New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under recent scrutiny for supporting the New York Police Department’s massive surveillance operation on Muslim communities and individuals, a broad, unethical intelligence-gathering program that has come to light over the last few months. As a series of investigative pieces by the Associated Press revealed, the NYPD has been targeting Shiite Muslims not because of any previous crimes or wrongdoing, but simply based on their religion. Despite this, Bloomberg continues to deny any practice of religious profiling.
This week, more than two dozen religious groups condemned Bloomberg for continually defending NYPD’s Muslim surveillance. In a letter delivered to Bloomberg’s office, religious leaders (including FPL’s own executive director, Jennifer Butler) called on the mayor to put an end to religious discrimination and profiling.
“As religious leaders, we are concerned that constitutionally-protected activities, like religious practice and assembly, have been cited as possible reasons to suspect criminal activity. Additionally, we bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all…We urge you to conduct an urgent and thorough investigation into the practices of the NYPD to ensure that the agency’s trainings and practices support the constitutionally-protected right to worship without scrutiny for every religious community.”
The letter goes on to ask Bloomberg to eliminate false and offensive NYPD training materials, such as the extremely Islamophobic film that NYPD showed its recruits last year.
It’s encouraging to see diverse religious leaders rallying to support the Muslim community and reminding our elected officials that eroding trust between the Muslim community and law enforcement only makes us less safe. Hopefully, Bloomberg will reaffirm his previous commitments to religious pluralism and denounce NYPD’s harmful profiling program.
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There’s been a bit of a brouhaha in the evangelical world about Saddleback Church’s outreach to Muslims and whether or not Rick Warren, Saddleback’s nationally prominent pastor, is watering down evangelical theology to build these partnerships.
An Orange County Register story precipitated the controversy, covering Warren’s friendship with a Muslim neighbor and his church’s initiative to combat misunderstanding and division among Christians and Muslims. According to the article, Warren proposed “a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Terry Mattingly, religious columnist and GetReligion.org writer, explained the controversy in this week’s column:
The Saddleback leader also denied that King’s Way efforts to build a “bridge” of understanding and tolerance represents a change in his Southern Baptist congregation’s commitment to evangelism.
… Contacted by email, Warren insisted that public discussions of an official King’s Way doctrinal statement — as opposed to a program by that name that promotes interfaith understanding — caught him by surprise.
While some evangelicals are criticizing Warren for building bridges with Muslims rather than proselytizing to them, Larry Ross, well-known evangelical communications consultant and Saddleback spokesperson, wrote a spirited defense of Warren:
Neither the Christmas dinner nor the broader Saddleback local outreach represents a ministry partnership between church and mosque, but rather an opportunity to foster individual relationships. Though both communities agreed to not proselytize or force their respective faiths on each other, Christians are continuously called to evangelism, which means sharing the Good News of Jesus, through both word and deed. That stems from the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and our commitment to love.
If sharing a meal or service project with Muslim neighbors to learn about each other’s faith represents a bridge too far, then interfaith outreach is rendered essentially impossible.
Rick Warren isn’t always a paragon of helpful political commentary, but I hope we can give credit where credit is due. He should continue to build bridges with Muslims as an important example in a country beset by anti-Muslim sentiments and increasing polarization.
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Last week, TLC announced that it is canceling All-American Muslim, the network’s reality show tracking the daily lives of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. As the Detroit Free Press reports, TLC told the cast that the show’s ratings weren’t high enough to warrant a second season.
When All-American Muslim first premiered, we celebrated the show for helping to break down stereotypes and change negative perceptions of the Muslim community.
Unfortunately, anti-Islam extremists still found a way to attack it, claiming it covered up the “truth” about Islam by featuring peaceful, noncontroversial Muslim families rather than radical terrorists. One Religious Right group even led a public effort to convince companies to pull its advertising from the show, and Lowe’s Home Improvement caved to the pressure.
That decision prompted 200,000 people and faith leaders from around the country to rally around the show and call on Lowe’s to make a public commitment to reinstate their advertising,
However, despite the groundswell of support in that moment, not enough people actually tuned in to watch the show every week. The noncontroversial, unsensationalistic nature of the families featured was certainly helpful in advancing a public conversation about the portrayal of the American Muslim community, but it may not have made for the kind of reality television that scores well in the ratings.
As Alyssa Rosenberg has pointed out, the Muslim community would certainly benefit from greater saturation in the media at large. Consistently including fully-developed Muslim characters in scripted television shows and movies – similar to the way that the LGBT community has broken into pop culture – may help achieve the “normalizing” benefits of cultural exposure without relying on a sensationalizing format. Rather than a reality show, perhaps the next step ought to be more along the lines of a Muslim version of the Cosby Show.
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In contrast to New York, where Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are defending their police department’s religious-profiling and spying scandal uncovered by the Associated Press, the police chiefs in America’s next two largest cities are charting a different course.
This week, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy Chicago made his department’s policy clear during the annual banquet of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago:
He said police would follow leads in criminal cases, but the department “does not and will not conduct blanket surveillance and profiling of any community in the city of Chicago.”
“We are deeply committed to respecting the civil rights of all Chicagoans,” McCarthy said.
And last month, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing explained the importance of community outreach while drawing a contrast with New York:
“When the going gets tough, we come to the table and have these difficult conversations about issues,” he said. “That’s what makes us good partners. On the other hand, NYPD is presenting a model of, they are buried in their departments and they do not engage communities.
“It doesn’t help fight crime,” he said. “Nobody wants to cooperate with a police department like that.”
Photo: Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy
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New York mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend the New York Police Department’s practice of broadly surveilling Muslim communities and individuals against whom no allegations or threats have been raised, despite the fact that the practice violates NYPD’s own guidelines and New York City law. Bloomberg recently said:
“What we’ve been doing in New Jersey is what anybody in this country or in the world can do… You can go to open meetings, and you can go on open websites and look and see what’s there, and that’s really all we’ve been doing.”
Moreover, despite NYPD’s acknowledgement that it is spying on Muslim organizations without evidence, Bloomberg continues to deny that religious profiling is occurring. These mixed messages put Bloomberg in something of political no-man’s land; neither on the side of robust civil liberties but also appearing to shy away from Islamophobic activists who celebrate efforts to target Muslims based solely on their religious views.
Some of those activists, including Zudhi Jasser (the narrator of the Islamophobic film NYPD was forced to admit it had inappropriately used in the training of thousands of officers), gathered in a rally outside NYPD headquarters today. Congressman Peter King also attended and made his perspective clear in justifying the NYPD tactics:
“The threat right now is Islamist terrorism - and that’s going to be coming from the Muslim community, it’s just a fact,”
This statement is, of course, the opposite of a fact, but Rep. King has never really shown a strong interest in the truth on these issues. Mayor Bloomberg, however, has stood up for the rights of American Muslims before, and should drop his evasive rhetoric and do so again.
Bloomberg should denounce the efforts of King and Jasser to provide cover for the NYPD’s profiling program, fire Police Commissioner Kelly and put in place evidence-based ways of anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks instead of unfairly targeting a whole group of people.
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