- Linda Sarsourdirector of the Arab American Association of New York and the advocacy and civic engagement coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities.
Representatives from the New York City Muslim community, together with local ethnic and interfaith groups, gathered at City Hall Thursday calling for the resignation of New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly and police spokesperson Paul Browne after it was revealed an anti-Muslim film, “The Third Jihad,” was screened to nearly 1,500 officers during training. After initial denials, the NYPD admitted the officers were shown the film in training and that Kelly gave the filmmakers a 90-minute interview. Kelly has now apologized. The controversy comes at a time when relations between the police and the Muslim community are already strained due to recent revelations that the police department has operated a secret surveillance program targeting Muslim neighborhoods. We speak with Arab-American activist Linda Sarsour, who was honored last month at the White House as a “Champion of Change.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: A coalition of New York Muslim and interfaith groups gathered at City Hall Thursday calling for the resignation of New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and police spokesperson Paul Browne. The protest was held after it was revealed the police department had shown an anti-Muslim film titled The Third Jihad to nearly 1,500 officers during training. This is part of that film.
NARRATOR: The document states that their work in America is a kind of a grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.
ABDUL ALIM MUSA: On our website, we talk about the Islamic state of North America by 2050.
YOUSEF KHATTAB: Islam will dominate. That’s what it will be.
DR. ZUHDI JASSER: Are you starting to see a pattern here? Is the Islamic state a threat to American security? Yes, it is.
NARRATOR: We all know about terrorism. This is the war you don’t know about.
AMY GOODMAN: When The Village Voice's Tom Robbins first reported on the film a year ago, the New York Police Department had claimed it had only been shown a couple of times and that the department did not participate in its making. But earlier this week, the police department admitted nearly 1,500 officers were shown the film in training and that the New York Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, gave the filmmakers a 90-minute interview. Part of Kelly's interview appears in the film.
COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY: Our nightmare scenario is a nuclear detonation. And the second down, the second rung from that, you might say, is a dirty bomb.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a rare apology for appearing in the film, which was made by the Clarion Fund. The group describes itself as a, quote, “non-profit organization that produces and distributes documentaries on the threats of Radical Islam.” The Clarion Fund is best known for its film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, which was distributed to 28 million people in swing states ahead of the 2008 elections.
The controversy over the police department’s use of the film comes at a time when relations between the New York police and the Muslim community are already strained due to recent revelations that the department has operated a secret surveillance program targeting Muslim neighborhoods.
Amna Akbar spoke at Thursday’s protest. She is a supervising attorney at the CLEAR program, Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility.
AMNA AKBAR: We’re standing together here today to call for Commissioner Kelly’s resignation, to call for the resignation of Paul Browne, to call on City Council to establish an independent community control and oversight mechanism, because we now know that the NYPD does not feel accountable to our communities. The NYPD functions in a very nontransparent way. That’s not right in a democracy, and it’s not right in this city. The NYPD must be held accountable. The NYPD must act transparently.
For many years now, there have been a number of revelations about the way that the NYPD is policing our communities. We have learned about the way that informants are surveilling and infiltrating our communities. We have learned about the demographics unit and the way that it’s literally creating maps of Muslims all around the city. We know that the NYPD was responsible in 2007 for the radicalization report that tied together aspects of Muslim identity with potential for future terrorism. And we know that the NYPD showed the film, the hateful propaganda, anti-Muslim film, The Third Jihad, to 1,500 officers during its training. Not only did the NYPD show this film to 1,500 officers, but Commissioner Kelly participated in its making.
AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Chloe Breyer represented Interfaith of New York at Thursday’s protest.
REV. CHLOE BREYER: We were so disappointed to hear that 1,489 members of the NYPD were exposed to a grossly inaccurate and inflammatory video about Muslims in the United States. Dehumanizing propaganda of the sort we saw aimed at the Japanese during World War II, at the Germans during World War I, has no place in our diverse city and country and no place in law enforcement.
AMY GOODMAN: Imam Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, accused the New York police of repeatedly dismissing concerns raised by the Muslim community.
IMAM HAJJ TALIB ABDUR-RASHID: We raised concerns about the warrantless wholesale surveillance of the Muslim community. Those concerns were smugly dismissed. We raised our concerns about the use of this bigoted Islamophobic film, The Third Jihad, and those concerns, too, were smugly dismissed. Those of us who reside in the inner cities of New York have raised our concerns for years about the abuse of NYPD stop-and-frisk policies, and those concerns have been smugly dismissed.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about this story, we’re joined by Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York and the advocacy and civic engagement coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities. She was honored last month at the White House as a “Champion of Change.”
And you’re back here in New York right now dealing with this issue. Now, the Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said at first that he did not participate in The Third Jihad?
LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely. Actually, Paul Browne, the chief spokesperson of the NYPD, has lied to us repeatedly since last year. As a matter of fact, we have a letter dated March 7, 2011, signed by Commissioner Kelly himself, that says, quote, “The New York Police Department had nothing to do with the creation or distribution of this film,” and it is, you know, “not used as training material.” And that’s a letter that we have that’s on our blog. So the fact that this came out, this new revelation recently, for me, is like outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: That he did a 90-minute interview with them.
