New York City
A vivid illustration of just how out of wack things have become on the American "anti-war" (sic) "left" (sic—neither of these terms are accurate). As every Friday since March, on the evening of Sept. 28, I was standing with the Syria Peace Vigil in New York's Union Square. As usual, I was on leafleting duty. As my comrades (including some local Syrian-Americans) stood with signs reading "FREE SYRIA" and "PROTECT IDLIB," I was giving out our statement to passing commuters and strollers. Usually, amid the massive indifference from passers-by, we inevitably get some heartfelt expressions of support (generally from Syrians or other folk of Middle Eastern background)—and lots of hostility from those who have swallowed the pro-Assad line that is purveyed by left, right and center in this country. But that night, the hostility was particularly egregious...
So, as every Friday, our Syria Solidarity NYC group held its vigil in Union Square to bear witness against the ongoing savage bombardment of Ghouta. But what a scene it was last evening... First, there was a big protest going on against Israel's massacres along the Gaza Strip's border. Now, those standing for Ghouta and Gaza should be natural allies, but there was little interaction between our little protest and their much larger one.
The reasons for this bear some examination...
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent through the mail to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. The sick mailings assigned a point score for levels of violence from "Verbally abuse a Muslim" (10 points) to "Beat up a Muslim" (100 points) to "Burn or bomb a mosque" (1,000 points) to "Nuke Mecca" (2,500 points) Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. No actual attacks were reported. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived at New York addresses, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. (BBC News, WPIX) The Daily News reports that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders at a press conference to condemn the threats. His comments there were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let's embrace a Muslim, let's embrace a Christian, let's embrace a person of Jewish faith, let's embrace the diversity that this city has to offer."
In an effort to quell controversy, liberated Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has declined to be an honoree at New York City's upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parade, writing in a statement to the Daily News: "The honor should not be for me; it should be bestowed on our pioneers who came to the United States and opened doors. It should go for activists and elected officials who fight for justice and a fair society." This comes after Goya Foods and other traditional sponsors of the parade had pulled out under pressure of a media campaign portraying OLR as a "terrorist." The New York Post, of course, has been particularly aggressive, and national right-wing media like Breitbart had also piled on.
My ongoing conflict with Gilad Atzmon, professional peddler of the most rank anti-Semitic garbage, appears to be experiencing a new irruption. It emerges that the rascal will be appearing April 30 at Theatre 80 Saint Marks, a venerated cultural institution right in my own neighborhood, Manhattan's East Village. Of course neighborhood residents and other righteous New York antifas have called a protest, just as we did when a Jew-hater was similarly hosted at the supposedly "progressive" Brooklyn Commons last year. You can read the Facebook announcement for the protest. Both Atzmon and Theatre 80 operator Lorcan Otway have gone online with their own responses—and both are riddled with inaccurate claims about Yours Truly. So I have no choice but to clear the air. Here goes...
Lynne Stewart, the fighting activist attorney who gained fame with her 2005 conviction for "providing material support" to terrorism, died March 7 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 77, and had been granted a "compassionate release" from federal prison in January 2014 after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The obituary in the New York Times says she was convicted of "helping smuggle messages" from her imprisoned client Omar Abdel Rahman "to his violent followers in Egypt." It doesn't mention that the "messages" were essentially press releases, barred by stringent "Special Administrative Measures" imposed by the Justice Department, which Stewart rejected as illegitimate. Her prison term, initially set at 28 months, was later increased to 10 years after an appeals court ordered the trial judge to consider a longer term. In a statement after her release, her longtime partner Ralph Poynter said: "The enduring global movement for social justice has persevered—ever inspired by Lynne Stewart's steadfast refusal to bend the knee, submit to coercion or official duplicity."
The New York Police Department (NYPD) reached a new settlement on March 6 over its surveillance of Muslims after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal in October. The new settlement would create greater oversight of the NYPD's intelligence-gathering programs by a civilian representative. In the original rejection of the case, the judge stated that the agreement did not ensure that the NYPD would be limited in how it could monitor political and religious activity. Zachary Carter, head of New York City's law department, said that the new settlement agreement addresses the judge's previous concerns.
A federal judge has rejected (PDF) the New York Police Department's proposed settlement of a lawsuit accusing the department of improperly monitoring the city's Muslim community. Following the September 11 attacks, the NYPD has reportedly used undercover cops to monitor Muslim neighborhoods, organizations and mosques in the name of national security. In January, a settlement was reached, calling for a stricter modification of the police surveillance "Handschu" guidelines (PDF) and a civilian representative installed for five years to ensure that the NYPD complies. The NYPD declined to accept all proposed modifications yet acquiesced to the establishment of a civilian representative. Nevertheless, US District Judge Charles Haight rejected the proposed settlement, stating that it does not sufficiently protect the constitutional rights of Muslim citizens. Haight suggested that the NYPD further clarify the representative's role, and take additional measures to ensure guideline compliance such as requiring reporting to the court. While expressing disappointment in the ruling, the New York City law department stated its intention to address the judge's concerns.