Does CAIR tell Muslims not to talk to the FBI?

Sheila Musaji

Posted Oct 8, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Does CAIR tell Muslims not to talk to the FBI?

by Sheila Musaji


In 2011, there was a huge uproar about a poster that had been placed on a local CAIR chapter website in California.  The poster said “Build a wall of resistance. Don’t talk to the FBI”.  As soon as CAIR National found out about this, they asked them to remove the poster from their website. 

CAIR also issued a public response response:

2011: Policy Violation, “Don’t talk to the FBI Poster”

A poster placed on a CAIR-chapter’s website is alleged to be “evidence” of nefarious intent on CAIR’s part. Like any organization, we are subject to occasional violations of our policies.

The following statement was issued over CAIR’s national e-distribution list on January 14, 2011, shortly after the poster was brought to the attention of national staff:

CLARIFICATION: A 30-year old image that is inconsistent with CAIR’s policy of constitutionally-informed cooperation with law enforcement agencies was placed on the local events page of a CAIR chapter web site. Once it was brought to our attention it was removed. The image was not designed by CAIR and the event it promotes was not organized by CAIR.

Additionally, CAIR Legislative Director Corey Saylor appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor to reaffirm CAIR’s policy.

As Rachel Slajda reported, Corey Saylor, CAIR spokesman told her that “It is not consistent with CAIR’s policy of constitutionally informed cooperation with law enforcement.  We’re concerned that what would normally be a minor error will be overblown by people with a political agenda,” he explained, saying the group used “extreme caution to make sure we don’t send the wrong message to our community.  The organization doesn’t tell its members to stonewall the FBI. It does, however, warn them to always have an attorney present when talking to law enforcement.”

Davi Barker at the Examiner reported

A lot of hay is being made from a Bay Area poster brought to Peter King’s Muslim witch hunt as evidence of Muslim radicalization. The poster features a spooky FBI agent looking suspiciously like the burglar from the Neighborhood Watch logo with the headlines “Build a Wall of Resistance” and “Don’t Talk to the FBI.” It appeared briefly on the website of CAIR San Francisco. King said the poster was, “disgraceful” and “goes right to the essence of the matter.” King is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he imagines.

I happen to know a little something about this poster because I received the first email blast that went out in mid January. Just one problem… it didn’t come from CAIR. It came the Arab Resource & Organizing Center. Their website describes them as a “grassroots organization” devoted to opposing, among other things, “religious discrimination,” “economic exploitation” and “homophobia.” Other events advertised in the e-mail were “Anarchists Against the Wall,” a video presentation by Israeli anarchists, “US Tour Of Queer Palestinian Activists,” featuring two members of Al-Qaws, an advocacy organization for LGBT rights in Palestinian society, and “Never Again for Anyone,” with Holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer sharing his experiences in Auschwitz. Hardly the talking points of a jihadist front.

The controversial poster was used to promote an event titled, “FBI Raids and Grand Jury Subpoenas: Know Your Rights and Defend Our Communities“ which I attended in early February. The keynote speaker was Hatem Abudayyeh whose home was raided by federal agents in September. Don’t let the Arab name fool you. He wasn’t raided for Islamic radicalization. He is one of 23 peace activists in Chicago and Minneapolis raided and subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. The event also featured civil rights and environmental activists speaking about their experiences being the target of a Grand Jury investigation, and an attorney from the National Lawyers Guild to inform people about their rights in that situation. CAIR’s representative spoke at the end to inform people about their right to remain silent. Practically an afterthought. The presentation was even described as “remedial” at the event. This was not an event hosted by Islamic organizations. If anything, I would describe the ideological make up of the crowd as far left.

The vintage poster has a much longer history, which has been recorded by The Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG). In was originally silk-screened on newsprint in the late 70’s to support members of the Puerto Rican independence movement who were being harassed by the FBI. In 1984 it was reprinted by the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, a group that protested white supremacists like the KKK, who were being harassed by the FBI. In 1995 it was reprinted again by supporters of several environmental and animal rights activists who were being harassed by the FBI.

In 1995 it was also used by supporters of Josh Wolfe, a San Francisco videographer who was subpoenaed to a Federal Grand Jury for video he took of a policeman trying to run down demonstrators with his car. Wolfe was held in Federal prison for several months for refusing to hand over the video. Prosecutors were primarily concerned about damage to the car.

All CAIR did was promote the event on their website. It’s like when you share a link on Facebook. The image and the first little blurb from the link appear in the news feed automatically. CAIR didn’t design the poster. They didn’t choose the poster. They didn’t host the event. Yet to King and right-wing media CAIR is a radical organization, while all the other organizations involved were not even worth mentioning. This is precisely why King is correct when he says that this goes right to the essence of the matter.

