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Interview With Nihad Awad

Aired September 13, 2002 - 14:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS ... I think, as you have said, and I have been watching the news since I woke up this morning, it is very important for us to be vigilant and to be careful and just report any suspicious activities or facts to authorities. And it is truly a test for the system today. And I hope that this chapter today will end peacefully, and I hope and I pray that, you know, it will be none of what has been reported.
However, if it is true, the reports that are coming and unfolding -- and the story is changing by the minute -- yes, we have to be careful and we have to report suspicious people and suspicious activities. It should not be a test to our diversity that we report people who look different than we are or who belong to a different faith than ours.

PHILLIPS: Obviously, you're talking about racial profiling. It's a concern of yours. And I'd like you to know too that my husband is from Iran, and when we travel, we never really had a problem. But lately, we have. As a matter of fact, we had a situation in Rome. It was humiliating. They took us to an area all by ourselves. Wanted to go through our bags. It was terrible, plain and simple. I never had experienced something like that.

But let me ask you a question: Do we all need to change our mentality and be maybe a little more sensitive to what is taking place and maybe step back and say, OK, I'm proud of my heritage, I know I'm a good person, I just have to go along and understand why people are doing what they are doing. It is an overall -- I don't know, it's for our security overall. So maybe we should just not be so sensitive at this time.

AWAD: You know, I think the beautiful thing is always to strike a balance, to understand what our nation is going through and what we are going through, because we are part of the nation. And at the same time, we do not want people to be judged on their looks and their -- but rather to be judged on their behavior.

However, as you and I are discussing this, things are changing on the ground there, and we are waiting to see what conclusive evidence is there. And I think public officials have been extremely careful as to exactly what happened. They have been holding these people not in detention, but in -- until they get more information. And I think the lady who reported the suspicious, quote/unquote, statements that they have said, has to be taken seriously.

But we hope that the system, again, is working for everybody. Like for example, two weeks ago, in the same state, the state of Florida, a Jewish doctor, Robert Goldstein, was about to bomb 50 Islamic centers and schools. He has 30 explosive devices, 20 of them were ready to go. I have not seen live reports and the public and media attention that has been given to today's events, which are very important, by the way, but I'm a little bit concerned about the focussing on one group and just maybe forgetting the other group.

I think I would like to see a system that works for everybody. And I hope and pray that our nation will be safe and secure.

PHILLIPS: I have to say, I'm not familiar with the situation you mentioned concerning Mr. Goldstein. I will have to get our folks on that, we'll check that out. We'll talk about that, Nihad.

Meanwhile, with regard to racial profiling, if you were advising the system and the government and law enforcement officials, what would you say to them about racial profiling? How would you advise them to avoid racial profiling? Do you believe in certain steps that should be taken?

AWAD: Well, definitely. We worked with the Clinton administration. I was an adviser to the White House Committee on Aviation Safety and Security in 1997. And we gave some suggestions, that the criteria has to be computerized. We should not give the human element, because there is always bias. I mean, when dogs sniff bags, they do not have -- they do not differentiate maybe between white and black or Middle Eastern. They just go after the material.

And I think we should try as much as we can to delete the ethnicity and religion of people and just focus on the suspicious criminal behavior rather than the looks sometimes and the appearance.

But again, I have to reemphasize, I'm not discounting or undermining what is being said or done in Florida. It is very important for all of us to be cautious and careful, but not to jump to any conclusions, because we have wronged many people after the Oklahoma City bombing, when one American Muslim was detained and humiliated here and in Britain, and very few people apologized to him.

We do not want a repeat of that, because I think we are learning as we go on.

PHILLIPS: Nihad Awad, thank you so much for your time. And I apologize about your introduction, it was incorrect. You are the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Correct?

AWAD: Thank you. Yes, thank you very much for having me.

PHILLIPS: Thank you very much, you bet.

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