Sunday, February 4, 2007

An Arab man is being questioned by law-enforcement officers and suddenly becomes uncooperative and refuses to make eye contact. Suspicious behavior or a clash of cultures?

The latter, according to a new training DVD that will be distributed to nearly 200,000 Homeland Security employees. A panel of Arab and Muslim scholars shown in the training video said it’s a misconception that the action is evasive — Arab culture considers it impolite to stare.

“The times in which we live, I think it is very important that all Americans understand Islam — for law enforcement, it can be a matter of life and death,” said Akbar Ahmed, professor of international relations at American University and one panelist in the video.

“Take the security aspects of 9/11. All 19 hijackers and terrorists: Muslims. American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: Muslim nations. The most-wanted people on the terror list: Osama bin Laden and [Abu Musab] Zarqawi: Muslims.”

Mr. Ahmed said Muslims are also supporters and allies of the U.S., and that “it is important at this stage in history to understand Islam.”

Daniel Sutherland, Homeland Security’s officer for civil rights and civil liberties, said in an interview that the DVD is intended to provide instructions on protecting the nation, not political appeasement of any one group. He said training is also offered for dealing with the handicapped at airport security, and in dealing with the Amish population, which does not use photo identification.

A copy of the Arabic and Muslim training DVD provided to The Washington Times backs up Mr. Sutherland’s description.

The 45-minute video of a roundtable discussion with Muslim and Arab scholars and authorities begins with an introduction by John McWethy, former ABC Pentagon correspondent, who says, “This course is not about political correctness, nor is it about what people call sensitivity training.”

Although the presentation can be elementary, discussing various head covers worn by men and women and what the Koran is, the video tries to clear roadblocks for law enforcement by teaching about Arab and Muslim cultures and answer basic questions, such as what to do if someone is praying in an airport.

For example, the video says, the simple act of refusing a cup of tea in a Muslim’s home is an insult that will shut down communication or cooperation. Airplane passengers reporting suspicious behavior to law enforcement and the press invariably cite an Arab passenger’s refusal to make eye contact as unnerving.

“The reason we prepared it is because our front-line officers were asking for training on how to interact with people from the Arab and Muslim world,” Mr. Sutherland said.

Irfan Saeed, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has handled a number of prominent criminal counterterrorism prosecutions, and told the panel he has learned that “barking orders” will shut down an interview, while the simple act of calling a man “sir” invites unlimited cooperation.

In addition to helping law enforcement be better informed to investigate terrorism threats, the training will aid security screeners at airports and the border patrol, and help avoid discrimination claims.

How to handle a Koran when searching luggage “so that it doesn’t spark an incident” is addressed, as is how to search someone wearing a turban or Muslim head cover, and how to deal with Sikhs who carry ceremonial daggers.

Although the project began a year ago, the DVD addresses behavior in a recent incident in which six Muslim imams were removed from a flight for disruptive behavior that included loud prayers and another in which 40 Muslim passengers missed a return flight from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Ahmed said prayers are required five times a day, and “they should really be left alone unless you think something is about to happen.”

The Justice Department issued binding guidelines against racial profiling in 2003. Officials say there is a misconception that all Arabs are Muslims or that all Muslims are Arab. An estimated one-third of Muslims in the U.S. are blacks who have converted from Christianity, while Arab-Americans are predominantly Christian, Mr. Sutherland said.

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