Growing up, my family never really attended the mosque or was even involved in the Muslim community. To this day though, I remember vividly when I started attending the mosque. Four years after the horrific acts of Sept. 11, my best friend Jameelah and I started going to the weekly Thursday class to learn more about a religion that we were told by mainstream media, was a religion of oppression and terror.
Within two classes, we had already learned so much and met so many wise minds there. One night, we started chatting with a woman sitting next to us, who happened to be an artist and eagerly started showing us her drawings. She went on to tell us how she was looking for God and was interested in Islam. Of course our naive selves were beyond excited. We had just learned the week before how many “heaven points,” you get if you teach people about Islam. We started regurgitating everything we knew and after an hour or so later, she invited us to go outside to her car. She wanted to thank us with a painting she had for educating her. When we got to her car, her demeanor completely changed and she started asking us all these really weird questions about our Imam and his alleged involvement with certain terrorist groups. Being 13 at the time, we were terrified and had no clue what she was talking about or how to respond. Thankfully, my mother pulled up and after we told her what happened, she immediately reported it to our Mosque, who then reported it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Years later, we found out that she was actually working undercover for the FBI.
My friends, this happens all the time at mosques all over the world. It’s literally come to a point where we have to be skeptical about who is there wanting to learn about Islam or is trying to infiltrate and create division. In Queens, this past April, another instance of infiltration happened.
On April 2, two Muslim women from Queens, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, were arrested and charged with allegedly planning to build a bomb and planting it in New York City’s Herald Square. The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release stating that the women were linked to members of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They revealed that a detective from the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau went undercover in bringing the women to justice.
The undercover police officer, “Mel,” was not a student at Brooklyn College, where she met Noelle and Asia. Reports confirm that she had no apparent connections to the school, but was welcomed with open arms, yet, she spied on the students for four years without any specific target.
Ramzi Kassem a professor at CUNY School of Law stated this regarding that, “For an undercover to be seeded in a community for that long without a specific target raises some deeply troubling questions about the direction of policing in our city,” he said.
Surveillance on Muslims is an ongoing problem in America and is getting more annoying with each passing year. On Sept. 15, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice, in partnership with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center were launching pilot programs all across the country to bring together community representatives, public safety officials and religious leaders from all faiths to counter violent extremism. According to this program, based on certain factors such as political beliefs and/or behavior, you could pose a potential security threat and be categorized as a terrorist, and ostracized by community leaders, religious officials and public health officials based on their discretion. Some of these individuals who are reported and “policed” by community members will then be either counseled or reported to the police, or even to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This kind of policing program gives bigoted members of society carte blanc to mistreat and spy on their neighbors all in the name of national security. What about the national security of the Muslims being spied on? How secure do they get to feel?
It also creates fear within communities about what can and can’t be said. According to Gothamist, three Brooklyn College graduates who had been close to the undercover officer, spoke of the intimate ties she developed with Muslim students, her presence during some of the most private moments of their lives, and the fear they endured when they learned her true identity.
No one in America should ever have to fear that something they say can be twisted and misinterpreted. No one should ever have to be suspicious of someone who is wanting to revert to Islam because of fear they’re an undercover FBI agent. Many Muslims that were a part of ISO had suspicions that Mel was an undercover FBI agent. About half a year after Mel appeared at Brooklyn College, the AP began publishing a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles documenting the NYPD’s spying in Muslim communities. One month later, NYPD Confidential reported that an undercover cop had been sent to spy on Muslim students at Brooklyn College. This was despite a 1992 memorandum of understanding that barred New York City police from entering CUNY campuses without permission. Even after these articles came out, Mel was still spying and attended events and even stood up as a bridesmaid of an ISO member in a wedding.
A 2011 Mother Jones investigation showed that that in addition to the undercover police or FBI officers assigned to infiltrate Muslim communities, there are about 15,000 FBI informants planted around the US. We’ve also seen cases where these FBI agents themselves stir up anti-American and pro Al-Qaeda rhetoric in hopes that others will join them and they have evidence to take back.
This isn’t something new and I hope to be alive to see the day when Muslims aren’t spied on or targeted based off of religion. I’m just confused on why we are forgetting that Americans can be Muslim and just like every other American have the right to privacy.
Image: Al Jazeera