FBI Muslim Outreach Harmed by Abusive Tactics
By Dr. Agha Saeed
[Dr. Agha Saeed heads the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of major national Islamic organizations. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
A recent statement by a coalition of major national Islamic organizations cited a number of incidents in which the government unfairly targeted American mosques and Muslim groups and said concern over those abuses could result in the suspension of long-standing community outreach initiatives with the FBI.
That statement, issued by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), is at its heart really a call for increased engagement and dialogue based on mutual respect and the preservation of constitutionally-protected civil and religious rights, not just on photo opportunities.
The essence of civic engagement, as practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, is to create public awareness of unjust policies and tactics and to make it impossible for an oppressive status quo to be sustained.
American Muslim concerns are centered on four main factors: infiltration of mosques and systematic intimidation of religious leaders (Imams); use of agents provocateurs; use of the questionable category of unindicted co-conspirators to undermine major Muslim organizations, and denial of the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances for organizations articulating a Muslim point of view on peace with justice in Palestine and elsewhere.
In its statement, AMT noted that “the FBI sent a convicted criminal to pose as an agent provocateur in several [ California] mosques.” Muslims find these FBI-induced false conversions a profoundly hurtful violation of their religious freedoms. AMT also cited the FBI’s disengagement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest and most respected Muslim civil rights organization, and the “unjustified” designation of some 300 groups and individuals as “unindicted co-conspirators” (UCC) in conjunction with the Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, Texas.
As demonstrated by the AMT statement, American Muslims are very concerned about the negative impact these and other incidents have on ordinary American Muslims and on productive relations with law enforcement officials.
Because the FBI has been monitoring mosques and Islamic organizations and questioning individuals without credible evidence of illegal activity, Muslims are increasingly afraid to go to their houses of worship, to speak openly or to become involved in Islamic organizations and events.
SEE: Muslims say FBI Surveillance Has a Chilling Effect
SEE ALSO: FBI Creates Climate of Fear
These intimidating government actions are apparently permitted under new Justice Department guidelines that have been strongly criticized by civil liberties groups. Those guidelines, which took effect in December of last year, lowered the threshold for beginning FBI investigations and allowed race and ethnicity to be factors in opening a probe.
SEE: Fact Sheet - New Attorney General Guidelines
Even legal public advocacy efforts by American Muslims are being targeted. A Texas law enforcement “ fusion center” recently issued an alert stating that it is “imperative for law enforcement officers to report” the legal activities of Muslim lobbying and civil rights groups in their areas.
SEE: Fusion Center Encourages Improper Investigations of Lobbying Groups and Anti-War Activists
In Minnesota, Somali Muslims have expressed concerns about FBI tactics that they say amount to religious profiling. Some 50 to 100 individuals say they've been stopped by FBI agents in recent months.
SEE: Rights Groups Say Somalis Being Stopped, Questioned
When investigations do result in an arrest, the charges often fall under immigration or document fraud, tax evasion, and lying to federal officers, though the cases are touted as victories against “terrorism.” In at least one recent case, such charges were viewed as payback for an individual’s refusal to act as an informant. The person targeted alleges that an FBI agent threatened to make his life a “living hell” if he refused to be an informant.
SEE: Man Claiming to be FBI Informant Spins Quite a Tale
Following these reports, and after largely unsuccessful attempts to engage the FBI on these issues, American Muslim groups came to the conclusion that a dramatic action like considering the suspension of outreach relations was unavoidable.
Muslims are not considering severing all ties with law enforcement agencies, but would only suspend participation in public relations efforts such as town hall meetings, diversity training and participation in FBI citizens' academies that came to be viewed as public relations cover for behind-the-scenes abuses. Reporting of suspected criminal activities or of anti-Muslim hate crimes would continue.
This effort is not a campaign of disengagement, but is instead designed to truly engage top Justice Department officials on these critical issues. It is also designed to help restore respect and equal rights for American Muslims after eight years of being treated as suspects rather than partners.
The AMT statement clearly indicates that American Muslims support President Obama’s efforts to help end the marginalization of their institutions carried out under the Bush administration.
American Muslims are sending a clear message that they refuse to be treated as second class citizens and that law enforcement agencies should work with the Muslim community based on the “mutual respect” that President Obama championed in his inaugural address.
In a recent congressional hearing, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked FBI Director Robert Mueller about AMT’s statement and about the new investigative guidelines. Sen. Feingold asked Mueller: “Do you think that the new attorney general guidelines are helping or hurting the FBI's relationship with the US Muslim community? In light of this task force statement, how do you plan to improve that relationship?” Mueller responded by saying the Muslim community “has been tremendously supportive and worked very closely with [the FBI] in a number of instances around the country.”
The entire reason for AMT’s existence is to promote positive civic engagement by the American Muslim community. But that engagement, particularly with law enforcement agencies, must be based on fair treatment and the protection of constitutional rights, including the right to practice our religion without interference, harassment, manipulation or vilification.