Members Of L.A.'s Muslim Community Engage In A "Muslim Forum" With The LAPD
Such attempts at partnership have been marred in some parts of the country by allegations that Muslim Americans are unfairly regarded with suspicion by law enforcement. This relationship has been exacerbated by the discovery of allegedly prejudiced practices by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in counterterrorism efforts.
While the media has not publicized the event extensively in the past, the LAPD’s Muslim Forum is a quarterly meeting that takes place at Islamic centers throughout Los Angeles County, and has been occurring for a few years. Last quarter’s forum took place at the Iranian American Muslim Association of North America’s headquarters.
The police department said it presents these meetings as an opportunity for community members to engage with the LAPD in a continued effort to strengthen partnerships with the city’s communities by promoting openness and transparency. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, and various police officers were all in attendance.
In a room filled with about 50 Muslim attendees, Senior Adviser to the Muslim Forum, Salam Al-Marayati, spoke of a positive relationship between the Muslim community and LAPD based on trust, friendship and partnership. He criticized the New York Police Department for their treatment of New York’s Muslims, and praised the local police for treating Los Angeles’ Muslims as equals in the community.
“This is the best model of partnership in the country. We are treated as partners, not as suspects…I remember Chief Downing and the rest of the LAPD saying ‘nothing is going to happen without the understanding and the approval of the Muslim community’,” Al-Marayati said.
While the crowd’s sentiment was one of praise and optimism toward their relationship with the LAPD, areas of concern were voiced as well. Members of the Muslim community said they were worried about news that the government was spying on Muslims and mistrusting them because of their faith in places like New York and Orange County. The biggest concern raised at the forum was related to the recent discovery that the FBI and Department of Justice participated in training measures in Virginia that promoted intolerance and what the Muslim community called “Islamophobia” within the government, as well as false information about their faith.
“Is there an investigation to see how this happened in the FBI? There must be some sort of undercurrent. There must be several levels that would allow something like that to happen,” one attendee said during the question and answer session.
Reports said the FBI’s counterterrorism training was teaching agents that the average Muslim American is likely a terrorist sympathizer, that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader” and that charity practices within the Islamic faith are nothing more than a means to fund terrorist activity. These claims, which depict the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions as an indicator of a terrorist threat, are all listed in FBI training materials on Islam that “Wired” acquired in September.
Members of L.A.’s Muslim community were not the only ones made uneasy by the FBI’s actions. Andre Birotte, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the central district of California, also expressed distaste with the training practices at the meeting.
”I was stunned, quite frankly. I want you all to know that those [practices] certainly do not represent the views of the U.S. Attorney’s office throughout the nation, or the views of the Department of Justice. For us, hearing this news was a disappointment…to have this come out was disheartening,” Birotte said.
The Fiqh Council of North America, a Muslim group that interprets Islamic law in both the U.S. and Canada, issued a Fatwa (or Islamic ruling) in light of the FBI’s training program, calling on Muslims for increased cooperation and involvement in the community. The organization’s chairman, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, said it is false and misleading to suggest that being a faithful Muslim and being a loyal American citizen are mutually exclusive notions. Echoing the Fatwa, he said that these anti-Islamic beliefs are unfit for civilized people and are a betrayal of American values. The crowd agreed, and his statement was met with a roar of applause.
“The Sharia, contrary to misrepresentations, is a comprehensive and broad guidance for all aspects of a Muslim’s life--spiritual, moral, social and legal. Secular legal systems in Western democracies...are generally compatible with Islamic Sharia,” Dr. Siddiqi added.
U.S. Attorney Birotte agreed with Siddiqi and said his priority is the enforcement of civil rights for the Muslim community and for the L.A. community at large. He called the FBI practices unacceptable, and asked that the community work with him to educate the public and create awareness. Birotte also said the FBI matter will not go unnoticed or unpunished.
“There is an investigation to find out what happened. At least our research indicates that it was one analyst who put forth this training…The Department of Justice is auditing all training to see what is being told to people. Luckily we haven’t heard any other stories. But absolutely, it is being looked at,” Birotte said.
In response to Birotte’s request for continued community dialogue, community members asked the LAPD and the U.S. Attorney how they could help ensure similar civil rights violations would not occur in L.A.
“From my view, the expectation is to partner with us, to keep your community safe. Learn how to use the government to your advantage and build those relationships. Really get involved…let the marketplace of ideas rise to the surface and let those that aren’t worthy diminish. They can be called fools, and we will build our strength that way,” Deputy Chief Downing said.
With the FBI’s faulty training practices still under scrutiny and investigation, it is unclear what the outcome will be. Both the Chief and Deputy Chief will be in Chicago Friday to discuss issues of constitutional policing (like the ones mentioned above) at a national meeting of major city police chiefs. For now, members of Los Angeles’ Muslim community will continue to work with the LAPD and government officials to strengthen their partnership and prevent situations like those seen in Virginia and New York.
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