NYPD Muslim Chaplain Khalid Latif has received lavish praise from the press, and even from a part of the US government. However, closer examination raises some disturbing questions.
The Christian Science Monitor's March 19, 2009 article "When NYPD wears a Muslim topi," comes close to sanctifying Latif. The Imam, as the CSM describes him, is seeking to "to help develop a particularly American form of Islam - one fully integrated into the social fabric of the United States." The thoughtful Latif wonders, "And now it's like, how do you mesh together this seeming dichotomy of Islam and the West?" and then looks at himself, bearded in a police uniform and concludes, "that's not a dichotomy, it's a reality."
Going even further, on September 18, 2008 the State Department's America.gov, part of the Department's Public Diplomacy thrust, had headlined, "Imam Khalid Latif Builds Communities of Faith and Diversity," which presents a Latif "deeply committed to interfaith dialogue and community service as integral parts of what it means to be Muslim in a modern, multicultural world." The State Department subsequently reprinted the article in what it described as "the richly illustrated book Being Muslim in America."
A more pertinent question concerns his commitment to free speech. Latif is also Chaplain of the Islamic Center of New York University. In March 2006, an NYU student group organized a panel discussion about the controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons and intended to display the cartoons themselves. Latif was a key figure in the resulting protests. He urged students and others to send e-mails to NYU's administration to protest the display, writing: As Latif wrote in the email:
"The student group is planning on displaying the cartoons at the event and we have been meeting with the university and its administration to ensure that they will not." [Emphasis added]
Latif shared a letter he sent to NYU President Johan Sexton, a message which can only be described as threatening. He wrote:
(T)he potential of what might happen after they (the cartoons) are shown is something else that should be considered and not taken lightly.
(T)he repercussions that would take place outside of the university setting are potentially huge. All over the world Muslims have been coming together over this issue and in New York they would not hesitate in doing the same thing…. NYU has facilities all over the world and Muslims also live all over the world. At that point in time no one will be thinking about the objectivist club that is an OSA organization made up of ten or twenty students. Rather, at that time all people will be thinking about is New York University and the decision it made…" [Emphasis added]
The event took place, without the cartoons shown.
The Islamic Center held a teach-in which senior NYU officials attended, and the student group caved in and decided not to display the cartoons. In his thank letter to President Sexton, Latif wrote, presumably with a straight face, "You helped to teach them (NYU Muslim student) the importance of being proactive, rather then reactive."
So Latif helped quash an open debate and free exchange of ideas, even those which some might find offensive, on a university campus – the one place where such exchanges are supposed to be embraced. One wonders just how "fully integrated into the social fabric of the United States" is Latif?