The NYPD ‘Third Jihad’ film flap: Perpetrating Islamophobia

Text and photo by Ted Regencia
Written for an Opinion Writing Class at Columbia Journalism School

In light of the revelation that New York City’s top cop, Raymond W. Kelly appeared in a film depicting American Muslims as extremists out to dominate the U.S., it will serve the world’s most diverse city, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg terminates police spokesman Paul J. Browne, orders an independent probe and revisits police actions towards the city’s Muslim population. Left unresolved, the issue poses a corrosive effect on the fragile relationship between the city and the many marginalized minority groups here.

The screening of the film within the confines of the NYPD was wrong. It perpetrates Islamophobia and could elicit more discriminatory acts against American Muslims.

Prejudice and hate towards the Muslims have been on the rise since 9/11, said Prof. Craig B. Futterman, a civil rights professor at the University of Chicago. That should stop. Spreading inaccurate stereotypes and playing upon fears using those kinds of videos only reinforces those prejudices.

On January 25, Commissioner Kelly was forced to apologize for appearing in the documentary “The Third Jihad.” The film was shown to more than a thousand New York police officers as part of their training. The 72-minute film claimed that mainstream Muslim groups in the U.S. are part of a covert “1,400-year war” against the West.

But Kelly did so only after months of denial by his main flak, Browne. When first confronted of the issue, Browne offered different versions of misleading information.

As it turned out, at least 1,489 police officers saw the film, which was played repeatedly at a Brooklyn police facility for close to a year starting in January 2010. Browne also did not disclose that in 2007, he arranged a 90-minute interview between Kelly and the film producers.

Why it took the NYPD leadership more than a year to reveal the truth raises more questions.

Taxpayers, including Muslim New Yorkers, shell out an estimated $200,000 a year to employ Browne. At the very least, they deserve someone who can square with the truth. Kelly deserves a better spokesman and Browne should be held accountable for deceiving the public. He must resign, or else Bloomberg should fire him. Mayor Bloomberg himself said, “somebody exercised some terrible judgment,” in screening the film.

According to Kelly, the screening of the film was “never approved” and the sergeant who played it acted alone. Coming from Kelly, who is known in the force as a micro-manager, that sounds less genuine. Who that “somebody” is remains a mystery that can only be determined with authority and credibility through an independent investigation.

As Marjorie Dove Kent of the Jews Against Islamophobia said, the Jewish community suffered similar discriminatory treatment, because of “rabidly bigoted material” being produced the promoted hatred against Jews.

It is true that Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg have reached out to the Muslim community before. But that is not enough. Their words should be coupled with action. So far their actions only raises more suspicions than confidence from the community.

The film controversy certainly does not match with the mayor’s rhetoric. Taken in context with the Associated Press’ report on the NYPD spying in Muslim communities and mosques, it raises more questions about the policies towards the Muslim community.

In a city like New York, which experienced the unimaginable catastrophe of 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiments exist in the fringes. Like the anti-Japanese or the anti-Jewish bias of the past, however, it cannot be allowed to encroach into the larger community to the deprivation of law-abiding citizens of all persuasions. Everyone is afforded in the Constitution basic civil liberties, including freedom of religion and equal protection against discrimination.

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