The Feeling of Being Watched

The Feeling of Being Watched is a documentary about a journalist’s struggle to uncover the decades-long mass surveillance of her hometown community of Muslim Arab-Americans in Bearview, Illinois. In some ways the film ends up focusing more on her than on the subject she’s covering because she can never concretely get tangible proof and the FBI refuses to release any information to do with the case.

Basically, in the 90s, one of the guys from the mosque raised money for humanitarian aid for Palestine, went over to deliver it, and was immediately arrest by Israel for providing financial support for Hamas. From that one guy, who was found not guilty in a fair trial in the States, the FBI launched Operation Vulgar Betrayal, pushing the investigation wider, into the mosque itself, and then into pretty much every Islamic charity and everyone who donated to them. This basically meant that by being Muslim, being active in your mosque, or fundraising for the welfare of others, you were making yourself a target for a terrorist investigation.

Ironically, as the filmmaker points out, the very thing that people in immigrant communities typically do – actively participate in their community, establish philanthropic organisations to help their own and others in need (everything that if you were a white Christian would be considered what makes America great) – became grounds for criminal suspicion.

And it’s almost like, the FBI were sooo sure they would find wrongdoing, they couldn’t believe it when it didn’t turn up. So it must be they just weren’t looking hard enough. So after 10 years of wiretaps, and drive-bys, and photos through long-distance lenses, when they got nothing, they couldn’t admit they’d wasted 10 years of manpower and resources. So it went on for another 10 years.

The filmmaker kinda hits the nail on the head when she finally reaches the conclusion that paranoia was not a by-product of the surveillance, but the purpose of it. The FBI knew there was no terrorist links in the community. They had decades of invasive investigation to prove it. But making every Muslim in that community fear the FBI like the eye of God, that was real benefit to the American government. That’s how a state ensures peace.

In an absolute stroke of genius, the film scheduled in that screen right after was Team America: World Police Sing-A-Long.

Bravo GFF programmers!