Skip to main content

Muslims in America, it's time to demand justice

By Farhana Khera, Special to CNN
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
New York University students at a town hall in February to discuss the NYPD's surveillance of Muslim communities.
New York University students at a town hall in February to discuss the NYPD's surveillance of Muslim communities.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Farhana Khera: Muslims are targets of surveillance by the NYPD because of their faith
  • Khera: Victims of NYPD's spying program are stepping up to file a lawsuit
  • She says living freely as a Muslim in America today has become increasingly difficult
  • Khera: It is time for the courts to weigh in and ban discriminatory action by the police

Editor's note: Farhana Khera is the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting freedom, justice and equality for all, regardless of faith.

(CNN) -- I am an American Muslim. When I was growing up in a small town in upstate New York, the America I lived in cherished diversity and the freedom to worship, regardless of one's religion. People of various faiths resided in my community: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Mormons. How a person prayed was never a factor in how we treated each other.

Yet today, Muslims in America are viewed as suspect and legitimate targets for surveillance by the New York Police Department because of their faith. This is not the America I know, and it is time for the courts to weigh in and ban discriminatory policing by the NYPD.

Let me be clear: Anyone who engages in criminal acts should be stopped and brought to justice. But the NYPD can do that without targeting an entire community for blanket surveillance.

Farhana Khera
Farhana Khera

The NYPD has been spying on American Muslims in New York as well as in towns, communities and college campuses throughout the Northeast. In New Jersey, for example, the NYPD visited mosques, schools, Muslim-owned restaurants and small stores and took photographs and videos of people and their cars, collecting information about ordinary people's daily lives, clothing and eating habits.

Muslims have been a part of America since the first slave ships arrived. We have contributed to our nation's growth and fought and given up our lives defending it. Today, we are as diverse as our nation: We are white, black, Latino, Pakistani, Indian, Arab, Iranian and Indonesian. We are teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, store owners and business leaders. We are members of the military and Congress.

But living freely as a Muslim in America today has become increasingly difficult. In New York and New Jersey, worshipers at local mosques fear that their discussions may be monitored and misinterpreted by police informants. Store owners wonder whether one of the customers might be an undercover cop looking to eavesdrop. Parents of college students caution their children about participating in Muslim student group activities.

More than 100 faiths and civil liberties organizations have publicly objected to the NYPD's conduct. They are joined by numerous public officials, including 35 members of Congress. Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have voiced their objections. In addition, Reps. Rush Holt of New Jersey, Judy Chu of California and Keith Ellison of Minnesota have recently introduced a resolution condemning the NYPD's discriminatory practices and calling for an investigation of the NYPD.

Despite all this outrage, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and federal officials with an obligation to enforce the law and protect Americans have refused to launch an investigation.

That is why today, victims of NYPD's spying program have stepped up and filed a lawsuit against the police department, asking a federal court in New Jersey to ban religious discrimination by law enforcement. Since public officials with direct oversight responsibility have turned a blind eye toward this bigotry, the victims have bravely come forward, turning to the courts as a last resort.

This lawsuit is about the pervasive and discriminatory policies and practices that Commissioner Ray Kelly and his leadership team have put into motion and that need to stop. Standing up to the largest police department in the country takes courage, and these brave individuals have done so in order to protect America's future.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit include college students, a military serviceman who has put his life on the front lines in Iraq and a small-business owner who is also a Vietnam veteran. They are ordinary Americans just trying to live a normal life, raising their families and supporting their country. These plaintiffs are parents, students, business leaders and service members who enrich our communities. Their only "crime" is that they are Muslim in America.

Throughout our nation's history, the courts have often been called upon to protect fundamental rights and defend justice. Following this well-worn path, American Muslims are now raising their voices and knocking on the courthouse door, determined that our system of justice will protect the rights of all Americans.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Farhana Khera.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT