As Maine Muslim population grows, police need cultural understanding

That’s apparently what prompted the US Justice Department funded meeting at the University of Southern Maine a few days ago where police officers from across the state listened to a consultant tell them the facts about how Muslims live.  The commenters to the article were having none of it.  Hat tip:  Susan.

The Portland Press Herald story begins:

PORTLAND — Police officers planning to interview members of a Muslim household approached the door, only to spot a woman inside dashing into a back room. Was she grabbing a weapon? Warning a suspect? Fleeing out a back door?

“She did not want to answer the door without getting her head covering,” said Foria Younis*, a former terrorism investigator with the FBI. In many Muslim cultures, “if a woman doesn’t have a head scarf on, it’s almost as if she’s nude.”

Younis tells the true story to help illustrate the importance of understanding Muslim traditions if police are to work effectively within their local Muslim communities.

Younis was the key presenter Tuesday at a daylong training program at the University of Southern Maine, attended by 62 officers from across the state.

Organized by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, the training was provided by the U.S. Department of Justice in hopes of helping local and state authorities build ties with people in Muslim communities. It’s also meant to give officers the tools to conduct investigations in those populations.


The Muslim populations in Maine include the growing Somali community, primarily in Lewiston and Portland, as well as immigrants from southern Asia. Although many Sudanese are Muslim, most of those who have come to Portland are Christian refugees from southern Sudan.

Younis said, after 9/11 it’s important to build bridges to the “Muslim community” and knowing about and respecting prayer rugs will help.

As investigators worked feverishly to locate other terrorists and search for ties to the hijackers and al-Qaida, relations with many in the Muslim community soured. It was the first time many law enforcement officers had interacted with Muslims in their communities, and it didn’t always go smoothly.

“It caused the bridges between the Muslim community and the law enforcement community to collapse,” Younis said. “It’s easy to make a bridge fall apart, but building it back is very hard.”

Younis said something as simple as recognizing a prayer rug and being respectful of it can go a long way toward achieving cooperation.


Younis conceded that she can give officers only a glimpse into understanding the complexity of Muslim culture, but said she hopes to encourage them to do more research.

Readers of the Press Herald say we have this backward.  Go and read the angry comments!  Last time I looked there were 287.  This is one from Chris of Pownal that sounds very similar to the woman from Shelbyville, TN I told you about here when the Somalis lectured the Tennesseans about how they (the implied rednecks) needed to understand Islamic culture.   The gist of both commenters’ complaints is—if you choose to live in America, you learn about and adjust your culture to ours!

From Chris of Pownal:

How about the Refugees LEARN AMERCAN CULTURE AND LAWS!!!!!!
America doesn’t need to change it’s laws because of ignorance from a 3rd world country.
DON’T come if you don’t want to follow a countries laws.

Here is what commenter Dianatn said last spring in Shelbyville, TN in response to a meeting to educate Americans about Somalis in Tennessee:

I think we have this backwards I do not live in Somalia so why should I need to learn their culture. It seems to me the Somalis should be given the forums on American Culture if they are going to live here.

I suggested in that post that the citizens of Shelbyville organize an educational session on American culture and invite all the Somalis and other Muslims to learn about how we live!

* Learn more about presenter Younis here.  Apparently she must be getting US Justice Department contracts to get local police properly educated.

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