How are we as Americans supposed to have faith in our law enforcement when those who teach them causally throw in racial and religious slurs in their training materials and use gross stereotypes to “explain” who American Muslims really are?
In the three years since Wired magazine broke the story that the FBI was training agents using materials bigoted against Muslims, the agency has apparently done very little to address the problem. In fact, recently released documents suggest that the FBI and NSA may still be using materials that equate being Muslim with being a national security risk.
The documents revealed in 2011 showed that the FBI was providing agents with false and terribly biased information, such as “mainstream” Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader,” and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.” Advocacy groups and members of Congress demanded that the inaccurate, offensive materials be purged and that a thorough review be conducted to make sure other problematic materials were not being used. But those concerns were met with a minimal response from the government.
The FBI did purge several hundred pages of documents “because they were inaccurate or over-broad, others because they were offensive.” Notably, however, no public accounting has been given to show that a more comprehensive, government-wide review ever took place, or that officers and agents who were tainted by the biased and inaccurate trainings were ever re-trained. Furthermore, there’s no account of any disciplinary action against those responsible for preparing and providing the trainings.
With virtually no corrective action taken (at least publicly) to address the problem of biased trainings, in July 2014, The Intercept broke the story of government surveillance of Muslim community leaders, which included a template document that had “Mohammed Raghead” as the placeholder target of FBI or NSA surveillance. Additional documents revealed instructions for NSA analysts to search databases with “Mohammed Badguy” as a sample search.
There is an apparent culture in certain parts of the law enforcement and intelligence-gathering community that views Muslims as inherently suspect and worthy targets of suspicionless surveillance. For some government officials, using religious slurs to describe Muslims is acceptable. In the words of then-White House advisor John Brennan that culture “runs completely counter to our [American] values [and] our commitment to strong partnerships with communities across the country.”
After the slurs recently became public, the White House decried “the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees” as “both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values.” The White House ordered the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to undertake an assessment of Intelligence Community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and, as necessary, make any recommendations, changes, or additional reforms.
Rather than conduct a meaningful assessment of the deep-seated problem, the DNI chose only to expand multicultural and diversity sensitivity training and re-establish an external advisory board on diversity and inclusion. In the end, neither the White House nor the DNI has made known plans to take genuine corrective action to address the entrenched problem of anti-Muslim sentiment that afflicts law enforcement and intelligence-gathering activities by the government.
In response to the government’s failure to adequately address the persistent problem of federal officials using bigoted training materials, a diverse coalition of 75 organizations, including Muslim Advocates, the ACLU, the NAACP, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Interfaith Alliance, the National Muslim Law Students Association and other leading faith based, and civil and privacy rights organizations sent a letter to the White House demanding an across-the-board audit of law enforcement and intelligence gathering materials, re-training for agents tainted by biased training, disciplinary action against those engaging in discriminatory conduct, and a ban on federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies that use biased training materials.
The status quo cannot stand. The government has a constitutional duty to carry out its important responsibility to keep us safe in a manner that does not denigrate a particular religion. Americans of all faiths deserve better.
This blog post was also published in The Islamic Monthly.