New York City police officers were shown a movie called The Third Jihad which warns that ordinary Muslims are part of an age-old conspiracy to dominate the world. The police chief and his spokesperson participated in this "counter-terrorism training," and then lied about their involvement. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who touts himself as a champion of religious tolerance, doesn't plan to do anything about it.
This latest series of events that unfolded in late January only sheds more light on the depth of anti-Muslim racism in New York City. Home to about 800,000 Muslims, as well as the world's largest police department, the Big Apple has become the crucible of entrenched Islamophobic policies enacted by the state since September 11.
"This is not stereotyping," Talat Hamdani said at a January 26 press conference at City Hall.
Talat's son Salman died on 9/11 as a first responder, but his sacrifice has never been officially recognized because police initially viewed him as a suspect in the attacks. "This is legal persecution of American Muslims," Talat said. "This is our city, our state, our country."
Almost a year ago, in January 2011, Tom Robbins of the Village Voice broke the story about the NYPD showing this racist film to its officers. At the time, police spokesman Paul Browne claimed the movie was only screened a few times, and that the clips of Ray Kelly in it were from old footageand not the police commissioner's direct participation with right-wing filmmakers.
But when police were forced to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request from the Brennan Center for Justice, it came to light that the movie was a regular part of training for months, that more than 1,500 officers had viewed the film, and that Kelly had given a 90-minute interview for the pseudo-documentary.
After a year of denials and evasions, the truth was out, and it received some attention in the mainstream media. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Islamophobia network
The NYPD now wants to dismiss this film as a "wacky movie"--in Paul Browne's words--and to distance themselves from it. Yet the list of interviewees for the film include a number of establishment figures, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and others. This pseudo-documentary is part of an effort by a well-established network of Islamophobic groups whose credibility is based on their connections to the security and political establishments.
The Third Jihad was produced by the Clarion Fund, which was previously best known for mailing millions of free copies of another anti-Muslim film called Obsession to swing-state voters just before the 2008 election.
The Clarion Fund received over $18 million from 2001 to 2009 from several wealthy right-wing organizations like the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Fairbrook Foundation, a pro-Zionist organization. These foundations also pour money into other Islamophobic organizations such as Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum and more.
The Islamophobic network believes there is a conspiracy by Muslims to take over the U.S. and to replace the constitution with Muslim or Sharia law.
"This is the true agenda of much of Islam in America...to infiltrate and dominate America," says the narrator of The Third Jihad, as an image of the White House topped by a supposedly Islamic flag appears on screen.
In the time-honored tradition of demagogues, the narrator of The Third Jihad argues that the Muslims who "seem" to be decent ordinary people are the most dangerous of all: "Americans are being told that most of the mainstream Muslim groups are moderate, when in fact, if you look a little closer, you'll see a very different reality. One of their primary tactics is deception."
Any doubts the officers in training might have had about whether the movie reflected official police department views would have been dispelled by the appearance of Ray Kelly, who is interviewed in the movie about the threat of a nuclear attack.
It short, this is not a "wacky" movie by some fringe elements. Rather, it reflects the efforts of the security establishment and the political elite to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in order to win public consent for the "war on terror."
This isn't the first time that police have been subjected to these warped and racist views. A nine-month investigation by Thom Cincotta and Political Research Associates found that the Islamophobic network routinely holds counter-terrorism training sessions with law enforcement personnel around the country. The use of The Third Jihad to train NYPD officers is but the latest revelation of such practices.
After a year of NYPD scandals and cover-ups over from the brutality unleashed on Occupy Wall Street protesters and an epidemic of corruption cases, it's not earth-shattering news to most New Yorkers to hear that Ray Kelly and Paul Browne have been caught lying again.
But this latest deception is especially ominous coming on the heels of the revelation--also initially denied by Kelly and Browne--that the department worked with a CIA agent to create a "Demographics Unit" that has been spying on hundreds of mosques, Islamic bookstores and Muslim campus organizations.
