Last fall, the New York Fire Department’s newly appointed Muslim chaplain expressed doubts that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were involved in the attacks of 9/11. “There are so many conflicting reports about it,” said the Guyana native, educated in Saudi Arabia. “I don’t believe it was 19 . . . hijackers who did those attacks.”
He dilated to a Newsday reporter: “I’ve heard professionals say that nowhere ever in history did a steel building come down with fire alone. It takes two or three weeks to demolish a building like that. But it was pulled down in a couple of hours. Was it 19 hijackers who brought it down, or was it a conspiracy?”
When his remarks appeared in the press, the outcry was long and loud. Firefighters expressed their rage, and the president of the Uniformed Firefighters demanded a public apology. Rather than express remorse, Imam Intikab Habib resigned. At the time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded the imam’s decision: “This is not a person who should be representing a department that was devastated on September 11, answering their spiritual needs.”
That was then. Last week, another Muslim chaplain’s outrageous statements went public. Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil, a “spiritual” leader in the city’s Department of Correction, had declared in a speech that “the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House,” that Muslims underwent torture in Manhattan prisons following the Twin Tower attacks, and that his co-religionists must not permit “the Zionists of the media to dictate what Islam is to us.”
Public outrage followed this performance. Hizzoner responded by suspending Abdul-Jalil without pay for two weeks. The chaplain’s crime wasn’t rabble rousing or expressing falsehoods. No, his peccadillo merely was failing to state that, when he made his inflammatory speech, he was speaking as an individual, not a representative of the city.
After a fortnight, Bloomberg decided, the man whose inflammatory rhetoric was indistinguishable from a jihadist broadcasting on Al Jazeera would be welcomed back into the prison system to counsel jailed Muslims. Abdul Jalil’s annual salary: $76,000.
In a tightrope-walking statement, Bloomberg said, “I certainly don’t agree” with the imam’s view, “but the issue here is not do I agree with him, but does he have a right to say what he wants to say. At the same time, we have an obligation to ensure that city employees do not falsely represent their political statement as the official position of their agency.”
And just what is the official position of that agency? No one knows. All that one can say with certainty is that Abdul-Jalil and various priests, ministers, and rabbis, are draining the city of more than a million dollars in salaries, while they enjoy the full protection of civil servants, almost impossible to dismiss.
Mark Weitzman, director of Simon Wiesenthal’s New York Tolerance Center, made a telling point. In city jails, he noted, “you are not going to have a minister of the Christian Identity, of the Klan, as the Christian clergyman. You would not have a rabbi who’s involved with extremist Jewish groups ministering to Jews in there. The same standard should apply across the board.”
But why have such government-paid counselors in the first place? There are scores of clerical volunteers who would gladly enter the prisons to offer counsel gratis. If they stepped out of line, the city could quickly replace them. Better still, they wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. And best of all, they wouldn’t cause a Republican mayor to cover himself with the First Amendment without examining the consequences of an irresponsible and craven decision.
Once upon a time (1998, in fact), New York had a mayor who wouldn’t tolerate reckless bias of any kind. That year, two firefighters and a policeman in blackface participated in a Labor Day Parade float that mocked the dragging death of a black man in Texas. Rudolph Giuliani summarily canned them, despite protests from the ACLU—the same organization that has stood firmly behind the prison imam. The men sued, and the case is on appeal.
“The Supreme Court of the United States would have to order me to put them back,” said Giuliani. Rudy, phone home.