Plaintiff Asad Dandia at a Press Conference (Source: wnyc.org)
The NYPD is being taken to federal court by a group of Muslim New Yorkers, which includes a Kingsborough Community College (2001 Oriental Boulevard) student, over what they allege was an illegal spying sting. WNYC is reporting that 20-year-old Asad Dandia, the Kingsborough student, has joined the suit, which charges that the NYPD violated his constitutional rights as a law-abiding citizen in the surveillance program.
The controversial program in question came to light in a series of investigations conducted by the Associated Press. Besides the alleged illegality of the operation, the lawsuit addresses the consequences that the program has had on imams now more hesitant to discuss current affairs in their mosques. The NYPD action also has frayed relations between local Muslims and the police.
The WNYC report describes Dandia’s interaction with an undercover officer and the supposed hypocrisy of comments made by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly:
One of the plaintiffs, Asad Dandia , a 20-year-old Kingsborough Community College student who co-founded a Muslim service organization, found out last year that a man who had befriended him and joined his group was secretly working as an informant for the NYPD.
Dandia said it was ironic to hear NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly criticize the secrecy of the federal NSA surveillance program in an interview in Tuesday’s New York Post. ”It’s like, be a man of your principle, right? If you’re going to condemn one form of surveillance, you should take a look at your own backyard,” he said after a press conference outside NYPD headquarters.
In response to the suit, the NYPD defended itself by stating that there is nothing unlawful about officers attending events open to the public and using information they gather to fight terrorism.
Storobin’s original letter focused largely on building and zoning issues related to the project, but closed with a suggestion that the mosque’s backers, the Muslim American Society, has ties to radical organizations.
A request for a copy of Bloomberg’s letter to Storobin did not receive a response, but something in it must have made Storobin ditch all that language about zoning, and focus solely on those alleged ties and the “well-being of my constituents.”
Reader and Bay People member Victor Benari e-mailed us last week, attaching a quote from Ben Akselrod, who is facing off against Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in the Democratic primary next month.
The quote, originally published in the Russian newspaper The Reporter, refers to the so-called “Ground Zero” Islamic Center, as well as the proposed mosque at 2812 Voorhies Avenue. It was translated as follows:
I do not believe that most representatives and officials from the state and the city approve of the construction of a mosque at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack and in this neighborhood in Sheephead Bay where Muslims certainly don’t live. These representatives are quiet and vote “yes” because it is politically correct. They lie to themselves and their constituents. I’m not a xenophobe; I’m not against mosques, churches and synagogues. But if one mosque – an insult to the memory of victims, the other – a challenge to the community living in this area, so I would like to sort things out, who is behind this, and where does the financing come from for this provocative demonstration. And I would request an investigation as to how the city officials gave permission for the construction of such a large-scale structure on the narrow Voorhies Ave and which officials have signed-off on this.
There are so many things that I simply cannot tolerate as a citizen, but I see that my representatives and the representatives of people like me circumvent this issue-no matter what the outcome as long as they don’t hurt themselves.
The quote confirms what Sheepshead Bites speculated back in May, when Akselrod announced his campaign, when the candidate made thinly-veiled references to the mosque construction in an attack against Cymbrowitz.
“Nobody should be defending illegal construction in your backyard because of political correctness,” Akselrod said.
The quote appeared to be in reference to the Sheepshead Bay mosque being built at 2812 Voorhies Avenue. Opponents of the mosque frequently mix arguably legitimate complaints about building violations and zoning with racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric– and the main opposition group, Bay People, along with the Brooklyn Tea Party, has slammed Cymbrowitz in the past for not speaking out against the mosque’s development. Akselrod appears to be doing no different here, conflating concerns about over-development with fear-mongering speculation about the mosque’s financing.
Akselrod elaborated on his concerns regarding the mosque’s backers to Brooklyn Daily.
“The Muslim American Society — the organization behind this mosque — originate from the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was outlawed in the U.S.,” said Akselrod, alleging the mosque backers have terrorist roots.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood has not been “outlawed” in the U.S., and the government even recognizes some of its more radical chapters. The group is not considered a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and has renounced violence – though is sympathetic to violent anti-Israel groups such as Hamas.
The mosque is not in Cymbrowitz’s district, the district that Akselrod is running for.
Akselrod took to a podium in front of Baku Palace (2001 Emmons Avenue), flanked by two dozen or so supporters on Sunday, touting his Russian immigrant roots and commitment to conservative Jewish values. Among those who stood with Akselrod were Russian leaders including radio host Gregory Davidzon and Ari Kagan, as well as local rabbis and Akselrod’s former boss, ex-State Senator Seymour Lachman.
(Akselrod begins speaking in the above video at the 20:00 mark.)
To find a prelude to those successes one must only look back two years, to the last time Cymbrowitz faced a challenger: Republican opponent Joseph Hayon in 2010.
