September 6, 2011 | National Review Online

How the NYPD Gets Jihad Right

In a world of wishful thinkers, Commissioner Kelly is a realist.
September 6, 2011 | National Review Online

How the NYPD Gets Jihad Right

In a world of wishful thinkers, Commissioner Kelly is a realist.

‘Every conspiracy against Islam and scheming against Islam and the Muslims — its source is America.”

“Jihad is Jihad. There is no such thing as commerce, industry, and science in jihad. This is calling things other than by its [sic] own name. If Allah says, ‘Do jihad,’ it means do jihad with the sword, with the cannon, with the grenades, and with the missile. This is Jihad. Jihad against Allah’s enemies for Allah’s cause and his word.”

“Why do we fear the word ‘terrorist’? If the terrorist is the person who defends his right, so we are terrorists. . . . The Koran mentions the words ‘to strike terror,’ therefore we don’t fear to be described with ‘terrorism.’ . . . We are ordered to prepare whatever we can of power to terrorize the enemies of Islam.”

This rhetoric was not at all unusual. It was the sort of thing you’d hear on any given Friday at mosques in Brooklyn or Jersey City. Nor is there anything ostensibly criminal about it, at least according to the hash the Supreme Court has made of the First Amendment.

That wasn’t the case in the speaker’s native Egypt. There, Omar Abdel Rahman had been notorious for such fiery Friday sermons. There, the imam known as “the Blind Sheikh,” a renowned scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, had been jailed several times for inciting Muslims — urging that they kill regime officials for allying with America and for failing to implement sharia, Islam’s legal system.

But not here, not in the land of free expression: In the United States, the authorities regarded Abdel Rahman as a respected community leader. The federal government put out its welcome mat despite his appearance on its terrorist watch lists. Federal authorities never consulted the police force responsible for protecting the New Yorkers he would attack; they just issued him a green card to work as a “religious teacher” and sent him on his way.

It was Ray Kelly, one of the great police commissioners in American history, who finally arranged to place the blind sheikh in handcuffs. This was during the summer of 1993, when Kelly was in his first go-round as NYPD commissioner.

The sheikh was holed up in a favorite New York City mosque, surrounded by his followers — at least those of them who were not already in prison or on the lam for multiple bombing plots. As I recounted in Willful Blindness, when Attorney General Janet Reno green-lighted the arrest that we prosecutors had been seeking for weeks, it was Kelly and his savvy city cops who defused the potentially explosive situation. The NYPD spoke to people in the community, the sheikh was coaxed out of the mosque, and federal immigration agents took him into custody without incident. This was no small thing: In the two decades since, dozens of innocent people have been killed by zealots demanding his release.

What I most remember about that day is Kelly’s quiet confidence, instilling calm in a room full of NYPD cops, FBI agents, and immigration officers — not to mention a thirtysomething government lawyer who happened to be on hand. A panicky supervisor from INS (called ICE now) groused that the sheikh’s arrest — initially on immigration charges — would have to wait until he could get clearance from his office. I was speechless. After all, the attorney general had already made her decision — why would we now have to wait on a midlevel bureaucrat? Because, it turned out, INS had sent the wrong bureaucrat to the meeting, the New York supervisor instead of the guy from across the river who was in charge of the INS end of the investigation. “You don’t understand,” the supervisor muttered as he reached for a phone, “the case belongs to New Jersey.”

“Yeah,” countered Commissioner Kelly, “but the streets belong to me.”

Kelly is now in his second tour of duty as commish, and New Yorkers are extraordinarily fortunate that their streets have belonged to him for most of the decade since September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens were murdered. You mightn’t think so, however, if all you had to go on was the hatchet-job published by the Associated Press last week.

By the AP’s lights, Kelly is running a rogue domestic-spying operation. To the contrary, the commissioner has crafted an unparalleled counterterrorism strategy. Ever mindful of civil rights and respectful of Islamic culture — just as the police must be respectful of the variegated cultures in the Big Apple’s ethnic goulash — Kelly has kept the world’s No. 1 terrorist target safe from mass-casualty attacks. He has managed this despite 13 known attempts — and who knows how many others that cannot be spoken of without compromising intelligence sources.

