FBI ends up offending Muslims at outreach workshop
A Saturday outreach event between representatives from Seattle police, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office was meant to improve their relationship with the Muslim, Arab, East African and Sikh communities in the Seattle area, but it ended up offending some participants.
Seattle Times staff reporter
FBI agents participating in an outreach workshop Saturday hoped to improve their relationship with Seattle's Muslim, Arab, East African and Sikh communities, but ended up offending some participants.
About 20 community leaders attended the workshop at North Seattle Community College, which featured presentations by the FBI, Seattle police and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The event was aimed at improving communication and building trust between law enforcement and communities that feel targeted and profiled by authorities.
A Seattle Police Department presentation on the rights of citizens when approached by an officer was well-received.
But the event grew confrontational during the FBI's presentation, which community members complained was too focused on Islamic terrorist groups. Then, the agents showed a PowerPoint slide about state-sponsored terrorism that included a photograph of a man many in the audience believed was a Shia Islamic leader based on his clothes. Several people in the audience asked whether it was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a political and religious leader who led the 1979 Iranian Revolution and died in 1989.
The photo was small, and the two FBI agents giving the presentation said they didn't know who it was. That offended members of the audience even more, and one of them compared it to calling the pope a terrorist or serving pork to Muslims.
Afterward, event organizer Amin Odeh said he'd have to do "damage control" to try to explain to the community what happened.
"I was ready to walk out, but this is exactly why we need to do things like this," he said. "Maybe in their eyes they're small things, but to the community they're huge things."
Turnout to the event was small. Distrust of law enforcement is so fierce that some Muslims refused to attend, said Jeff Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American and Lynnwood real-estate agent who is a member of American Muslims of Puget Sound.
"Most Muslims are not coming because they feel that the door is closed to them, so why would they come to a PR class?" he said.
While the Muslim community's relationship with city government has improved under Mayor Mike McGinn, Siddiqui said those in the Muslim community do not enjoy the same relationship with Police Chief John Diaz.
A Police Department detective at the meeting weighed in on the FBI's presentation, explaining that whoever was in the photograph, "The community is tired of seeing their images represented" in presentations about terrorism.
The FBI presentation was led by Seattle agents Brenda Wilson and Daniel Guerrero. They wouldn't comment to the media afterward, but during a question-and-answer session they told community leaders they welcomed their feedback.
Guerrero said the reason the FBI came to the meeting was to hear from community members. He acknowledged the FBI is "an agency of people" and is therefore imperfect.
"First of all, the FBI does not profile," he said. "We don't target because of religion. We don't target because of race. We don't care about that. We care about protecting America."
Many attendees said they have had bad experiences with the FBI, so the agent's denial that profiling ever occurs undermined the rest of the conversation.
"When you say you don't profile — and our reality is you do — you negate everything else you say," Siddiqui told them.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
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