Domestic surveillance of Muslim students proves profiling is dubious
Earlier this month, word emerged that the New York Police Department was keeping tabs on Muslim students.
Among the monitored was Adeela Kahn, who’d attended college in Buffalo. After finding a flyer for an upcoming Islamic convention in her inbox, Mrs. Kahn took it upon herself to forward the message to some friends she thought might be interested.
At the time, she probably didn’t think her gesture would catch the eye of a cross-state intelligence analyst. She probably didn’t think that a simple invitation would land her name, with emphasis on the Kahn, in the commissioner’s office. She probably didn’t think that it would all lead to her being listed in an official report, in a file labeled “SECRET” in an office over 300 miles away, but now she knows better.
Eye-opening as it was, her case isn’t exactly special. NYPD has been trailing students in over 13 universities in the Northeast, from Yale to the University of Pennsylvania to Rutgers. While they’ve claimed the groups aren’t chosen because of their religion, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Mormons, Unitarians, and Rastafarians don’t seem to have made the cut. Apparently these spying practices are not only completely legal, but necessary in order to “protect the public.”
Commissioner Raymond Kelly has pointed to the student groups as being potential breeding grounds for terrorists, several of which they claimed to have caught as a result of the surveillance. Besides, indiscretion isn’t ground-breaking; watchdogs have been around since the colonies.
It’s one big mess, but it serves as another “opening shot” on a matter we tend to dance around — the reason for all of this snooping. Even though the big question, the morality of it all, is the one that everyone wants to answer, it’s the little ones that really strike a nerve.
By asking which groups should be policed, you’re asking why they’re being policed in the first place. If you address this fear, you’ll have to acknowledge that their difference is what sets them apart. And if we draw this assumption, then you can’t help but wonder if — as a country that’s made it our business to inflict equality upon the world — we’ve reached the threshold that we deem necessary for everyone else. The answer to that one is “no.”
If it sounds like an issue, that’s good, because it is. Each party’s left with one of three options: bending to the pressure, retaliating in spades or cooperating.
The first would be typical, but it’s the last thing we need. The second would only confirm what NYPD has claimed is “obvious.” The third just would be difficult. It’d take time; it’d require concessions from both sides, giving what they can, establishing parameters and putting their feet down once those boundaries have been crossed.
But if we’re willing to make the effort, the payoff would be astronomical with less files in hidden drawers and more discussions towards a viable solution.
Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected].