The freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are the prized possessions of all college students — unless you happen to be a member of the Muslim Student Association.
Across the northeastern states, MSA groups on several campuses have become the subject of systematic discriminatory monitoring. According to investigative reports from the Associated Press, officials from the New York Police Department devised an elaborate program to spy on Muslim students, mosques and community events. As if tapping into their emails and infiltrating their mosques weren’t enough, some officials went as far as going undercover in an all-Muslim whitewater rafting trip.
And NYPD officials invoke “national security.” What’s new?
“We have to do whatever the law permits us to do to prevent another terror attack,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In the same interview, he conveniently tossed the words “Islamists” and “keeping the country safe” in a cheap attempt to isolate the Muslim community as the terroristic “other.” What Bloomberg failed to note is that the police documents “mention no wrongdoing by any students,” according to the AP report. NYPD officials targeted Muslim students with no evidence —other than that the students were Muslim.
The NYPD’s behavior is nothing more than religious profiling — unlawful abuse of power that feeds the flames of Islamophobia in the U.S.
I first came across this news on Twitter; friends and followers were tweeting the hashtag, #MyNYPDfiles as a way of converting their frustration into humor. Both Muslims and non-Muslims contributed to the trend, posting mundane Islamic activities that an NYPD official might report as “suspicious.” One Muslim wrote: “She shops at H&M and has weekly manicures. It doesn’t fool me, sir. She’s trying to throw us off. #MyNYPDFile.” Another from New York also wrote, “Sir, these halal food carts are bringing in more business than hotdog stands. Isn’t this Shari’ah monopolizing? #MyNYPDFile.”
Although satirical in nature, the tweets are a subtle commentary on the absurdity of the situation. Why are Muslim students routinely suspected in police investigations? In 2010, researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina published a study revealing that only 6 percent of all terroristic activity in the U.S. is done by “Muslims” (although this is an assumed title). And from this 6 percent, less than a third are successful. Perhaps the NYPD missed the memo?
Although NYPD investigations run along the northeast coast, organized discrimination has also penetrated our own state.
I spoke with Lori Saroya, the co-founder and president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Despite more collaboration between the Muslim community and law enforcement, Saroya said she wouldn’t be surprised if our own Minnesota MSA groups are being spied on. “Between the years 2008 and 2009,” she said, “20 young Somali students filed complaints [to CAIR-MN] after being watched by law enforcement on campus. Many were studying, or sitting in class, when federal agents approached them.”
In response, Saroya and her fellow civil rights activists in CAIR-MN have conducted “Know Your Rights” workshops to over 6,000 Muslims in the community. She tells Muslims to cooperate if investigations are warranted, but with caution. “Cooperate,” she said repeatedly. “If you have a lawyer present, cooperate, but always protect yourself.”
This profiling is both offensive and ineffective. Citizens should never be targeted for surveillance simply because of their religion.
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