By Alejandro J.
Beutel and Haris Tarin
We come from two very
different backgrounds. One was born Muslim, the child of immigrant parents, who
fled war in Afghanistan to find a better life in America. The other is the son
of a Jewish father and Catholic mother of Salvadorian heritage, who grew up in
New Jersey and converted to Islam to seek spiritual renewal.
What we share is the
experience of having shaped our American Muslim identity on a college campus
through involvement with Muslim student organizations. Becoming involved in
civic activism, we always saw our values as Americans and as Muslims in harmony
with each other.
experience, which nurtured our pride in being American Muslims, is precisely
what caused us to be profoundly shocked by revelations of massive surveillance
of Muslim communities across the Northeast, including university campuses by
the New York Police Department (NYPD)
surveillance of an entire community based on their faith -- with no evidence of
criminal activity -- is a blow against democracy and an ineffective and
counterproductive offense to its mandate to "protect and serve."
When students and
their parents feel intimidated, there is a chilling affect on civic engagement
and political discourse on campus. Students at NYU and CUNY already have
reported a drop in attendance at Muslim Student Association events, and anxious
parents are pressuring their children not to get involved in campus activities.
When students do not have a safe space to talk to their peers, discuss issues
of identity and feel confident enough to express their views, toxic ideas will
never be challenged.
Our experience as
engaged students allowed us to better forge our American Muslim identity and
answer questions of belonging, which virtually all college students ask on
their journey to adulthood. Yet that process, which is so crucial in the
maturing of citizenship, is polluted when college students have every reason to
suspect that they are being spied on.
We have to ask
ourselves, "What are we gaining in return for sacrificing the freedoms
that make our nation great?" NYPD spokesman Paul Browne has argued that
broad surveillance was necessary because 12 suspects who have been charged with
terrorism-related activities were at one-time involved in a Muslim student
That assertion is a
stretch, at best. Several of the "students" that Brown refers to went
to universities in other countries: one became supportive of violence well
before the attacks of 9/11 and another became involved in violent activity 12
years after he left college and the country.
The law enforcement
officials we work with have repeatedly said that profiling is counterproductive
and that working with communities is the best way to prevent terrorism. On Feb.
24, the Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Michael Downing
emphasized his department's long-standing community outreach efforts with
Muslim leaders and drew a contrast between his department's approach and that
of the NYPD. "We don't profile people," he said. "We do profile
criminality. We profile criminal behavior."
And the proof is in
the numbers: According to our organization's "Post-9/11 Terrorism
Database," since 2009, half of all Al-Qaeda domestic terror plots have
been prevented as a result of community partnerships with law enforcement.
The future leaders of
our nation walk through the doors of our university campuses. They learn civic
engagement and begin to form their political identities. Exposure to the free
marketplace of ideas and engagement in open debate on tough issues is what
makes America the world's intellectual hub. Our universities are the most
sought after institutions of higher learning; our freedom of thought on
campuses is the envy of many. If the NYPD is allowed to continue this type of
behavior unchecked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the State Attorney General and
the Department of Justice, those freedoms will be jeopardized and our nation's
security will be at risk.
Source: The Huffington Post