The city of New York, it seems, is always in the news. From fashion and cuisine to finance and big business, this great city is often regarded as the quintessential American urban center unmatched by any other. It is not only an attractive option for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants entering the country each year, but also for those with unsavory intentions, such as criminals and would-be terrorists. After the events of 9/11, New York’s police department has understandably been under a huge amount of pressure to keep its residents safe, to learn about possible terror plots in time, and to train its police force accordingly.

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But readers will agree that while keeping New Yorkers safe is one thing, infringing upon the civil liberties of an entire section of society is quite another. Last year, we heard the news of aggressive spying on New York’s Muslim Community.

Just when that public relations nightmare had died down, an even bigger scandal has erupted.  The New York Times and other media organizations have confirmed that during a year’s span 1,489 police officers of all ranks were shown a film called “The Third Jihad”, which depicts Muslims as being hell-bent on destroying the United States. In the current inflammatory political
situation in the country and abroad, a film such as this can only sow fear and hatred in the hearts of those sworn to protect all New Yorkers.

Yes, the New York police department has a lot on their plate, and they do need to know what the “enemy” is thinking so that they can be adequately and proactively prepared. But is this the correct way to do that? Perhaps the New York Police Commissioner could compare notes with the Chief of Police of the Houston Police Department, where more than 5,000 police officers are
grappling with similar issues, and dealing with their fears very differently.

In August 2011, the Houston Police Academy started a new training program aimed at improving the level of cultural sensitivity and awareness of their police officers. A one-year program, it provides mandatory attendance at a panel discussion of four sections of the Houston-area multi-cultural society: Asians, African Americans, Jews and yes, Muslims.

I am one of three Muslims who go in to this thrice-monthly discussion and talk about Islamic culture: stereotypes, dos and don’ts, misconceptions etc. The officers have questions ranging from jihad to hijab to food and more. Most are genuinely interested in learning, and thank me for coming out and showing them the moderate face of Islam. I think this sort of training is far superior to the one being given the New York police officers.

True, there are terrorists out there plotting all sorts of evil things in the name of Islam. Some are using religion for their own dirty politics, while others actually believe in their twisted picture of Islam. So police officers should be aware of this very real threat, and I’m sure the Houston police force is as well. But a training video that claims violence and terror is “the true agenda of much
of Islam in America” lends an absolutely skewed image of my religion that will not only affect how those officers do their jobs but also how they treat their neighbors, and what they teach their children. And the last thing we need in our world today is to lump all 2.5 million American adherents of a single faith together in a very ugly box.

Contributed by RFUSA’s Texan Correspondent Saadia Faruqi.

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