Federal Judge William Martini’s decision last week dismissing a civil rights lawsuit charging that NYPD surveillance programs aimed at the Muslim community were unconstitutional because they were driven by religion, national origin and race – and involved spying on ordinary people at mosques, restaurants and grade schools – is probably not the last word on the issue.
Other judges presiding over similar cases may well rule differently. Indeed, an appeals court might even reverse the Martini ruling. But for the moment, the ruling is a dose of sanity in a war against terror that is being fought in a fog of political correctness.
We are not unmindful that generally appropriate governmental initiatives may have some inappropriate aspects in execution. But these do not necessarily define the overall effort. And we are also not unmindful that members of the Muslim community and its institutions not involved in terror efforts understandably chafe at unwelcome governmental attention. Yet we are reminded of an old aphorism widely but apocryphally attributed to the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks, is supposed to have said, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Thus, Judge Martini said in his decision that the plaintiffs in the case, who included several New Jersey Muslims,
have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion. The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. While this surveillance program may have had adverse effects upon the Muslim community…the motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.
On the other hand, Farhaj Hassan, a plaintiff in the case and a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, said, “I have dedicated my career to serving my country, and this just feels like a slap in the face – all because of the way I pray.” The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs in the case was critical of the decision:
In addition to willfully ignoring the harm that our innocent clients suffered from the NYPD’s illegal spying program, by upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices, the court’s decision gives legal sanction to the targeted discrimination of Muslims anywhere and everywhere in this country, without limitation, for no other reason than their religion.
A spokesman for the Center compared Judge Martini’s decision to the World War II internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast based solely on their ancestry. But whatever one thinks of it, the internment program was based on not a single reported terrorist incident. Nor were there any reported during the course of the interment. The dissimilarities are striking and illuminating.
Plainly, attention was paid to people and institutions because of their Muslim dimension. Yet that can only be the beginning of the inquiry, not the end of it. Nations must be able to protect their citizens, and the fallout is not always evenly distributed. Muslims, though, do share equally with their fellow Americans in the protections afforded by the anti-terrorism efforts reviewed by Judge Martini. Of course, such efforts must be pursued with objective motivation and reasonable restraint.