Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NYPD "Training" Films and the Disease of Bigotry

Recent revelations about the so-called training film about Islam and Muslims shown to as many as 1400 New York City Police officers are a stark reminder that religious bigotry is as insidious as a cancer. Commissioner Kelly of the NYPD, who at first distanced himself from the film, "The Third Jihad," later was forced to apologize for it by revelations that he had allowed himself to be interviewed for the film, an anti-Muslim screed masquerading as a "documentary." Unfortunately, though he admitted the film was "inappropriate," Kelly tried to minimize the possible impact of its message by saying that it was shown in a "side room on a continuous loop."

Sadly, Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, (who has stood by his commissioner), both seem to have missed the point. The fact that Mr. Kelly lent his image to the film at all cannot help but be seen by the men and women of the New York Police, by the Muslim community of New York City and by everyone else as an endorsement of its content. Even an unequivocal condemnation of the film along with a heartfelt apology would be seen by those who are already suspicious of our fellow Americans of the Islamic faith as a "wink wink nod nod" after Kelly agreed to be part of a movie which feeds every nasty stereotype about Muslims, including the idea that they want to make the United States a Muslim nation. But Kelly didn't give an unequivocal apology or condemnation of the film and he did not offer to do the only appropriate thing in the wake of this shameful episode: pro-active training with NYPD officers to counteract the effects of seeing their commissioner in a movie that promotes a negative image of the Muslim citizens they are sworn to protects and to serve.

There are those who have made it obvious that they believe that too much has been made of this incident. But acts of terror continue against Muslim Americans and others who are mistaken for them, negative myths and fears are rampant among non-Muslims about Islam and Sharia and the upshot of all this is that Americans of the Islamic faith are not able to enjoy the virtues of liberty and opportunity that are the foundational promises of our nation. More than that, our entire community is being poisoned by the cancers of bigotry and fear with the apparent endorsement of the Commissioner of the United States' largest police department.

Religious bigotry, like any cancer, can spread far beyond its original starting point, poisoning our relationships with our neighbors and undermining our commitment as a nation to the founding principles of liberty and justice for all that are what make this the great nation it is. As a diverse nation of immigrant people from every part of the globe, this experiment in human liberty that we call the United States can only grow and thrive if we are zealous in our insistence on the safeguarding of the dignity and rights of all religious, ethnic and racial minorities. The fact is after all, one way or another we all are, have been, or will be minorities of one kind or another. Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg need to do a lot more than some halfhearted apologies and inadequate explanations for this incident. They need to do extensive training and re-training of NYPD officers and they need to proclaim loudly and clearly, by their deeds as well as their words, that all residents of this city of immigrants will be protected, served and honored by our police and other civil servants every day, all the time.