Some Muslims rethink close ties to law enforcement

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NEWARK, New Jersey – Mohammad Qatanani’s mosque was full of FBI agents the night before he was to find out if he would be deported.

NEWARK, New Jersey – Mohammad Qatanani’s mosque was full of FBI agents the night before he was to find out if he would be deported.

But even though the federal government was trying to link Qatanani to foreign extremists, the agents weren’t there to keep an eye on him. They wanted to show their support for a Muslim leader they considered a valued ally for the relationships he helped forge between the FBI and Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

Across the nation, such grassroots relationships between Muslims and the federal government are in jeopardy. A coalition of Muslim groups is calling for Muslims to stop cooperating with the FBI – not on national security or safety issues but on community outreach.

The coalition is upset over what it says is increasing government surveillance in mosques, new Justice Department guidelines that the groups say encourage profiling, and the FBI’s recent suspension of ties with the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A petition that opposes FBI tactics is circulating in Muslim communities and has been gaining support, said coalition chairman Agha Saeed. The coalition, represented by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, has requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss what it sees as the deteriorating relationship between the FBI and Muslim communities.

“We have to decide what we’re doing as a country. If it’s not a war on Islam, then these practices must be stopped,” Saeed said. “We’re not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.”

A number of Muslim groups – including some of the nation’s most prominent – have declined to sign the petition. Other organizations say they agree with parts of the petition but also support ongoing dialogue with law enforcement.

FBI spokesman John Miller said the agency values its relationships with Muslims and has worked hard on outreach efforts that range from town hall meetings to diversity training for FBI agents.

“I think a lot of these inaccurate statements and claims have the potential to do damage to those relationships,” Miller said. “What we’ve suggested to the major (Muslim) groups is that we try to separate the real issues from the sound bites, and if we can identify those real issues, tackle them together.”

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