9/11 catalyzed countless changes in U.S. government agencies and public life, reverberating beyond the weeks, months, and years that followed. But for Muslim Americans, there was a particularly profound effect: Religious, racial, and ethnic profiling—from the public and from law enforcement—fundamentally changed what it meant to be Muslim in the United States.
In 2011, the Associated Press published a series of reports revealing that the New York City Police Department, with help from the CIA, created databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked, and prayed. The NYPD subjected entire neighborhoods to surveillance often because of the ethnicity of the residents and not because of any criminal accusations. Mosques, businesses, and student groups were infiltrated by informants. But these reports just confirmed what many Muslim Americans already suspected. And for one young Brooklyn native named Asad Dandia, this became especially real.
“Nobody really thinks that they specifically are being followed. Nobody thinks that there's an empty car in front of their mosque or their home with a 24-hour camera monitoring them,” said Dandia at the time. “Nobody thinks that there is someone in their immediate friend circle who is employed by the police to watch their every move. And just like everyone else, I didn't think it could happen to me.”
Then, in 2012, Dandia found out he was being surveilled. “I was like, OK, I'm one of the people who are included in this gargantuan operation.” And he says that while he was not surprised, it still shocked him.
“The fear and paranoia of being watched, it looks like looking over your shoulder. It looks like asking who's going to be at any social gathering before committing to it. It looks like your parents, well into your mid to late 20s, asking you where you're going and who you're meeting with and telling you not to make too many friends anymore. It looks like seeing your mother losing her sleep.”
As a result of this experience, he signed on as a plaintiff in what would become a landmark class action lawsuit against the NYPD called Raza v. City of New York. The settlement marked the first legal safeguards put in place around surveillance since 9/11.
In the latest VICE News Reports, we hear directly from Dandia about how the surveillance experience changed his life forever.
Sophie Kazis reported and produced this story with help from Leily Rezvani.
VICE News Reports is hosted by Arielle Duhaime-Ross and produced by Jesse Alejandro Cottrell, Sophie Kazis, Jen Kinney, Janice Llamoca, Julia Nutter, and Sayre Quevedo. Our senior producers are Ashley Cleek and Adizah Eghan. Our associate producers are Steph Brown, Sam Eagan, and Adreanna Rodriguez. Sound design and music composition by Steve Bone, Pran Bandi and Kyle Murdock. Our intern is Leily Rezvani.
Our executive producer and VP of Vice Audio is Kate Osborn. Janet Lee is Senior Production Manager for VICE Audio.
In 2013, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the NYPD after Dandia's nonprofit was infiltrated with no probable cause. As a part of the series ACLU and U, VICE profiled the landmark civil liberty case Raza v. City of New York.