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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 25, 2004

FBI gets insight from Muslims

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Anwar Kazi still gets stopped at airports by security officers wanting to know what's in his briefcase and why he's decided to travel off island.

Hakim Ouansafi, a leader of the Muslim community in Honolulu, briefs FBI agents on the Islamic faith and Middle Eastern culture.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

A resident of Hawai'i for the past 23 years, Kazi supports the Bush administration's war on terror, but admits that the spillover into the lives of Muslim-Americans can get tiresome.

"I feel sometimes they (airport security) ask too much," said Kazi, a local business owner. "I think, at this moment, issues are very hot all over; that is why we are victims."

Kazi's concerns are shared not only by Muslim-Americans, but by the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that on Tuesday hosted an informational lecture about Islam for Hawai'i-based agents and members of the state's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The goal was to help inform agents about the basic tenets of Islam in order to make them aware of the culture that many terrorists use as cover. The idea is that by educating themselves about the religion and philosophy, the FBI can focus on finding the bad guys without offending the community.

"We can't serve the community if we're offending them," said FBI Special Agent Arnold Laanui Jr.

The hourlong lecture was given by Hakim Ouansafi, president and chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawai'i as well as general manager of the Aston Aloha Surf Hotel.

Ouansafi, who recently gave a similar presentation to 800 Schofield Barracks soldiers preparing to deploy to Iraq, said: "I look at it as my Islamic obligation and my obligation as a American to correct any misinformation that might be out there. I want to correct misconceptions so they (the FBI) can do their job and protect our civil liberties and not exaggerate situations based on their fears."

In his lecture, Ouansafi, who is from Morroco, easily went from hammering home points about common cultural misconceptions to cracking jokes about how Americans perceive Muslims. At one point, he had the crowd laughing as he told a story about how he was praying in an airport terminal when an elderly woman bent down to inquire whether he was feeling OK. "I had to interrupt my prayer, but she was very kind," he said.

Charles Goodwin, special agent in charge of the FBI in Hawai'i, said speakers like Ouansafi are an invaluable resource for the agency.

"These people (Muslims) live here with us and they are Americans," he said. "The FBI has to build trust with the Muslim community, and, in this day and age, it is even tougher to do because they do get a lot of scrutiny."

Laanui said the lecture is part of a continuing FBI effort to familiarize itself with the Islamic faith. He said agents from the Honolulu office are sent to deal with cases that pop up in areas of the Pacific Rim that have large pockets of Muslims.

He said lectures like Ouansafi's help the FBI to profile possible terror suspects while understanding the culture enough to be sensitive to everyone.

"Honolulu is a gateway to the Muslim part of the Pacific Rim," he said. "It is not out of the realm of possibility that a terrorist passes through here."

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.