New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that he would act on plans to include Muslim holidays in the public school calendar. Journalist Uzma Kolsy says it’s not enough.
Three extra holidays during the academic year do not a victory make. Eid ul Fitr on school calendars reminds the shrewd skeptic in me of the Eid postage stamp or the White House iftars – glossy, hollow gestures meant to appease and, by extension, distract the Muslim community. In New York, the far more pressing, more egregious issue facing Muslims has to do with whether or not they are being tailed by an NYPD officer when attending a mosque for Friday prayer.
This is hardly unfounded paranoia – Muslims are now aware that frequenting a mosque in the greater New York region is grounds for suspicion. Thanks to groundbreaking reporting by AP reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, it is common knowledge that the NYPD operates a large scale and aggressive intelligence division that tracks, surveils and monitors Muslims all across New York and beyond state borders. In the years following 9/11, the NYPD’s Demographics Unit has infiltrated mosques and student groups, spied on the private lives of Muslims everywhere from their place of business to their homes, and systematically trampled their civil liberties – without any evidence of wrongdoing. And despite the outcry over these explosive revelations and evidence that the unit never produced a single terrorism related lead in its years of investigating, the NYPD continues to unjustly target Muslims.
The move to recognize Muslim holidays is being warmly received by Muslim civil rights groups, and will likely continue to earn glowing praise from the new mayor’s Muslim constituents. Indeed, it’s a notable step that will keep Muslim students from having to choose between observing a religious holiday or avoiding jeopardizing school work. It might also promote greater acceptance and tolerance for Muslim practices in New York, where a growing population (pdf) of 700,000 plus Muslims live. But if de Blasio allows the NYPD to persist in a police culture that vilifies the Muslim community through discriminatory, gratuitous and imperious intelligence gathering, will the impact of commemorating a Muslim holiday be anything more than superficial and transitory? What good is stamping a holiday on a school calendar when the very act of praying in a mosque is treated like criminal intelligence?