Syed Farhaj Hassan dropped out of college in 2001 and joined the U.S. Army. In 2003, he was at the vanguard of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Now, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) spying program on his New Jersey Muslim community has the current Army reservist up in arms again — this time through the courts.
Hassan, who learned of the spying from the AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series, is one of a number of New Jersey Muslims suing the NYPD over its surveillance program of Muslims across the Hudson River from its own jurisdiction. He says he feels “betrayed” by the spying program, which he says is an “invasion of our privacy” and targets innocent people. But Hassan’s participation in the suit is, like his service in Iraq, focused on defending the rights of others:
I was upset that this was happening to a community, simply based on their faith…
My concern as a concerned citizen, as an active participant in democracy is: Who’s next and what’s next? That’s what upsets me.
Watch a video of Hassan being interviewed:
Hassan’s military record makes clear that he’s not an opponent of providing security for Americans. “If there is actionable intel, then by all means, conduct the law-enforcement operation that you need to,” he told the Star-Ledger. But that doesn’t mean spying on innocent Muslims simply for being Muslim. In fact, he says, this could be counter-productive. He says trusting relationships meticulously built up between law enforcement and Muslim-American communities could be set back by more than a decade by the surveillance:
All the inroads that certain departments of the government have made (with Muslim communities), have been thrown asunder, i.e., the FBI perhaps — or municipal police departments — because of the actions of this one police department. And this is national.
It’s a slap in the face.
The FBI’s Special Agent in Charge in Newark agrees. “It’s starting to have a negative impact,” special agent Michael Ward said. “When people pull back cooperation it creates additional risks.”
Other top officials are concerned about the program as well. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) objected to being left in the dark about the spying, and the Justice Department said in February it was reviewing the issue.