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The wrong way to fight terrorism

Op-Ed

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies' continued use of anti-Muslim training materials could lead to the collapse of a critical partnership with the Muslim American community.

October 19, 2011|By Salam Al-Marayati

We in the Muslim American community have been battling the corrupt and bankrupt ideas of cults such as Al Qaeda. Now it seems we also have to battle pseudo-experts in the FBI and the Department of Justice.

A disturbing string of training material used by the FBI and a U.S. attorney's office came to light beginning in late July that reveals a deep anti-Muslim sentiment within the U.S. government.

If this matter is not immediately addressed, it will undermine the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim American community — another example of the ineptitude and/or apathy undermining bridges built with care over decades. It is not enough to just call it a "very valid concern," as FBI Director Robert Mueller told a congressional committee this month.

The training material in question provided to FBI agents at the academy in Quantico, Va. — as first reported by Wired magazine's Danger Room blog — contained bigoted and inflammatory views on Muslims, including claims that "devout" Muslims are more prone toward violence, that Islam aims to "transform a country's culture into 7th century Arabian ways," that Islamic charitable giving is a "funding mechanism for combat" and that the prophet Muhammad was a "violent cult leader."

Wired also found a 2010 presentation by an analyst working for the U.S. attorney's office in Pennsylvania that warns of a " 'Civilizational Jihad' stretching back from the dawn of Islam and waged today in the U.S. by 'civilians, juries, lawyers, media, academia and charities' who threaten 'our values.' The goal of that war: 'Replacement of American Judeo-Christian and Western liberal social, political and religious foundations by Islam.'"

Such baseless and inflammatory claims shall best be left to those few who share Al Qaeda's agenda of keeping America in a perpetual state of war with Islam. In other words, the rhetoric of Al Qaeda and these law enforcement trainers are opposite sides of the same coin of hate.

If our law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to use incorrect and divisive training literature, the crucial partnership between the Muslim American community and law enforcement will slowly disintegrate. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council's Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database, these partnerships have proved effective in keeping our nation safe. Nearly 40% of Al Qaeda-related plots threatening the American homeland since 9/11 have been foiled thanks to tips from Muslims.

One example of this is the so-called Virginia 5 case in 2009, in which information from the Muslim community in Virginia led to the arrest in Pakistan of five Muslims from Virginia who were trying to join an Al Qaeda group. Last year, in another case, members of a Maryland community warned law enforcement about Antonio Martinez, who had recently converted to Islam. He was subsequently arrested after he allegedly tried to blow up a military recruitment center.

More important, Muslim leaders, not FBI agents, can more effectively battle Al Qaeda's destructive ideas.

I have worked for more than 20 years with law enforcement and Muslim American communities, and one of the biggest consequences of these training sessions and use of this material is the setback of a vital relationship that required years to build. I know justifiable criticism can be levied against some Muslim leaders in America for not aggressively promoting civic engagement, for not being self-critical enough and for not distancing themselves from rabble-rousers. But how can we persuade Muslim American communities to stay at the table when the food on the table is filled with poison?

These training manuals are making it more difficult for Muslim Americans to foster any trust with law enforcement agencies. Biased and faulty training leads to biased and faulty policing.

The real challenge now is getting the partnership back on track, and for the FBI and the Justice Department to take the following steps: issue a clear and unequivocal apology to the Muslim American community; establish a thorough and transparent vetting process in selecting its trainers and materials; invite experts who have no animosity toward any religion to conduct training about any religious community to law enforcement. Finally, the White House needs to form an interagency task force that can conduct an independent review of FBI and Justice Department training material.

The following words are etched into the walls of the FBI headquarters building in Washington: "The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation … of all law enforcement agencies with the support and understanding of the American people."

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Mueller, take some leadership on this matter, or the partnership we've built to counter violent extremism will forever be handicapped. The question you have to answer is simple: Are we on the same team or not?

Salam Al-Marayati is president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

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