Monday, September 12, 2011
FBI outreach program offends Muslims by including Ayatollah Khomeini's image in discussion of state-sponsored terrorism
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.