LINDA SARSOUR: Oh, yes, he did. So he got caught in a lie in the same day the New York Times originally reported that they were—that they did show this Third Jihad film to these 1,500 officers. And then Paul Browne said, “Yes, but I don’t know where they got Commissioner Kelly’s interview. They might have got it from somewhere.” Turns out, the same night, the Clarion Fund producers confirmed that, “Yes, we had a 90-minute interview. They knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. They knew exactly who we were.” So we’re outraged on the lie after lie that we keep receiving from the New York Police Department.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, not only that, the claim from last year to Tom Robbins that it was only a few people who—officers who had seen the film. It was the Brennan Center who filed—that filed a FOIA request and got, actually, after many months, the admission from the police department that more than 1,500 police officers had been shown the film as it was being continuously looped in training programs for the police department.
LINDA SARSOUR: Yes. Actually, the admission came after a nine-month-long legal battle between the Brennan Center and the New York Police Department. So—and with the AP revelations, which are also leaked documents from the NYPD, I mean, it would be, for me, smart enough to just start saying everything, because at the end of the day, everything is going to come out, and our legal system is going to get us the information that our community is looking for.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to one of the police officers who was at yesterday’s news conference. After Thursday’s protest at City Hall, Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke spoke with Noel Leader, a retired New York police sergeant, about the New York Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, and the department's use of this film, The Third Jihad, in training. Noel Leader is co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
NOEL LEADER: Right. Well, you know, for a police commissioner to involve himself in such a film is preposterous. You cannot be a police commissioner of the largest police department in the country, you cannot be a police commissioner of a diversity like New York City and participate in a film that you have no idea what the ultimate project is going to be about. Under 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.
MIKE BURKE: And what about your thoughts on the exposé recently put out by the Associated Press regarding police surveillance of the Muslim community here in the city?
NOEL LEADER: Well, this is a repeat of history. I don’t know if you remember. There used to be a black desk, where black organizations, black civic and social leaders and political leaders, were monitored, religious leaders. And that’s why we created the Handschu Act, which was an agreement between the police department and communities of color that the New York City Police Department wouldn’t illegally monitor or surveil the religious, political, social activities of organizations not engaged in any criminal activity. So he violated—Commissioner Kelly—in 2011, that—the spirit of the Handschu Act. He should be removed from office. He has no right. He is not qualified to be the police commissioner of a diverse, advanced city such as New York City, and he should be removed from office immediately.
MIKE BURKE: And what impact is this having on relations between the law enforcement community and the Muslim community here in the city?
NOEL LEADER: There’s widespread distrust. There’s widespread concern. There’s a feeling that Muslims are being criminalized, the entire community, by the New York City Police Department. And those feelings are true. Every time you turn around, there’s a new revelation. There was a Demographics Unit, where clergy, where sermons, where schools and students and youth organizations are being surveilled by the New York City Police Department.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Noel Leader, co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, just-retired police official. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Linda, I wanted to ask you, the description that Tom Robbins gave a year—more than a year ago now of this film, it is amazing. He says, “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,” the film says. “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.” It’s astonishing that the police department would have any kind of connection, and less more, Kelly being interviewed but then showing this film to police officers.
LINDA SARSOUR: The film is absolutely outrageous. Any rational-minded person that watches it will say, “Wow! How did the New York Police Department, the largest police force in this country, supposedly the most credible, have access to this film?” And what’s most astonishing is that while the NYPD surveils our community and creates files on us and checks us and all this kind of intelligence, the fact that there was no due diligence on the part of the NYPD to check out who the Clarion Fund is and to look up—look at their history—you don’t even need to have intelligence; just go on Google and find out who these people are—and connecting the dots, and looking at, you know, someone like Sheldon Adelson, who like funded this film, is also funding Newt Gingrich. It’s all connected. And this Third Jihad is not a one-time, you know, just a film, and we’re all mad and offended. It’s not about being offended. It’s about the security of all New Yorkers. If one bad judgment like this is happening in the NYPD, only God knows what other films are being shown that we don’t have the names in order for us do a FOIA request on these films. It’s absolutely outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of—that Noel Leader raised, the retired New York police sergeant, about the overall targeting of the Muslim community, last year Democracy Now! spoke with Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo, who exposed how the New York police had secretly monitored mosques and Muslim communities after the September 11th attacks.
MATT APUZZO: They’re very aggressive at building informants. And, you know, they have a program that was known as the “Demographics Unit,” informally, inside the NYPD. The Demographics Unit, what they would do was they’d take ethnic officers out of the academy and drop them into ethnic neighborhoods, where they would basically be the eyes and the ears of the NYPD. They were undercover. They obviously didn’t work out of NYPD headquarters. They just were—hang out. And so, they’d kind of go to the bookstores and the libraries and the hookah bars and the clubs and the cafes, and just be the eyes and ears of the NYPD and listen for things that are suspicious.
AMY GOODMAN: You said they called for the names of all the Pakistani cab drivers in New York. They wanted the TLC—
MATT APUZZO: Yeah, that was—
AMY GOODMAN: —the taxi and limousine service—
MATT APUZZO: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to hand that over.
