'People don't understand, this is our country'
It has been known for years now that the NYPD has been spying on the city's Muslim community. Now, the extent of those operations is becoming clear.
Two Associated Press reporters, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, wrote in a recent New York magazine excerpt of their new book that the NYPD employed officers of Arab descent whose job it was to frequent mosques and Muslim businesses in an attempt to root out radicals. The authors revealed that the NYPD had, with help from the Central Intelligence Agency, built a massive database of Muslim citizens, businesses and places of worship, and that one of their targets was the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.
Nobody at the Islamic center wished to speak with the Spirit about NYPD surveillance in their community, but leaders at a downtown mosque, Masjid Manhattan, recently sat down to discuss their views on the issue.
Olayinka Dan-Salami, the Masjid general counsel, confirmed that police surveillance has rattled the congregation at the mosque.
"They are very upset that Muslims in general are being spied on," said Dan-Salami. "We are professionals, we do respect those who are not part of our religion. We respect them highly and to now be singled out and to be spied on, we just think that they are telling us 'you are not part of the community.'"
Sheikh Mostafa said the Muslim community has nothing to hide, and that extremists can be found in any segment of society.
"Why if any Christian in this country does something crazy, do they not call him a terrorist?" asked Mostafa. "We are here to build America. We are here in America to build America, not to demolish America."
Mostafa said efforts to monitor the Muslim community are misguided, because when one segment of society - or an individual - feels singled out, they're more likely to react negatively to that isolation. The mosque supports the police in their investigations of legitimate terror threats, he said, but not indiscriminate monitoring of the Muslim community as a whole.
In addition to being misguided, Mostafa said the NYPD tactics of targeting mosques for surveillance isn't likely to gain them any leads on terror threats. "You're not going to find anything, to be honest," said Mostafa. "You're not going to find anything in a mosque. Even if they work it 24 hours day."
Mostafa's message was that in his community, any known terror threat would be brought to the authority's attention by a Muslim because they're invested in that community. "We are against anyone harming or causing trouble in this country," said Mostafa. "This is our country. People don't understand, this is our country."
Mostafa, who is originally from Egypt but has American citizenship, said there is nothing back in Egypt for him, and that America is his home and his country.
"Anybody with any intention to harm people in America...we are the first people to stand up and fight ," he said.