Bay Area Muslim organizations hold first-of-its-kind FBI training on Islamophobia

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024
Bay Area Muslim organizations hold new FBI training on Islamophobia
The rise in Islamophobia across the U.S. has been well documented. The challenge now is how Muslim Americans can work with the FBI to stop it.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The rise in Islamophobia across the U.S. has been well documented. The challenge now is how Muslim Americans can work with the FBI to stop it.

"We want (the FBI) to be partners with us in preventing and responding to hate," says Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director of Islamic Networks Group, or ING, based in the South Bay.

"One out of two Muslim students are bullied based on their religion. And according to other polls, Muslim communities experience more prejudice than any other religious community in their interaction with law enforcement," she says.

ING led a first-of-its-kind training with almost 200 agents and officials from the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department at the FBI field office in San Francisco. They were joined by several other Muslim American organizations.

"The kind of training that federal agencies were getting wasn't coming directly from Muslim Americans. And that is why this training was significant," explains Elgenaidi. "We were able to discuss the topics that we wanted to discuss, who we are and how the public views Muslims."

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Elgenaidi says Islamophobia is not happening in a vacuum. The training addressed how Islamophobia is more than just outright bigotry and racism. It includes stereotypes and misinformation, which lead to institutional discrimination against Muslim Americans - all the way up to national security policy.

"Lack of trust that has always existed between the FBI and the Muslim Americans communities where Muslim Americans have been viewed from the lens of national security," says Elgenaidi.

"I would say even before 9/11, in the last 50 years, the American Muslim community has been treated as a suspect community," says Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, one of the groups that participated.

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His presentation attempted to exposed how millions of dollars are spent to fund Islamophobia, which influences federal policy. He says it is critical for agencies like the FBI to understand the connection between Islamophobia and national security policies, like President Trump's 2017 Muslim travel ban, which blocked refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"That is we have watch lists. That's why there is harassment and discrimination and profiling at airports. That is why there is banking discrimination," says Al-Marayati. "I think they were surprised and gained a lot of awareness when I was able to draw that path between funding Islamophobia and how that manifests itself in national security policy."

FBI Special agent Robert Tripp, who is in charge of San Francisco's field office, says this type of meeting helps to bridge the gap with Muslim Americans.

"One of the concerns that came up is how the Muslim community are perceived by other communities and government servants, indeed law enforcement. So I am gaining their perspective. That was helpful for us to in developing communication strategies," says Special Agent Tripp.

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Elgenaidi hopes more outreach by the FBI will encourage more Muslim American to report hate crimes and hate incidents.

"If we want to change policy, it starts with education," says Elgenaidi.

"And dealing with hate crimes, it is very important for the community to trust the FBI when it is coming in to our communities and investigating hate crime," adds Al-Marayati. "Trust is at an all-time low. It is in a deficit actually. Then people are not going to report hate crimes."

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