Nafez Al Dakkak, a Palestinian from Jordan, graduated from Yale two years ago. There, he won the award for the best senior essay in the International Studies major. Now working in Amman for an education NGO, Al Dakkak professes that he's "in love with a lot of what America stands for domestically" despite his grievances with some of their foreign policy and for their treatment of Muslims at home.
"As an international college student, all I wanted to do was fit in, feel part of the U.S. and what it stands for. It's a great country," he wrote in an email. But Al Dakkak, like many of his fellow Muslim students, was aware the government was watching him carefully.
"I was fully aware that I was under surveillance at Yale. The way I was treated at JFK [Airport] left very little doubt," he said. Al Dakkak says he was placed on a special post-9/11 list called NSEERS based on Homeland Security formula of potential threats. Every time he flew back to Yale from summer break he would endure a 3-hour wait and interview process at the airport. The NSEERS program was ended last year after "input from community community groups and advocacy organizations."
"It got so bad they even made me give them all my credit card numbers. I'm not sure what they did with any of that information or if they ever thought of me as a serious suspect. I must say though it was very confusing and at times, demeaning," he said.
Al Dakkak says his parents asked him not to pray in public and not to identify himself as Muslim, so as not draw any added attention to himself. Despite his worries, Al Dakkak made Yale his home and came to love the U.S. and the friends he made there.
"But the officers at JFK never failed to remind me that I wasn't really welcome in the country," he said.
Some supporters of the NYPD program, which is said to have discontinued on college campuses, say that if the Muslim American students aren't doing anything wrong, then the extra surveillance shouldn't bother them.
Mostafa Al-Alusi, the President of the Yale MSA, says this an argument he's seen too often on internet comment sections, and its one with which he strongly disagrees.
"Just the fact that we were chosen by the NYPD makes the American public think that something must be up and that could cause real harm in the Muslim community in the future," said Al-Alusi in reference to the dramatic rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. In 2010 and 2011 combined there were more than 300 documented cases of such crimes.
The paranoia of being watched also adds another level of stress for Muslim students, Al-Alusi says. Wondering who might be gathering information, which of your words could be misconstrued and how that information could be used in the future is a constant worry for some students, he said.
Al-Alusi also believes that if the NYPD really wants to fight terrorism effectively, they would do well to partner with students like those Muslim students at Yale rather than spy on them.
"You're not going to find more thoroughly American Muslims than the Muslims at American universities," said Al-Alusi, a San Diego native whose parents are Iraqi.
"If the NYPD or any branch of government wants to understand how we think, or how other Muslims think, they should talk to us, we are a resource for them, we want to help them. They shouldn't presume a relationship of distrust."