By Gabe Fernandez 

The Asian American Student Union and Asian American Studies Program hosted a town hall-style program led by author Marina Budhos to discuss the effects of post-9/11 Muslim surveillance and help students find their own voice in a political context.

About 40 students attended the town hall in the Computer and Space Science building. The attendees mostly comprised of students from AAST233: Introduction to Asian American Literature, who read Budhos’ latest piece, Watched.

Watched is about the story of a Muslim man named Naeem who grows up in a primarily Muslim neighborhood in Queens, New York, and is asked to become an informant on his community to the police. Budhos used the first hour of the town hall to read small excerpts so she could provide context for her talking points.

One of the talking points focused on the New York Police Department’s Muslim surveillance program. Since at least 2002, the NYPD have used a variety of methods to spy on and monitor Muslim communities without any suspicion of wrongdoing including police informants, plainclothes officers who blend into the community and tracking people who changed their name, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Budhos said the promotion of these types of surveillance programs are not only limited to Muslim communities in New York. She referenced a question asked to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the second presidential debate about combatting islamophobia in the country and said  neither candidate truly answered how they would fight it.

“They want the good Muslims to be good patriots and report the bad ones,” Budhos said. “It shows these communities are hypervisible and present, but they’re not really seen at all. What’s not being shown is the corrosion that this kind of surveillance brings. It can be seen in things like older generations not going to mosque anymore.”

Marina, enjoying the interesting questions that are proposed and the discussion that ensues. (Heather Kim/Bloc Photographer)
Marina, enjoying the interesting questions that are proposed and the discussion that ensues. (Heather Kim/Bloc Photographer)

After a book signing break, Budhos led a workshop on the question “how do you find your own voice in political contexts?” In order to learn how to write from both sides of an aisle, students at the workshop were told to write about a moment in their life that made them uncomfortable from their perspective and an opposite empathetic perspective.

Ajay Mahesh, junior public health major, described the moment his parents told him their neighbor was a Trump supporter and the anger and frustration that caused him. He confessed to trying to write about the event from his neighbor’s perspective.

“I remember having my fists clenched when they first told me about this, especially because my mom’s voice was quivering,” Mahesh said. “It was very, very difficult to write from his perspective.”

AASU co-president Aman Kaur, junior public policy major, was pleased with this format and said she hoped the event gave students “an opportunity to interact in a conversation about what Muslim students their age have lived through in the same time period.”

She added how there are plans to bring back Budhos because of student demand.

“There was also interest to have Marina lead more writing workshops, which may happen very soon again if we get everything sorted out,”  Kaur said. “I think this was a great introductory event with Marina and will lead to a great relationship between her, AASU and AAST at UMD for future years.”

Featured Photo Credit: Author, Marina Budhos, passionately reads excerpts from her book. (Heather Kim/Bloc Photographer)

Gabe Fernandez is a senior journalism major and can be reached at gfernandez@umd.edu.

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