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Better Understanding Muslim Perspectives and Muslim Beliefs

Better Understanding Muslim Perspectives and Muslim Beliefs

Remarks by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, at the Annual Conference of the American Muslim Council. Alexandria, Virginia, June 28, 2002. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Thank you, Dr. Basha, for the introduction, and good afternoon everyone.

I appreciate the invitation to talk with you today, to talk to you about the relationship of the FBI with the American Muslim community. I am here because we must all be in this war against terrorism together and because a sound and trusting relationship with the Muslim community can only bear the fruit of a safer nation for us all. I appreciate the help and support many in the American Muslim communities have already given us, especially over the past nine months, and I call on you, as Americans, to continue working with us to defeat terror. As we all know, it will be a long and difficult struggle.

I realize that like all Americans, Muslim Americans have been deeply impacted by the events of September 11. You lost family, friends, and fellow Muslims that day.

And I know that the American Muslim community has suffered in other ways from the events of September 11. Sadly, some individuals in this country have questioned the loyalty of some Muslim Americans to this country just because of their race and religion. In some cases, American Muslims have been targets of discrimination and hateful words. Some houses of worship have been damaged and desecrated. A number of Muslim Americans -- and others wrongly believed to be Muslims -- have been threatened, attacked, and even killed. These attacks against you and your communities are not only reprehensible, like terrorism, they are attacks against humanity.

At a time like this, when you are vulnerable, it is important that you have access to your government. That is why, within hours of the attacks, the FBI opened a dialogue with many Muslim and Arab American organizations. This is not the first time we have worked together; we have had a productive and beneficial relationship with the members of your community for several years. But we did come together with a new sense of urgency. We were told of concerns about retaliatory attacks in your communities in the wake of the terrorist hijackings, and we in the FBI promised to do something about it.

In response to your concerns, the President, the Attorney General, and I all emphatically stressed that such attacks would not be tolerated and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And we followed through on that commitment. In the days following September 11, the FBI investigated numerous attacks and threats against Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Americans. In all, we have launched more than 360 investigations in concert with state and local law enforcement. Well over 100 individuals have already been charged with federal, state, and local crimes. Fortunately, the number of retaliatory assaults dropped off quickly, but our commitment to aggressive investigations remains as strong as ever. And we appreciate all the support your communities and others have given us in identifying victims and bringing to justice those who have committed these terrible acts.

Even as we have investigated these hate crimes, we in the FBI have continued to build our relationships with the American Muslim community in other areas. Shortly after the attacks, and again in February, I met personally with a number of American Muslim leaders to discuss our September 11 investigation and to hear their thoughts and concerns. In September, we also asked our 56 field offices to reach out to Muslim Americans in their communities, to address your concerns, to build relationships, and to ask once again for help.

As I prepared to talk with you today, I asked our Special Agents in Charge to update me on the steps they had taken. Their response was overwhelming. They wrote back with story after story of productive meetings, insights, generosity, and substantive assistance. In all, our field offices attended more than 500 meetings and made some 6,000 personal contacts in Muslim and Arab American communities. They went to mosques, town halls, and media briefings. They held recruiting drives. They invited -- and graduated -- members of Muslim communities at FBI Citizens' Academies.

At the same time, many in the American Muslim community have come forward to support the FBI in very visible ways. Many leaders have generously sent educational materials to our field offices and to our headquarters. They have taken the time to talk with our Agents and support professionals to help them better understand Muslim perspectives and Muslim beliefs. Muslim Americans have cooperated with our interviews and supported our investigations. In some cases, Arab American newspapers have even provided us with useful information. The active work of many in the American Muslim community in cities nationwide has merited public thanks and praise.

But perhaps the greatest act of support has been the way Muslim and Arab Americans have responded to our urgent need for translators. Six days after September 11, I announced that the FBI was seeking Arabic and Farsi language experts. The response was extraordinary. Within hours, our switchboard was overwhelmed with calls. Those who came forward included doctors, lawyers, engineers, academics -- Muslim and Arab Americans from all walks of life who were willing to quit their jobs, come to work for the FBI, and give something back to their country in the fight against terrorism.

As a result, we have doubled our number of Arabic translators and linguists, and many more candidates are in the process of being hired. Already, these language experts have made important contributions. They have helped us substantially reduce the backlog of materials needing to be translated. They have gone to Guantanamo Bay to help us interview prisoners. They have supported our FBI offices around the world.

Again, I want to thank the many Muslim Americans who have provided help to the FBI over the past nine months. It has been invaluable. At the same time, I ask you again in the strongest of terms for your continued support. Because the reality is, we need it more than ever.

Make no mistake about it, our country remains vulnerable to attack. Day after day, intelligence about potential attacks continues to pour in from across the globe, prompting warnings and keeping our nation in a permanent state of alert. Time after time, Al Qaeda has openly threatened America, saying more attacks are on the way.

The President has asked the FBI to do everything in its power -- within the bounds of the Constitution -- to prevent the next attack in concert with our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. We are fully committed to doing so. But it is no easy task. Our society is so open, our population so large, our landmarks so plentiful, and our borders so extensive. We must head off attacks and track down terrorists and those who support terrorism in our own cities and neighborhoods, and we must also be there to help every nation where America has a presence and every country where terrorism has put down roots.

