What It Feels Like to Be Spied On For Your Religion

The NYPD denies participating in any activities that violate the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans, and says they do not run surveillance operations indiscriminately. Still, an AP interview with a former paid informant who said he was paid to 'bait' innocent Muslims into making incendiary statements directly countered the NYPD's claims.

The most senior intelligence chief in the NYPD, David Cohen, said that he wanted an informant in every mosque "within a 250-mile radius" of the city, according to AP reports.

"Take a big net, throw it out, catch as many fish as you can and see what we get," one investigator, quoted by the AP, recalled Cohen saying.

Glenn Katon, the legal director of Muslim Advocates, an organization devoted to protecting Muslim civil liberties, says that the news of the large surveillance structure has put the entire Muslim community on edge in the Northeast, for fear they are being watched at every turn.

"Somehow in our country we've come to accept discrimination in our country against Muslims as okay, because a very tiny handful of people committed terrible acts," Katon said. "But all kinds of people do all kinds of crazy things, even sometimes in the name of religion, and yet we don't use that to persecute an entire religion the way we have with Muslims."

However, supporters of the NYPD surveillance program say that singling out Muslims is an unfortunate side effect of fighting a real war on terror.

"Some of the most dangerous Western Al Qaeda-linked [or] inspired terrorists since 9/11 were radicalized [or] recruited at universities in MSAs," Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's chief spokesman told the New York Times at the time.

The late Edward Koch, former Mayor of New York City, echoed Browne's words in an editorial in March.

"The people living in New York City are entitled to protection from terrorists, whoever they are. Today, they are overwhelmingly, indeed nearly exclusively, Islamic terrorists seeking to destroy Western civilization," he wrote.

But, according to most recent estimates, this common conception isn't quite right. Sixty-one percent of the 337 people indicted for terrorism-related activities in the 10 years following 9/11 attacks were jihadists, and the remainder subscribed to unrelated ideologies, including white supremacy and extreme anti-government school of thought, according to recent data collected by the New America Foundation. Since 9/11, more people have died in terrorist attacks in the U.S. that were motivated by other ideologies that have nothing to do with jihadist principles, than those that were, the data set indicates.

CNN's National Security Analyst Peter Bergen argues these numbers "suggest enforcement's tendency to regard Muslim-American communities as the most likely source of terrorism risks missing the threat from other extremists." Check out Bergen's full breakdown here.

Recent controversy regarding the surveillance program is part of a larger debate over whether the erosion of privacy rights will lead to increased safety. In the more than six years of spying on Muslims, the NYPD's former unit devoted to surveilling Muslim Americans never generated a lead or brought about a terrorism investigation, the department admitted in August of last year.

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