For many months in 2007, plainclothes members of the New York Police Department built secret files on Muslim communities, taking pictures and eavesdropping in conversations at mosques, cafes and Muslim businesses in New York. The result: a 60-page guide to the city’s Muslims.
The report, obtained by the Associated Press, was followed by another revelation Saturday — that the department had also monitored students at universities across the eastern United States, just for being Muslim. And then came the revelation that NYPD had spied on Newark, too.
A request for comment from NYPD was not immediately returned. Newark Mayor Cory Booker say the city was misled by NYPD and would never have endorsed spying on Muslims, the AP reports.
From the AP, on the monitoring that took place at universities:
“Police trawled daily through student Web sites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast ... talked with local authorities about professors in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.”
The document does not mention any wrongdoing by any of the students. On Wednesday, many Muslims at the surveilled universities reacted with outrage. From a Muslim student leader at Yale, Faisal Hamid, as quoted in the AP:
“[A Muslim Students Association] is simply a group of Muslim students. ... Law enforcement should pursue actual leads, not imaginary ones based on Islamophobia.”
From the Muslim Student Association at University of Buffalo, as quoted in BuffaloNews.com:
“Our organization and its general members feel that this is an infringement of our civil liberties and that it is driving Muslim students away from mainstream American society.”
Muslims in New York, too, who may have been surveilled, weighed in. Samuel Rascoff, a professor at New York University’s School of Law and former head of intelligence analysis for the NYPD, wrote in the New York Times that the government’s efforts should be better guided by the First Amendment:
“From a national security point of view, challenging ideas that underpin radical Islam makes sense. ...
“The problem is that when American officials intervene in Islamic teachings — interpreting them to believers in a national-security context and saying which are or are not acceptable — they create tensions, both legal and strategic.”
Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, New York, agreed with Rascoff in a piece on ReligionDispatches.org. Moghul pointed to a number of polls that found religiosity was not a condition for violence.
Think of it this way. There are close to 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. All, obviously, have Islam in common, speaking very broadly. But only a very, very small number of those have engaged in acts of murderous violence. We [are]... again prioritizing religion over other causes, sustaining Bin Laden’s absurd claim that we (America and the West) were at war with Islam.
Moghul ended his essay with the somewhat hopeless statement: “All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Paul Browne, spokesman for NYPD, told the AP that12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the U.S. had once been members of Muslim student associations. “As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs,” Browne said in an email.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the reports Wednesday: “Of course we’re going to look at anything that’s publicly available in the public domain. ...We have an obligation to do so.”