According to the Associated Press, which broke this scandal, "[P]olice subjected entire neighborhoods to surveillance and scrutiny, often because of the ethnicity of the residents, not because of any accusations of crimes. Hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups were investigated and dozens were infiltrated."
To add injury to insult, Muslim Americans who had come forward to help law enforcement were also spied upon. As CBS News reported, "Some of the same mosques that city leaders visited to hail their strong alliances with the Muslim community have also been placed under NYPD surveillance--in some cases infiltrated by undercover police officers and informants."
As the furor grew over the last week of January, Ray Kelly was finally forced to apologize for his participation and use of The Third Jihad. But the NYPD has announced no plans to find out who was responsible for showing the film or to give a corrective training for officers who watched it. Furthermore, Kelly has consistently defended the tactics of the Demographics Unit and the larger trend of what Associated Press reporters have called "the NYPD's transformation from a police department solving murders and muggings to a domestic intelligence agency."
As a result, a growing number of Muslim leaders and allies have called for Kelly's resignation. Retired police sergeant Noel Leader explained the reasoning on Democracy Now!:
Under the New York City Police Department Patrol Guide, under prohibited conduct, it clearly states that no member of the New York City Police Department can associate themselves with hateful organizations, hateful material or hateful individuals. Police Commissioner Kelly clearly violated this procedure, and he should resign. If he doesn't resign, the mayor should terminate him.
But Bloomberg says he supports his police chief: "I think it's fair to say that there is a little bit of embarrassment that this film was made. I think anything like this doesn't help credibility...You know, Ray Kelly probably visits more mosques than a lot of other people who believe in the faith and practice there."
"A little bit of an embarrassment" captures well the billionaire mayor's view of the issue. Bloomberg would rather his police department's policies not be made public because he has spoken eloquently and often in favor of religious tolerance--most prominently voiced in 2010 regarding construction of the Park51 Cultural Center in lower Manhattan (the "ground zero mosque" to its opponents.)
Bloomberg didn't do this for the 800,000 Muslims living in his city, whose civil liberties he has grievously abused. His chief concerns were his image as an "open-minded" politician and the image of New York as a cosmopolitan center free from the sway of ignorant bigots.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg hasn't hesitated in defending the NYPD--even when its racist policies are exposed to the light of day.
For instance, in 2007, the NYPD Intelligence Division produced a report titled "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," which argued that counter-terrorism efforts need to "shift focus to a much earlier point" than the plotting of violent acts. The report argues that police need to identify potential terrorists before violent thoughts have even entered their heads.
The report's authors describe a four-step "radicalization process." Police, they argue, need to stop this sinister sequence in the early "Pre-radicalization" and "Identification" phases, before it gets to the later "Indoctrination" and "Jihadization" phases.
Thus, the NYPD authors believe that the department's focus should be on Muslims who don't "seem like" terrorists and might not even know that they are terrorists, which makes the final section of "Radicalization in the West" almost identical to the central point of the The Third Jihad:
The subtle and non-criminal nature of the behaviors involved in the process of radicalization makes it difficult to identify or even monitor from a law enforcement standpoint. Taken in isolation, individual behaviors can be seen as innocuous; however, when seen as part of the continuum of the radicalization process, their significance becomes more important...
The individuals are not on the law enforcement radar. Most have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble. Other than some commonalities in age and religion, individuals undergoing radicalization appear as "ordinary" citizens, who look, act, talk and walk like everyone around them.
And it isn't just the NYPD that has been involved in such activities. Around the U.S., Muslims and Arabs have been subjected to a form of racial profiling that has been referred to as "pre-emptive" prosecution. Muslims who have done nothing illegal are being targeted on the assumption that they might do something. Agent provocateurs have infiltrated mosques and Muslim communities to entice people into "terrorist" plots--when they aren't entirely fabricated. Through this process, hundreds have been arrested and put in jail.