The AP hit was compiled with scads of cooperation from federal-government sources, Islamist organizations, and the Lawyer Left (fancying itself the “civil-rights community”). Its timing is no coincidence. We are approaching the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which our community-organizer-in-chief is feverishly recasting as a “community service” exhibition rather than a day of national remembrance. The AP dropped its purported bombshell hard on the heels of “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” Obama’s recently published strategy for countering terrorism without referring to it as “terrorism” — a term that, as the Blind Sheikh inconveniently points out, has roots in the Koran (e.g., Sura 8:12, in which Allah instructs Muslims, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them”).

Make no mistake: There is a battle under way over how we should pursue national security. It is not enough to say the Left wants to move us back to a September 10 mindset — unless you mean September 10 sometime in the mid-1970s. That was when “intelligence” became a dirty word upon revelation that the CIA and various law-enforcement agencies had gathered it against such left-wing radicals as Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the Weather Underground terrorists who would later become the friends, ideological allies, and activist partners of a certain upstart Chicago pol.

The winners write the history. Thus, “domestic spying” has become That Seventies Show: the revisionist narrative the Left uses to erase the fact that it wasn’t all about cracking down on peaceful, patriotic dissent. In truth, there really were evil people who built bombs and tried to kill hundreds of Americans in an effort to foment revolution — people like Ayers, who tartly concedes that he was “guilty as sin,” even though he ended up “free as a bird.”

The difference is that today’s threat comes from a mostly alien force inspired by a known (albeit consciously ignored) ideology rooted in fundamentalist Islam — which, in much of the world, is mainstream Islam. Because that is so, service to the cause is convincingly sold to young Muslims as a religious duty. This not only makes jihadist recruitment easier, it also ensures that many of those disinclined to participate in violence will be open to lesser degrees of aggression: a posture of hostility toward America, hatred of Israel and of Jews, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s scheme of voluntary apartheid — life in a closed community of believers in a Muslim enclave that is functionally independent from the state, its laws, and their enforcement by police.

Today’s threat has also systematized jihadist training. That means its terror cells are more competent by orders of magnitude than the 1960s variety. Moreover, weaponry has evolved in the last half century. It takes fewer terrorists to project more lethal force. The horrific price of missing the signals of an oncoming attack, we learned ten years ago, cannot be calculated in dollars, cents, or lives destroyed.

That is what we are up against, and that is why Ray Kelly is a godsend. A decorated veteran who led Marines in combat, Kelly gets the difference between a crime racket and a national-security challenge. He was on the front lines when the jihad first came to these shores: when the World Trade Center was bombed in February 1993 and when, within a few months, jihadists were thwarted as they conspired to carry out a string of simultaneous attacks on New York City landmarks. He realized that the terrorists had been guided by Abdel Rahman’s sermons, had successfully drawn recruits from local Islamic centers, and had been influential fixtures in the metropolitan area’s Muslim community.

After Kelly’s first stint as commissioner, President Clinton had the good sense to make him a top Treasury Department official, with a portfolio covering counterterrorism and financial intelligence. He brought that experience to a three-year tenure as the nation’s customs commissioner. The newly elected mayor Michael Bloomberg brought Kelly back as NYPD commissioner in January 2002, while the city was still in shock over 9/11 and the War on Terror overseas increased the need for vigilance at home.

Kelly knows his city a lot better than Washington does. He appreciates that not every Muslim is a suspect — that most American Muslims are cold to the fundamentalist call and thus natural allies of law enforcement. But Kelly also grasps that Islamism is not a fringe movement, which is why cooperation with the police is fraught with risk for pro-American Muslims. It is simply a fact that our enemies have strong pockets of support in the Islamic communities.

Naturally, the AP report did not see fit to mention the findings of the Mapping Sharia project, which determined that roughly 80 percent of American mosques disseminate Islamist literature that endorses violence. The imams in these mosques tend to promote that literature. Over half of these mosques host guest lecturers known for promoting violent jihad.

The Mapping Sharia study, as its authors observe, may not accurately reflect the whole of Islam in America. Many Muslims do not attend mosques, and those who do are not necessarily receptive to the interpretation of Islam the imams are pushing. The study, however, is a stark depiction of the leadership in Muslim communities. It becomes easier to understand how Islamist ideology takes root in the young. It becomes easier to see how figures the authorities portray as respected community elders — just as the Blind Sheikh was once portrayed — are positioned to inspire anti-Americanism and worse.

