The FBI is building bridges with Brooklyn’s Muslim community with the help of some really cool — and downright dangerous — tools.
G-Men, as well as other federal agencies, flocked to Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach on May 14 to reach out to more than 300 young Muslims from all five boroughs during the first-ever FBI Muslim Youth Conference.
But the feds started a dialogue with children growing up in a suspicion-filled post 9-11 world focused on eradicating Islamic extremism in an odd way: one hand was opened in friendship while the other was waving kids over to tables filled with bombs and rocket launchers.
But organizers say the equipment — which included a helicopter — were just show-and-tell pieces as each agency explained what the items did and what they stood for.
“This is an important community outreach initiative,” said FBI public affairs officer Tim Flannelly. “We genuinely want to foster good relationships in this community by showcasing what our capabilities are and let them know that they, too, can have opportunities in these fields if they choose.”
Flannelly said that the conference was put together months in advance and was not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent death of Osama bin Laden and current tensions with Pakistan, where bin Laden was ultimately found.
“A single event did not trigger this,” Flattery said. “We worked on this event for years and we will continue to work on events like this in the years to come.”
Mohammad Razvi, whose group, the Council of People’s Organization, organized the event, said the conference was designed to build bridges with future Muslim generations.
“It’s imperative that we take these steps,” Razvi said. “We have to take down this wall of ignorance, if we don’t do it now, the wall will only get bigger.”
Some local Muslim groups are balking with how the conference was handled.
Asghar Choudhri, president of the Pakistani American Federation of New York said showing youths weapons — even if they are tools of the trade — was a bad idea.
“It sends mixed messages,” he said. “On one side the FBI is saying that they should be trusted and on the other side they’re saying that they have this weapon we can use against you. You should be friends with the federal government, not scared of it.”
But the weapons didn’t appear to intimidate the children at the conference. In fact, they couldn’t get enough of them.
“I put on a bulletproof vest and got to hold a battering ram, it was really interesting,” said 13-year-old Waleed Ahmed. “I can see myself becoming an FBI agent.”
Quaratulain Muzaffar, age 11, agreed.
“I think it’s a good event,” she said. “They taught us about guns and stuff.”
If the FBI put the conference together to promote good will, then it worked: neither child felt intimidated by the agency. Nor were they worried about the FBI coming into their neighborhoods looking to rout out potential terrorists.
“That’s never happened in my neighborhood,” Ahmed said. “Cops have come in, but it was nothing big. They were searching for some punk kids.”
The weapons weren’t the biggest draw at the conference either, Flannelly said.
“Logan, the bomb sniffing golden retriever the US Parks Police uses, got a lot of attention,” he said.