Muslim civil rights groups boycott NYPD’s Ramadan conference

ActivismUS Politics
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Bloomberg at Ramadan Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the NYPD’s annual pre-Ramadan conference last year. (Photo: Edward Reed/Flickr)

Last July, some 400 Muslim New Yorkers gathered at the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) annual “pre-Ramadan conference” at police headquarters. Mohamed Shamsi Ali, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, delivered prayers while Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the audience that “New York is a city built on religious tolerance.”

But this year, the scene was different. In the wake of the New York Police Department’s spy scandal, a coalition of Muslim groups in New York announced a boycott of the Ramadan conference, which was held this morning. Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, begins later this month.

While some Muslims attended, including Muslim NYPD officers, groups that organize around civil liberties issues said no to attending while the NYPD runs a “covert program of warrantless and comprehensive surveillance of American Muslim communities.”

10 community organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (NY chapter), Desis Rising Up and Moving and the Muslim American Society of New York, boycotted the event. In addition, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York supported the boycott, according to CAIR’s Cyrus McGoldrick.

Also boycotting the event was John Esposito, a well-known academic expert on Islam invited to the conference. In a statement that CAIR posted, Esposito’s office said: “Esposito declined after his review and conclusion that the mayor and police commissioner’s defense of NYPD’s surveillance policy fails to distinguish between surveillance with probable cause of specific individuals or groups and the threat to and violation of the civil liberties of the mainstream majority of Muslims.”

The coalition’s statement said they boycotted due to the NYPD’s “lack of transparency, accountability and respect.” Since last summer, a stream of revelations from the Associated Press have exposed the NYPD’s surveillance program of Muslims across the Northeast.

Another factor that influenced the shunning of the conference was Commissioner Ray Kelly’s conduct at last year’s conference. After Imam Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, the head of the Islamic Leadership Council, criticized the showing of the anti-Muslim film “Third Jihad” to police officers, Kelly misled the Muslim leaders gathered at the conference. He said that the film was shown only one time and only as a “background visual.” But this was false.

In January, the New York Times revealed that the film, which posits that Muslim organizations secretly wish to establish an Islamic theocracy in the US, “was shown, according to internal police reports, ‘on a continuous loop’ for between three months and one year of training.” About 1,500 officers viewed the film, which was funded by the Clarion Fund, an anti-Muslim group financed by the likes of Sheldon Adelson.

Furthermore, Kelly himself was featured in the film, which Kelly and the NYPD vehemently denied until the Times exposed how they weren’t telling the truth.

“Commissioner Ray Kelly has no problem lying to huge audiences of people,” said McGoldrick, CAIR-NY’s civil rights manager, in an interview this morning.

The boycott of this morning’s event comes after some Muslim community leaders boycotted Mayor Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast last year.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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8 Responses

  1. ColinWright
    July 11, 2012, 3:49 pm

    It would be useful to know how total actual attendance this year compared to total actual attendance last year.

    I would like to believe that while 400 attended last year, and this year there were only sixty in an conspicuously empty auditorium, the absence of information confirming this happy hypothesis causes me (suspicious, bitter cynic that I am) to suspect that this wasn’t the case.

    So who did attend? Was there actually a significant boycott — or merely a few marginal groups declining to come?

    • Alex Kane
      July 11, 2012, 6:10 pm

      I’ll work on getting some information about what the actual attendance was. I have no doubt the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg can fill up a space.

      But these are not “marginal groups.” The 10 groups listed on the press release, plus the Islamic Leadership Council (which comprises a ton of mosques in the NYC area), are by no means marginal.

      • Daniel Rich
        July 11, 2012, 6:36 pm

        @ Alex Kane,

        side note: This is by no means a cheap stab at the expense of Colin Wright. I have noticed [over the years] that cynics find very little food for thought in the middle of the playing fields of life. Their best places to foray into are the margins. For a clear and total picture [of any event], all angles are needed.

      • Alex Kane
        July 11, 2012, 8:51 pm

        Well, for what it’s worth, here’s NY1′s video report: link to manhattan.ny1.com

        I can’t tell how many people showed up. But the imam at Park 51, Feisal Abdul Rauf, went: link to mysanantonio.com. He “thanked” the NYPD.

  2. Daniel Rich
    July 11, 2012, 6:31 pm

    Q: … while Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the audience that “New York is a city built on religious tolerance.”

    R: Buttons and stickers anyone? link to havelshouseofhistory.com

  3. DICKERSON3870
    July 12, 2012, 12:56 am

    RE: “Last July, some 400 Muslim New Yorkers gathered at the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) annual ‘pre-Ramadan conference…[where]…Michael Bloomberg told the audience that ‘New York is a city built on religious tolerance’.” ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: “Some people” might say New York is built upon land of the Native Americans which was “acquired” by Dutch colonists in a “transaction” involving a few baubles, a generous quantity of “firewater”, and an admonition to “drink responsibly”.

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Manhattan]:

    [EXCERPT] . . . The area that is now Manhattan was long inhabited by the Lenape Indians. In 1524, Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano – sailing in service of the French king Francis I – was the first European to visit the area that would become New York City. He entered The Narrows aboard his ship La Dauphine and named the land around Upper New York Harbor “Angouleme”, the family name of Francis I; he sailed far enough into the harbor to sight the Hudson River which he referred to in his report to the French king as a “Very Big River”; and he named Upper New York Bay the Bay of Santa Margarita – after Marguerite de Navarre – the elder sister of the king.[14][15]
    It was not until the voyage of Henry Hudson, an Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, that the area was mapped.[16] Hudson came across Manhattan Island and the native people living there in 1609, and continued up the river that would later bear his name, the Hudson River, until he arrived at the site of present day Albany.[17]
    A permanent European presence in New Netherland began in 1624 with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement on Governors Island. In 1625 construction was started on a citadel and a Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, later called New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam).[18][19] Manhattan Island was chosen as the site of Fort Amsterdam, a citadel for the protection of the new arrivals; its 1625 establishment is recognized as the birth date of New York City.[20] According to the document by Pieter Janszoon Schagen our people (ons Volck)—Peter Minuit is not mentioned explicitly there—acquired Manhattan in 1626 from Native American Lenape people in exchange for trade goods worth 60 guilders, often said to be worth 24 US$, though (by comparing the price of bread and other goods) it actually amounts to around $1000 in modern currency[21] (calculation by the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam). . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

  4. ColinWright
    July 12, 2012, 2:21 am

    Thanks for your answers. This is actually somewhat better than I would have assumed.

  5. MLE
    July 12, 2012, 5:23 am

    I hate Ray Kelly, he is the slimiest of slime and the fact that no one really questions whether it’s healthy for a police department as large as the NYPD to keep the same leadership for 10 years. Future generations reading about the history of New York City will view Ray Kelly as a huge wart on the giant pimple of Bloombergism.

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