, all you see is inaccurate conflations of Islam with violence. You feel nobody understands you or your faith. There are only a few people you can talk to, who you trust will understand you, treat you with dignity and respect, and act with your best interests in mind. They probably include your local imam or college chaplain.
 But you won't ask the awkward questions if you believe everything you say is spied on, the places you go are monitored, and the police assume, based on your name or faith, that you are a danger to society.
 Whom, then, will you turn to? And how does that make us any safer?
Fourth, not only was all this activity highly questionable from a legal standpoint, it is now coming out that the White House helped fund it. Granted, it is not clear that they openly directed resources to this surveillance program, but they are a funding source, and they probably knew what was going on. Their silence up to this point on the topic is deafening. If they didn't know what some of their money was going towards before, they certainly have known for over a week, and have yet to repudiate the NYPD. That's not outright support, but given how charged this issue is (even Republican Governor Chris Christie, amongst many other lawmakers, has called for the Department of Justice and the Attorney General to investigate the NYPD's activities), their silence stands out even more.

So, this is the background of the NYPD spying issue. Pretty obvious violation of civil liberties, questionable jurisdiction issues, harmful to national security, partly financed by the White House, and bipartisan requests for serious investigations. We're talking about some really serious material here. So, what does the NY Post do? Put up a cartoon in which the Muslims are made to look particularly suspicious (even without the explosives), making bombs, and complaining about the NYPD spying on them. The cartoon gives us the textbook evil Muslim cartoon character (in, ironically, a cartoon), even though we know that depiction is horribly wrong and bigoted. Btw, given that a lot of the spying controversy has centered around college students...the cartoon is preposterously inaccurate. Muslims in college don't look like that - at the very least, they are 30 years younger. Also, Muslims in general, don't look anything like that. Look, I've grown a beard a few times, and let me tell you, it itches like crazy. To grow one as long as the people in the cartoon would probably require some mind-numbing drugs. many Muslims do you know that wear turbans? Seriously....can't we have a little realism with xenophobic cartoons?

More importantly, the cartoon ignores all the facts about the spying case, for which the Associated Press won a Polk award for exposing. This surveillance was based on no evidence, and the spying uncovered basic facts about Islam, not the new al-Qaeda splitter group, the People's Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People's Front?). But this isn't important to the NY Post. Facts be damned, Muslims are evil and should be depicted that way. 

Hence, we get the incredibly xenophobic cartoon, another classic from Sean Delonas. Yes...same guy who drew the chimp/cops/Obama cartoon a few years back. Why do I get the feeling he doesn't feel comfortable around non-white people? One result from the backlash (rightfully so, I should add) to that 2009 cartoon was the establishment of a diversity council at the Post...the idea being that they would help create a healthier environment there to root out racist cartoons and the like from the paper. Well...uh...yeah, that didn't work here. Or maybe the Post and Delonas are content with this cartoon that has no factual basis and perpetuates the ugliest form of Islamophobia. Of course, maybe they're just taking their cues from civic leaders, like Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, both of whom have shown themselves to be completely in support of taking away civil liberties from a group based on no actual information. This is a shame from Bloomberg, who stood by Muslims during the Park 51 insanity. Kelly, of course, appeared on the Islamophobic propaganda film, The Third Jihad, which was shown extensively to the NYPD, so I can't say this is surprising from him.

It is a damn shame that I basically could have lifted a blog post I wrote in 2009, replaced some nouns, and put it up again...but that's sort of what happened here. This is preposterous. As such, I will close by copying some material from the 2009 blog entry. It is up to you to give the Post hell about this cartoon...again. Call them up. Email them. Write them letters. Demand actions. Tell your people to do the same.

In terms of concrete ideas...given the repeat offense, I think people should start asking whether Delonas should be fired. Other demands could include a front page apology, and a real diversity team to monitor the racism. I'm not talking about censorship - I'm talking about curbing hateful xenophobia. How about a real push to boycott the NY Post until it deals with these matters? I don't mean people should stop buying it, as I doubt a whole lot of folks who regularly buy the Post would be offended by the cartoon. I mean people who own places that sell papers (bodegas, drug stores, newstands, etc.) who are not okay with outright racism should stop buying the NY Post to sell. I mean people who advertise in the NY Post should stop advertising in it. I'm talking about big money. It already loses money, but News Corp (Rupert Murdoch's company which owns it) is willing to take financial losses for ideological freedom. So...take a lot more money out of Rupert's pockets. A real boycott could actually work, and folks should start thinking about it.

As The Dude from The Big Lebowski would say, this kind of xenophobic aggression won't stand, man. Make them feel it.

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