The net effect has been the demonization of an entire community. In the 1940s, more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent were put into concentration camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the Second World War. Today, Muslim Americans are being targeted in the same way for the events of 9/11.
The Muslim community in the United States has been living in a virtual internment camp ever since 9/11. Since then, more than 700,000 Muslims have been interviewed by the FBI. That means nearly 50 percent of all Muslim households have been touched by this "investigation." Practically all mosques have been "checked for nuclear bombs" or other fear-provoking reasons. That's the level of trust we "enjoy" in the Muslim community.
This is the standard way in which nations at war operate. In every instance, a menacing enemy must be found--whether it's Germans who endured anti-German raids during the First World War or the Japanese internment camps during the Second World War.
Now, the "war on terror" has applied this same intense scapegoating to a conflict that is seemingly endless and borderless.
The latest revelations are galvanizing Muslims and supporters of religious freedom to organize around the call for Ray Kelly's resignation. A week after the initial press conference, hundreds marched to NYPD headquarters.
"This is the year of revealed truths," Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, told the crowd. "Around the world the purposely deceptive are being exposed...Now is the time to trust in Allah, break through fear, and stand for justice."
Many speakers connected the NYPD's lies and hostility towards Muslims with its daily humiliation and brutality towards African Americans and Latinos, including the fatal shooting of an unarmed Bronx teenager the day before the march.
These actions are positive first steps, building on several years of increased organization and activism against Islamophobia, from the rallies in defense of the Park51 Cultural Center, to the participation of 100 imams in an antiwar rally last April, to Muslim leaders' boycott of Bloomberg's interfaith breakfast last month.
As this movement builds in the coming weeks, we need to recognize that we are not just up against an isolated incident or misguided police policy. We are challenging the logic of a nation in semi-permanent war to dominate the world's largest oil- and gas-producing regions, which happen to lie beneath the feet of woman and men who mostly practice Islam.
At the press conference, some city council people called for the police to continue fighting terrorism, but to do so without religious profiling. But as NYPD Confidential blogger Leonard Levitt wrote, "In the department's best-publicized cases that have emerged from this spying, the suspects all seem to be people with mental problems, susceptible to being talked into plotting terrorism by well-paid informants."
Trying to separate counterterrorism from profiling is like asking for an omelet without eggs--because the "war on terror" is not about keeping us safe, but about keeping us afraid, and therefore supportive of war--precisely through religious profiling. The image of the "Islamic terrorist," which has been cultivated since the 1980s, is about creating a menacing enemy against whom endless war can be waged.
In this sense, it functions exactly as the "red scare" and the McCarthyism of the Cold War era functioned. Back then, Americans were told to spy on "reds" and radicals, who were seen as agents of the former USSR, bent on physically destroying the U.S. and the "American way of life." Today, the "green scare" is about creating a Muslim enemy that acts as an agent of al-Qaeda or Hamas, and whose goal is to destroy the U.S. from within.
Just as McCarthyism created a climate of fear that made the prosecution of the Cold War much easier for the political elite, today, Islamophobia serves as the ideological handmaiden of the "war on terror."
Whatever possibilities of terror attacks that do exist aren't because Muslims are susceptible to some four-stage process of radicalization, but because their co-religionists have suffered grave offenses at the hand of the U.s. government. Any talk about counter-terrorism that doesn't start with ending U.S. wars and occupations will inevitably strengthen the rhetoric of Islamophobia and the practice of racist scapegoating.
"When we talk about Muslims being stereotyped and criminalized, and I think that can't happen to me, I'm completely wrong," says Virgilio Aran, an organizer with Laundry Workers Center United. Virgilio and another Latino activist tried to attend the January 26 press conference, but weren't allowed onto the steps of City Hall when they refused a request to produce identification papers, a request not made of other attendees.
"The struggle of our Muslim brothers is the struggle of every community," says Aran. "That was a reinforcement of it in my consciousness."
It's time for all those interested in justice to break through fear and take a stand against the "war on terror."