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Last night, a young man who’s quite respected in the American Muslim community posted this status on Facebook. (I’ve re-shared it here with his permission, redacting identifying features.)
It generated more than 100 likes, dozens of shares and a barrage of comments from American Muslims applauding his decision not to engage with the FBI’s outreach efforts, offering advice and sharing their own stories about getting special FBI house calls. ”Only the Ignorant or the Arrogant speak to the FBI without a lawyer, there is not a third choice,” read part of one popular response.
From my experiences and interactions, this isn’t an isolated, fringe view; It’s the most commonly held one among mainstream American Muslims who are anything but radical extremists. And it’s a serious problem for the FBI.
Senior American counterterrorism officials have long stressed that creating partnerships between the FBI and American Muslims is critical to success in countering terrorism. But are those partnerships playing out?
You’d be hard-pressed to find the success stories, but the failures are well documented.
Take for example evidence that the FBI used “outreach” with Muslims at mosques in Northern California as a guise to collect intelligence. Sometimes, the outreach would begin with discussions about addressing hate crimes, but devolve into the FBI cataloging the identities, personal information, religious views and travel of religious leaders and congregants.
Or consider the FBI training materials instructing agents at Quantico that “mainstream” Muslims are violent, radical and inextricably linked to terrorism. Or the data-mining system the agency uses to pinpoint the specific ethnic and Muslim communities, regardless of suspicions of wrongdoing.
And how about the one where an undercover informant for the FBI said he was trained to entrap the Muslims whose mosques, homes and businesses he infiltrated for the bureau. The real kicker: the Muslims he was sent to surveil were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad — an attempt to find sympathizers — that they obtained a restraining order and actually reported him to the FBI.
Of course the FBI isn’t the only government agency with a poor record of engaging with Muslims. But because other law enforcement agencies follow in its footsteps, the FBI is worth singling out and asking this: is the damage from the mistakes it has made reparable?
The status and ensuing thread — yet another example of how the fallout can be lasting — made me curious: At this point, what would it possibly take to change the relationship for the better? Weigh in. I’d love to get your thoughts.