What does it feel like to be watched, surveilled by the state? What would it take to regain a measure of control, of safety? Filmmaker Assia Boundaoui’s Muslim American community came under FBI scrutiny in the 1990s. Agents cast a disturbing and ultimately nationwide net with their suspicions, looking for supposed monetary fraud in money being sent abroad, in the largest counter-terrorism investigation before 9/11, codenamed Operation Vulgar Betrayal. But it’s the Muslim American community and our nation’s ideals that seem most vulgarly betrayed.
Boundaoui uncovers tens of thousands of pages of FBI files, and sues the government for their expedited release. These heavily redacted documents bring into frightening relief how the power of government turned on a community and individuals, and how hard it has been to recover. In this era of expansive possibilities for being watched, controlled, manipulated and intimidated, we are all vulnerable, some more so by dint of prejudice. If the state endeavors to watch us – we must make sure to check its vision. Boundaoui’s brave personal and communal quest inspires us to do just that. – Ravi Chandra