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 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.
“We need to get some type of apology from them and figure out how to get back to where we were,” said Rita Zawaideh, head of the Arab-American Community Coalition.
Zawaideh said she met with FBI officials about the August incident three days before the agency released the photos of the two men. But the FBI didn’t bring up that subject.
“Why not ask us then and we would have had a way to ask people in the community,” she said.
A picture is worth a thousand words.