At 26, Syed Farhaj Hassan was a devout Muslim, and a man who took a lot of pride in being one of the relatively few Muslim Americans to join the military and then go to war in Iraq.
Hassan signed on recently to be the lead plaintiff in the first lawsuit to challenge any portion of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims — a systematic program that has gone on both in New York and across state borders.
“I was upset that this was happening to a community, simply based on their faith,” Hassan said.
“The same thing can happen to Jewish Americans; the same thing can happen to Shinto Americans; the same thing can happen to Buddhist Americans,” he went on, leaning across a table and slicing the air with his hands to emphasize his point. “In this case, it happened to Muslim Americans.”
Hassan, now 35, claims that if his name or license-plate number, for example, were to be discovered by the Army on an NYPD surveillance dossier, “it would only be detrimental to my future in government and to my military career, in my opinion.”
When he joined the military, he noted, officials did a background check on him. “I know I wasn’t on a list of people being watched over” at the time, he said. A simple speeding ticket can be a “derog” in the Army, he added, and “derogs” can affect a soldier’s clearance or the standing he or she has worked to achieve.
Hassan claims in the civil rights suit that the NYPD has spied on four mosques he’s attended in New Jersey over the years — scaring him away from attending one of those mosques, in particular.
The suit also contends the NYPD deploys plainclothes officers called “rakers,” who monitor daily life in heavily Muslim neighborhoods. And, the suit says, the NYPD also uses undercover informants inside of mosques called “mosque crawlers,” who keep tabs on sermons and conversations.
In May New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced he had determined the NYPD’s actions in New Jersey did not violate any state civil or criminal laws. And a Quinnipiac University poll released in April found New Jersey voters said, by a margin of 70 percent to 21 percent, that the NYPD is “doing what is necessary to combat terrorism” in the Garden State.