BELDING: Stand up for Muslims’ rights

When the president and vice president of the Yale Muslim Students Association wrote their op-ed last week (“Fighting Islamophobia at Yale,” Feb. 17), they had reason to expect that like any other Yale students, they would be able to express their opinions freely without fear of reprisal. But recently revealed evidence that the New York Police Department has been keeping tabs on the MSAs of 15 colleges, including Yale, suggests that their call for tolerance may be falling on deaf ears. The NYPD’s surveillance suggests that Muslims’ First Amendment rights have been deemed an acceptable casualty of the war on terror.

When Muslim students’ right to privacy is so blatantly disregarded, it is not just their problem. It is everyone’s problem. When law enforcement officials declare that it is not their duty to protect the rights of maligned minorities, but to further marginalize them, they misunderstand their duty in a way that is dangerous for all of us. When police set a precedent of surveillance of student groups, the freedom of all political student groups is threatened.

The NYPD, like any law enforcement agency, has a limited amount of time and resources. When it wastes those resources unconstitutionally monitoring broad segments of the population rather than pursuing actual leads, it is not protecting us from terrorism. Research on racial profiling in New York in the 1990s shows that racial profiling reduced officers’ ability to judge suspicious behavior accurately. By defining “suspicious behavior” in such a way that any Muslim student who prays is viewed as a potential threat, the police are certain to overlook instances of suspicious behavior by actual criminals who do not fit their limited profile.

Instead of doing an effective job of preventing terrorism, well-meaning law enforcement officials have subjected Muslims in America to a different kind of terror. Especially after 9/11, Muslims have not only been the target of hate crimes but have also had their civil liberties trampled upon. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has documented thousands of civil rights complaints by Muslims over the years, ranging from employment discrimination and verbal harassment to warrantless wiretapping and baseless inclusion on terrorist watch lists.

American Muslims are often asked why they fear increased police surveillance when they have nothing to hide. Besides bearing an implicit accusation of guilt, that question entirely misses the point. The Fourth Amendment protects the right of Americans to live securely without fear of unreasonable searches or seizures — not out of empathy for criminals, but out of concern for those unfairly targeted by law enforcement. The question is not what Muslims have to hide, but what reason police have to search. Muslims’ right to peaceful assembly and free exercise of their religion means that merely belonging to a Muslim student group can never justify police surveillance.

I certainly do not mean to equate violation of Muslims’ civil rights with the devastation of 9/11. But in a just society, the existence of large-order injustices like terrorism is not grounds to justify near-constant suspicion of minorities. In a just society, the dramatic increase in the number of hate crimes committed against Muslims since 9/11 would be reason for law enforcement officials to step up their efforts to protect Muslim communities instead of treating them like criminals.

There is a culture war being waged in America today. On the one hand, the right believes that “peaceful Muslim” is an oxymoron and will use whatever ignorant and inflammatory rhetoric it can to exclude Muslims from American society. On the other hand, there are those who see such fear-mongering for what it is and fight for an America based on pluralism and understanding. The NYPD seems to have chosen its side in this fight.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is now asking Yale to take concrete steps to protect its Muslim students’ rights against warrantless surveillance. It is time for Yale to choose its side: defend Muslim students’ rights, or be complicit in the erosion of the civil liberties of all students.

Jess Belding is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at


  • The Anti-Yale

    I used to defiantly and loudly end every phone call at Kent State (after the other party had hung up, of course) with these words “F-you J. Edgar Hoover.”

    I simply ASSUMED I was being wire-tapped, a crepy feeling I assure you.

    When the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1978 (?) I used to it see if I was correct in my paranoia.

    Sure enough, a three page file existed

    in which it was clear that a blotted out name (student? administrator?) was reporting to the FBI on my political activities.

    Harmless and Harmful.

    Perhaps the phone ending needs to be updated:

    “F-you ____________ (filli the blank: Commissioner Kelly; Director Mueller, Director Petraeus)”

    • basho

      More blogs, please!

  • lakia

    Warrantless surveillance? Every time I board an aircraft I am “surveyed without warrant”. We have one “religion/political philosophy” to thank for that.

  • JE14

    This is stupid. The NYPD looked at MSA websites. Whatever you post on the internet is public anyway, => absolutely nothing wrong. If the NYPD finds something, great, if it doesn’t well it wasted it’s time, but in the process it didn’t hurt anyone/break any laws or anything like that.

  • dolphinfetus

    Interesting how Belding is so quick to jump on the religious freedom train when Muslims’ rights are at stake, but is nowhere to be seen when Catholics’ religious freedom is threatened by the Obama administration.

    • Jess

      Religious freedom does not extend to the right to prevent OTHER PEOPLE from doing anything against your religion.

      • dolphinfetus

        Um…what? Religious freedom means being allowed to practice your religion. If you believe birth control / Plan B is immoral, you should not be forced to purchase it. The HHS mandate does just this.

        • azbrodsky

          That’s not true. The mandate specifically does not require religious orgs to pay for birth control, but shifts the cost to the insurers.

    • sonofmory

      98% of catholic women have used some form of birth control!

      • dolphinfetus

        How is this relevant? The First Amendment protects religious freedom for all groups, no matter how small.

        I hope this comment was sarcastic.

        • GeoJoe

          Yes. That’s why you should respect my new religion, which mandates that anti-contraception advocates are no longer allowed to post on the website of my campus newspaper. That’s freedom of speech.

  • phantomllama

    I will start taking the MSA seriously when their members start condemning things like the absurd ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ group’s ‘Israeli Apartheid Week at Yale.’

    • JE14

      Seconded. The MSA is particularly good at accusing other people of bigotry etc but are pretty bad at looking themselves in the mirror.

    • yale_senior

      Why does the MSA have do condemn anything? Has BSAY condemned it? What about Yale Students for Christ? What does an article speaking out against the NYPD following muslim student organizations around based off no leads have anything to the MSA’s position on Israeli Apartheid Week?

      • phantomllama

        The MSA doesn’t have to condemn it. But it’s very noticeable that many of its leading members are active in ‘Israeli Apartheid Week,’ which suggests support. For those of us who consider ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ to be a racist initiative, the monitoring of the MSA becomes a lot more understandable.

  • sydchez

    While it is true that anti-Muslim sentiment among the people is wrong (and I find is usually cleared up with some open conversation), I can assure you that it is not only the civil liberties of Muslim citizens but the liberties of all American citizens which have been infringed upon in the name of security post-9/11.

  • River_Tam

    I am infringing on Ms. Belding’s civil liberties right now by reading this column and taking notes.