Muslim Americans At Odds Over FBI Contact

March 28, 2009

Author: Jacqueline L. Salmon

Source: The Washington Post

A behind-the-scenes controversy has broken out among Muslim American leaders over a coalition of Muslim organizations' threat to cut off contact with the FBI because of what it calls the agency's "McCarthy-era" tactics.

The coalition of two dozen Muslim American groups said last week that the FBI's treatment of one of its member organizations and what it regards as inappropriate FBI infiltration of mosques have disrupted the growing trust between the agency and the Muslim community. The coalition blasted the FBI, saying in a statement that "these McCarthy-era tactics are detrimental to a free society."

"We are not being treated equally and fairly as citizens of this country," said Agha Saeed, chairman of American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, an umbrella group leading the protest.

But leaders of some of the nation's largest Muslim American organizations that are not part of the coalition say they disagree with a policy of cutting off contact. They say that severing ties with the federal enforcement agency tasked with hunting down homegrown terrorists could make it more difficult to find them and increase public suspicion of the Muslim community.

"Disengagement does not enable mutual understanding. It does the exact opposite," said Aakif Ahmad, who is on the board of advisers for two Muslim American organizations. "Emotive terms like 'McCarthy-era tactics' undermine the hard work on the part of many people seeking to find common ground."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the FBI has had extensive relationships with a number of Muslim American organizations and mosques. Muslim community groups meet monthly with federal agents and also get together more informally.

But now, the coalition says it may halt that. It is aiming its ire at the FBI over two issues: the decision last fall by the FBI to cut off contact with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the nation's largest Muslim American advocacy organizations; and allegations that the FBI is sending informants into mosques to entrap members into making violent statements against the United States.