Things that matter

Kim Stringfellow in concluding paragraphs of her book, Greetings from the Salton Sea, writes, “Complexity, when it comes to accurately describing problems facing multifarious, interrelated ecological systems seems to rattle most of us.”

It is the same complexity that rattles me when I think about describing racial profiling and surveillance of Muslims in New York. The location of certain mosques in certain neighborhoods has always been a rationale for federal agencies to watch Muslims. The FBI has been watching Masjid Al-Farooq, situated on Atlantic Avenue between Third and Fourth avenues, since 9/11. The federal agencies claim that al-Qaeda terrorist leaders sprout from this mosque.


Things that matter:

The presence of federal agencies

The alleged presence of feds watching the activities around the mosques matter. It matters because, despite the state and fed agencies’ denial of surveillance of Muslims, two policemen were watching the mosque from a car parked across the street from the mosque. They said they were NYPD but did not show their identity cards. They did not give a reason but warned me that the area “wasn’t safe”.

It matters because, according to the latest news, the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing Barack Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative under the new name, “Countering Radical Islam” or “Countering Violent Jihad”. And it matters, most importantly, because privacy is the fundamental right in the US under the Fourth Amendment of Constitution. While all of us are being surveilled, a certain group of people is being watched and profiled (both online and offline) more extensively and disproportionately than the rest.

Social sorting and discrimination

Surveillance is a routine at the time when mobile and software companies are compromising user data for government agencies. And any kind of profiling effort violates the civil liberties of racial and ethnic minorities and it matters. However, there is discrimination is surveillance. Surveillance is an actant that produces a technical effect of creating intelligence and social effect of intruding into private spaces of Muslims. It would be appropriate to recall Jane Bennett’s explanation of political ecology of things in Vibrant Matter, “The terms is Bruno Latour’s: an actant is a source of action that can be either human or nonhuman; it is that which has efficacy, alter the course of events.”

Also, the act of profiling Muslims going to the mosques is the act of Othering and isolating. It is creating distrust among the Muslims against non-Muslims. The two imams, with whom I tried to talk about their experience of being surveilled, did not trust me with my intentions. The current political climate and my failure to build solidarity could be the two reasons. Not long ago NYPD spied on them for six years by profiling where they ate, prayed and worked, and paid to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements. Hence, increasing distrust among Muslims and the potential threat to the privacy of Muslims based on discriminatory surveillance practices matter.

Right to Privacy

When looking at the issue of surveillance the concerns about the right to privacy matter. The interference in religious practices also creates social stigma and fear among Muslims, especially children, who grow up in such atmosphere. It matters because everyone should have an equal right to privacy.

Discipline, control, and punish

Michel Foucault, in his seminal work Discipline and Punish, emphasizes on the modern way of punishing rather than torturing or killing someone. He argues that the modern way of punishment becomes that model for control of entire society. One of the techniques of control he mentions is hierarchical observation. Today, the surveillance cameras are the tools of hierarchical observation that not only protect the human beings from potential harm but also watches them constantly and keeps track of their activities.

In the context of surveillance of Muslims, the act of controlling and punishing are far more pervasive. It matters because such type of surveillance is not conducted against any other religious group or individuals other than Muslims. It matters because it is one of the reasons that triggers racism.


Works Cited

Stringfellow, Kim. Greetings from the Salton Sea: folly and intervention in the southern California landscape, 1905-2005. Chicago: The Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, 2011. Web.

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things. Durham: Duke U Press, 2010. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” On Violence (2007): 444-71. Web.

“American Civil Liberties Union.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.


~ by jignadmtp on March 26, 2017.

One Response to “Things that matter”

  1. Chose this for best overall. The sub headings kept me engaged & helped illustrate the sheer quantity of reasons why this issue matters. I liked the use of the image, which was sunny and bright, contrasted with the heaviness of the sentence about constant surveillance.

Comments are closed.