CAIRO - Recent surveillance scandals of the New York police and the use of Islamophobic materials in training officers are complicating efforts to promote relations between the Muslim minority and US authorities.
What we are trying to do is to build bridges between the Muslim community and all the others, Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the nongovernment Arab American Association of New York, told The New York Times on Wednesday, February 15.
But we are facing also problems by trying that.
Sarsour and her colleague Faiza Ali have been working to bolster trust between US Muslims and law enforcement authorities.
We had invited the N.Y.P.D. folks several times to meetings and even had a soccer game where our young men were wearing N.Y.P.D. shirts, Sarsour, of Palestinian origin, said.
But her outreach efforts collapsed after recent police scandals of spying on Muslim worshippers and using Islamophobic training materials.
See, we told you, they are not trusting us, Sarsour recalled statements by some Muslim critics.
The New York Police was embroiled into a heated controversy last month over using a video screening accusing Muslims of launching a holy war on the West as a training material for its officers.
The film, The Third Jihad: Radical Islam's Vision for America, says "the true agenda of much of Muslim leadership here in America" is to "infiltrate and dominate America."
It claims that there were three jihads: One at the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), a second in the Middle Ages and a third that is underway covertly in the West today.
It starts with ominous music playing as images show "Muslim terrorists" shoot Christians in the head, car bombs explode, executed children lie covered by sheets and a doctored photograph showing an Islamic flag flying over the White House.
The revelation came on the heels of reports that the NYPD used undercover agents to spy on Muslim communities.
A report by the Associated Press said that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.
Despite the obstacles they face, the two Muslim activists still believe that they have a special responsibility to promote the engagement of US Muslims.
We were and still are the ones who are easily identifiable as Muslims because we are wearing head scarves, Ali said.
It is therefore more important that we don't keep silent.
Ali, of Pakistani origin, recalls that she was opposed by some American Muslims when she started her outreach efforts.
Most of the leaders in the Muslim community were either Arabs or African-American leaders, she said.
Sarsour agrees, saying some first-generation Muslims usually sought contacts with the police or other American authorities only at formal talks or iftar banquets in Ramadan.
But we as American Muslim women think we need to get engaged in a policy-making level, she said.
Many in our society think we should not have any relations.
Despite the difficulties, Sarsour is still resolved to continue her efforts.
You have to be patient and explain everything to them, as some of them still have the mentality, It's better to keep silent and not to be too much in public.'
New York is home to some 800,000 Muslims, about 10 percent of the city's population. There are about 100 mosques throughout New York's five boroughs.The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.