Originally published in NewsDay
Sept. 11 changed everything — for America and its Muslims.
Thousands were killed in the attack — nearly 500 from Long Island — leaving scores of families and friends with gaping wounds. And for Muslims, who were average Americans a day earlier, public scrutiny bore down like never before.
In the 13 years since the terror attacks, Muslims:
have lost security clearances at federal posts under the guise of national security;
were the target of the infamous NYPD Demographics Unit, which spied on mosques and neighborhood bookstores;
were the subject of Rep. Peter King’s unfortunate radicalization hearings;
were the lightning rod for anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, who led the charge against a mosque near Ground Zero;
were a particular whipping boy for comedian Bill Maher’s rants against religion;
But it appears that efforts by Muslims as well as non-Muslims across the country, including many New Yorkers, to fight bigotry are helping to stem the tide. And I’m hopeful that this will continue.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York police Commissioner Bill Bratton have shut down the Demographics Unit. It’s a step toward equality and justice, because their decision acknowledges the unit’s civil rights violations and wasteful spending. After years in operation, the unit found zero leads, but created plenty of distrust.
King (R-Seaford) is visiting mosques to more directly reach out to Muslims. He explains that radical fundamentalism is something he and Muslims can fight because it harms both Islam and America. He also has showed support for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus, the first bipartisan Muslim caucus in Congress, which fights for the rights of all religious minorities.
And this week, a federal appeals court rebuffed Geller’s attempt to trademark “Stop the Islamization of America,” upholding an earlier decision that the name disparages Muslims.
But we cannot stop here. This week, the new 9/11 museum at Ground Zero opens to the public with its own depiction of Islamist radicals.
Around the country, there are those who still claim the stereotype of Islam as a violent faith. Every New Yorker can help curb Islamophobia, recognize the equality of fellow New Yorkers who are Muslim, and ensure that our civil rights are protected. We can all do that by:
Serving the community: Over the past few years, Muslim and non-Muslim New Yorkers have hosted “Muslims for Life” blood drives — at Union Square, Hunter College, LaGuardia Community College and Nassau Community College — in honor of 9/11 victims.
Being transparent: Mosques need to hold open houses, interfaith forums and information sessions — and non-Muslims should feel welcome. Likewise, while many of us love being Google scholars, anyone with questions about Islam should ask a Muslim.
Understanding that loyalty to America is part of Islam: This is likely why the NYPD never developed any leads. Muslim New Yorkers weren’t planning attacks, we were planning peaceful lives to achieve the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — just like everyone else.
I believe these good first steps can evolve into great, sustainable progress. With Muslims engaged in good works and with recent gains in battling bigotry, New York will lead the nation in bridge-building with Muslims.
Let’s change New York again, this time for good.