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October 11, 2012 Posted by admin in Blog

Linda Sarsour's Testimony for the NYC Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing

Below is Executive Director Linda Sarsour's testimony for the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing on October 10, 2012.

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn where I live and work is home to the largest Arab American community in the state of New York, an area heavily targeted by NYPD and other federal law enforcement agencies. Our businesses, mosques, coffee shops, civic associations all monitored by the Demographics Unit of the NYPD and mentioned in secret documents revealed through reports by the Associated Press. Young college students who recognized their individual names, emails they sent and events they organized. Our previous Imam, Sheikh Reda Shehata and our mosque Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, were listed amongst those monitored. A mosque, a sacred haven, a place where community members escape to find serenity and deepen their relationship with God. This is the same mosque that has invited and hosted NYPD officials on dozens of occasions, opened our doors to them, broke bread with them and extended our hand in partnership and cooperation. It is these same NYPD officials that have been authorizing the surveillance and monitoring of our entire community, not based on evidence or probable cause but based on ethnicity and religion. Its not just about statistics - the number of mosques, cafes or number of informants – its about the wounded psyche of an entire community. Trauma, mistrust, alienation.

The targeting and profiling of any group based upon race, ethnicity and national origin not only reflects bias but also is completely ineffective means for law enforcement to prevent crime. The Arab and Muslim communities in New York are guilty until proven innocent which goes against everything our constitution and our country stands for.

NYPD officials including Commissioner Kelly who oversaw these initiatives that clearly violate the civil rights of New Yorkers must be investigated and held accountable for their actions and a process must be expediently implemented to safeguard that such abuses will never be justified by NYPD policy. This process is the passage of the Community Safety Act and more specifically the NYPD Inspector General Act. An inspector general would provide transparency thus allowing the Mayor and the City Council to better exercise their oversight responsibilities and increase public confidence in policing. The inspector general would have the mandate, expertise, and perspective to make sure that as NYPD works to keep our communities safe they do so consistent with our constitutionally guaranteed liberties.

“I could tell you that I have never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report and I'm here since 2006, I don't recall other ones prior to my arrival." These words are not my words they were said by Assistant Chief of NYPD Thomas Galati in a June 28 deposition. No leads translate to an ineffective program. In light of a weak economy we should ensure that our tax dollars are spent efficiently this includes education, healthcare, infrastructure, transportation. We owe it to New Yorkers to do the right thing and the right thing is to pass the Community Safety Act.

The Subway Ad that Calls me a 'Savage'

Executive Director Linda Sarsour's Op-Ed as it appeared in City Limits on Wednesday September 26, 2012.

While waiting for the train on the platform in a New York City station I always read the advertisements plastered on the walls. I don’t watch much television and these ads always update me on the newest movie releases, season premieres of television’s hottest primetime shows and NYC’s latest fashion trends. Starting this week, New Yorkers are in for something a bit out of the ordinary – in-your-face racism and the response to it.

An ad went up on Monday, September 24 in 10 train stations in New York City that reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Many New Yorkers will pass right by them and not even flinch, but I am not that New Yorker. I am a First Amendment absolutist and I believe wholeheartedly that Pamela Geller, founder of Stop the Islamization of America, a cited hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has every right to express herself through these ads. I also believe, however, that with freedom of speech comes responsibility. Is it legal in a court of law to place these hateful ads? Absolutely. Are they moral and necessary? Absolutely not. This is not just about legality, but also about morality. Slavery was once legal in the United States, but that didn’t make it moral.

I had the opportunity to debate Ms. Geller on a BBC program last week. I did not debate her right to put up the ads, but I challenged the false premise on which the ads are based. Muslims welcome constructive debate on Islam. We have it all the time within the Muslim community. What we don’t welcome is demonization, hate and misinformation about our faith. During the debate, Geller defended herself by saying that her ads were in response to an ad campaign by a pro-Palestine group whose message was to end military aid to Israel and put an end to occupation in Palestine.

The difference between the two sets of ads is that one was merely political and did not generalize or demonize a group of people while the other was intentional in its vile depiction of an entire group as savages and sub-human. Geller elaborated that there is no Palestine – a view not held by most Americans. As a Palestinian, this comment shocked the conscience. But it was better to remain level headed than to fall into the uncivilized and cruel rhetoric that Geller was employing. Geller and her allies should strive for rational debate rather than demagoguery.

The use of the terms “savage” and “civilized man” are intentionally inflammatory. “Savage” is a loaded word that recalls the dehumanization of African Americans and Native Americans. Geller runs roughshod over this history in her effort to incite a response to her ad. She wants a violent reaction without regard to the interests of the United States and people in the region.

