The New York Police Dept. is facing accusations of monitoring Muslim student associations at 16 college campuses in the northeastern United States after the Associated Press exposed documents revealing the investigations carried out as early as 2006.
NYPD reports include details about the race and ethnicity of examined Muslim community members in a 60-page report on the activities of Muslim communities and mosques in Newark, New Jersey, in addition to routine weekly updates on Muslim student groups. The reports list the occupations, residencies, hobbies and other personal details of Muslim campus community members and documents Muslim student activities, including one undercover agent’s investigation of a whitewater-rafting trip with MSA students.
UCSB religious studies professor Juan Campo said the NYPD activities and reports are particularly disturbing because the Muslim students were investigated solely because of their religious heritage.
“As far as I know, it doesn’t seem that these groups were doing any specific activity, like protesting or anything like that,” Campo said. “They were being monitored only because they happen to be Muslims — a minority — and targeted as a minority rather than by anything they had done overtly.”
The incident is not a particularly new form of police presence within Muslim American communities and student groups, Campo said.
“After 9/11, many Americans have lost their right to privacy that was guaranteed to us by the Constitution [and] it has been particularly Muslim groups that have been targeted,” Campo said. “There are some campuses around the country where the MSA has been monitored in the past.”
UCSB MSA President Ahmed Mousa, a second-year religious studies major, said the incident is not especially shocking given the prejudice many Muslim Americans currently face. He said the group does not engage in any radical or extremist activities, explaining that members are just as shocked by Islamic extremist activities abroad as most other Americans.
“It scares me because say [for instance] I have somebody come into MSA asking all these questions and it’s an undercover person,” Mousa said. “We’re not a radical group at all. Come to MSA and see who we are … Come hang out with us and let’s talk about whatever. Come get sushi with us or something. We’re not some scary group that, like, hates America.”
Associated Students External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Ahmed Mostafa said the NYPD actions directly violate citizens’ civil rights, even if they operate within the confines of the USA PATRIOT Act.
“It’s disappointing because it’s a violation of our Constitutional rights,” Mostafa said. “It’s a violation of the 14th amendment. If you are what you are, you can be prejudiced against.”
According to Campo, government and law enforcement officials such as Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca strive to develop good relationships with local Muslim communities, assuring the welfare and security of society as a whole.
“People who are professional and open-minded like him realize that the community as a whole benefits from situations where the Muslims feel they can communicate their concerns to public figures,” Campo said. “When the door is open to them, it minimizes the chance for an incident happening from some alienated individual. These alienated individuals can be identified by the Muslim community itself.”