Last January, when the New York Police Department’s use of the anti-Muslim, stereotype-filled film “The Third Jihad” came to light, the Department claimed that it had been “mistakenly screened” for a few officers. This week, we learned that the film has actually been shown to nearly 1,500 officers, looped repeatedly and featured an interview with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The problem here is not that the NYPD seeks to be informed about radical extremism and terrorism. That is a critical part of their job and necessary to keep New York City and our nation safe. What is problematic is this particular film and the way it uses fear, frightening stereotypes and hatred to define a diverse and important American group – the American Muslim community. The dilemma is where to draw the line between preparing police to deal with the reality of extremist ideologies and avoiding frightening stereotypes that disparage an entire community.
Repeated stereotypes and misinformation like those in “The Third Jihad” take on the aura of truth and can pose a risk to reasoned conduct. Repeated often enough, the stereotypes become the “Big Lie.” The looping and repetition of “The Third Jihad” before the men and women of the NYPD risks becoming such a lie. Tanenbaum calls on the Police Department to institute inclusive, fact-based religious diversity training for all officers – including, but not limited to, fact-based training on the American Muslim community in the U.S.
“The Third Jihad” features ominous music and portrays images of terrorist violence as a narrator declares: “This is the true agenda of much of Muslim leadership in America… A strategy to infiltrate and dominate America.” The film was produced by the Clarion Fund, a non-profit organization that has produced other anti-Islam films.
That these films were made and disseminated is troubling. That they are presented as truth to a captive audience of law enforcement personnel is infinitely more so. The NYPD has struggled to maintain positive relationships with the city’s many Muslims and their communities. Those relationships were strained following the Associated Press’s reportage about NYPD surveillance of Muslim communities in the city. They are now threatened once again.
Commissioner Kelly has publicly stated that cooperation with the Clarion Fund was a mistake. Tanenbaum asks him to go two steps further: first, by instituting department-wide diversity training that equips officers to liaise with the many faith communities with which they come into daily contact; and second, by holding accountable every officer who perpetrates messages of hate and disinformation about Muslims or members of our community from any belief system.
The NYPD protects all of us regardless of creed, national origin, race or class. As such, let it serve as a model not only by accepting responsibility for its poor decision but also by moving to rectify it with non-partisan training that recognizes the common humanity of all New Yorkers.
Joyce S. Dubensky