The Worrisome Split Between FBI and U.S. Muslim Groups

After years of partnership, friendly relations are starting to fray

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For years, American Muslim groups have partnered arm-in-arm with the FBI, working to help root out extremists and protect American national security. But the New York Times reports that this could be changing. Muslim groups complain that the FBI has grown increasingly aggressive and antagonistic, utilizing tactics--such as infiltrating mosques--that alienate Muslims, making future support less likely. Is the once strong relationship between American Muslim groups and law enforcement officials in trouble?

  • Turning Allies Into Antagonists Spencer Ackerman warns that FBI officials "depend on close community relations in order to distinguish between real threats and overblown fears. Much like how the best counterinsurgency practices in Iraq and Afghanistan depend on enabling a community to basically police itself, American Muslim leaders will either be partners in the effort -- or, if treated as a bunch of targets of suspicion themselves, through intensified surveillance and arm-twisting to inform, they could withhold cooperation to everyone's detriment." Ackerman condemns the "destructive behavior," writing, "Treat entire communities like an undifferentiated threat and they'll react accordingly."
  • Don't Abuse Muslims For Intel The American Prospect's Adam Serwer laments, "As I've said before, a positive relationship between American Muslim communities and law enforcement is a crucial national security issue. But if Muslims are viewed by law enforcement merely as potential terrorists, informants, or -- as the article put it -- part of a terrorism 'early warning system' rather than American citizens who are entitled to the same rights and protections as everyone else, then establishing and maintaining that relationship will ultimately prove difficult."
  • Why Muslim Groups And FBI Must Partner The Guardian's Wajahat Ali notes the case of Virginia-based Muslim-Americans who, when they discovered their sons had fled to join militants in Pakistan, consulted with a prominent Muslim group that promptly informed U.S. law enforcement. "[T]he Virginia Muslim community's private and public response to the arrest of five of their young people marks a decisive change of proactive engagement with law enforcement resulting from mutual trust and open communication." He writes:
Muslim American communities, law enforcement, and those who espouse prejudicial rhetoric nurtured by fear should reframe their reactionary narratives, which often paint one another as villains and enemies. This recent example illustrates that law enforcement agencies and Muslim American communities can no longer live in culturally isolated cocoons. Both parties are civic agents and citizens of the same country who must have respectful interaction to yield the greatest chance at curbing extremism and dissolving mutual mistrust.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.