Jewish Journal

The Police Commissioner and the Policies of Paranoia

by Aryeh Cohen

January 25, 2012 | 6:09 pm

This month, when a group of New York City police officers showed up for their required counter-terrorism training, they got to watch a movie. … The film is called The Third Jihad. It is 72 minutes of gruesome footage of bombing carnage, frenzied crowds, burning American flags, flaming churches, and seething mullahs. All of this is sandwiched between a collection of somber talking heads informing us that, while we were sleeping, the international Islamist Jihad that wrought these horrors has set up shop here and is quietly going about its deadly business. This is the final drive in a 1,400-year-old bid for Muslim world domination, we’re informed. And while we may think there are some perfectly reasonable Muslim leaders and organizations here in the U.S., that is just more sucker bait sent our way. (Tom Robbins, Village Voice, January 19, 2011)

The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, through a top aide, acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that he personally cooperated with the filmmakers of “The Third Jihad” — a decision the commissioner now describes as a mistake. (Michael Powell, New York Times, January 24, 2012)

The book of Exodus famously starts with a new Pharaoh, “who did not know Joseph,” falling into a paranoid fantasy that the Israelites would constitute a fifth column, collude with the Egyptians’ enemies and, finally, leave the land, and leave Egypt in a shambles. Most of this comes true, you might say, so why call it a paranoid fantasy? The Israelites did leave the land of Egypt, and when they left, the country that formerly ruled the world was a destroyed shell of a nation—its people killed, its army drowned, its agriculture and livestock wiped out, and its personal wealth stolen. Was Pharaoh paranoid or prescient?

The answer depends on clearly seeing cause and effect. Prior to Pharaoh’s identifying the Israelites as a potential fifth column, they were not. Joseph had made the house of the Pharaoh wealthy to a degree unheard of, and he brought all of Egypt under Pharaoh’s direct ownership. However, the new Pharaoh, in a moment of paranoid delusion—or, perhaps, cynical political manipulation in order to direct the ire of the landless people away from the ruler and towards the aliens in their midst—created his own worst nightmare. Does anyone believe that had the Pharaoh not cast the Israelites as the enemy of the State—and driven them into bondage and oppression—that they would have finally embraced Moses’ vision of revolution and redemption? Had they had anything left to lose but their chains, would they really have followed God’s shepherd like sheep into the desert? As it was, after suffering bondage and oppression for centuries, when they finally tasted freedom, they asked to return to the “fleshpots” of Egypt!

Paranoid fantasies are not, however, solely the property of ancient Pharoahs. The medieval witch hunts and the Spanish inquisitors all rested upon their own paranoid delusions—“supported” by the testimony of the tortured—to construct an image of the “enemy of the State” or the enemy of God. As a result many people died. Many women and Jews, respectively, found themselves on the rack, reciting “confessions” as answers to leading questions in order to stop the pain. Then they were killed.

Which all leads to our contemporary inquisitors and their paranoid delusions. As The New York Times has reported, the folks who brought you the film “Obsession” have produced a new film called “The Third Jihad.” According to the Times, the premise of the film is that the goal of “much of Muslim leadership here in America” is to “infiltrate and dominate” the United States. As if this was not enough, the film was screened for more than 1,400 New York City Police Department officers during training in 2010—with the cooperation of the Police Commissioner. One is left speechless. Almost.

Domestic policy that is produced by the paranoid delusions of those whose economic livelihood depends on creating a widespread domestic enemy will lead to alienating and criminalizing the very folks whose actual loyalty to this country is the best defense against the few criminals in their midst who would do us harm. Caricaturing an entire community Hannity/Beck style with grainy photographs, ominous soundtracks and slanderous talking heads does not make our homeland any more secure. It definitely does not bring us any closer to the more perfect union which the NYPD is supposed to protect and serve.

It is our hope that this was an example of one awful judgement call rather than proof that policing policies have given ear to the profiling of the paranoids.

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Aryeh Cohen the author of the book Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism is a professor, a social justice activist, a rabbi and a lecturer.


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