Hussein Ibish, FAIR, Exec. Director on Arab-American and Muslim Reaction to Seattle Suspects

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 24, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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MICHELLE MALKIN, GUEST HOST: In "The Factor" follow up segment tonight, the FBI has asked the media in Seattle to help them identify two possible terror suspects by releasing photos of the men. One local paper has refused to do that. The men were apparently spotted exhibiting unusual behavior on ferries in the area up to six times in recent weeks. Their ethnic origin is unknown, but now leaders in the Muslim community are upset over the tactics used by the FBI.

Joining us now from Washington, Hussein Ibish, executive director of the Foundation for Arab American Leadership.

Mr. Ibish, you've got the FBI. For several weeks they tried to find these men, identify them. The men were not photographed by just any passerby. They were photographed by ferry employees, who were worried.


MALKIN: These are people who work day in and day out.

IBISH: Sure.

MALKIN: ...on these ships. They should know what constitutes suspicious behavior and not. What is the problem with asking citizens who, of course federal officials are always saying...

IBISH: Right.

MALKIN: ...should be vigilant to help them out?

IBISH: Well, there isn't a problem with that at all. And I'm not even sure there's particularly a problem with releasing their photographs. Although obviously —

MALKIN: That's a large concession, Mr. Ibish.

IBISH: Hold on. It's not a concession at all. It's easy for me to say that. But, here's the thing. I think it could have been handled better. I talked to several people in the Arab-American community in Seattle today.

What they're concerned with is the way it was handled both in terms of relationships between the community and local FBI and law enforcement which have been good, until now, and also the way in which it hasn't really been explained to the public or rather the kind of misperception the public might have gotten.

However, I think if this could have simply been handled slightly better that it really would not have been that big of deal. This really this is about both sides working together to maintain good working relationships between the Arab-American and Muslim communities on the one hand, the FBI on the other hand. And that's in everybody's interest.

MALKIN: Well local Muslim groups in Seattle are unhappy and "resentful" if how the local papers put it because they weren't asked about it first.

IBISH: Well, that was attributed...

MALKIN: So you are maintaining to me with a straight face that if the feds had gone to these groups first and said hey we're going to be releasing these pictures, hope you are OK with that.

IBISH: No, that's not what I am saying...

MALKIN: A little hand holding. How exactly, let me ask the question first before you answer it.

IBISH: All right.

MALKIN: How exactly would have "a better way to handle it" have been?

IBISH: Well I mean there could have been some kind of discussion. I'm not certainly not saying the FBI has to ask anybody's permission before going to the public.

But I mean I do think some kind of better communication would have been preferable. There are advisory groups that could have been used. There was a meeting a couple days before in Seattle between Arab-American leaders and FBI people. The FBI might have given some kind of background, some kind of — I mean, it depends really on how they want to handle it. But I have to — let me finish answering the question.

MALKIN: Yes, go ahead.

IBISH: The point is there is no question the way it was handled has ruffled feathers and ruffled feathers are not helping anybody. And by the way, the fact that the "Post-Intelligencer" didn't want to print the picture and hasn't printed the picture means that it's not just the local Arab-Americans and Muslims who have concerns but a lot of other people too.

MALKIN: Well I would argue, Mr. Ibish, that the FBI handled it exactly the right way because you are making an assumption that the FBI did not make and simply did not make explicitly, which is what the religion and what the race or ethnicity of these men were.

IBISH: Well, I'm not makes that assumption at all.

MALKIN: Well the Muslim groups are.

IBISH: I don't think so. I think —

MALKIN: They're complaining about being profiled.

IBISH: No, no. What they're saying is the public might be given the impression that these people were suspicious because of their appearance. And I think the FBI could have done more and the police the law enforcement could have done more to make it clear —

MALKIN: They made it explicitly clear that they had no idea whether or not what they did was innocent or not, they just wanted to talk with them.

IBISH: Right, after the controversy came up they did. But at first they didn't. That's one of the ways in which this wasn't handled very well.

If you believe that it's important for those communities to have good working relationships with law enforcement and vice versa then I think both sides could have handled it better. And I don't think you can say that either group in this case handled things perfectly, frankly because the relations are strained now. I mean you can say it if you want, but I think it's silly.

MALKIN: Well, I'm glad to see you didn't invoke the Islamophobia card here for once.

IBISH: Well I don't think it is.

MALKIN: I'm glad to hear that. The feds actually stopped the white "Seattle Times" photographer so this has nothing to do with race.

IBISH: Yes, that's right.

MALKIN: And we hope those men come forward. Mr. Ibish, thank you.

IBISH: I agree with you, thank you very much.

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