University safety compromised with bugging of prayer room

Photo by Rajarshi Mitra via Flickr

Cristina Garcia/Staff Writer

As a student that has attended FIU for five years, much of my time is spent on campus; it’s my other home. When I found out that the Serenity Room was bugged, as confirmed by Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Nezar Hamze, it hurt and scared me. I no longer feel safe in the prayer room or anywhere else on-campus.

I’m writing today because I want justice. I want to know where that bug came from. At the very least, I want assurance from the University that it is a safe space for everyone, whether they’re studying or praying. I want to know what steps they’re going to take to make the campus safer for us.

After 9/11, hate crimes and excessive government surveillance spread to anyone from South Asia, the Middle East or anyone that looked “Arab.” Many followers of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in India that makes head covering mandatory, have been victimized.

Times got scarier when the government passed the Patriot Act and started making announcements that they were going to monitor emails and library materials. This was a time before I converted to Islam, before I ever read the Qur’an. I went to the library one day, curious to find out about the “Other” that was constantly talked about in the news. I wanted to check out the holy book from the library, but I was too scared to even pick it up for fear I’d be mistakenly blacklisted.

The atmosphere reminded me too much of the Red Scare and witch hunts of previous times which landed many innocent people either in jail or with a death sentence. To this day people are still in Guantanamo Bay limbo, held without “charge or fair trial,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To find out that a listening device was found in the Serenity Room disturbs me to no end. Not only that, but also that it was found a year ago and the University asked the Muslim Student Association to keep it “hush hush,” according to Farouk Farouk, the MSA president, in a town hall meeting.

At the meeting, someone said we were living in Orwell’s “1984” world and that we shouldn’t worry about it if we had nothing to hide. However, I’m not satisfied with just accepting it. In fact, if you have ever read “1984,” you might remember how information was manipulated and changed to suit the government’s needs. Whole histories were rewritten, communities watched and scared into obedience to make sure no one stepped out of line. You should remember that there is reason to be scared.

Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American comedian on the “Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,” shared an experience he had when a friend of his saw a show and emailed him, jokingly asking him when the next terrorist group meeting would be. Jobrani responded back with a fake time and place, writing “haha” at the end to signify he was joking as well. The next day his account was blocked.

I will not be satisfied if this is just revealed and nothing gets done about it. I understand that as students on campus, we lose a certain amount of privacy. For instance, the University clearly states that the information we provide over the internet is passively collected in their privacy policy.

“The question I would have is who’s was it?,” said attorney Derrick Feinman, an FIU alumnus. “If you bug a room, it’s the equivalent of putting an officer in there.”

The University Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department and the FBI all claimed it was not theirs. If it were theirs and they had a legitimate reason for spying, I’d feel safer, but we don’t know to whom it belongs. We don’t know if the bug’s owner meant anyone in that room or in our school harm.

The University is here to serve us and our needs. If we need computers to get our work done, they buy computers. If we need more buses to reach our classes on time, they arrange something. Now students need this matter addressed to ascertain that the University is a safe place to study.

Why should you care? Because this is your university that someone snuck into and bugged. These are your colleagues, both Muslim and non-Muslim, that were victimized.

I thought I’d never have to choose between religion or public safety again, but it happened. I put the Qur’an down once, but now I’m holding on and picking up the pen. If this matter bothers you as much as it does me, I suggest you pick up your pen and voice your complaints to President Rosenberg at

4 Comments on "University safety compromised with bugging of prayer room"

  1. There is always one very suspicious detail in attacks on Muslims or Mosque in the United States. Which makes it likely that it is a fake attack. Example, explosion itself occurred behind the mosque. A location hardly likely to cause damage to the mosque. Think about it for a second, if you really really hated Islam and were of a violent disposition, would you not want to plant your explosive device as close to a mosque as possible or even inside if you could? If this was not a fake attack or Islamic terrorists having a practice ‘bang’ then why set off your bomb on a disused railway line out the back of the building. They endlessly lie, create propaganda, report and conduct fake hate crimes. Muslims are the biggest fraudsters and liars in the world, all encouraged in the Qur’an. American Muslims – Muslims themselves vast sympathy as victims of “hate crimes,” only to have it turn out that they were actually the perps. They “waste precious investigative resources, exacerbate racial tension, create terror and corrode goodwill.” In another feeble attempt to add fuel to the “Muslim hate crime” myth

  2. What sort of experience does the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Nezar Hamze have with spy devices? If he has none, do we have any confirmation from a relevant source or expert that the device is used for spying? Do we have photos of the device? Did the device have a particular model number? Where is the device now?

    Has there been a concerted, documented effort to search for similar devices in other rooms throughout the university?

    Many questions need to be answered — especially those involving direct evidence — before we should allow ourselves to feel “victimized”.

  3. It’s ironic to read the responses of M&M & Slore who are clearly crooks who think that there are people like them in the general population of Anerica that would make things up for attention. Unlike other communities that still cry for daily sympathy for what happened to them in Europe back I’m the 40’s. Just a bit of education that the Muslim community does not actively look for media companges of bad press.
    The device was clearly found and handed over to the FIU police who you should be asking questions of not of the victims. It is disconcerting to hear these types of comments on fellow Americans.

    • It is, admittedly, a little unsettling to be called a crook and lumped into the same category as an uninformed and grossly generalizing commenter when one asks to be presented with facts. My issue with Ms. Garcia’s article and the media’s treatment of the situation is that a predetermined conclusion (as it seems to me) is being presented as fact.

      The “confirmation” of the device’s nature has been made by a nonexpert. Do we ask diplomats to weigh in on climate change? No, we ask for input from those who have the proper credentials.

      Nor is there documentation of the device save for one rather grainy photo. Are there other photos that can be used to identify the device?

      There seems to be no help coming from the FIU Police department. Perhaps we should organize and find out exactly how to lawfully reacquire the device from the force.

      There is too much sensation and not enough hard fact. Perhaps the university would be more willing to discuss the situation if we asked the right questions. We should be protecting the students, yes. We should be asking questions about our safety and rights. We should not be jumping to conclusions and feeling outraged at a foregone conclusion when very little actual truth has surfaced.

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