x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fort Hood killer 'does not represent Muslims': American security chief

On a visit to Abu Dhabi, the US secretary of homeland security says grassroots efforts are vital to preserving relations between Muslim Americans and the wider community.

Janet Napolitano, the US secretary of homeland security, visits Zayed University.
Janet Napolitano, the US secretary of homeland security, visits Zayed University.

ABU DHABI // The killing of 13 people by a Muslim psychiatrist at an American army base must not lead to the victimisation of Muslim Americans, the US secretary of homeland security has said. On a visit to the capital, Janet Napolitano said grassroots efforts were vital to preserving relations between Muslim Americans and the wider community after Friday's shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.

"We object to, and do not believe, that anti-Muslim sentiment should emanate from this," she said. "This was an individual who does not represent the Muslim faith." Describing the killings as "a terrible tragedy", Ms Napolitano said a civil rights and civil liberties directorate in her department aimed to "prevent everybody being painted with a broad brush". "That work is ongoing and is part and parcel of how we view security," she said. "One of the things we'll do is make sure that we're reaching out to the state and local authorities within the US, because they often have better outreach to members of the Muslim community than we do." Ms Napolitano was speaking to female students at Zayed University, and took part in a private question-and-answer session with them.

She said her visit to the UAE was part of the "outreach" programme to the Muslim community by the US administration, one that included the June speech in Cairo by the US president, Barack Obama. Talks with officials during her visit centred on "general co-operation" between the UAE and the US on issues such as "training and sharing best practices", she added. "And it's just to introduce myself as a member of the Obama administration so they get to know me a little bit as a person," she said. After the speech she stopped short of saying there would be a review of the policy that requires UAE nationals to apply for visas to visit the US. Americans can travel to the Emirates without a visa.

Ms Napolitano said she could not comment on such "specifics" due to a pending overhaul of the entire American immigration system, which she described as being "outdated in some major respects". The requirement to obtain a visa "should not be viewed as a reason not to visit" the country, according to the 51-year-old former federal prosecutor and governor of Arizona. "Travel, tourism and business between colleagues across countries is helpful in building a relationship," she said.

The US government, she said, wanted to ensure that the process of obtaining a visa went "as smoothly as possible" for those who applied. Ms Napolitano's department is the third-largest in the US government, employing 230,000 people and taking responsibility for areas such as emergency response, security services and the coastguard. During her talk to students, Ms Napolitano described how she first decided to run for elected office as Arizona's attorney general.

"People said, 'Janet, you're a woman, you're a Democrat, there's no way you could be elected attorney general of this state'," she said. "I ran and was elected." "When the governorship was opening up, I decided to run for governor. I ran in 2002 and was elected by one percentage point." Her opponent took several days to concede. Ms Napolitano joked she spent that time "at a spa". Afterwards Ms Napolitano said the Zayed University students she met were "very impressive and well informed", quizzing her during the private session on issues such as American foreign policy and the demands of running for office.

dbardsley@thenational.ae