You knew this was coming: the Seattle office of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has come out against the FBI's release of photos of two men observed acting suspiciously aboard as many as six different Seattle-area ferry routes in recent week.
The Seattle Times - which published the photos at the FBI's request - reported Thursday that CAIR-Washington "resented" the release of the photos, which the FBI released in order to enlist the public in helping identify and locate the men so the FBI could talk to them. (CAIR also has an excerpted version of the Seattle Times story on its website.)
Muslim- and Arab-American leaders are upset that the FBI didn't consult them — as it has done in other instances — before releasing the photos on the Internet and to news organizations. They worry that the action may fracture the relationship the agency and the community have carefully built.
According to the Seattle Times, Rita Zawaideh, head of the city's Arab-American Community Coalition, is demanding an "apology," and charging that the FBI releasing the photos amounts to racial profiling because the FBI was "insinuating" that the men in the photographs were Arabs.
Of course, the FBI consistently stressed that it was interested in speaking with the mystery men not because of their skin color, ethnicity or religious affiliation, none of which can be determined from the photos anway, but because of the men's suspicious activities aboard the ferries, including expressing an inordinate level of interest in the operation of the vessel, taking photographs of the interiors of the boats and venturing into areas of the ferries that tourists and commuters don't normally go,
The Times's story begins oddly:
For Arabs and Muslims across the Puget Sound area, a rise in the nation's threat level or a bombing halfway around the world often can mark a period of unease.
Apparently the Seattle Times believes non-Arabs and non-Muslims are nonplussed by a rise in the nation's threat level or a terorist boming halfway around the world, and that the real victims of the war on terror are Seattle's Arabs and Muslims who sometimes feel uneasy about what people think about them after a big terrorist attack halfway around the world that happens to involve Muslims.
Let's continue with the Seattle Times story:
The FBI has stressed that the release of the photos is a rare move, taken only after it had exhausted other efforts to identify the men. The agency also has said the men's actions could be innocuous, but it needs to question them.
Dozens of Muslims and Arabs have complained to community leaders about the photographs. The fallout has led to a meeting planned today between Muslim- and Arab-American community leaders and law-enforcement officials. "We need to get some type of apology from them and figure out how to get back to where we were," said Rita Zawaideh, head of the Arab-American Community Coalition.
The paper later says Zawaideh she met with FBI officials about a different incident three days before the agency released the photos of the two men. But the FBI didn't bring up the photos at that meeting, which Zawaideh thinks was a mistake.
"Why not ask us then and we would have had a way to ask people in the community," she said.
But David Gomez, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle office, told the Times that while the agency needs to address certain sensitive issues, the "people in those communities have to get over this sensitivity toward feeling victimized."
Many passengers have been stopped and questioned recently, as the ferry system has stepped up security once the FBI concluded the men might be watching the system. The stops are based on activities, not skin color, Gomez said.
Two days ago, a Seattle Times photographer, who is white, was stopped and questioned after taking photographs near the Mukilteo ferry terminal.
Did you get that? The fact of the white Times photographer being stopped and questioned after taking photos near a ferry terminal proves that law enforcement isn't profiling and targeting Arabs and Muslims on the ferry system undermines the basic thrust of the the overall story - that law enforcement's focus on Arabs and Muslims is causing "unease" in the city's Arab/Muslim community.
Because of its own photographer's experience, the Seattle Times knows that law enforcement isn't profiling and singling out Arabs and Muslims on the ferry system - it should have included this information much higher in the story.
The Seattle Times story continues...
The FBI didn't take the photos of the two men to the Arab- and Muslim-American community because the agency doesn't know if the men are Middle Eastern, Gomez added. "That seems potentially prejudicial to me, and in some ways worse than simply putting [the photos] out the way we did," Gomez said. "It is not us saying these guys look Middle Eastern."
Zawaideh countered: "They're not saying these men are Arabs, but insinuating they are."
She doesn't give any evidence of that insinuation.
The story continues:
Both Zawaideh and S. Arsalan Bukhari, president of the Seattle chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), say their organizations have been receiving more reports lately involving allegations of discrimination.
Bukhari said he's heard of delays at the border, as well as cases of people being asked questions at the airport and searched so thoroughly they missed their flights.
Aziz Junejo, who hosts a cable TV show on Islam and who writes a column from the Islamic perspective for The Seattle Times, said a group of Muslim kids who were planning a trip to the Olympic Mountains this weekend phoned to ask if he thought they should take the trip.
"I said: 'I would stay off the ferry if I were you.' "
It isn't the FBI that's spreading unease among Seattle's Muslim community - it's people like Rita Zawaideh and Aziz Junejo.
As for CAIR-Washington's president, Arsalan Bukhari, he seems to be more level headed. Last March, Bukhari and the Seattle chapter of CAIR defied the national CAIR and participated in a United American Committee rally against Islamofacism.