The FBI questioned various Muslims with family connections to Pakistan and Afghanistan across eight states over the weekend. No one was arrested and the FBI said they were simply engaged in an information-gathering exercise.
“The FBI actions . . . to conduct a sweep of American Muslim leaders the weekend before the election is completely outrageous and . . . borderline unconstitutional,” the executive director of CAIR Florida Hassan Shibly told The Washington Post. “That’s the equivalent of the FBI visiting church-going Christians because someone overseas was threatening to blow up an abortion clinic. It’s that preposterous and outrageous.”
Shibly did not comment on how the FBI was supposed to act to prevent terrorist attacks without questioning people. It is common for law enforcement to carry out broad investigations and to question people who are not criminals so they can gain more information.
The director of CAIR North Texas, Alia Salem, stressed in a video announcement that Muslims should refuse to be interviewed by the FBI or to let the FBI into their home without an attorney present. She recommended that a person with whom the FBI wishes to speak should take the agent’s business card and have an attorney contact the agent and schedule a meeting.
She stressed that this was not about dodging one’s civic responsibility to help law enforcement on matters of national security, but merely about asserting one’s rights.
“Please folks, if you missed my alert earlier, please spread the word,” CAIR Oklahoma’s Adam Soltani wrote. “You DO NOT have to talk to the FBI without an attorney present. CAIR Oklahoma will represent you free of charge.”
CAIR is correct to fight for the rights of Muslims. Most people are not intimately familiar with intricate details of what rights one actually has under the law, and the presence of an attorney can be greatly reassuring. Speaking with law enforcement, even if one is innocent, is usually a stressful experience, and all the more so in a tense time. Muslims may be worried that they will be unfairly targeted or even framed for things that they did not do.
Such fear is perfectly understandable and rational.
Individual FBI agents can and occasionally do overstep their legitimate authority Muslims are perfectly entitled to have a lawyer present when they speak to law enforcement agencies, as are all citizens. They are also entitled to remain silent and refuse entry to their home unless the officer is in possession of a search warrant.
In my citizenship class in high school (in the UK), our teachers told us that when in the presence of a police officer you shut up, call your lawyer and say nothing until that lawyer arrives.
Everyone dealing with law enforcement should have that policy, as is their right in any free society. And if the police aren’t planning on breaking the law, they should have no objection to the presence of an attorney.
CAIR continues to draw support from the Muslim community, despite their Muslim Brotherhood ties and designation as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates because of things like this, for example, providing Muslims dealing with the law free legal representation.
The fact they engage in civil rights work masks the problems posed by the organization and allows them to entrench themselves in the Muslim community.
To describe this sweep as “outrageous” or “unconstitutional” is ridiculous. It divides American society and creates fear. As any citizens, the Muslim community needs to have its civil rights protected. Yet, at the same time, the FBI needs to act against terrorism.
Those two facts are not mutually contradictory. They actually support each other. However, the way CAIR is handling this case increases the suspicion of the FBI within the Muslim community and worsens inter-communal relations by painting a picture that the government is out to persecute Muslims for no reason.
In this case, people involved in countering Islamism need to support the civil rights of Muslims, lest the the field be left free to highly problematic groups like CAIR. Another organization needs to get involved and also supply legal aid and support to the Muslim community.
If someone else doesn’t do this, CAIR — listed by the FBI as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism trial in American history and whose founder said “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith but to become dominant” — will do it.
When the FBI knocks on the door and worried Muslims turn to CAIR for support, it will because nobody else was willing to step up.