(UR) New York, NY — Islamophobia in the post-9/11 world is more than simply an individual fear; it is systemic. In an article published in early May, Mariam Durrani, Ph.D., explores some of the nuances of how Islamophobia is felt on campuses in the Northeast and, more importantly, how it is reproduced and reinforced. The problem, as Durrani explains it, is not so much the realities of extremist leanings among Muslim university students, it is the tactics used by police to encourage Islamophobia within the student body, and society at large.
Durrani’s research began in the wake of a 2012 Associated Press report concerning NYPD tactics and their role in increasing Islamophobia on college campuses in the Northeast. One of the points highlighted in her study was not specifically that there was next to no outrage from non-Muslims at the time, rather it was the increasing role the NYPD were playing in the spread of Islamophobia. This police involvement continues today, and the methods the NYPD used in 2012 have only become more coercive.
By recruiting students who can ‘pass’ as Muslims and who have had run-ins with the police, the NYPD have effectively produced a number of informants who do more than simply keep tabs on potential student-based terror plots, they create an atmosphere of distrust and hatred that does nothing to defend the U.S. against attack. More often than providing reliable information that can lead to the arrest of actual terrorists, these agents actively create anti-American and extremist opinions, directly implicating Muslims and Muslim-based student groups who have little or no connection to extremist activity.
Other than the individual cost this disinformation creates for students, these tactics directly lead to increased anti-Islamic sentiments among the broader public. By creating a “guilt by association” situation, the NYPD is implicitly marginalizing a population based solely on fear. Despite these schemes being illegal and unconstitutional, this is not the first time American law enforcement has engaged in such manipulation of public opinion.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI employed similar strategies, spreading disinformation against the Black Panther Party and the Anti-war movement through a campaign known internally as COINTELPRO. This program not only led to the destabilization of both groups, it created a general fear and distrust of protest that has seen the vilification of various groups since then. Like the Black Panther Party, Muslim students are today learning that police surveillance is not so passive, and it can also include managing public perceptions through the active production of information.
Creating an enemy is as simple as convincing people that the enemy exists everywhere. As the NYPD continues to infiltrate Islamic student groups in the name of national security, their agents are engaging in the manufacturing of Islamophobia that does not tend to lead to the arrest of actual extremists. Rather, the fear spread by their agents only increases the extreme distrust of Muslims who have no connection whatsoever to international terror.
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