The FBI was teaching new recruits about Muslims with a PowerPoint presentation that recommended they read anti-Islam books, according to a grainy copy of the PowerPoint obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Northern California chapter and the Asian Law Caucus, a San Francisco-based civil rights group.
The two groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year inquiring about government surveillance of American Muslim communities. The 62-page document, first reported by the Danger Room, was designed to help agents perform “successful interviews/interrogations with individuals from the Middle East.”
Spencer Ackerman of the Danger Room says as recently as January 2009, the FBI thought its agents ought to know the following crucial information about Muslims: (1) They engage in a “circumcision ritual.” (2) More than 9,000 of them are in the U.S. military (3) Their religion “transforms [a] country’s culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.”
Ackerman went on to say that the FBI “recommended reading” about Islam included: (a) A much-criticized tome, The Arab Mind, that one reviewer called “a collection of outrageously broad — and often suspect — generalizations” (b) A book by one of Norwegian terrorist suspect Anders Behring Breivik’s favorite anti-Muslim authors.
Tellingly, the books included on a “Recommended Reading” slide were The Politically Incorrect Guide To Islam and The Truth About Muhammad by anti-Muslim blogger Robert Spencer, who was cited 64 times by the Oslo massacre terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in his manifesto.
It may be recalled that Robert Spencer, who runs anti-Muslim Jihad Watch blog, is the co-founder of Stop the Islamization of America, which “promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. He is also one of the ringleaders of the protest against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York.
Another book cited is The Arab Mind, by Raphael Patai. The Racism Watch organization reported in June 2004 that Columbia University director of African American Studies, Manning Marable, had called for immediate action to be taken to end the U.S. military’s use the book. This was followed by a surge of media interest in the book during the summer of 2004. The book was described by Guardian Newspaper correspondent Brian Whitaker as one that presents “an overwhelmingly negative picture of the Arabs.” In an article in the New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh said that he was told by an academic that the book was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” [Wikipedia]
Slides paint Islam in a less malicious light
Ackerman pointed out that the Power Point briefing presents much information that has nothing to do with crime and everything to do with constitutionally-protected religious practice and social behavior, such as estimating the number of mosques in America and listing the states with the largest Muslim populations.
He went on to say that other slides paint Islam in a less malicious light, and one urges “respectful liaison” as a “proactive approach” to engaging Muslims. But even those exhibit what one American Muslim civil rights leader calls “the understanding of a third grader, and, even then, a badly misinformed third grader.”
Ackerman said that in recent years, law enforcement agencies around the country have proven receptive to anti-Muslim crusaders. The Washington Monthly recently reported on the “growing profession” of terrorism consultants who get paid to make “sweeping generalizations about Muslims” to rapt audiences of cops. Adam Serwer at the American Prospect reports that another Breivik favorite, Walid Shoebat, also gets government cash to tell police things like “Islam is the devil.”
The FBI has now stopped using the PowerPoint
The FBI says that the presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced and that Spencer’s book was no longer recommended to new recruits but said the FBI agents were encouraged to seek out a variety of viewpoints.
This came in a statement the FBI issued in response to queries from Danger Room of Spencer Ackerman about the PowerPoint: “The FBI new agent population at Quantico is exposed to a diverse curriculum in many specific areas, including Islam and Muslim culture. The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced. It was a small part of a larger segment of training that also included material produced by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point.”
Mike German of the ACLU expresses concern
Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works for the ACLU, told TPM that educating agents with that type of material can only lead to abuse down the road. “Certainly I was concerned with the approach the FBI was taking post-9/11, which is why I’m no longer with the FBI,” Mike German said. “I am shocked to see that this type of training material was produced in 2009.”
“The FBI is made up of human beings, and human beings make mistakes, but one would have thought by 2009 they would have understood this issue a little more clearly and realized how offensive that material would be read,” German said.
“Clearly there needs to be some greater oversight, because it is dangerous to put disinformation in the hands of law enforcement officers who are later going to be responsible for implementing FBI programs and policies,” German said. “It could seriously have a detrimental effect if agents are trained in a biased manner.”
Farhana Khera, the head of Muslim Advocates, a group that provides legal assistance, said that the FBI’s endorsement of Spencer’s book was “deplorable and offensive.” “Based on this presentation, it is easy to see why so many in law enforcement and the FBI view American Muslims with ignorance and suspicion,” Farhana Khera, told the Danger Room. “The presentation appears to treat all Muslims with one broad brush and makes no distinction between lawful religious practice and beliefs and unlawful activities.” “It’s like asking law enforcement to learn “the facts’ about the African American experience by reading a book by the grand wizard of the KKK,” Khera said adding: “It is deplorable and offensive that the nation’s top law enforcement agency would promote such hateful so-called “experts’ on Islam.”
“These characterizations of Islam and of Arab and Muslim people are not just disheartening — they are frightening,” Veena Dubal, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, was quoted by the Danger Room as saying. “Degrading and inaccurate characterizations of Islam and of the “Arab mind’ don’t help individual agents fight terrorism. Rather, they imbue law enforcement with an extremely biased view of a diverse community.”
By Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
Author’s Bio: Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com