As debate about civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks continues across the nation, one Yale student has already had firsthand experience with what he called “racial profiling.”
Yusef Syed ’05 said the FBI questioned him this September because of his Pakistani name and the fact that he got his pilot’s license this summer.
“The FBI assigned agents to every flying school to investigate their records,” Syed said.
Though his former flying instructor told the FBI that Syed was studying at Yale and there was no reason for suspicion, an agent still called him at his dorm room approximately a week and a half after Sept. 11, he said.
The agent asked about his nationality and citizenship, he said. Syed is a U.S. citizen from Buffalo, N.Y., but his father is from Pakistan.
“Essentially it’s a basic case of profiling,” Syed said. “[Flying is] just a hobby, just a personal interest for personal transportation, that sort of thing.”
Syed said the FBI agent told him there probably would not be any further questioning.
Reporters from several publications, including The New York Times, have contacted Syed, he said, and have all asked whether he was upset by the questioning.
“They were suggesting I should be annoyed, but really I’m not particularly angry or annoyed or anything,” he said.
Yale President Richard Levin said he was not aware of the questioning at the time, since the FBI approached Syed directly. University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said that the FBI has not requested access to the records of Syed or any other students. Robinson said she does not believe the University has reason to take any follow-up action into Syed’s investigation.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, a professor of genetics who is ethnically Palestinian, said he has been in contact with local FBI agents since Sept. 11 to ensure that the civil liberties of students and New Haven residents are protected.
“The Yale public relations office initially called me the week after Sept. 11 and — said an FBI agent from the civil rights division called to make sure no one was doing hate crimes against Arab students, and said would I be interested in meeting with him, and I said, ‘Why not,'” Qumsiyeh said. “That was followed by a meeting with me and a few of the community leaders, especially from mosques, with the FBI with the idea this is mostly about civil rights and hate crimes.”
Qumsiyeh said he heard about Syed’s interrogation through an article in the New Haven Register and subsequently contacted him.
Syed said Qumsiyeh’s advice, as a former adviser of the Yale Arab Students Association, was just to be open and vocal about the situation.
“Both me and the FBI want to make sure there is no abuse of authority or any civil rights violations; we just want to make sure that everything is done properly,” Qumsiyeh said. “Transparency is my goal — if we can have transparency of who they are interviewing and why — it is an important thing to have. When things are transparent, they usually follow the law.”
Qumsiyeh agreed that Syed’s was a case of racial profiling.
“Yes, of course it involves profiling — they didn’t have any thing specific on him,” Qumsiyeh said. “[Syed] said they questioned him amicably; clearly there was no link between him and terrorists and anything else.”