I have a friend on Facebook who I can count on to forward me links to pro-Trump resources. Even though I have yet to read anything that changes any of my ideas about the man and his antics, I appreciate it. It’s helpful to hear opinions other than your own. Go figure1.
The latest thing I received was a link to an article with the provocative title “BREAKING: Mueller Busted with Muslim Radicals In White House – Could Be Removed From Investigating Trump” on officialnewstoday.com2. As someone who is interested in how our religious lives interact with our political and social lives, I thought it was worth looking into.
I poked around the Internet and found other articles like “Russia Special Counsel Mueller Worked with Radical Islamist Groups to Purge Anti-Terrorism Training Material Offensive to Muslims”3 and “Gohmert Claims Mueller Compromised National Security as FBI Director”4 with very strong language like “[Mueller] purged the training materials for the FBI of anything that offended the radical Islamists.”
The idea that then-Director Mueller ‘caved into Islamic radicals’ kept showing up in these articles. But nothing I’ve read about Robert Mueller makes me think he’s a guy who caves in easily. Plus, this story is being told by people who would certainly like to see Mueller go away and leave Trump alone so he can get on with his program of … (nope, not gonna go there. Not what this one’s about).
So I thought I’d look into it a bit. Here’s what I found:
Back in 2008, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller met with representatives of Muslim and Sikh groups and the Interfaith Alliance. The meeting was requested to discuss information in the FBI anti-terrorism training material that was either factually incorrect or blatantly Islamophobic. As a result of that and subsequent meetings, over 700 pages of documentation were purged5 by the FBI based on four criteria:
- factual errors
- “poor taste”
- employment of stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims
- presenting information that “lacked precision
Some examples: that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult” leader, that “mainstream” Muslims sympathized with terrorists, and that the more “devout” a Muslim was, the more likely he would be to commit a violent act.
It’s hard for me to see how removing such blatantly offensive material constitutes caving in to the demands of radical Islamists. It seems like an attempt to make the training material more useful by not perpetuating stereotypes that would 1) make FBI agents less likely to talk with Muslims who might provide helpful information and 2) make Muslims less likely to engage with FBI agents when approached.
In the Wired article, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, points to exactly this point as a reason for the review: “They’re producing these kind of documents that inhibit our counterterrorism efforts. We need our communities engaged, and these have done nothing but alienate us.”
So, what do we have?
An attempt by some of our fellow citizens to not have FBI agents automatically associate their religion with terrorism? Or an attempt by Muslims to hide the fact that they are all just sitting home waiting for the right moment to attack?
What if I say “I don’t know”?
What if I say I don’t know the answer to that question any more than I know the answer to whether the Ultra-Rich of all nations are in cahoots and are enjoying playing 1984/Hunger Games with the rest of us or if they are really just hard-working, incredibly brilliant people who earned and deserve everything they’ve got and are working for the common good?
Or if I don’t know the answer to whether or not I think white guys should be allowed to buy guns, since statistics show that 51% of all mass shootings between 1982 and 2017 were done by white guys?
What I’m getting at is this: each of us interprets data through our own filters, we see the world through our own lenses. It’s just the way humans are built.
So, how do I try and get to a more balanced view?
I think the challenge for all of us is to recognize our assumptions and try to adjust for them. When I first read the article about Mueller, I thought “wow, seems unlikely, but I know I want to believe that, so let’s go look for some evidence.”I didn’t find any.
The facts are: there was a meeting, people developed criteria and reviewed documents, and some pages were found offensive and removed. Whether this is sensitivity to a non-majority community or a government plot to collude with Muslim terrorists is nowhere in the data.
The interpretation is my choice.
I believe that the FBI has a job to identify and counter terrorism, whether it’s from Muslims, North Koreans, white men (who are responsible for 51% of the mass shootings between 1982 and 20176 – “domestic terrorism” anyone?), or Hobbits.
I don’t believe that labeling adherents of a particular religion as “likely terrorists” helps them do that job.
1. or go read Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill’s arguments for free speech.
2 The website that hosted the report, officialsnewstoday.com, looks to be an outlet for someone named Katherine Rodriguez. I couldn’t find articles by any other writers on the site. Ms. Rodriguez’s work can be found on Breitbart, Muck Rack, and other sites, so I am making the assumption that’s where she gets her data. No other sources are cited.
5 the latest numbers I could find, tho this was from the 2012 article
Just to try and stave off comments like: “but the Islamic groups he met with are known terrorists” – they are not. The closest to true is that Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) were unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, according to the same article on Judicialwatch – a site that tends to see all Muslims as terrorists anyway.