This video and post was originally produced on March 1, 2012, by the independent campus blog NYU Local. It was made just after NYPD surveillance of Muslim NYU students was reported by the AP. The university’s branch of the Islamic Student Association orginized a town hall to discuss the news, and demand that NYU’s president, John Sexton, publicly condemn the monitoring. Sadly still relevant, we have republished this post in conjunction with the Nation‘s recent Islamophobia special issue.
Many of the students wore shirts reading “NYUnited” in large letters above the phrase “where liberty is, there is my university,” a take off a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Some held signs with messages decrying the NYPD’s actions: “Big Brother is Watching,” “NYPD Is Spying On Us” and “Students Deserve Privacy.”
Speaking from a podium at the base of Kimmel’s cascading staircase, professors and students from a variety of faiths and university programs addressed the controversy from a variety of perspectives. Most saw the surveillance as more than a religious issue, but rather indicative of larger national problems related to the tension between privacy and security.
Professor J. Ward Regan of the Liberal Studies Program made this clear when he opened his comments. “Generally, I’m relatively agnostic on matters of faith. I am not agnostic on matters of human rights,” he said. Regan cited the NYPD’s argument that “several convicted terrorists had been involved in Muslim student associations.” He went on, “by that logic, we should be spying on MBAs at the Stern Business School because bankers commit crimes!” Applause, cheers and laughter overtook the crowd.
Others spoke of the personal impact of the NYPD’s program. CAS Senior Tabassum Rahman read a letter to President Sexton in which she spoke of the psychological fear inspired by surveillance. Rahman said that with the knowledge that she may have been the subject of the NYPD’s information gathering, stepping out into public made her fear being watched. “No one wants to be included in an NYPD report,” she said.
The multi-faith nature of the event was particularly evident when Ariel Ennis, an NYU senior, took to the podium. “If my yarmulke didn’t give it away, I am Jewish,” Ennis began. Ennis is a member of Bridges Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue, through which students of each faith experience the other’s worship services and work together on community service project. “What that says is that despite religious differences, members of our communities can be friends,” Ennis said. He went on to read a passage from a work by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel titled “No Religion Is An Island:”