by Yemisrach Benalfew
(IPS) NEW YORK --
rights groups are alarmed over plans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect information on Arabs and Muslim-Americans in the United States.
"It is absolutely religious profiling," said Monica Taragi, director of the New York office of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, in an interview.
Heads of the FBI's 56 regional offices received a six-page questionnaire earlier this month asking them to compile data about their regions, including the number of mosques, flight schools, charity groups and "vulnerable assets" (dams, bridges and nuclear plants) in order to establish a better picture of the populations and possible terrorism targets in each region, according to Newsweek magazine.
The information would be used to direct counter-terrorism resources and set goals for each office as part of a larger overhaul of the FBI, Newsweek reported.
Describing the FBI directive as "very flawed and extremely problematic", Taragi said that "it is creating the attitude among the American public of making a distinction between the Arab and Muslim Americans and other Americans, and sending the message that Arab and Muslim Americans are to be feared and questioned on religious grounds, which will lead to the policy of internment".
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Director Jamie Fellner condemned the FBI policy, saying that "the entire Muslim community in the United States should not be presumed guilty of links to terrorism simply because of the religious beliefs of some terrorists."
"This is as offensive as counting Christian churches on the assumption they may harbour abortion clinic bombers," Fellner added in a press release.
According to HRW, an FBI spokesperson told the U.S.-based group that the bureau wanted to count mosques to help prevent hate crimes. The bureau argued that the knowledge would help it decide how to apply scarce anti-terrorism resources and identify vulnerable sites.
"This is not politically correct, no question about it," said an FBI official in the Newsweek report. "But it would be stupid not to look at this, given the number of criminal mosques that may be out there."
But the policy will "encourage agents to infiltrate mosques and other houses of worship", said the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement.
"The mosque-counting scheme virtually guarantees this invasion," added civil liberties lawyer Dalia Hashad.
Last week, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate intelligence committee that "FBI investigations have revealed Islamic militants in the United States, and we strongly suspect that several hundred of these extremists are linked to al-Qaeda".
A 2001 survey counted 1,209 mosques in the United States, more than 60 percent of them founded in the last 20 years.
There are an estimated 6.7 million Muslim Americans. Some 40 percent are African Americans, 30 percent are of Arab origin and 30 percent are from South Asia, including Iran. Three million Arab Americans live in the 50 states.
Other security measures that have targeted Muslims and Arabs here since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 include "voluntary" questioning of thousands of Muslim non-citizens by the FBI and the re-registration of men from certain Middle East and Asian countries by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Hundreds of Muslim non-citizens were detained without charges after 9/11 while the FBI investigated them for possible links to or knowledge about terrorism.
Some recent activities against these groups by the Justice Department -- indefinite detention, roundups, and the use of secret evidence to build court cases -- are comparable to the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, Taragi said. The Muslim community feels shock, fear and sadness for being targeted this way, she added.
February 18, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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