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Reform Jewish Leaders Criticize FBI's "Mosque Counting" Program

Pelavin and Wishner: It is wrong to associate the practice of Islam with terrorism. It is unfair to group all mosques together and view them as potential sources of terrorist activity.


Contact:
Alexis Rice or Becca Nagorsky 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, January 31, 2003 - In a letter to Robert Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) and Jane Wishner, Domestic Policy Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism (CSA) expressed concern over the controversial "Mosque Counting" program. The complete statement follows:

We write in support of the Administration's efforts to combat terrorism. We recognize that in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, we cannot afford "business as usual." Nonetheless, we must express our deep concern that law enforcement is not following a course that pays due attention to the fundamental protections enshrined in the Constitution.

Reportedly, the FBI plans to use data on the number of mosques in an area as a means of determining the number of terrorism investigations and intelligence warrants expected from a particular field office. It is wrong to associate the practice of Islam with terrorism. It is unfair to group all mosques together and view them as potential sources of terrorist activity. Rather than treat all mosques the same, the Bureau's efforts should be focused on rooting out hotbeds of terrorism. We recognize of course that particular activities at a specific mosque - just as at any other location - may appropriately trigger FBI attention. But the Bureau's efforts should be focused on rooting out hotbeds of terrorism, rather than on promoting negative stereotypes about the Islamic religion and the Muslim community.

As you know, Deuteronomy 16:20 enjoins us "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof - Justice, justice shall you pursue." Biblical commentators have suggested that the word "justice" is repeated in this powerful passage to teach us that we must act justly in the pursuit of justice; that we must insist on both just ends and just means. Like all Americans, we support the vital and urgent efforts of law enforcement to bring the perpetrators of the horrible crimes of September 11 to justice. But we must be vigilant in ensuring that the investigation into the terrorist attacks does not undermine the very liberties that make this country worth celebrating and protecting.

We are concerned by press reports of a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation request to field supervisors to count the number of mosques in an area. This appears to be an unjustified example of racial, ethnic and religious profiling. FBI officials have asserted that mosque counting is only one of several criteria used to determine the threat level in a certain area, but have conceded that this data will be used to set wiretap and investigation goals. We question whether this method of priority setting will truly be helpful to law enforcement officials. We are also apprehensive that any information gained by the effort will be far outweighed by the damage caused to Muslim communities when this type of blanket suspicion is applied to all Muslims.

While we certainly acknowledge the need to recalibrate the balance between civil liberties and national security, we are uneasy with a program that targets a community based only on religious affiliation, and not on criminal intent. Our nation is all too familiar with the pernicious consequences of using religious or political association as the basis for investigation. Not only are we concerned by the implications of this program to religious and political freedom, we question whether such a program will really be cost effective.

We ask that in your consideration of the FBI's mosque counting program, you take into account the Biblical teaching and remember that an investigation must be just both in its ends and in its means. We would welcome further clarification of the issue raised in this letter.

Sincerely,

/s/
Mark J. Pelavin
Associate Director
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

/s/
Jane Wishner
Domestic Policy Chair
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis.



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