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Urge students, officials to stand against monitorings


A building superintendent in New Brunswick stumbled upon an alarming scene on June 2, 2009 — a room full of expensive spy equipment and Islamic fundamentalist propaganda. The landlord immediately called 911 with the belief that he had come into contact with a direct threat. He was right, of course, but not in the way that he thought. The threat that was discovered that day was not in the form of a terrorist plot, but rather a police spy ring, threatening not our safety but rather our society itself.

What has come to light in the years since has been startling — a concerted effort by a paramilitary division of the New York Police Department assisted by the Central Intelligence Agency in precisely the kind of shady collaboration that critics of the CIA warned against since its founding.  They specifically target students at colleges throughout our region — including our beloved University — for no other purpose than their religious affiliation. They keep files on the information presented by professors. They take notes on how many times a day students prayed on one Muslim Student Association’s rafting trip. They make detailed analyses of the content of student websites. And this is just what we know about. Those of us familiar with U.S. history are all too familiar with these kinds of efforts. They are too common in our history — police harassment of Russian-born Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s, the invasion of the privacy of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer government employees starting at mid-century, Federal Bureau of Investigation Counterintelligence Program efforts against black leaders in the 1960s, the infiltration of student organizations during this same time period, and police efforts to intimidate political dissidents throughout the 20th century.

These efforts have always been carried out in the name of the “public good.” They have rarely accomplished anything substantive, other than breeding a culture of fear and a chilling effect on speech and assembly. We see no reason to assume that these latest efforts — symptoms of a larger societal “Green Scare,” or the federal government’s legal action against environmentalist movements – should prove any different. The NYPD’s motivation is flatly ridiculous. Twelve people who have been involved with their campus MSA have been arrested for terrorist-related activity. This simply does not warrant this kind of wholesale spying. Far more than 12 people of the Catholic faith have been arrested for organized crime-related activity. We wonder if the NYPD believes that there are dioceses in New Jersey that need to be similarly investigated.

It is also worth noting that the student at Rutgers-Newark who was caught with bomb-making equipment earlier this month was found not through the targeting of that campus’s Muslim population, but through traditional police work.

Earlier this month, members of the Rutgers University Student Assembly collected postcards from members of the University community to send to Montclair State University, where members of the LGBTQ community were threatened. One of the reasons we gave for showing support for the LGBTQ community was that a university campus should be an environment in which students can pursue free inquiry without harassment. This obviously should mean being free from the kind of vitriol hurled against students at Montclair. It should also mean being free from intimidation from governmental agencies, including efforts such as those undertaken by the NYPD and the CIA. We owe it to our fellow students — both here at the University and at the other schools targeted for these investigations — to stand up and renounce these actions. Our administration has a similar moral duty to join us in this renunciation. The administrations at many of the schools where MSAs were spied on without provocation have come out strongly to renounce these acts. The administration of the University has yet to do so. We urge all members of the University community — alumni, students, faculty, and staff — to stand united against this threat to our privacy and religious expression. Sign the petition the MSA is circulating, which calls on University President Richard L. McCormick and his administration to condemn the act. Contact elected officials. Affirm your rights as an American. Roger Baldwin, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, once wrote, “So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.” This is our democracy. It’s up to us to keep it. 

John Connelly is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science with a minor in social justice. Nat Sowinski is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in Middle Eastern studies. They are both spokespeople for the Rutgers United Student Coalition.

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