The “civilized man” is a metaphor for Israel, while “savage” is a charged reference to Muslims and Palestinians. Strikingly, it is the employer of the charge that Muslims are uncivilized who is herself promoting debate in an uncivilized and hateful manner. When Andre Breivik set off a bomb and went to a youth camp in Norway to massacre scores of people, he didn’t cite Osama Bin Laden or a Palestinian suicide bomber in his manifesto. No, he cited and recommended articles by none other than Pamela Geller, the bigot behind the subway ads.

Recently, we saw thousands of Muslims across the world protest an amateur film that depicts our beloved prophet Muhammad as a pedophile and a womanizer. A small number of these protests turned violent. We went from cheering on the thousands in Tahrir Square during the revolution that took down Mubarak of Egypt to Newsweek-style pictures of angry bearded men burning American flags. These protests clearly don’t represent the people of the Muslim world but were the images on the primetime news shows and front page of all mainstream newspapers. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world; surely those few who protested violently do not represent them all.

Many people are perplexed how such a badly made film could elicit so much anger in a people. It’s not about one film, but about a film being unleashed in a larger context. Political pressures and grievances have accumulated after years of aggressive US foreign policy, wars, disrespect and dehumanization. The anger emerges from feelings of marginalization and isolation.

The unequivocal support from the United States government for Israel is a major ongoing point of dispute. Israel has received tens of billions of dollars in military aid and avoided harsh criticism from the US for its ongoing military occupation of Palestine. This does not go unnoticed. The U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine is obviously one-sided and has implications not just for Israel and Palestine, but the entire Arab/Muslim world. Some Americans view the one-sidedness as Biblically correct and/or appropriate siding with an ally, but much of the world views it as lending support to an apartheid-like state subjugating Palestinians.

Tragically, there seems to be a growing acceptance of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. In our country, individuals have a right to be racists and bigots, but when speech crosses the line into hate it is important that people of conscience draw the line. In recent weeks, six Sikh Americans were massacred in their temple in Wisconsin, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned to the ground, a Muslim cemetery was desecrated in Illinois, Molotov cocktails were thrown at another Muslim house of worship, and the list goes on.

Yet these hate groups seemingly get away with their violence while the unwarranted surveillance of Muslim- and Arab-Americans by law enforcement – as in New York by the New York Police Department (NYPD) – continues. The NYPD has targeted the Muslim communities of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, not based on credible criminal leads but solely based on their faith. The Associated Press documented this surveillance program in a recent investigative report. Muslim Americans are living in the most hostile civic environment that our community has ever faced in the United States. At this difficult time, Geller has unleashed an ad seemingly intent on eliciting more ill will from Americans.

I am a proud American who values the rights that come with my citizenship. I don’t want to violate individual freedoms or call for censorship. I am not advocating for “blasphemy restrictions on free speech” – in fact, I am not asking for any kind of restrictions on free speech. That freedom is the foundation for our values as a nation; you are free to say what you want and I am free to respond. My hope, however, is that Geller’s hate falls flat. Many in the communities I traverse would like to see precisely the opposite response to the one she desires. If fellow Americans rally to our side and criticize Geller for her vicious ads it will be a great day for Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities too often belittled and demeaned in the United States.

Already, we see creative responses as New Yorkers refashion the ads to label them “hate speech” and “racist.” The danger, however, is that she still may tip a handful of people into violent outbursts against Muslims and Arabs. Geller will claim she is not responsible, but she will undoubtedly have played a part – precisely as she did with Breivik.

We are far from a hate-free America, but we owe it to our children to work towards something different, something better. Geller has appealed to the hateful instincts within us, but I am hopeful she will succeed only in isolating herself and in bringing together Americans who challenge not only her speech, but the notion that we should unstintingly support Israel even as it subjugates millions of Palestinians.
August 21, 2012 Posted by admin in Blog

Disgraceful Anti-Muslim Act Has No Place in Community


Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and AAANY Executive Director Linda Sarsour released the following statement in response to the heinous, anti-Muslim act perpetrated at John D’Amato Field on Staten Island on Sunday:

​“The vile act of hatred directed toward our Muslim brothers and sisters at the conclusion of Ramadan is truly disheartening to all of us who believe in the right to religious freedom that our country was founded on. It is our duty as New Yorkers to make our community a place of acceptance and peace where we celebrate diversity and learn from one another. The act committed at John D’Amato Field on Sunday must serve as a wake-up-call for all of us to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our neighbors’ rights. Despicable acts like these cannot and will not be tolerated in our community,” said Assemblywoman Malliotakis.

"Though we have seen a rise in anti-Muslim incidents across the country in recent weeks which include bigoted comments from some elected officials, we salute Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis for her strong stance against prejudice towards New York Muslims. Her leadership demonstrates that, no matter what side of the aisle one is on, all elected officials can stand for America's first and most cherished right; freedom of religion", stated Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, Arab American Association of New York.”

