Indeed, on Oct. 16, Muslim activists appeared with de Blasio at a rally in downtown Brooklyn, where he vowed to have the NYPD’s new inspector general review the department’s surveillance program, known as the Zone Assessment Unit, which maps Muslim residents at their places of worship and leisure—just one step in a long process, but another sign of change.
De Blasio’s GOP opponent Joe Lhota, on the other hand, has declined to meet with Muslim groups like Almontaser’s, she says—a sign of how far Muslims have yet to go in terms of convincing political elites they are an indispensable constituency. Complicating the organizing process is that imams are simply not politically involved in the way many rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox community—who often oversee religious service or welfare organizations, rather than pulpits—have been. Many imams working in the city are temporary stand-ins traveling from abroad and do not take a prominent role in local politics, leaving the political work to community leaders—people who don’t have identifiable constituencies they can promise at the polls on Election Day.
“There’s no convenient way for outsiders to define the Muslim community as a bloc,” says Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Unfairly, Muslims are still being tarred with the 9/11 brush, and politicians are not afraid of them.”
And yet, it’s possible to imagine de Blasio appointing a formal liaison to the Muslim community—an equivalent to the Jewish community liaisons whose presence in city offices is now almost a given. Muslim leaders hope that this is their Crown Heights moment—that those unfamiliar with the mechanics of American democracy will be inspired to figure it out—but know they have a long way to go.I have faith that soon enough they'll figure it out.