An Ugly Picture

 The NYPD, Civil Rights and Intrusion in the Name of Security

By Tess Waggoner

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Yalla Change Campaign Blog

“This is not a film about Islam. This is about the threat of radical Islam. Only a small percentage of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are radical.”

So begins The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America, a 72-minute “documentary” which aims to show the infiltration of radical Islam into the United States. Though the film begins with this disclaimer, the method of argumentation throughout directly contradicts it with various misrepresentations of Islam. It describes the first two major jihads in Islamic history as Islam’s original expansion and Islam’s arrival in Europe in the 13th century, while the third jihad supposedly aims to establish a global Islamic state, which will be achieved through a combination of violence and deception. The film “exposes” the “creeping threat of Sharia” over Constitutional law and elicits concern for radicalization in prisons via conversion to Islam. The Third Jihad presents a clash of civilizations approach, with Islam portrayed as incompatible with modernity and democracy, and Muslim integration into American society framed as part of a 1,400 year holy war. In doing so, the film fosters dangerous and counter-productive anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Third Jihad was produced by the Clarion Fund, the group responsible for the production and distribution of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West to 28 million U.S. households in battleground states in the lead-up to the 2008 elections. An organization dedicated to producing films about “radical Islam,” the Clarion Fund’s advisory board is made up of such luminaries as Frank J. Gaffney Jr. and Daniel Pipes, figures with histories of fostering anti-Islamic sentiments. Featuring interviews with “expert” Islamophobes including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Walid Phares, and Bernard Lewis and government leaders including Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security and R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. The Third Jihad is a divisive and slanderous attack on the United States’ Muslim communities. It was troubling, then, when news broke that the film was used in counter-terrorism training by the New York Police Department.

Though news of the NYPD’s use of the film was first reported by the Village Voice over a year ago, the New York Times recently revealed that the film wasn’t merely shown “a couple of times,” as NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne originally asserted. Rather, it was shown for a period of three months as part of mandatory counter-terrorism training. Research by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School revealed that almost 1,500 officers watched this film as part of their training. And what’s more, among those interviewed for the film were NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

This incident is just one in a series of affronts by the NYPD towards the Muslim community in New York. A recent report reveals NYPD profiling of Shiite mosques for targeted surviellance. The document also argues that, “The Palestinian community, although not Shi’a, should also be assessed due to presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government.” Given the type of “research” that seems to inform the NYPD’s counter-terrorism strategy, surveillance tactics such as these are unsurprising. But it’s worse than that, as additional reporting by the Associated Press and others has revealed the extent of NYPD ethnic mapping, surveillance and coercion of Muslim citizens across the tri-state area, including infiltration into university student groups.

Dr. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute describes the coercive techniques used by officers to obtain information: “the police scoured records of taxi drivers looking for those who had unpaid tickets and other violations. Those who also had immigration status issues were given the option of acting as spies or facing possible deportation…they were then asked to go to popular gathering places (coffee shops, stores, etc), attend religious services, and other community events in order to report on who was present and what was said. This material has been entered into extensive surveillance files, even when the activities attended and the words spoken have been innocent and protected by the First Amendment.” NYPD documents obtained by journalists show to what extent the NYPD has mapped much of New York and the surrounding area — names, ethnicities, and photographs of residents, businesses, and community locations are catalogued in excruciating, intrusive and absurd detail.

In an article this summer, the Associated Press reported that, “the NYPD has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government.” In the wake of uproar over these reports, the federal government is intervening. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed on March 9 that the Department of Justice is reviewing NYPD surveillance techniques.

When a police commissioner says, as Kelly does in the film, that Muslims want to “infiltrate and dominate” America he inhibits his own ability to properly engage with that community. Interfaith and Muslim leaders have openly protested these surveillance tactics, some by boycotting New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast. As echoed by the top agent in the FBI in New Jersey, the NYPD’s tactics obstruct their ability to successfully subvert terror plots by breeding distrust and resentment. Honesty and collaboration with Muslim leaders is the most effective way to keep America safe.

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