For Arabs and Muslims across the Puget Sound area, a rise in the nation’s threat level or a bombing halfway around the world often can mark a period of unease.
In the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, leaders in that community say incidents of profiling and harassment have ebbed and flowed – increasing when Muslims are linked to news of the day.
Now the FBI’s release of photographs of two men of unknown origin, who the agency says were observed acting suspiciously aboard as many as six different Washington ferry routes in recent weeks, is creating new worries in the community.
Muslim- and Arab-American leaders are upset that the FBI didn’t consult them – as it has done in other instances – before releasing the photos on the Internet and to news organizations. They worry that the action may fracture the relationship the agency and the community have carefully built.
The FBI has stressed that the release of the photos is a rare move, taken only after it had exhausted other efforts to identify the men. The agency also has said the men’s actions could be innocuous, but it needs to question them.
The photos were snapped by a ferry captain last month after crew members alerted him to suspicious activity. The men seemed inordinately interested in the operation of the vessel, took photographs of the interiors of the boats and went into areas tourists and commuters don’t normally go, the FBI has said. The agency has received many tips but has not yet found the men.
Dozens of Muslims and Arabs have complained to community leaders about the photographs. The fallout has led to a meeting planned today between Muslim- and Arab-American community leaders and law-enforcement officials. . .
Both Zawaideh and S. Arsalan Bukhari, president of the Seattle chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), say their organizations have been receiving more reports lately involving allegations of discrimination.
Bukhari said he’s heard of delays at the border, as well as cases of people being asked questions at the airport and searched so thoroughly they missed their flights.