It was an awkward moment for Martin Ficke, the special agent in charge of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York.
He was seated next to a member of the British Parliament for a panel on the "War on Terror and the Clash of Civilizations." Why, the moderator asked Mr. Ficke, was this prominent British citizen with a diplomatic passport questioned for almost an hour when he landed at the airport?
To the audience, filled with Muslim-American students, the answer was obvious. His name is Shahid Malik, a Muslim name. "I've already talked to him about it privately and apologized," Ficke said. "It shouldn't have happened."
Across the country in conference rooms like this, as well as in local cafes and community meeting halls, officials of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI are reaching out to Muslim-Americans in an attempt to bridge the huge gap of mistrust that developed on both sides after 9/11. It's sometimes an uncomfortable process, as Ficke found. It's also not being applied consistently across the country, working well in some places – like New York, where the Muslim Advisory Council meets regularly – and not so well in others. But homeland-security experts and Arab- and Muslim-American leaders believe such outreach is crucial to maintaining the nation's security and strengthening its social fabric.
"9/11 created a pretty big divide and we still have a ways to go, but there has been progress," says Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "With five years of retrospect at our disposal now, we as a nation are able to see more accurately what are and what are not effective law-enforcement initiatives and how it is important to reach out to the Muslim-American community and make them feel as partners in our society."
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