Will New York get an anti-Muslim blacklist?

June 28, 2016

A bill that would make a mockery of civil liberties for Muslims and Arabs has passed the New York Senate, with support from Republicans and Democrats, writes Sofia Arias.

WHEN DONALD Trump made the outrageous suggestion last November that Muslims be required to register in a national database, his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton criticized his "shocking rhetoric" and told a crowd in Nashville, "At some point, you have to ask yourself, 'Is that the kind of country we are?"

Seven months later, Clinton has answered her own question with her silence about a horrible "Terrorist Registry" law that passed the New York state Senate with the support of Democratic lawmakers in her home state.

The New York State Terrorist Registry Act, which passed 45-16 in a state Senate almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, is more sweeping than anything previously proposed. It would place anyone remotely suspected of being a terrorist on a publicly available list without any form of due process--with photos, addresses and other information available on the Internet to employers, friends, community members, landlords, the media and anyone else who cares to look.

Marching against anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism
Marching against anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism

The bill's language about who is meant to be put on the list is inconsistent. Some parts claim only those who are "already convicted" will be included, while others explicitly state that the more than 1 million people listed on the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database--as well as anyone else identified by the Department of Justice or CIA--will be subjected to this blacklist.

THE HORRIBLE history is rarely discussed, but the federal government's "terror lists"--under both Republican and Democratic administrations--have been little more than excuses to round up many thousands of innocent Muslims and Arabs.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, more than 200,000 Arab and Muslim men aged 16 to 64 who were in the country on nonimmigrant visas were interviewed under oath, fingerprinted and photographed under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

Arun Kundnani recounted the story of one of these men in his book The Muslims Are Coming! Mohammed Rafiq Butt had come to New York from Pakistan to work as a waiter in Jackson Heights, Queens, but after 9/11, some of his neighbors called the police, saying they thought he looked suspicious.

As a result, he joined other foreign nationals who were held without charge. The FBI passed him on to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained him for overstaying his visa, and Rafiq Butt died of a heart attack after being taken to a New Jersey jail.

Then there is the "no-fly list"--which has ensnared hundreds of thousands of Americans without cause, often for no reason other than having a "Muslim"-sounding name.

The 2013 lawsuit Tanvir v. Lynch involved four American Muslims who found themselves placed on the list in retaliation for refusing to work as an informant for the FBI by traveling to Pakistan or Afghanistan, attending particular mosques or frequenting online discussion forums to "act extremist."

As Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, put it: "I do not want to become an informant, but the government says I must in order to be taken off the no-fly list. How can the government tell me that the only way I can see my family again is if I turn my back on my community?"

The case was dismissed in federal court, and the plaintiffs were removed from the no-fly list--but they were denied the ability to seek further damages for losing their jobs, being separated from their families and being shunned in their communities.

ALTHOUGH THE "Terrorist Registry" bill in New York was proposed by a Republican state senator, it is consistent with both parties' attempt to use the killing of LGBTQ Latinos at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to push for greater demonization of Muslims.

Hillary Clinton called for the country to return to "the spirit of 9/12"--which for American Muslims and Arabs meant unlawful detentions, arbitrary arrests, wiretapping and FBI visits to work and home, along with general demonization and hate crimes. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo echoed this call at a vigil for the Orlando victims outside the historic Stonewall Inn, vowing to "do what we did after 9/11."

Meanwhile in Congress, although most mass shootings have been committed by white, native-born Christians, Democrats made the Islamophobic "no-fly list" the cornerstone of their gun control push that culminated in a "sit-in" by House members that included Rep. John Lewis, who himself was once mistakenly put on the list.

Liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed that Republicans were choosing to "sell weapons to ISIS" if they refused to support the proposed legislation, while California Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushed for the legislation to adopt the Terrorist Screening Database, an expansive list with almost 1 million names arbitrarily added to it, without any due process.

To make it clear who was being targeted, Feinstein tweeted that she wanted to close the "terror gap" in order to "keep guns from terrorists, not average Americans" and that "our proposal would stop foreign nationals who want to kill Americans from being able to buy guns."

There has been some criticism from liberals that congressional Democrats' focus on the "no-fly list" in their current gun control push will lead to more profiling of Muslims. But there has been little discussion of why this list continues to even exist, much less demands for the Obama White House to scrap it, along with the rest of the "war on terror."

Instead, Democrats continue to receive the benefit of the doubt that they aren't trying to be racist from many progressives who proclaim Trump to be a fascist threat because of his belligerent attitudes.

Indeed, the "Terrorist Registry" bill that passed the Senate without much fanfare last week had been unanimously approved by the seven Democrats and eight Republicans on the state Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Veterans and Military Affairs back in February 2015--a full nine months before outrage poured in from all quarters when Donald Trump raised a similar proposal last November.

THE PASSAGE of the "Terrorism Registry" legislation by the state Senate--and the scant attention it received in the media--signals just how much political ground has been lost under eight years of a Democratic administration that has largely continued the post-9/11 policies of George W. Bush.

"If the war on terror was the stuff of high-profile debates about war, torture and surveillance in the Bush years," Kundnani writes, "under President Obama it became a matter of bureaucratic routine, undramatic and unopposed."

As frightening as many of Trump's racist declarations are, what is scarier is that most of them are a reflection of policies that already exist under a liberal president.

From Obama to Clinton to Cuomo to Feinstein to Warren, the Democratic Party has led the "war on terror" for the past eight years, and its doubling down on Islamophobia shows that no matter what happens in November, dark days lie ahead for Muslims and everyone else.

Indeed, they are already here. If the "Terrorist Registry" becomes law in New York--a liberal state with one of the largest Muslim populations in the country--it will be the testing ground for passage and implementation of similar measures in other states.

It's unclear what chances the bill has to pass the New York State Assembly, which is more dominated by Democrats--some of lawmakers told New York Daily News that it was unlikely the legislation would be approved. But the Daily News article came out on June 10, two days before the Pulse massacre--and before Democrats around the country embarked on a strategy of being tougher on "terrorism" than Republicans.

We shouldn't put any faith in politicians of either party to do the right thing. We have to organize in New York and around the country to reverse the tide of Islamophobia, the "war on terror" and increased repression.

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