Members of Harvard’s Islamic community expressed dismay over the Associated Press news report released Saturday stating that the New York Police Department had monitored the activities of Muslim students and professors in at least sixteen colleges in the Northeast, including three Ivy League schools. Harvard was not specifically mentioned in the report.
The investigations, which took place primarily in 2006 and 2007, ranged from questioning local law enforcement officials about professors at the University of Buffalo to sending an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip attended by Muslim students studying at the City College of New York.
One secret NYPD document dated Nov. 22, 2006 and obtained by the AP states that an undercover officer visited gatherings of Muslim student groups at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania and also monitored the groups’ websites, blogs, and forums. The officer reported finding “no significant information.”
In defense of the NYPD’s surveillance program, police spokesperson Paul Browne told the AP that twelve individuals have been either arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States who previously participated in Muslim student groups.
Although Browne told the AP that the investigations at universities concluded in 2007, the AP reports that documents indicate that the surveillance continued beyond that point.
Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, said he was not surprised by the AP’s report because of “the culture of fear that has come to characterize the contemporary American political scene—particularly the fear of Islam and of Muslims.”
Ana R. Nast ’12, president of the Harvard Islamic Society, said that she believes that the NYPD’s actions violated Muslim students’ and professors’ rights to privacy.
But she added that “it’s encouraging to see that the amount of support that the Muslim community receives” in response to what she perceives as inappropriate increased surveillance.
Muneeb Ahmed ’14, director of External Relations for HIS, said he was concerned by the NYPD’s investigation and said that it promotes an already troubling stereotype.
“These are hardworking college students,” Ahmed said. “The NYPD should not be wasting its resources in this way.”Asmaa Rimawi ’14, vice president of HIS, echoed her fellow HIS members, calling the NYPD’s actions “a huge setback.”
Rimawi said that she hopes HIS will be able to work with University administrators to maintain an environment that supports the rights of Muslim student groups.
According to group leaders, the HIS fosters a religious and social community on campus with events including biweekly dinners, group discussions, and Islamic Awareness Week in the spring semester.
The group has no political or ideological agenda, Ahmed said.
Asani, who is also the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, suggested that Harvard should “take all steps to make sure that the civil liberties and freedom of expression of not only Muslim students but also Muslim faculty will be protected.”University administrators could not be reached for comment on the AP’s report.
—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at email@example.com.