The surveillance of Muslim college groups by the New York City Police Department, including students at the University at Buffalo, solely because of their religion, is simply wrong.
According to a lengthy investigation by the Associated Press, the New York City Police Department monitored the online activities of Muslims at more than a dozen schools, including State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook and Potsdam, and Syracuse, Yale, Columbia, Rutgers and New York universities.
In one case, the department reportedly sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with some Muslim students from the City College of New York. The agent uncovered such details as how many times the students prayed and the fact that they discussed Islam.
Investigators also dug through college websites and blogs to report on the activities of Muslims on campus.
A member of the Muslim Student Association at UB triggered an investigation into the organization by the NYPD in 2006 after she received an email about an event taking place in Toronto.
The student, Adeela Khan, who has since graduated, wound up in a police report after forwarding to a Yahoo chat group an email she received Nov. 9, 2006, announcing an upcoming Islamic conference in Toronto. She had no connection to the conference and told the AP she never attended.
Muslim students have expressed an understandable level of anger at being monitored for what appears to be no other reason than practicing their religion, or engaging in religious or cultural activities.
"Our organization and its general members feel that this is an infringement of our civil liberties and that it is driving Muslim students away from mainstream American society," according to a statement from the University at BuffaloMuslim Student Association.
Another intelligence report from Jan. 2, 2009, obtained by the AP described a trip by three New York Police Department officers to Buffalo, where they met with a high-ranking member of the Erie County Sheriff's Office and agreed "to develop assets jointly in the Buffalo area, to act as listening posts within the ethnic Somalian community."
The university said in a statement that it "does not conduct this kind of surveillance, and, if asked, UB would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request. As a public university, UB strongly supports the values of freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion and a reasonable expectation of privacy."
Civil liberties groups and members of Congress have called for investigations of the surveillance, but little has happened. A spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman turned down a request for an investigation from Muslim and Arab groups, citing "significant legal and investigative obstacles."
According to the Associated Press, the student monitoring was part of a much larger intelligence operation that has put entire Muslim neighborhoods under scrutiny. The NYPD built databases showing where Muslims lived, worked, shopped and prayed. Plainclothes officers known as rakers eavesdropped in cafes, and informants known as mosque crawlers reported on weekly sermons.
Granted, it's a new post- 9/1 1 world and the NYPD has the vital job of preventing another terrorist attack. But it can't do that by assuming every Muslim is a terrorist.
Courts have repeatedly overturned attempts by law enforcement to use racial profiling in police work. Religious profiling should not be tolerated in America either.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who defends the investigations, is right when he says we have to keep this country safe. Americans have a right to be safe, but they also have a right not to be spied on simply because of their religion.