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Disarming the NYPD Against Terror

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department scrambled to do what it could to ensure that the horror of that day wasn’t repeated. To their eternal credit, they succeeded. While the worldwide counteroffensive conducted by U.S. military and intelligence forces helped make it harder for foreign al-Qaeda groups to repeat that atrocity, the NYPD’s intelligence work concentrated on any footholds Islamists might have found in the Greater New York region. The terrorists failed in no small measure due to the excellent intelligence work conducted by the NYPD. But rather than getting credit for their efforts, New York’s finest have been attacked relentlessly for their counter-terrorism operations in recent years. The September 10th mentality of much of the liberal media and the political left has taken its toll on the department. After the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City last year, veteran NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was replaced and the new regime seems more interested in avoiding false charges of Islamophobia than in worrying about the possibility that Islamists were plotting mayhem.

As I noted last month, a long assault on the NYPD’s Demographics Unit that sought to keep tabs on mosques and other places where Islamists were likely to gather was disbanded. Though the intelligence work was both legal and important to protecting the lives of New Yorkers, that effort has been halted after a press campaign that treated surveillance of known hotbeds of Islamism as an unnecessary intrusion on the privacy of American Muslims. But with that source of information gone now the last vestige of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts is under siege. A front-page feature in today’s Sunday New York Times must be seen as the first shot in a new campaign to prevent the police from recruiting Muslims who are in police custody on charges unrelated to terrorism from being asked about their knowledge of Islamist activity. Like the work of the Demographics Unit, this practice is not only legal but also a commonsense police activity. But once again we are being fed the line that it is somehow an act of prejudice for the cops to look for intelligence on possible terror plots. Like the myth that Muslims were subjected to a discriminatory backlash since 2001, the Times article seems rooted in a false narrative that seeks to edit Islam out of the story of 9/11 and the conflict with Muslim terrorists.

The practice of using those under arrest as a general source of information is as old as police work itself. Those in custody may see it as coercive, but the relationship between cops and their sources is a two-way street in which both sides get something. Yet in the current atmosphere the political left seems to think that it is an offense to the sensibilities of Muslims to recognize that a portion of their community holds extremist views and that some terrorist activity is rooted in a version of their faith. Thus, anything done by the police that would open a window on those who might plot against America, even if it is perfectly legally and eminently reasonable, is now treated as prima facie proof of bias.

One critic of the practice of asking those under arrest to provide information about potential terrorists is Bobby Haddad, a former police sergeant who is Muslim immigrant from Algeria.

“We are detectives of the New York City Police Department Intelligence Division,” he said. “We are there to collect intelligence about criminal activity or terrorism. Why are we asking, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ‘What mosque do you go to?’ What does that have to do with terrorism?”

This is one of those “if you have to ask, you’ll never know” questions. The reason why the NYPD focused its efforts on seeking to know what was happening at mosques where Islamist imams may have preached hatred of the West or sympathy with al-Qaeda and its allies or where Islamists may gather is obvious. They did so because it was terrorists who believed their faith commanded them to slaughter Americans.

To state this does not brand all American Muslims as terrorists. To the contrary, the vast majority are honest, hard-working loyal citizens. But to pretend that Islam had no role in 9/11 or other Islamist terror activity is not merely false, it undermines any effort to combat homegrown terrorism.

The justification for this pushback against scrutiny of potential terror sources is the myth that Americans have been engaging in a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. But the truth is that nothing of the kind has happened. No proof of any backlash exists and FBI hate crime statistics have shown that attacks on Muslims, while deplorable in any numbers, are nowhere near as prevalent as those on Jews.

The campaign to disarm the NYPD in the war against terror is part and parcel of the attempt to transform the 9/11 narrative from one of Islamists at war with the United States to one in which Muslims are portrayed as the true victims of the attacks. This is not only a libel against America; if it persists it will make it more likely that law enforcement will fail to stop the next 9/11. Those who haven’t succumbed to the siren song of this false approach need to draw the line and insist that the NYPD be allowed to continue seeking intelligence about terrorism in the places where it is most likely to be found.


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