American Muslims and the NYPD Trust Deficit
The recent breakdown of trust between American Muslim New Yorkers and the New York Police Department took root when it was discovered that The Third Jihad, a controversial film that paints Islam in extremist terms, had been shown to nearly 1,500 NYPD officers for more than three months in counterterrorism training sessions—after the police department said the film "had been taken care of internally." Coupled with an series of ongoing articles from the Associated Press that exposed wide-reaching domestic surveillance programs set up for the NYPD by the CIA, trust between Muslims and city officials has continued to wane.
Last week, the story blew wide open with the report that the NYPD had been conducting secret surveillance on Muslim Student Associations at 16 colleges across New York and northeastern United States. While Yale, Rutgers, New York University and others issued statements condemning the NYPD's tactics, New York City officials issued no apologies and defended the police department's surveillance tactics. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said criticisms of his department's actions were unwarranted.
Patheos asked several prominent American Muslims about their thoughts on these developing issues. Read what Wajahat Ali, Hussein Rashid, Zeba Iqbal, Faiza N. Ali, and several others have to say.
With the deepening trust deficit between the American Muslim community—especially in the New York area—and law enforcement, how can figures of authority effectively engage with Muslims?
First and foremost, it is important for city administration as well as the New York Police Department to issue a public apology to students at each of the targeted universities and inform us about the extent of this blanket surveillance. The NYPD's actions have had a negative impact not only on Muslim students, but also on students of all faiths and affiliations who are their peers and friends. An appropriate next step will be to work more closely with Muslim leaders to improve on the training of law enforcement about Islam and Muslim communities and come up with solutions that do not violate civil liberties while dealing with real threats to our security.
How should American Muslims practice their faith and live their lives in light of these events?
American Muslims must continue to leverage our faith-based values to drive for social change with a heightened sense of responsibility to our fellow citizens. More specifically, we should take every opportunity to engage our neighbors and encourage civic activism. We should not guard our voices in the face of Islamophobia; quite to contrary, we must push forward in a productive manner and counter all negative voices that too often dictate the discourse.
Do you feel comfortable living your life as a Muslim in America?
Absolutely. My family came to America to build a better future, and what we discovered was a rich culture that embraces diversity. I have never felt uncomfortable practicing my faith, even when things like the NYPD surveillance of Muslim students came to light. The news is alarming and disturbing on many different levels, but the support I have gotten from many of my peers and friends is a testament to the bonds we have formed through community engagement and dialogue.
Dilshad D. Ali is managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos. An experienced journalist, she has covered Islam and Muslims in America for more than ten years for a variety of print and online media outlets, including Beliefnet and Illume, Islamica, and Azizah Magazines.