The FBI's controversial Muslim manual
The FBI's controversial Muslim manualA discontinued FBI training manual about Islam and Arab culture is generating controversy online.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has obtained a 62-page PowerPoint training presentation used by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to teach new recruits ways to deal with "individuals from the M.E. [Middle East] during interviews and interrogations. The briefing provides facts about Muslims and their religion, many of which the ACLU claims are "biased and demeaning" and reveal an over-simplified understanding of Islamic and Arabic culture.
The ACLU notes that though the briefing encourages a respectful tone in places, it offers many ideas about Islam that are "inaccurate, biased, and unfair". On a slide entitled "Language", one bullet point reads: "It is the characteristic of the Arabic mind to be swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts." On a slide entitled "Islam 101", four bullet points are listed: "No separation between church and state. / Hard for Westerners to understand. / Transforms country's culture into 7th century Arabian ways. / Regulates most aspects of life." In the ACLU's statement the organisation expresses concern that this represents an overreach in what the FBI should be looking at: "The briefing presents much information that has nothing to do with crime prevention and everything to do with constitutionally-protected religious practice and social behavior…"
Wired's Danger Room blog reported on the presentation and received this statement from representatives at the FBI: "The FBI new agent population at Quantico is exposed to a diverse curriculum in many specific areas, including Islam and Muslim culture. The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced." While the training document is no longer in use, the latest revision date listed on its first page is January 15, 2009.
Former FBI agent Mike German joined us today on The Stream. German is now policy counsel for the ACLU and explained why the ACLU filed the Freedom of Information Act request that led to the release of the briefing. "The reason why we asked for these materials is because we are seeing communities being targetted inappropriately," he explained. "We want the FBI to focus their investigations on people they have evidence of doing wrong. What we're concerned about is where the FBI has targetted groups because of their religious beliefs or because of their political beliefs."
Via Skype, Alejandro Beutel of the Muslim Public Affairs Council argued for the value of engaging with the law enforcement community. Beutel, who favoured active engagement, explained that according to his organisation's research, "two out of every five al-Qaeda-related plots threatening our nation since 9-11 have been foiled with the assistance of Muslim community members." Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslims Coalition disagreed, voicing his concerns about the collection of general information about Islam and Muslim-American communities: "What I want the FBI to do is when they investigate a person who happens to be Muslim I want them to investigate him on suspicion of some crime not on some perception of what his religion is or what his religious practices are."
German voiced the concern of the ACLU: "What is the purpose of the engagement? If the FBI is coming to explain how this happened…and how they're going to fix their training, then that's fine. But if they're coming to a group of people…and using that for intelligence purposes trying to collect information generally about the Muslim community, that is wrong."
These are some of the social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream.