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Outcry over Muslim mapping

Some say the LAPD project is unachievable; others call it profiling. Chief Bratton says it's an effort to understand.

November 10, 2007|Richard Winton, and Teresa Watanabe and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

The LAPD's plan to map Muslim communities in an effort to identify potential hotbeds of extremism departs from the way law enforcement has dealt with local anti-terrorism since 9/11 and prompted widespread skepticism Friday.

In a document reviewed Friday by The Times, the LAPD's Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. census data and other demographic information to pinpoint various Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies.

LAPD officials said that it is crucial for them to gain a better understanding of isolated parts of the Muslim community. Those groups can potentially breed violent extremism, the LAPD said in its plan.

"This is not . . . targeting or profiling," Police Chief William J. Bratton said Friday in defending the program. "It is an effort to understand communities," he said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, November 13, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Muslim mapping: In Saturday's Section A, a photograph caption with a story about a Los Angeles Police Department program to map Muslim communities said, "Mohammed Abdul Aleem, center, with Faisal Ansari, left, and Siraz Bawa says ideas like the LAPD program push moderate Muslims toward extremism." The caption should have made clear that the statement about pushing moderate Muslims toward extremism was Aleem's alone.

But the effort sparked an outcry from civil libertarians and some Muslim activists, who compared the program to religious profiling.

Others noted that the effort faces enormous practical difficulties. The U.S. Census Bureau is barred by law from asking people for their religious affiliation. As a result, there is no scientific data on the size of the nation's Muslim population, let alone its location, with estimates of the population nationwide ranging from about 1.4 million adults in a Pew Research Center study this year to the 7 million or more claimed by some community organizations.

Census data on ancestry also would not yield accurate Muslim estimates, because significant numbers of ethnic Iranians are Jewish and many ethnic Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians are Christians.

"It's not realistic to think you are going to be able to find out where all the Muslims are," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim said the LAPD project seemed based on the European experience of isolated and often-distressed Muslim enclaves -- a model that doesn't apply to the United States, where the Muslim population is far more dispersed.

American Muslims differ from their European co-religionists in several other respects. A Pew survey of 1,050 adult American Muslims nationwide found them to be "largely assimilated, happy with their lives and moderate." Although two-thirds are immigrants, most respondents said Muslims should integrate into U.S. society rather than isolate themselves.

The survey found striking differences between American Muslims and their European counterparts, with more in the U.S. rejecting extremism and supporting coexistence with Israel. Only 2% of American Muslims were low-income, compared with rates of 18% and higher in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain.

The LAPD's proposal differs substantially from the way federal counter-terrorism authorities have dealt with Southern California's Muslim community.

Stung by decades of controversy over its monitoring of antiwar and civil rights groups, the FBI has been wary of post-9/11 initiatives that would draw criticism that its anti-terrorism efforts are based on racial profiling of Muslims.

As a result, its counter-terrorism efforts have been largely driven by informants, intelligence reports or specific incidents that direct attention to a particular group or community.

"We learned our lesson early on," one retired FBI counter-terrorism official said Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, questioned the logic of the mapping program, reasoning that the wholesale plotting of Muslim communities -- rather than zeroing in on suspected extremists -- could drain counter-terrorism resources and alienate Muslim residents at a time when they are crucial to law enforcement efforts.

Al-Marayati and others who gathered for Friday prayer at the Islamic Center of Southern California questioned the premise of the mapping project. There were no clearly defined Muslim neighborhoods in Southern California, he said.

Some neighborhoods are known for large Middle Eastern populations, but often their residents are not Muslim. Beverly Hills, for example, has a sizable and well-known Iranian population, but many of them are Persian Jews.

Mosque member Omar Ricci, offspring of a Pakistani Muslim mother and Italian American Catholic father, said he has more Armenian Christian neighbors than Muslims on his street in Glendale.

Maher Hathout, an Egyptian native and retired physician, who is a spokesman for the Islamic Center, said his neighborhood in Arcadia is an ethnic and religious polyglot; he said he was more familiar with his Christian next-door neighbor than the Muslims who live a few doors away. The mosque is on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown.

The backlash against the program was intense enough Friday that LAPD's planned partner in the project, USC's National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, said it was carefully studying whether to join the endeavor.

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