Those responsible for protecting millions of lives cannot afford to be willfully blind to this sort of information. It indicates — just as common sense indicates, just as Ray Kelly’s experience indicates — that you cannot have safety without intelligence. Police need to be a visible presence in neighborhoods. They also need to be an invisible presence. When there are signs of trouble, they have to have informants willing to be their eyes and ears — meaning our eyes and ears. In Islamist hotbeds, they have to cultivate ties with pro-Western Muslims. They need to reach out not just to community leaders but to ordinary Muslims who do not want sharia enclaves, Muslims who are disposed to help police provide security but fear being ostracized as traitors if their cooperation becomes known.

Proactive, energetic, intelligence-based security is what Ray Kelly has forged. It is not an entirely new concept. It builds on Compstat, the crime-analysis and accountability system pioneered in the 1990s by Mayor Rudy Giuliani and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — a system of intelligence-based policing driven by intensive analysis of crime data. The system drove city crime down by a remarkable 77 percent, and Heather Mac Donald sagely describes it as “the most revolutionary public-sector achievement of the last quarter-century.”

In our post-9/11 reality, the imperative of crime prevention has been magnified into mass-murder prevention. Kelly has thus incorporated the tactics that have worked nationally: recruiting aides schooled in CIA intelligence operations to make police better at collecting and analyzing information, and establishing liaisons overseas with foreign police and intelligence services, recognizing that attacks inside the city are often triggered from outside that city and outside the country. But, as Kelly often emphasizes, the system operates within the rigors of law-enforcement protocols.

This is not martial law, and it is not “domestic spying.” Investigations are triggered by reasonable, articulable suspicions of criminal activity — people are not targeted just because they are Muslims. The police are trained to be culturally sensitive and to avoid giving gratuitous offense. But, at the same time, culture is not treated as immunity from investigation. Police are duly deferential to community leaders, but they do not delegate their intelligence-gathering duties to them.

This is not the way the Obama administration wants things done. The president’s strategy warns against singling out any particular brand of “violent extremism” for special attention — jihadist terror is not to be regarded as any more a threat to America than other sources of violence. Obama miniaturizes the threat as “al-Qa’ida’s hateful ideology” — as if the Islamist challenge to the West were a fringe movement. He waves off concerns about Muslims’ support for Islamists with the peremptory declaration that “Muslim American communities have categorically condemned terrorism” — as if that were an incontestable proposition or one that told the whole story.

The real threat to our security, so the theory goes, is not Muslim terrorist plots against us but our provocation of Muslims by conveying the misimpression that America is at war with Islam. Therefore, the key to security is “partnering” with the leadership in Muslim communities: Let them train the police, let them be our eyes and ears, and surely they’ll let us know if there is any cause for concern.

In fact, in 2010, a working group of Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, whose recommendations form the foundation of the administration’s new strategy, took a thinly veiled shot at the NYPD’s 2007 effort to study the phenomenon of Muslim radicalization. Current understanding of the “sociology of ‘radicalization’ and ‘extremism’ is still immature,” the president’s advisers pronounced. Therefore, they decreed, we must “delink” crime-reduction efforts from studies of radicalization — we must, that is, ignore the nexus between Islamist ideology and aggression by Muslims.

As we look across the Atlantic, we can see what happens when multi-culti governments convince themselves that security lies in abdicating sovereign responsibilities to a movement whose very goal is to split off from the sovereign. That this is done under the sweet-sounding guise of “partnering” with communities does not change the outcome. Good policing requires that hostile movements be understood as such. To be sure, keeping the peace counsels against antagonizing the movement’s adherents absent good cause. But it doesn’t mean “partnering” with them, and it cannot entail transferring law-enforcement chores to them. The police are a society’s manifestation of the determination to govern itself in accordance with its rule of law. They are there to protect and to serve, not to be passive observers of the society’s surrender.

The Blind Sheikh preached from his incendiary pulpit. His followers used their mosques to convene, to plot attacks, and to store and transfer weapons. They exploited Islamic community centers to recruit for the jihad and to advertise paramilitary training sessions. They found sympathizers in the community who would not join in forcible conduct but who were supportive — morally, and sometimes materially. They were able to carry out attacks that required months of planning because people who might have helped the police stop them were afraid to speak up.

This menace has not gone away. What do you suppose gives us a fighting chance to protect ourselves: Ray Kelly’s NYPD or the Obama administration’s “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism”? Do we really want to mess with ten years of success?

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

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