February 16th, 2012
04:20 PM ET
Editor's Note: Congressman Keith M. Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
By Rep. Keith M. Ellison, Special to CNN
Recent news that the New York Police Department presented the film “The Third Jihad” to nearly 1,500 officers is only the latest example of anti-Muslim training materials being used in ways that harm our national security.
The film baselessly contends that “the true agenda of much of Islam in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate America,” smearing a religion that has been part of this country since its founding. Incidents like these sound the alarm on the need for greater transparency and oversight of counterterrorism training at all levels of government.
The NYPD’s use of “The Third Jihad” is disturbing because it leaves officers with the impression that American Muslims are the enemy, not an ally against terrorism. This notion hurts the ability of law enforcement to do its job. No one knows this better than the brave officers who have stood up to such bigotry – it was NYPD officers who objected to the screening of the film, just as it was FBI agents who recently objected to using equally harmful training materials at the bureau.
“The Third Jihad” was produced by the Clarion Fund, a group that lacks national security credentials but is flush with cash. Far-right wing donors gave the Clarion Fund $18 million between 2001 and 2009 to drive their political agenda through Islamophobic films. The group mailed its last film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” to 28 million swing state voters weeks before the 2008 election.
The who’s who of the Islamophobic fringe leads the Clarion Fund. During the 2008 presidential campaign, one Clarion advisory board member advanced the conspiracy theory that then-Senator Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim (as if it should matter).
Another Clarion board member has said that “Most mosques in the United States are actually engaged in – or at least supportive of – a totalitarian, seditious agenda they call Sharia.” Americans of all political stripes, including former Bush Administration officials, have dismissed these extreme statements
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that whoever approved the request for Commissioner Raymond Kelly to appear in the film “exercised some terrible judgment.” The mayor is right. Not since D.W. Griffiths’ racially charged “The Birth of a Nation” made in 1915 has a film sought to stoke so much fear about one group of American citizens.
Now more than ever, it is critical that law enforcement build relationships with the Muslim community to better fight against terrorism. In my hometown of Minneapolis, the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim community is so strong that international dignitaries have visited to learn about our model. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has said he was able to solve several high-profile crimes only because Muslim community members voluntarily came forward to share information with the police.
The great majority of national security experts view American Muslims as partners – and for good reason. A study last year by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security showed that most tips regarding domestic terrorism come from the American Muslim community (the American Muslim who tipped off police about the attempted car bombing of Times Square in 2010 is one such example. The Triangle Center reported last week that terrorism by American Muslims poses a “minuscule” threat – not a single one of last year’s almost 17,000 murders was a result of Islamic extremism.
Ensuring the public trust is critical to fighting terrorism. As Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2010, “the cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats.” American Muslims are well positioned to identify potential terrorists, but it’s harder to win their trust when police departments partner with the CIA to conduct surveillance, train officers to view Muslims as terrorists, or spy on Muslims purely because of their religion.
Trust can be restored only if law enforcement agencies hold individuals accountable for using prejudicial materials and create new mechanisms that ensure transparency and rigorous oversight. The result will be not only a more just society, but a safer one.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rep. Keith M. Ellison.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.