Muslim civil rights groups boycott NYPD’s Ramadan conference

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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.

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