To prevent terrorism we must have: excellent intelligence work; superior analytic capability; robust investigations; state-of-the-art technology, seamless partnerships; and the strong support of the people -- all people. The FBI is racing to improve in every one of those areas, and that is driving what is perhaps the most fundamental transformation in our history. We have restructured our Headquarters. We have created a range of prevention programs that simply didn't exist before September 11, and refocused many that did. With nearly half-a-billion dollars in funds from Congress, we are overhauling our technology as quickly as we can given how far behind current capabilities we are today. To vastly improve our ability to manage and analyze information, we are hiring a crop of new analysts, borrowing resources from agencies like the CIA, and improving the skills of those on board. And we are rethinking and rebuilding relationships with a range of organizations and agencies, including our 650,000 colleagues in law enforcement nationwide.

All of this is putting a tremendous strain on the men and women of the FBI. They are working long hours, missing dinners and soccer games and birthdays, all so that they don't miss that one lead that might prevent the next attack. They are changing how they do things in mid-stream, adjusting to a vast array of changes in their operations. They are reaching out to their many colleagues, coordinating with every agency under the sun, in ways they have never done before.

It is clear, however, that the men and women of the FBI can't do it all alone. The Bureau has 11,000 Agents, about one quarter of New York City's police force.

We are one nation, and we are all in this together. The FBI needs the support not just of its law enforcement and intelligence partners; we need the support of every person within our borders. There is no question that all of you can help. You can help us better understand your communities and the concerns of those who live in them. You can help by telling us about suspicious behavior, as thousands of Americans have done since September 11. You can help by staying alert wherever you might be, like the courageous flight attendants and passengers who foiled the "shoe bomber" over the waters of the Atlantic. Most especially, you can help by working to overcome the differences that separate us all, the dividing lines of beliefs, and culture that incite terrorism and support for terrorism.

We also need help educating our Agents in dealing with Muslim communities here and around the world. The more culturally fluent our investigators are, the more effective and respectful our investigations will be. For some time, the FBI has incorporated ethics and cultural diversity into new Agent training and continuing education programs for all Bureau employees. But we need to do more. And you can help us do so.

Let me give an example. Almost a year before the attacks of September 11 an Agent from our Atlanta Field Office went to interview two women originally from Afghanistan. The interview went well. The Agent handled himself professionally, and he treated both of these individuals with respect and courtesy. But he later found out that he had inadvertently violated Afghan culture by sitting down in the home of these two women without an Afghan adult male present. Later that day, two Agents and four Afghan representatives met over dinner to bridge the gap of differences. Everyone came away with a better understanding of each other's concerns and perspectives. That dinner was a success and the ultimate result was an FBI program called "Bridging the Gap" that is raising awareness and understanding among Atlanta immigrants in concert with a local project of the same name.

Now, let me fast forward to just this month. In the first week in June, we held a four-day training conference for FBI managers. As part of that training, we brought in a panel of diverse speakers, including a local Imam who articulated the viewpoints and concerns of the Muslim American community. And this past Tuesday, Dr. Aziza Al-Hibri was kind enough to participate in a nationwide satellite broadcast on Arab-American and Islamic Cultural Awareness for FBI investigators, our multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and U.S. Attorneys.

In the months to come, we have still more plans underway. Next month, we will begin a national program to begin counter-terrorism training for every member of our many Joint Terrorist Task Forces, including at least four hours on the tenets and cultures of Islam. We're also expanding similar training for new and current Agents.

As I finish, I would like to return for a moment to the impact of the events of September 11th, to the importance of building a relationship between the Muslim community and the FBI, and to issues that may strain our best intentions in that regard.

As I am sure you are aware, my appearance here today has generated some controversy. And while that did not deter me from coming, as with most such matters I believe it is best to address it openly. My reason for being here is simple: to continue our discussion and help build a relationship that I am convinced is beneficial to us all. But I think it is also important to be open and frank about the concerns of those who urged me not to attend.

Like all Americans, you were shocked and outraged by the terrorist hijackings and quickly condemned them. As Dr. Basha has said, echoing sentiments across the nation, Muslim Americans felt violated by the attacks, and he wasted no time in denouncing those horrible acts in the strongest language possible.

Nonetheless, you have not always spoken with one voice. Unfortunately, persons associated with this organization have in the past made statements that indicate support for terrorism and for terrorist organizations. I think we can -- Muslims and non-Muslim alike -- justifiably be outraged by such statements. No perceived political or other agenda justifies acts of terrorism. We must be, as Dr. Basha is, loud in our condemnation of acts of terrorism.

We must -- again, together -- speak out against terrorism, and -- again, together -- act to thwart terrorism. As we move forward into the future, what's clear is that we are operating in a different and dangerous environment, one that requires all of us to be more aware and more diligent when it comes to our security. America has always been a land of diversity, a nation rich in ethnic and cultural chemistry. But what has always seen us through the tough times is our unity. All through history, Americans have found a way to put aside their differences and to step forward with courage in times of need.

World War II was such a time, and there are many examples of Americans who overcame years of adversity to make a profound difference for the future. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of courageous and spirited African-Americans, who battled discrimination long before they took on the enemy in the skies of Europe. Like the Navajo Indians who, with their beautiful and sophisticated native language nearing extinction, created a code for the Marines in the Pacific Theater, a code that could never be cracked.

Today, America faces a new, potentially more dangerous global conflict. The threat is elusive, with ever shifting terrorist tactics and enemies who are nearly invisible. The weapons are instruments of terror: from explosive-laden vehicles to "dirty bombs." And the front lines are right here at home, in our own streets and cities and neighborhoods.

We need to pull together as a nation. We in the FBI need to do our part, and we are counting on the American Muslim community to do its part. I look forward to working with members of your community in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you very much.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).