Spending only $615, Hayon reaped 43 percent of the vote – a narrow victory for an incumbent with a sizable warchest.
Akselrod appears to be cribbing from the GOP campaigns of his upstart predecessors – especially Hayon.
For example, Akselrod spoke of curriculum requirements in New York schools that challenge conservative Jewish customs.
“[Students are] being taught alternative lifestyles,” Akselrod stated. “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school. We deserve to raise our children with the values that we cherish. We should be able to do what is right for us.”
In reality, the bill Hayon and, presumably, Akselrod refer to is the “Dignity For All Students Act,” passed in 2010, to protect students from harassment and discrimination. The bill establishes mechanisms for schools to report and address discrimination and harassment based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, gender and – the one that Hayon and now Akselrod have focused on – sexual orientation. The legislation also issued a broad mandate to school regents to develop instruction in “civility, citizenship and character education.”
Private and religious schools are exempted in the bi-partisan bill, which passed the Assembly 138-to-four, and has not yet been implemented.
Though Cymbrowitz’s name was never uttered during the announcement, other elements of Akselrod’s platform were thinly-veiled attacks on the sitting assemblymember.
“Nobody should be defending illegal construction in your backyard because of political correctness,” Akselrod declared, as he rattled off his stances on issues as varied as education (above), small business regulations and integrity.
Notably, at least two members of Bay People were at the announcement to support Akselrod.
Also notably, the mosque is not in Cymbrowitz’s district.
As the campaign gears up, it will be an interesting battle for political observers. If, as in the Fidler-Storobin campaign, the 11-year incumbent seeks to snap up the Jewish and Russian voting blocs by trying to appear more aligned with their interests, he’ll likely lose the battle of public perception to the candidate who is actually Russian and a devout Jew – despite the fact that Cymbrowitz has directed a bevy of funds to Jewish causes over the years and supported the community’s social agenda (such as his vote against legalizing same sex marriage).
However, an Akselrod win would blunt the campaign of David Storobin, who many believe may attempt a general election challenge for the seat as well. Party labels aside, Akselrod and Storobin appear to have almost identical stances on most issues.
However, if Cymbrowitz takes a different tack – a rather unlikely one – and mobilizes new voters from other portions of the community to pull a win, he could redefine the evolving political narrative of the area and create a new power base. But once he gets past those primaries, if Storobin jumps in the race, he’ll be pressed to make the same case twice.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper update on the Sheepshead Bay mosque (2812 Voorhies Avenue). Last we heard, the opponents of the mosque, Bay People, lost their zoning challenge against the construction, but vowed to push forward with their lawsuit against the mosque’s backers (who, it should be noted, have filed a countersuit).
As the picture above illustrates, construction at the site has been moving along swiftly. The steel and cinder block frame is just about done on the first two stories, and work has started on the third (and final) floor. The third floor will be recessed from the front.
For what it’s worth, several readers have sent us e-mails noting that it’s not nearly as big as they expected.
That hasn’t soothed the fears of Bay People members, though. The opposition distributed an informational packet to media and local leaders in January summarizing their complaints and compiling letters to and from elected officials, attorneys, city agencies, et cetera. The packet also blasted some leaders that they felt were ignoring their concerns.
Though the group insists in the document that their concerns are about traffic, parking and quality of life, they also cast doubt on the background of the organizers.
“The organization behind the project ‘has a troubling history of associates with radical organizations and individuals that promote terrorism, anti-Semitist and reject Israel’s right to exist,’” they write.
The complete packet can be seen at the end of this post.
Despite the weather, this event is going forward. Here’s the press release:
Muslims help local communities amidst economic crisis
BROOKLYN, New York (August 23, 2011)- This August, over 5,000 needy children across New York City will receive free school bags filled with supplies including notebooks, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, rulers, crayons and more.
ICNA Relief, a division of The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a NY based national organization, plans to give out 350 free school bags with school supplies to the Sheepshead Bay community this Saturday, August 27, 2011, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This initiative is part of ICNA’s national Back 2 School Giveaway Project, which is hosting over 30 similar events across the U.S. These efforts hope to help over 15,000 children nationwide.
The site of the proposed mosque. Local Muslims painted over where a vandal had previously spray painted "He is dead" after Osama bin Laden's death.
A Kings County Supreme Court judge refused yesterday to issue an injunction against the proposed mosque at 2812 Voorhies Avenue that would have required them to halt construction. But Bay People, the opponents of the mosque, are saying the “fight is far from over.”
The morning hearing was for a preliminary injunction to stop contractors from continuing work on the mosque until neighbors’ zoning challenges have been properly reviewed. The motion was filed in April by lawyers from the main opposition group, Bay People, after they got tired of what they believe to be administrative stonewalling.