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Muslim Youths See FBI Up Close

Starting a Conversation
Muslim Youths See FBI Up Close


American flag with Arabic flag designs in backgroundWere it not for the balmy weather and the dramatic helicopter landing, a gathering in the parking lot outside Giants Stadium might have looked something like a pre-game tailgate party, replete with donuts and hot coffee. The assembly wasn’t for a game. It was a youth leadership event co-hosted by the FBI and a prominent local Muslim organization to mark its sixth annual Egyptian American Group Day.

Our Newark field office, hoping to fortify lines of communication with the region’s large Muslim community, suggested a one-day event at the stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The venue would be a big draw for the organization, and the FBI, by co-hosting the event, would give curious families a chance to meet agents up close and personal.

The May 20 gathering, an extension of several forums the Newark office and the local Muslim community held in the months after last summer’s terrorist bombings in London, featured information displays, demonstrations, law enforcement gadgetry, an up-close look at an FBI helicopter, and, of course, a chance to toss the football in the shadow of the storied arena.

“It was designed so that they would get to know more about us,” said Leslie Wiser Jr., special agent in charge of the Newark field office.

Demystifying the FBI is a goal across our field offices; community outreach specialists work full-time to keep the lines of communication open. Going a step farther, we recently launched a program to reach out to select communities, like Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans. The program, called CREST (Community Relations Executive Seminar Training), started last fall and has since branched out nationally.

The pilot is an effort to ease suspicions some may have about the FBI.

“We’ve got to bridge the gap in trust,” John Miller, our assistant director for public affairs, said to journalists in June at the New York Foreign Press Center. “A lot of these communities, frankly, look on the FBI and the federal government at large with a great deal of suspicion.”

Like CREST, the youth leadership event in New Jersey was an effort to put a human face on the FBI. Other efforts include town hall forums, citizens’ academies, and mosque meetings with community leaders. In April, Mark Mershon, assistant director in charge of our New York field office, spoke at a town hall meeting for the Pakistani community in Jackson Heights. Field offices in Detroit, Buffalo, and Washington, D.C., to name a few, meet regularly with Arab-American, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian communities.

The Egyptian American Group (EAG) sought to meet with the Newark division last summer after the London bombings. Parents feared for their kids and wanted to see where the FBI stood on a range of issues. Meetings followed and reached all the way to Cairo, where the Newark office had arranged a meeting between EAG members visiting Egypt and our legal attaché.

“I think we established some trust there,” agent Wiser said.