Top officials in the Police Department did themselves no favors last week as they were caught in a lie about Commissioner Ray Kelly’s appearance in a controversial film about militant Islam. Police officials initially denied that the commissioner was interviewed specifically for the film, called The Third Jihad, but they had to retract that claim almost immediately. The department’s claim was so easily proven false that you have to wonder how these kinds of decisions are made at 1 Police Plaza.
The commissioner’s appearance in the film, it seems to us, should have been a nonissue. Public figures are interviewed for stories—whether on film or in print—all the time. They are not responsible for the content of a story or a film. Makers of The Third Jihad have been accused of fomenting hatred against the city’s Muslim community, but Mr. Kelly certainly did not and does not endorse that view. (For the record, the filmmakers deny that they tarred all Muslims with the same brush. The film’s narrator is a devout Muslim.)
More problematic was the department’s decision to screen the film and its controversial assertions to more than 1,000 police officers. Relations between the NYPD and the city’s Muslims have been tense, especially in light of assertions that the department has engaged in aggressive surveillance of the community. Several Muslim clerics boycotted an event with Mayor Bloomberg weeks ago to protest the NYPD’s surveillance policies.
Mr. Bloomberg rightly pointed out that Commissioner Kelly has engaged in tireless personal outreach with many Islamic leaders in the city. The commissioner knows that engagement and trust are critical at such a moment. He has done that job well.
Screening a controversial film like The Third Jihad for police officers may have been an error of judgment, but not one that demands resignations or reprimands. The fact is, New York and the United States are targets for a global terrorist movement that embraces a violent distortion of Islam. New York knows all too well what this movement can do.
Information in this war is critical. But so is dialogue and tolerance, on both sides.