The following is an excerpt from my latest blog post for the London Review of Books.
Last year the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD, with help from the CIA, had set up an extensive surveillance operation to spy on Muslims both in the city and over the state line in New Jersey. Known informally as the Demographic Unit, it employed a network of undercover officers (a.k.a. ‘rakers’) and informants (‘mosque crawlers’).
Raymond Kelly, New York’s police commissioner, said that unwarranted surveillance of certain ethnic groups did not infringe their civil rights, though ‘there’s always going to be some tension between the police department and so-called civil liberties groups because of the nature of what we do.’
Kelly wrote the preface to Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat, the NYPD’s 2007 clinical foray into the Muslim psyche. One of its insights is that ‘giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes’ may be a sign of ‘progression along the radicalisation continuum’. (Given that ‘urban hip-hop gangster clothes’ make you much more likely to be stopped and frisked by an NYPD officer, it seems you’re damned if you wear them, damned if you don’t.) The report lists common ‘radicalisation incubators’:
Though the locations can be mosques, more likely incubators include cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores.
In other words, pretty much anywhere. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the NYPD should have responded with a new and improved approach to terrorism:
Where once we would have defined the initial indicator of the threat at the point where a terrorist or group of terrorists would actually plan an attack, we have now shifted our focus to a much earlier point—a point where we believe the potential terrorist or group of terrorists begin and progress through a process of radicalization.
Click here to continue reading at the LRB blog.