It’s been a bad few weeks for the New York Police Department. The NYPD’s already tense relationship with the Muslim community continues to get worse and worse. First there was the episode of the police Commissioner Raymond Kelly appearing in the viciously Islamophobic film Third Jihad. This film was shown to NYPD police during their training sessions.
Then there was the report that NYPD was spying on Shi’i mosques in the NYC area. Also targeted were the Palestinian community.
Now comes another report that shows we are dealing with a pattern of institutional abuse, racism, and systematic Islamophobia. Disturbing documents from the NYPD have been discovered by the Associated Press, which show that the NYPD spied on American citizens of Muslim background in multiple colleges and universities.
The report from the AP is called “Weekly MSA Report.” MSA refers to Muslim Students Association, which is the nation-wide organization of Muslims, primarily undergraduate students 18-22 years old. Almost all colleges and universities in America have groups of religious students, whether Baptist students, Catholic students, Jewish students, Buddhist students, or groups like Intervarsity and Campus Crusade for Christ.
AP’s reports a number of disturbing facts:
*The NYPD has been spying on Muslim students, for the simple fact of being Muslims. The individuals profiled had not committed a crime. Their crime was simply being Muslim.
*The profiling also extended to professors at these universities.
*The profiling at times had an ethnic component to it as well. Some Somali professors were profiled, as if being Somali was somehow a pre-indication of guilt or crime.
*The profiling went on intensively inside NYC: Muslims at Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Queens College, Baruch College were profiled.
*The profiling also extended far beyond and outside NYC: Muslim students and faculty at University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Syracuse University were also profiled, among others. In fact, the profiling even crossed state lines, extending into Pennsylvania and Connecticut, over a distance of hundreds of miles.
*The profiling was at least at times done by Muslim officers, one of them named as Mahood Ahmad. In spite of his Muslim background, the officer seems to have been woefully unaware of the basics of Islam and Islam in America, including not being sure about the main Muslim leaders in America—including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.
*The profiling was done on a daily basis.
*The profiling went on to absurd levels, including following students on a rafting trip, and counting how many times the students prayed. This last fact is particularly problematic, as it seems to indicate that in the opinion of the NYPD, there is a correlation between religious observance and extremism.
*The profiling also happened on-line, including webpages, blogs, and emails.
Some of the most absurd levels of profiling occur here. At Rutgers, the police report mentions that the Muslim Students Association had posted about the “Day of Judgment.” In what has to be the utmost manifestation of sheer stupidity and lack of basic understanding, the NYPD secret report states: “Additional information regarding the topic or location is not available.” Good to know that the NYPD (and the Rutgers students) are unaware of the location of the Day of Judgment.
So what’s exactly disturbing about the above?
Oh, where to start? Is it the illegal situation of both racial and religious profiling of people, who are after all, presumed to be innocent? Is it the untold dollars NYPD has spent—in other words, our tax dollars—going off on crazy goose chases?
Perhaps more than anything else, it is this: The FBI, NYPD, Homeland Security have asked for and need the assistance of the American Muslim population in combating the real threat of extremism that does exist among a marginal percentage of American Muslims. To identify that threat, it is necessary to have clear and open lines of communication and a relationship based on mutual trust and concern for the wellbeing of all Americans, including Muslim Americans, while preserving the constitutional rights of all Americans, including Muslim Americans.
How is the Muslim American community supposed to trust the police and FBI when we know that they are illegally profiling, spying, reading emails, and counting the prayers of Muslims as evidence of extremism? In other words, the NYPD’s actions are actually making us far less likely to have a meaningful cooperation, which puts all of us in a more vulnerable position.