MATT APUZZO: Yeah, early on, you know, before these programs got going, I think there was just this real sense of urgency. There was all these threat streams coming in. There were—you know, the NYPD didn’t have any informants. And so, they kind of took some really ad hoc ways of trying to go about getting informants. And one was they asked the taxi cab commission just to give them a rundown of all of the Pakistani cab drivers, so they could look for maybe anybody who got it fraudulently. And then you could use that as leverage to help get yourself an informant.
And the other way is they looked and said, “Look, let’s just go and do—step up our traffic patrols in Pakistani neighborhoods. And if you’re running a red light or you’ve got a broken tail light or whatever, you know, we can use that as the means for a traffic stop and then see if there’s an outstanding warrant or if there’s anything we can use here, and then try to flip him and make him an informant, use that as leverage.” You know, they were—in some ways, they were kind of like acts of desperation.
AMY GOODMAN: This was from 9/11 right through until now. That was Matt Apuzzo, who exposed this for the Associated Press. Linda Sarsour, how has this affected your community? Talk about your demands to meet with the commissioner and also what happened at the interfaith breakfast, why the Arab leaders, Arab-American leaders, boycotted Mayor Bloomberg.
LINDA SARSOUR: Well, what Matt Apuzzo is talking about, this Demographics Unit, and sending, you know, undercover—but it’s actually beyond the undercover officers. We’re talking about NYPD informants. We’re talking about people who have trouble with the law, who break deals with the NYPD to come and surveil the everyday life of Muslims. We’re talking about just people praying at mosques, sitting at, you know, coffee shops. What this does is it creates paranoia in the community. It instills fear in people. You can’t trust anyone. Not only is there—becomes mistrust between us and law enforcement, which hinders the public safety of everyone, it also creates mistrust. You’re sitting at a mosque and you’re praying, and you don’t even know if the guy next to you is an informant. I mean, the NYPD’s main job, and the reason why our taxpayer dollar goes to them, is to make us all feel safe. And the Arab and Muslim communities are not safe in New York City.
And what we did was, is we want to continue to keep the story hot. Why? Because all New Yorkers should be outraged about this. This Demographic Unit is looking at 28 ancestries of interest, including Black Muslims. If that’s not religious and racial profiling, then I don’t know what that means. So, on December 30th, Mayor Bloomberg has an annual interfaith breakfast. And what we did was, based on principle and the dignity of our community, is we boycotted his breakfast. We will not sit with the man who unequivocally supported Commissioner Kelly and said, “This man is doing an excellent job,” and basically saying that the spying program is OK. So we boycotted his breakfast. And we’re to the point where we’ve had many correspondence. We’ve engaged. We’re not just the rabble-rousing community that’s just, you know, hitting the streets because we just want to do that. We’ve written correspondences to Commissioner Kelly. We recently, at the end of December, wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg. Nothing. They don’t want to acknowledge the wrongdoing. And in order for us to help fix the situation and fix this very broken relationship right now with the NYPD, for the benefit of all New Yorkers, we need our leadership to say, “Listen, we’re doing something wrong here, and we want to know how to fix this.” And they have not acknowledged us at all.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, the amazing thing in all of this, of course, is that there are many in the business community in New York who keep trying to prop up Ray Kelly as a potential mayoral candidate to succeed—to succeed Michael Bloomberg. And so that his dealings and all of this situation with the Muslim community in New York clearly should be under a microscope.
AMY GOODMAN: And the latest news, Linda, Wall Street Journal reporting a CIA operative’s unusual assignment inside the New York Police Department is being cut short. The agency’s inspector general opened an investigation after the Associated Press revealed how the NYPD spying operations put Muslim communities under scrutiny, many of those operations built in close collaboration with the CIA. The CIA was cleared of wrongdoing, but officials said the report criticized how the agency began its collaboration with city police. They say CIA oversight was haphazard when it sent in an operative to New York after the 2011 attacks.
LINDA SARSOUR: Interestingly enough, yes, the CIA did remove their operative from there. Originally, when that partnership started, it was never approved by the top CIA lawyer. But you say that the CIA says they found no wrongdoing. But who says that there was no wrongdoing? It was the CIA inspector general who did an investigation. And to tell the Muslim-American community, or any American, that the CIA did an inspection and investigation on the CIA? That, for me, is frivolous. I cannot do an investigation on myself and tell you that I did no wrongdoing. There must be an independent investigation done about the CIA and NYPD collaboration, as well as everything that we’re seeing, this pattern of abuse by the NYPD. Not just about surveilling Muslims, what about the arrest of Occupy Wall Street protesters? The harassment of journalists? What about the “stop and frisk” of black and Latino males? Gun running? Drug planting? I mean, the entrapment of young Muslim men in these outrageous, you know, terrorism cases? I mean, it’s not just about the Muslim community. The NYPD is “no holds barred” right now.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation after break. We’ll also be joined by a reporter from The Jewish Forward. Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, was just honored by the White House as a “Champion of Change.” We’ll be back in a minute.