Posted by Eddie Bejarano on March 30, 2015 in Blog

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that public schools in New York City will be closed in observance of the two most sacred Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, represents a meaningful achievement for the American Muslim community in New York, but also for the community nationally. For over nine years, Muslim groups have tirelessly called for the inclusion of Islamic holidays in the city’s school calendar. This is no small feat when one considers that the type of domestic policies implemented after the attacks of September 11, 2001 infringed on the civil rights and civil liberties of Arab Americans and American Muslims and repeatedly cast suspicion on those communities.

After a well-funded and organized campaign in 2010, the construction of Park51, an Islamic center built to promote interfaith dialogue, resulted in a politicized public debate about the center’s proximity to the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Politicians from both sides of the aisle weighed in on this topic, but discouragingly, many public officials bought in to bigoted rhetoric that perpetuated incorrect narratives about Arab Americans and American Muslims. Anti-Muslim activists such as Pamela Geller, a co-founder of the Stop the Islamization of America organization, who the Southern Poverty Law Center characterized as a hate group, labeled it the “Ground Zero Mosque” and argued that its construction represented a grave threat to American freedoms. While the building ultimately opened its doors, the debate surrounding its construction led to an increase in campaigns organized by anti-Muslim hate groups to prevent the construction of new mosques, Islamic schools and community centers around the country.

Shortly after the Park51 controversy, former Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R-NY) organized hearings on the threat of radicalization within the American Muslim community. Rep. King’s hearings were similar to those of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s during the 1950s in that while Senator McCarthy targeted individuals because of their political ideology, Rep. King stigmatized the American Muslim community because of its religion. He strategically invited individuals such as Syrian American Zuhdi Jasser, and Somali American Abdirizak Bihi, two individuals known for their critiques of the Muslim community, to discuss the growing danger of radicalization within the U.S. Muslim community. These hearings were troubling in that they projected suspicion on all Arab Americans and American Muslims from the halls of Congress.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the rollback of the demographics unit within the New York Police Department (NYPD) surveillance program. This program garnered national attention in 2011 after the Associated Press released a series of Pulitzer Prize winning articles that uncovered how the NYPD engaged in an extensive spying operation against Arab American Muslims in New York City. One portion of this operation included the demographics unit whose particular task involved creating a detailed map of where Arab American Muslims lived in New York City.

Following Mayor De Blasio’s announcement, Rep. King criticized the move by claiming that the Mayor was making it more difficult for law enforcement to combat terrorism. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the tragic attacks in Paris against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Rep. King called for greater surveillance of the Muslim community within the United States. Evidently, Rep. King refuses to acknowledge there is no credible data which suggests that the Arab American and American Muslim community poses a greater threat to the U.S. than any other community. Although Rep. Peter King no longer serves as Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, he currently serves as Chairman of the Committee’s Counterterrorism and Intelligence subcommittee, he continues to weigh in on what he sees as the threat that the American Muslim community pose to U.S. national security.

In many ways, millions of Arab Americans and American Muslims around the country have had to go above and beyond to demonstrate their loyalty to the U.S. because of the terrible attacks committed by Al Qaeda on 9/11. The Park51 controversy, the Peter King Hearings in 2011, and the NYPD surveillance program are just a few examples of how Americans were wrongly denied their civil rights because of the actions of a group of foreign terrorist. By granting children the day off of school for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message to those who would continue to isolate the American Muslim community. That message is that Arab Americans and American Muslims are not only a part of the American social fabric; they are a group that is to be respected on equal footing as anybody else. 

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