A group of eight Muslims has sued the New York Police Department in New Jersey over surveillance of their neighborhoods, which the group says unconstitutionally identifies Muslims by their religion, national origin and race as potential terror suspects.

Since 9-11, the NYPD has conducted surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, investigated mosques and infiltrated Muslim student groups. The surveillance has chronicled details of community life including such things as where individuals prayed, ate or got their hair cut, according to the Associated Press, which published a series of articles blowing the whistle on the NYPD activities.

Army reservist Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, said he has stopped attending one of the four mosques he goes to as often since learning that it was contained in NYPD files. He said that concern over being linked to terrorism could affect his security clearance has forced him to change his habits.

Just last month, the New Jersey attorney general determined that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the program, saying that 9-11 proved that New York could not rely on the federal government alone to track terrorists.

It’s a very fine line the police need to walk in this situation. On the one hand, 9-11 was such an extreme event that some extreme measures were called for. It’s not unreasonable for the NYPD to identify areas and organizations that could potentially generate or support terrorists.

On the other hand, we can’t have a nation where the authorities feel free to spy on anyone, anywhere, anytime they feel like it, for any reason.

There’s far too much of that coming out of the federal government, which is building a National Security Agency center in Utah that is designed to gather, record and store just about any bit of data linked to a computer network, without a warrant.

The feds have also begun using military drones over U.S. airspace to spy on civilians, a program which is being greatly expanded in the coming year.

The real sticking point, though, and possibly the real reason for the lawsuit, is the notion that Islam is not a valid identifying mark for terrorism.

People have the right to believe anything they want and worship in any way they want without interference from the government, so long as their practice doesn’t harm anyone.

And there’s the rub.

The vast majority of terrorism in this country, and indeed the world, in modern times has been committed by Muslims. That’s simply a statistical fact.

There is also a long history of Muslim terrorism and violence, going all the way back to Islam’s founding.

Given that, it’s clear that the sort of terrorist culture promoted by groups like Al Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas is not just a fluke, or an obscure sectarian phenomenon. It is very much mainstream Islam.

One of this nation’s first conflicts involved the Barbary Pirates, who were seafaring Muslims sponsored by Muslim states to rob, pillage and rape anybody who sailed into “their” territory without paying satisfactory tribute. Murder and kidnapping were the order of the day. If you were captured by the pirates and were lucky or wealthy, you might be ransomed back to freedom. Otherwise, it was likely slavery for you.

President Adams tried appeasement, but the Muslims’ demands nearly broke the bank of our fledgling nation. Jefferson built a fleet and sent the Navy and Marines to teach the Muslims a thing or two. That’s why the Marine Corps anthem includes the line “to the shores of Tripoli.”

Reading the Quran quickly reveals the roots of this bloodthirst. It came from Mohammed himself, who is unique among the founders of the world’s major religions in that he was a warlord.

The notion, therefore, that Islam is a “religion of peace” represents a naivete that we can scarcely afford.

While the police should have some cause or reasonable suspicion for intensive surveillance of individuals or groups, it is also undeniable that being an adherent of Islam is one red flag among many that authorities must be aware of.

Until Islam itself changes, that’s the way it must be.

The plaintiffs are correct on the point that it’s up to the police to make sure their surveillance activities respect the rights of citizens and legal residents.

However, the lawsuit filed in New Jersey goes further than that and seeks to force police to simply shut their eyes and put their heads in the sand.