FBI "OUTREACH" HAS US MUSLIMS WARY
- IN TERROR WAR, AMERICAN "OUTREACH" HAS US MUSLIMS WARY
DEARBORN, Michigan (Reuters) - When U.S. soldiers raid a cave in
Afghanistan, FBI agent William Kowalski knows to expect a call at his
office in Detroit.
"When a military raid goes on in Kabul, or in a cave, and they find a
computer that contains an address book or names and phone numbers,
invariably I'm going to get a call here that says, 'We did a raid and
there was this 313 (Detroit-region) area code phone number in it.
Check it out,'" Kowalski said.
The Detroit area, and especially the suburb of Dearborn, is home to
the largest Arab American community in the United States, potentially
fertile ground for U.S. officials looking for information and help to
fight the war on terrorism.
Counterterrorism officials are trying to build closer ties to Muslim
and Arab Americans through so-called outreach efforts. These include
townhall meetings, discussions with community leaders and one-on-one
talks with local residents at mosques, schools or cultural events.
Officials hope closer ties will encourage community members -- who are
just as eager to live in safety as other Americans -- to tip off
authorities to suspicious newcomers or militant activities, allowing
agents to foil possible plots before it's too late.
Agents believe immigrant communities may have unique links to conflict
areas and can help them distinguish between useful leads and red
herrings after incidents such as the raids Kowalski described.
But many Muslim and Arab Americans fear the bridge-building initiative
that began after the September 11 attacks means little more than
propaganda, recruitment and spying.
"It's not about reaching out to us and including us," said community
activist Kenwah Dabaja, whose family emigrated to the United States
from Lebanon. "The community is nervous."
Federal, state and local counterterrorism officials say bridging this
gap in understanding is key to protecting the country, but efforts are
stumbling over deep-seated mistrust and suspicions.
Many Arab and Muslim Americans say they have felt the target of racism
and discrimination after the 2001 attacks, and they accuse law
enforcement officials of singling them out for scrutiny in the fight
"One thing everybody is taught in this country is that you are
innocent until proven guilty, but it seems this is not working with
regard to the Muslim community anymore," said Imam Hassan al-Qazwini,
the Iraqi-born head of one of the largest U.S. mosques in Dearborn.
"HAVEN'T DONE ENOUGH"
One senior U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington acknowledged
that "we haven't done enough" to cooperate with Arab and Muslim
immigrants against terrorism.
He said the government had to beef up intelligence gathering at home
by building trust between officials and Americans of Middle Eastern
descent, linking local police more closely into communities and
encouraging residents to volunteer information.
Government agencies as well as state and local law enforcement also
say they are eager to hire Arab Americans so their workforce better
reflects the community.
"Our job is to convince them (community members) that they can trust
us so that they can come forward with information that will further
our investigations, or points us in the right direction if they see
suspicious individuals," said Kowalski, who is the FBI's acting
special agent charge in Detroit.
He said the number of Arab Americans was so large in his area that
almost every U.S. security investigation at home and abroad touched
his community in some way.
Brian Moskowitz, the Detroit-based special agent in charge for the
Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
said intense outreach efforts to community members since the 2001
attacks -- including monthly sessions with Arab and Muslim American
leaders -- had certainly enhanced security cooperation.
"I don't think it (terrorism) is different than any other crime in the
sense that you need to have your sources, your ears and eyes as close
to the action as possible," he said. "Law enforcement in general terms
has gotten information from the community here. They come because they
feel they can."
Michael Bouchard, a Detroit area sheriff who is the only Arab American
running for the Senate this fall, said law enforcement had begun to
take steps to improve security cooperation with the community, "but it
takes time. Every time you have a long-standing misunderstanding and
distrust, it takes times to break that down."
Several community members -- and even one Washington-based official
who spoke on condition of anonymity -- said the authorities were
probably not plugged into the communities well enough to know if any
extremists were lurking there.
Dearborn activist Dabaja said government "outreach" was a misnomer.
"It's not really outreach. To some it's recruiting and propaganda
spreading," she said, adding there was a need for genuine closer ties.
Some community members also feared they were under surveillance,
especially after the disclosure of domestic wiretapping as part of
Imam Qazwini praised the regular meetings senior administration and
law enforcement officials have held with community leaders such as
him, but he said it wasn't enough.
"Outreach means that you treat me equally and respect me like any
other U.S. citizen. You don't look at me with a suspicious eye unless
you have overwhelming evidence," he said.
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