Police are investigating an incident in which pieces of raw bacon were spread across John D’Amato field on Staten Island prior to a ceremony attended by roughly 1,500 Muslims marking the conclusion of Ramadan on Sunday.
March 5, 2012 Posted by admin in Blog

South Brooklyn Comes Through on Community Survey

  Thanks to some amazing hustle by our community, we have completed our survey collection for our Community Needs Assessment! This needs assessment is the first ever to be conducted in the Arab American community in New York City, and AAANY is proud to be working with New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. AAANY’s grassroots credibility and outreach, coupled with NYU Wagner’s technical skill, analysis, and dedication, are moving us forward in capturing demographic and needs data for the Arab American community.

Our high school students made the survey a competition among themselves, using a big poster to track how many surveys they had filled out with community members. Youth Community Organizer Kareem Meawad won, with 60 surveys – nice work, Kimo! We collected 415 surveys in total, in three weeks.

The surveys are currently being analyzed by our team at NYU Wagner, who will present a report of their findings in April 2012. They are running regressions to identify possible trends among the community, and to study what community members identify as their greatest needs. We look forward to this data on language access, experience with government offices, employment status, household size, and much more! Creating a clearer picture of the Arab American community will help AAANY and our partners do a better job of providing the services and programs our community needs to become independent, productive members of society.

-Jennie Goldstein


More than just a summer volunteer experience

Dylan Okabe-Jawdat spent several weeks with AAANY this summer as a volunteer, and ended up as youth community organizer, building community and immersing himself into the culture. He shares his experiences here:

After spending a month at an Arabic immersion program this summer, I was inspired not only to apply what I had learned, but also to continue to be immersed in Arabic upon my return to New York. With a little research I found the Arab American Association of New York, an organization located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, serving a predominantly Arab-American community. I soon found that language-learning was not going to be central to my volunteer work. While one side of the organization was dominated by social work, I joined a group of high school volunteers highly motivated to break down the racial boundaries that they observed between youth had in the neighborhood. While I can't say that goal was entirely accomplished, for the duration of my volunteer work I had the opportunity to facilitate activities and discussions about race and identity, in an attempt to understand the tensions within the community. We also had the opportunity to meet with a few organizations in order to better understand how to stimulate interest in community projects. During the period that I worked at the Arab American Association, we launched what is now an online youth-run editorial, as a platform for high school students to share their perspectives called TheAmplifYer. After my experience this summer, I was surprised by the confidence as well as the range of skills that I acquired. I hope that others actively seek out similar opportunities and can enjoy the same rewards that I did.    

Who's behind the desk at AAANY?

There are many faces, many services, and many programs at the Arab American Association of New York. We are a staff of eight, three being part-time. But working with our family of volunteers, interns, and professionals, we are able to provide a service and an exponential capacity. So as a kick-off to our blog, let’s answer the question, who are some of the people who sitting behind the desks at AAANY beyond our staff?

Liz has been with us since December as a Learning Leader Volunteer, and she brings her expertise in helping students apply to college -- from how to fill out the FAFSA to think about choices of where to go --and is a great addition to the AAANY family. She’s here every Wednesday 3:30-6, taking walk-ins and scheduled appointments.

We are also thankful for pro bono legal assistance. Tahani will stay late with clients on Wednesday nights even after we put the gate down. As a Lawyer, she sees cases from racial profiling to immigration. She is also an activist for the Arab and Muslim community, helping and supporting the stop NYPD surveillance campaign. Feras, an immigration lawyer, also comes on Tuesdays.

Kathy Khatari, Elizabeth, and Mary are all representatives for the District Attorney’s office. Kathy is a staple of and strong advocate for the Arab, Muslim, and Brooklyn community. On Wednesdays, she and Elizabeth assist clients with legal concerns and provide sound advice. Mary comes on Friday, and adds to the dynamic wealth of experience these women have to offer.

Every day of the week there is a native Arabic speaker available for providing access to health insurance. Their compassion for helping people is great. Noha is with Americhoice on Mondays and Tuesdays. Zeinab is here on Wednesdays, seeing clients for Health Plus. Manal, also with Health Plus, comes on Thursdays and Fridays. Together they help over 100 clients a week.

And this is just a slice of what we do! One of many reasons why to support the Arab American Association of New York. With only 18 days left for the month of February -- also known as Love Your AAANY month -- where we have a challenge grant that matches every donation, now is the perfect time to give. It’s online, simple, and we’re far short from our $15000 goal. If not, spread the love by subscribing to this new blog with AAANY and sharing this.

  By Christophe Jospe