Recent revelations of the New York Police Department (NYPD)'s spying on Muslim college students have startled the Muslim community. In the wake of September 11, we fought the Patriot Act for its deep invasions of privacy for all Americans. But, as a community, we also realized that the possible threat by homegrown terrorists was a reality. We looked internally and realized that there were imminent threats that warranted the unwarranted searches. But still, wasn’t there a limit? We believed there was a constitution that would surely protect us. But, over time, we just settled into the reality that fear made the strong weak, and we would just need to accept what Congress, in fear, decided for us. In our mosques and homes, we sadly knew the Feds were monitoring us. And we just accepted it.
But, this time, the community is reacting with an organized front.
The mosques and community centers have open-door policies, and our schools and university student groups have welcomed meetings with law enforcement agencies to discuss our thoughts on faith, threats, and civil liberties. But, now it turns out that through it all, federal agents were in fact following us on our whitewater rafting trips, listening to our lectures about love for our mothers, and erecting safe houses to follow the actions of young, old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious. Everything from what we ate, how many times we prayed, and how we dressed made it into the FBI “files.” Our status, parent’s income, and level of education did not matter. We were all the same, viewed as a collective “other.”
Mayor Bloomberg has offered no apologies and stands by the NYPD’s decision. Although the threats following the tragic 9/11 attacks can create a fearful setting, the NYPD's disregard for areas and populations outside its jurisdiction, and their tactics that allowed blanketed searches with no leads, cannot possibly be justified. Yet, the New York Attorney General will not allow an investigation into the NYPD’s complete disregard for numerous communities' right to privacy.
As a law student, I'm aware that the definition of the right of privacy is based on reasonableness. Unfortunately, this NYPD scandal may be a mirror of what the statistics over the last few years of American public opinion suggest. The average American may not believe that Muslims in the U.S have a reasonable right to privacy. We have been considered, after all, the enemy within. But, where did our Fourth Amendment go? Are we not supposed to be protected against unreasonable searches, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause?
NYPD, please tell us what was the probable cause that made NYPD believe that blanketed searches of our school meetings and lunch spots would uncover criminal activity. Especially when the reports exposed nothing incriminating. The Muslim community deserves to know whether the searches have stopped, and how deep NYPD stepped on boundaries where it did not belong.
Muslim-Americans hold two identities; both in the oneness of God as the testament to our faith, as well as our personal oath to protect America, the place where our parents believed we could practice faith freely and have the opportunity to own humble abodes with white picket fences. Now, 7 million mostly upper-middle-class Muslim Americans who live in their white picket fences are beginning to fear some blurry barbed wire in the distance.
NYPD was aware that half of the foiled plots on American soil were provided by tips from within the Muslim community about a “lost” member. But, without an investigation and apology, the only thing potentially lost now is the partnerships Muslim-Americans and law enforcement teams built together in the wake of terror against our America.
So what does my NYPD file say?
“Born and raised in New Jersey. Strangely still advocates Muslim relations with law enforcement. Owns too many rider boots. Married to a young, friendly but quiet boy (note: engineer, inquire further) with facial hair that doesn’t seem to grow fast enough. Law student at Rutgers who gets along with her Dean [J. Farmer], former Attorney General of New Jersey, who also headed the 9/11 Commission. Good American. But we will continue to follow her anyway.”
Photo Credit: Paul Lowry