Almost 11 years after 9/11, the Sikh and Muslim communities in New York City, and advocates for civil rights everywhere, are celebrating a big win. For all these years Sikh and Muslim MTA (New York City’s public transit authority) employees have been discriminated against at their jobs. They either had to put the MTA logo on their headdress or stay out of sight, literally working hidden from the public, or face disciplinary action.
“The MTA cited security concerns after 9/11 as the reason for its ‘brand or segregate’ policy,” says the Sikh Coalition, the non-profit organization that represented the eight MTA employees in their suit. These extra measures were enacted despite the fact that the plaintiffs and their colleagues had worked successfully for decades at the MTA, headdresses and all.
The Sikh Coalition has also been busy in California. This summer the CA Senate will vote on a bill that protects religiously mandated clothing and headwear at the workplace. The Sikh Coalition and the Hindu American Foundation cosponsored the bill with CA Assemblywoman Mariko Yamanda.
Back in March the Associated Press released a report on the NYPD’s huge, secret database of information on law abiding Muslim citizens compiled through a secret surveillance program. Since 9/11 the NYPD has been secretly spying on Muslim Americans in the name of fighting terrorism. Surveillance has been carried out in schools, mosques, community centers, businesses and other gathering spots with impunity.
Disturbingly, this practice is supported by the majority of NYC voters who credit the program with preventing another terrorist attack in the city. Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, is representing the plaintiffs, a group of individuals, businesses, and Muslim groups. They suing to end the surveillance and to expunge the police files but this lawsuit could help define how far the government can go in the name of national security.
I attended the NY Arab American Comedy Festival last fall and one of the comedians made a joke to the effect of “9/11 was the best thing that ever happened to Black Americans.” I don’t know about that but it is hard to argue with the fact that America has been an especially ugly place for Muslim Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern decent for the last decade. Civil rights don’t mean anything unless everyone has them and thanks to groups like the Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition, America is starting to right some of our wrongs.