It was recently revealed that the NYPD branded certain New York mosques “terrorism enterprises” in order to be able to investigate any attendee of said mosque at will, without charging them with a crime. These details come from the same Pulitzer Prize-winning AP probe that previously revealed that the NYPD specifically targeted the Muslim community.
NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly responded to these allegations on Morning Joe, denying that the NYPD had broken any laws while not specifically denying the charge that mosques had been investigated as terrorist organizations. Kelly emphasized that “we’re trying to protect New York City,” invoked 9/11, and repeated his problematic claim that the NYPD stopped 16 terrorist attacks on his watch. (The number, according to Pro Publica, is more in the realm of three)
But has targeting mosques actually helped to protect New Yorkers? After all, the NYPD itself admitted that its investigation into the Muslim community produced zero leads. And there is compelling evidence that mosque attendance actually helps prevent terrorism. A 2011 study found that 95% percent of Muslims who attend a mosque believe that Islam is compatible with America’s political system, as opposed to 77% of those who do not attend.
Which makes sense given that most of America’s domestically-produced Islam-inspired terrorists were either never members of a mosque community or left their communities prior to launching any attack, which includes Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and would-be Portland-Christmas-Tree bomber Mohamed Mohamud.
The extent to which mosques are not breeding grounds for terror is perhaps best illustrated by the case of FBI informant Craig Montileh, who was sent by the FBI to spy on the Muslim Center of Irvine. He went around making pro-jihad comments in an attempt to worm his way into the radical community. Instead, the mosque took out a restraining order against him and, ironically, informed the FBI.
Despite all this, a great part of Islamophobic rhetoric continues to be obsessively fixed on the mosque. High-profile Islamphobes like Peter King, Frank Gaffney, and, most recently, Montana senate candidate Liz Cheney, regularly assert that mosques are the epicenter of radicalization. And Kelly has clearly elected to listen to such ill-informed rhetoric in lieu of factual information. He’s a big fan, for example, of the Zuhdi Jasser-narrated* Islamophobic classic The Third Jihad, which argued that jihad is “the true agenda of much of the Muslim leadership here in America.” Kelly’s support of these ideas led him to take part in a ninety-minute interview for the movie, which he then played on a loop while officers were being trained in counter-terrorism. To the officers it could only have seemed like a clear endorsement of Jasser’s views.
Of course, it’s convenient for Kelly to embrace this sort of anti-mosque Islamophobia. It’s an ideology that offers a clear way forward: keep spying on mosques, keep probing the lives of New York’s Muslim community. Like most stereotypes, it serves as a buffer from a harsher reality: that it’s not so easy to find and stop the Tsarnaevs and Hasans of the world, and that “follow the mosque” is neither as effective nor as ethically sound as the old “follow the money” chestnut.
*This blog post originally indicated that Zuhdi Jasser was the creator of The Third Jihad, rather than simply its narrator. RD regrets the error.