Muslim New Yorkers Still Waiting for Answer
On March 22[, 2011], a group of Muslim community organizations, civil rights leaders, and members of the New York City Council held a press conference at City Hall, calling for answers to questions of racial and religious bias in New York City Police Department training material. The press conference, hosted by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, came at a time of great concern about Islamophobia throughout the nation.
Last year, the proposal to build an Islamic community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center was greeted by an explosion of anti-Muslim sentiment. This shocked those of us who view New York as the ultimate manifestation of the American melting pot. Nonetheless, we were able to dismiss much of the racist and xenophobic rhetoric as the work of out-of-towners like Pamela Geller. Imagine our surprise, then, when Village Voice reported in January that our very own New York Police Department used The Third Jihad — a movie that smeared Islam, the religion of almost one million New Yorkers — as part of its cadet training.
The movie was financed by the Clarion Fund, an organization that spent millions of dollars in 2008 to distribute its last anti-Islam movie free of charge in many presidential swing states. The Third Jihad, under a guise of illustrating the threat of “radical Islam,” uses a series of photo and audio clips to imply that Islam and Muslims are terrorist threats, generally. However, the narrator, Zuhdi Jasser, does not clearly differentiate between Islam and Muslims generally and those he considers radicals. “It wasn’t until I saw [a] document, written in America by American Muslims that I understood what was really going on — a strategy to infiltrate and dominate America,” says Jasser in the film. This statement exemplifies the movie’s bias, illustrating how objectionably anti-Muslim it is. Muslim New Yorkers, and all those who stand for civil liberties and remember how successive religions have been maligned over the course of American history, were appalled by the movie and its use by the NYPD during cadet training.
The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition — a grassroots coalition that came together to ensure that our cops protect our civil liberties rather than violate them, and to hold the NYPD accountable to the communities it serves — immediately contacted the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, and asked him to investigate how this film came to be used as part of the NYPD’s counterterrorism training program for young, impressionable cadets. To ensure this type of material was never again used, MACLC called for the Commissioner to create an advisory council of New York Muslim leaders to review training materials on Islam and provide him with their feedback.
Six weeks after MACLC raised its concerns with the Commissioner, he replied with a letter stating that the movie was “not part of the approved training curriculum” and that the NYPD does “not believe the content is appropriate for training purposes.” However, the letter did not address many of the substantive concerns expressed by Muslim community leaders. Most notably, the Commissioner did not explain how the incendiary film came to be screened by the NYPD in the first place, nor did he explain what the NYPD intends to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The Commissioner is accountable to the communities served by the NYPD, and it is time for him to accept responsibility for this important issue.
The MACLC organizations that signed the letter to Commissioner Kelly included: Arab American Association of New York; Association of Muslim American Lawyers; Council on American Islamic Relations – New York; CUNY CLEAR – Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility; DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving; Muslim American Society of New York; Muslim Bar Association of New York; Muslim Consultative Network; Muslim Public Affairs Council – New York; Table32; and Women In Islam, Inc. The letter was also signed by Omar Mohammedi, the New York Human Rights Commissioner. The Brennan Center serves as legal advisor to MACLC.
Cross-posted from The Brennan Center.