Reaching Out Across Cultures
Local FBI and Muslim Leaders Try to Establish Better Ties

By Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006

Don't let an FBI investigation be the reason for your first visit to an Arab home, a U.S. Muslim leader told 500 FBI agents gathered at Quantico yesterday, urging them to reach out to Arab communities.

"You say 'FBI' to the average Yousef out there and they picture a middle-aged white guy talking in their sleeve," said Nawar Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "Recent immigrants don't have the comfort level, because in their countries oftentimes the equivalent of the FBI is the secret police."

Shora dispensed his advice to FBI agents from the bureau's second-largest office, the Washington Field Office, as part of an effort by Muslim community leaders and FBI officials to build a more trusting relationship.

Shora and other Muslim leaders met last week over tea and cookies with Joseph Persichini Jr., acting assistant director in charge of the FBI office. The group included representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Sikh American Legal Defense Education Fund, the Arab America Institute, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center.

"We need to reach out and develop better contacts in the Shia community in light of the Lebanon-Israel war," Persichini told the group, gathered around his conference table.

The FBI helped create the group, called the Arab, Muslim and Sikh Advisory Council, after Sept. 11, 2001. They meet about every two months to discuss a range of issues, including hate crimes and concerns about the Patriot Act.

Persichini said the relationships developed through this committee allow him and Muslim leaders to be in constant touch by phone or electronic message. He said he hopes that inroads into the Muslim community will help the FBI attract much-needed Arab American agents. "We have to recruit better," he said.

When Muslim leaders recently learned that an FBI agent wrote an e-mail insinuating that some area Muslim groups were linked to terrorists, they immediately talked by phone to Persichini and Shora said the controversy was resolved.

Two days ago Persichini heard a radio broadcast about a report released by a national Muslim advocacy organization detailing an increase in hate crimes in the Washington area. The report was news to him. "I fired off a BlackBerry message to Arsalan [Iftikhar from the Council on American Islamic Relations]," Persichini said. "I said, 'Hello? Where did that come from?' "

While the report raised questions about overzealous arrests and interrogation practices, Iftikhar told Persichini that he had praised the FBI Washington Field Office at a news conference about the report for its efforts in trying to combat hate crimes in the area.

Two weeks ago, at a Saturday night family gathering at a mosque, Imam Mohammed Magid of the ADAMS Center presented Persichini and the FBI's Washington office an award for service to the Muslim community.

"We don't always agree," said Shora. "But we've come a long way. Communication and understanding equals trust."

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