The NYPD’s Islamophobia Problem

Alex Kane Jan 21, 2011

Tom Robbins of the Village Voice has a disturbing report on the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) use of an anti-Muslim video as part of its “counter-terror” training for police officers:

It was a spectacularly offensive smear of American Muslims. The film is called The Third Jihad. It is 72 minutes of gruesome footage of bombing carnage, frenzied crowds, burning American flags, flaming churches, and seething mullahs. All of this is sandwiched between a collection of somber talking heads informing us that, while we were sleeping, the international Islamist Jihad that wrought these horrors has set up shop here and is quietly going about its deadly business. This is the final drive in a 1,400-year-old bid for Muslim world domination, we’re informed. And while we may think there are some perfectly reasonable Muslim leaders and organizations here in the U.S., that is just more sucker bait sent our way.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for a probe into the NYPD’s use of the film. What’s more disturbing than the video itself, though, is the fact that the NYPD has a documented record of employing anti-Muslim tropes as part of its “counter-terrorism” program since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

As I reported in November 2010 for the Gotham Gazette, the biggest blemish on NYPD-Muslim relations came in 2007 with the publication of a report for the department titled “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat“:

The report detailed the process by which it saw some American Muslims as being “radicalized” into terrorists and said that, while Americans Muslims are “more resistant to radicalization than their European counterparts, they are not immune.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations promptly criticized the report, saying, “Its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community.” In the wake of the report, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition formed and critiqued the report for presenting “a distorted and misleading depiction of Islam and its adherents.”

Following meetings with Muslim organizations, the police department quietly issued a two-page clarification that stressed that the “NYPD’s focus on al Qaeda inspired terrorism should not be mistaken for any implicit or explicit justification for racial, religious or ethnic profiling.”

While Muslim organizations welcomed the clarification, criticism of the report remains.

“It’s not clear what the NYPD really thinks, because it’s leaving the bulk of its assertions and its conclusions in place,” said Faiza Patel, who works with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Project. The clarification “didn’t address all of [the Muslim community’s] concerns. The way it was done — really kind of hidden there — makes it seem as if the police department is talking out of two sides of its mouth.”

And after Najibullah Zazi came to New York City in 2009 in an alleged failed attempt to carry out bombings on NYC transit targets, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, of which the NYPD is a member of, arrested Zazi and also conducted raids in Flushing, QueensHeather Appel of City Limits documented Flushing residents’ outrage at the FBI and the NYPD’s practices:

Almost two months after a suspected terrorist visited New York, setting off a chain of law enforcement activities including police raids of homes in Queens, activists are methodically collecting and recording complaints from Queens residents who allege a spectrum of harassment by law enforcement from verbal abuse to home entry without a warrant. The complaints will be logged by CUNY School of Law and given to Joseph M. Demarest Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York City office.

Ever since Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado resident born in Afghanistan who also lived in Pakistan and Queens, spent a night at the apartment of an old friend in Flushing, Queens, many Flushing residents have felt under siege by law enforcement. Zazi is in custody on terrorism conspiracy charges – after police found he had bought bomb-making materials and compiled bomb-making instructions on his computer – while his host for one night in September, Naiz Khan, is free. But others in the neighborhood say that since the Joint Terrorism Task Force raided several apartments Sept. 14 in an effort to find co-conspirators or evidence, everyday life has become more uncomfortable if you are – or might look like you are – Muslim or of Afghan or Pakistani descent.

As the above examples show, the most recent revelation of the NYPD’s flirtation with Islamophobia is no anomaly.

Alex Kane blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the U.S. here, where this post originally appeared.  Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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