The FBI will hold its first nationally televised “town hall” meeting for Muslim and Arab-Americans Thursday in a effort to improve relations and enlist their help in fighting terrorism, an FBI official said.
Paul Moskal, chief division counsel for the FBI in Buffalo, N.Y., who will lead the meeting and field questions, said the agency and the Arab and Muslim American communities needed to overcome misconceptions about each other and foster closer cooperation.
“What we want to do is let the public know that the FBI has changed its mission after Sept. 11, that our number-one priority is the detection and prevention of another terrorist act. If someone in the public can help us accomplish that, that’s our purpose,” Moskal told Reuters Wednesday.
The meeting will be broadcast on Bridges TV, an independent, commercial U.S. television network broadcasting lifestyle and culture programs around the clock for a primarily Muslim American audience.
The televised meeting is also part of efforts to encourage Muslim and Arab Americans to report instances of post-Sept. 11 backlash, intimidation, racism or harassment so the agency can enforce their civil rights, Moskal said.
Call for more Arab-American agents
A third reason for the town hall meeting was that “we need more Arab Americans, we need more Muslim Americans as FBI agents and as FBI employees. So we use it to recruit as well,” he said.
Muslim American groups have long accused the Bush administration of neglect in the fight against terrorism, which they say undermines a potentially priceless resource that could be used to root out militants at home.
Muslim groups say the government must visibly engage their community to undermine militants’ charges that Muslims are left out of American society, and to ensure that Muslims do not feel alienated and become targets for radical recruiters.
Estimates of the number of Muslim Americans vary between 3 million and 7 million.
First such televised event
Moskal said the FBI had long conducted local town hall meetings, at which agents make contact with citizens and answer questions about their work, in a broad range of ethnic, religious and other communities throughout the United States.
But he said Thursday’s session was the first nationally televised event targeting Muslim and Arab Americans.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations which is moderating the television program, said, “It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, for the FBI to understand the Muslim community better and for American Muslims to better understand law enforcement agencies.”
U.S. officials acknowledge they must do more to involve Muslim Americans in counterterrorism efforts. But they say the administration is already actively cooperating with Muslim groups and say they enjoy greater access to the government than ever before.