In February of this year, New York mayoral hopeful Republican Joe Lhota visited the Queens Republican Club to witness one of the premier anti-Muslim activists within the Islamophobia movement, Pamela Geller, receive the “Patriot of the Year” award. Lhota’s seeming support of Geller and her anti-Muslim stance calls into question his ability to fairly represent all New Yorkers should he win on November 5.
On its own Lhota attending the ceremony would not be too shocking, unfortunately, as many members of the republican party, including Reps. Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachmann, and Sen. Ted Cruz, among others, frequently collude with prominent nativists and Islamophobes. What does makes this union stand out, however, is at the time Lhota was the Metropolitian Transportation Authority chairman. Also, New York City is currently embroiled in lawsuits because of the contentious and unconstitutional NYPD Muslim Surveillance program.
Pamela Geller rose to national prominence a few years ago when she purchased ad space for blatant anti-Muslim propaganda throughout the New York subway system. Horrific ads popped up with statements that read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” followed by “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” Months later, Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative funded more subway ads, this time with an image of one of the Twin Towers bursting into flames on September 11, with a quote from the Qu’ran: “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers.” At that time, the MTA released the statement:
“While the MTA does not endorse the views expressed in this or other ads that appear on the transit system, the advertisement purchased by a group opposing a planned mosque near the World Trade Center was accepted today after its review under MTA’s advertising guidelines and governing legal standards.”
Upon receiving the “Patriot of the Year” award, Geller noted the “beautiful plaque that also featured a clock,” was “a propos in light of our AFDI pro-freedom ads that just ran on 240 clocks throughout the New York subway system.” While Lhota was noncommittal on the subject, attending a function that praises Geller for the very actions that his company publicly stood against should be cause for concern for residents.
In August, the Associated Press revealed the New York Police Department “secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, using the designation to allow informants to record sermons and spy on imams.” AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman say spying was done without any prior provocation from individuals or mosques that would make NYPD suspicious.
In a recent interview, Lhota likened law enforcement’s targeting of Muslims to a ” chicken and egg question.” He added:
“You can’t then say, well they’re talking to everyone in a restaurant. Well what brought them to the restaurant? It was a target and they’re allowed to focus on targets. And that’s what they’re doing and, I think, ya know, there’s no other evidence to that. The interpretation of two reporters with a lot of unsubstantiated claims doesn’t work for me. It really doesn’t.”
Despite Lhota’s understanding that NYPD doesn’t “willy-nilly go there because of the people there,” the AP report, which won a Pulitzer-prize for the journalists, uncovers that police do just that. And as is the case with most Americans attending religious services and going to restaurants, Muslims and Arab-Americans who’ve been subjected to surveillance have been found doing nothing wrong or illegal.
No matter how Islamphobes like Pamela Geller may hide behind free speech to promulgate bigotry and hateful language, or how law enforcement officials may justify targeting communities of color because their racial and religious bias perceive them as a threat, all citizens deserve to have their public servants – those elected or hired to do a certain job – protect them equally and treat them justly. Though Joe Lhota trails behind Democratic challenger Bill DeBlasio, with polls showing the former at 22% compared to the latter’s 65%, it is important for New York voters to know where the republican’s allegiances may lie.