By Zainab Iqbal
Published: December 12th, 2018
I was listening to a radio show the other day. It was a very local show where two people discussed politics. I was very intrigued. And then I heard this conversation.
Person 1: “I also think it’s so funny how common that’s becoming. Like just about people recording conversations with people. Every time now I’m wondering to what extent I’m being recorded, if I’m being recorded.“
Person 2: “Hey listen, you remember that story about those girls at Brooklyn College that were being watched by the NYPD as part of a counterterrorism investigation which ultimately led nothing?”
Person 1: “Sure, I mean, but that— “
Person 2: “But being surveilled on campus is kind of a scary idea.”
Person 1: “It’s weird though because you know it’s happening, right? It’s not necessarily like NYPD student connected anymore, that’s for sure. There was in some cases, a while ago like Jewish students were surveilled too, like it’s not just like this isolated anti-something energy.”
I reached out to the people and we had a rather insightful conversation, though Person 1, to a certain extent, said she stands by what she said.
My problem with the conversation isn’t that it was hardly spoken about (yes, I understand radio shows have allotted times); rather it was that it was quickly dismissed. Person 1 essentially said, sure Muslim students were surveilled, but so are Jewish students. She said it had nothing to do with “anti-something energy.”
How can it not be “anti-something” if Muslim students were the only students that were targeted? How can it be “anti-something” if an NYPD informant “converted” to Islam to spy on Muslims? I understand there are many people who do not know about what happened three years ago, so I will explain. In 2011, a young woman named “Mel” attended an “Ask a Muslim” tabling on campus. She then attended a meeting and converted to Islam. She got up and took the Shahada, a declaration of Muslim faith.
In the span of three years, “Mel” befriended several Muslim women on the Brooklyn College campus. She was invited to get-togethers, inside their homes, and even their weddings.
It turned out, “Mel” was an NYPD informant, surveilling Brooklyn College’s Muslim women. Perhaps, I’ll repeat it again. “Mel” was spying on these Muslim women for three years. Want to know more about it? The 19-minute documentary “Watched” is aired on campus every year. It follows two individuals who were targeted by “Mel.” It is a powerful film, and I urge everyone to watch it.
One may argue that it happened three years ago. Surely, the Muslim population would have moved on from then. But no. The effects of it still linger on this campus.
I was at the documentary screening last year. At the end of the screening, there was a panel. A student from the audience asked, “In other words, there could be an informant in this room?” The panel simultaneously answered, “Yes.”
Do you know how crazy it is to hear those words as a Muslim woman on campus? Sometimes I cannot help but think it could’ve been me three years ago. “Mel” could have befriended me, and I would have been surveilled. In fact, what if it is happening now?
Throughout my school life, my parents have constantly told me to never talk about politics with my friends or inside the classroom. “You don’t know who could be listening. You don’t know who could take your words and twist them,” they told me. Do you know how difficult that is for an opinionated girl who loves talking about politics? Having to keep my mouth shut when everyone is debating?
NYPD’s surveillance on JUST the Muslim population didn’t stop on the college campus. They surveilled mosques and neighborhoods as well. According to the ACLU, NYPD’s surveillance has been occurring since 2002. They label it “religious profiling.”
The ACLU notes, “The NYPD’s Intelligence Division has singled out Muslim religious and community leaders, mosques, student associations, organizations, businesses, and individuals for pervasive surveillance that is discriminatory and not conducted against institutions or individuals belonging to any other religious faith, or the public at large.”
The ACLU also notes the purpose of why the NYPD surveils Muslims. They link the 2007 NYPD Intelligence Division report, and say: “The report claims to identify a ‘radicalization process’ by which individuals turn into terrorists – a ‘process’ so broad that it seems to treat with suspicion anyone who identifies as Muslim, harbors Islamic beliefs, or engages in Islamic religious practices. For example, its purported radicalization ‘indicators include First Amendment-protected activities including ‘wearing traditional Islamic clothing [and] growing a beard,’ abstaining from alcohol, and ‘becoming involved in social activism.’”
NYPD’s surveillance on Muslims was, and is, a very big deal. It is most definitely not something to ever be dismissed—especially since fear still lingers on this campus.