American Muslims are the last in a long line of communities targeted with frivolous federal investigations, not for criminal activities, but for political activism. Far from being an indication of Islamic radicalization, CAIR’s participation in these kinds of events is a sign that they are, as they claim, quintessentially American. In fact, I’m disappointed wth CAIR for removing the poster. If they had stubbornly refused to remove it from their website it would have been an ideal opportunity to discuss the history of law enforcement harassment behind it.

As Media Matters reported in the article Right-Wing Media Attacked Muslim Advocates For Giving Muslims Common Legal Advice this non-issue of the poster was brought up in connection with an attack on Farhana Khera.  Here is what they wrote about the issue:

Legal Groups Regularly Advise People To Have An Attorney Present When Speaking To Law Enforcement…

American Bar Association: It Is “Wise To Have A Lawyer Present” When Questioned By Law Enforcement. The ABA’s Division for Public Education provides the following advice:

Is it wise to have a lawyer present during interrogations?

Yes, even when you are not in custody. It is a good idea to call the local public defender or a lawyer in private practice before you talk to the police. A lawyer, or possibly a public defender, will be permitted to accompany you to the police station and be present to protect your interests during police questioning.

Many people believe that what they say to the police is not admissible unless written down, recorded on tape, or said to a prosecutor or judge. That is not true. To be on the safe side, you should assume that anything you say to anybody but your lawyer could be used against you at trial. [, accessed 3/29/11]

ABA: “It Is Generally Sound Advice To Consult With A Lawyer Before You Agree To Talk To The Police.” From the ABA’s Family Legal Guide:

Should I talk to the police if they want to question me about a criminal investigation?

If you are a witness to a crime, you should share your knowledge with the police. Without information from witnesses, police would be unable to solve crimes and prosecutors would be unable to convict guilty defendants in court. If, on the other hand, you played a role in the crime, or you think the police want to question you as a possible suspect, you have a right to refuse to talk to the police. You also have the right to consult with a lawyer regarding whether you should talk to the police. It is generally sound advice to consult with a lawyer before you agree to talk to the police. [American Bar Association Family Legal Guide, 2004, page 575-576, accessed via]

Naval Legal Service Office “Attorneys Strongly Encourage Service Members To Seek Legal Advice” Before Speaking With Law Enforcement. From the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps’ “Legal Services FAQ”:

Q. What rights do I have regarding making statements and speaking with an attorney?

A. As a military service member, you have specific rights under Article 31(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and under the military’s version of “Miranda Rights,” known as “Miranda / Tempia Rights.”

PLEASE NOTE: If you are suspected of committing misconduct, then any attempt to interview you should begin with the investigator / questioner telling you that you are suspected of a specific violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or civilian criminal laws. They must tell you what the nature of the violation is so that you may direct your answers specifically to those allegations.

When interrogated, you should be told the following:

  • You have the right to remain silent;
  • Any statement you make may be used against you in a trial by court-martial (or any court of law);
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer before any questioning. This lawyer may be a civilian lawyer retained by you at your own expense, a military lawyer appointed to act as your lawyer (for the purposes of assisting you with the questioning) without cost to you, or both;
  • You have the right to have such retained civilian lawyer and/or appointed military lawyer present during this interview; and
  • If you decide to answer questions without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop the interview at any time. You also have the right to stop answering questions at any time in order to obtain a lawyer.

Q. Should I make a statement?

A. This question cannot be answered without first speaking to an attorney. You have certain legal rights (listed above) and one of them is to remain silent. You also have the right to speak to an attorney prior to making any statements. NLSO [Navy Legal Services Office] attorneys strongly encourage service members to seek legal advice prior to making any official or unofficial, written or oral statements to command representatives, law enforcement officials (military or civilian), investigators and any other person asking questions. Investigators and command members must advise you of your rights under Article 31(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) prior to asking you any questions regarding criminal matters in which you are a suspect. Especially in situations where your rights are read or shown to you and you are told in advance of questioning that you are considered a suspect, NLSO attorneys strongly encourage you to exercise those rights and speak to an attorney prior to making any statement. [JAG.Navy.Mil, accessed 3/29/11]

ACLU: “If You Are Contacted By The FBI… Have A Lawyer Present.” From an American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet on “What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI”:


If an FBI agent comes to your home or workplace, you do not have to answer any questions. Tell the agent you want to speak to a lawyer first.
If you are asked to meet with FBI agents for an interview, you have the right to say you do not want to be interviewed. If you agree to an interview, have a lawyer present. You do not have to answer any questions you feel uncomfortable answering, and can say that you will only answer questions on a specific topic. [, accessed 3/29/11]

ACLU: “It Is A Good Idea To Talk To A Lawyer Before Agreeing To Answer Questions.” From the ACLU pamphlet “Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement”:

Q: Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers?

A: No. You have the constitutional right to remain silent. In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anyone else), even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested, or you are in jail. You cannot be punished for refusing to answer a question. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions. In general, only a judge can order you to answer questions. [, accessed 3/29/11]

... But Right-Wing Media Nonetheless Smeared Khera For Giving That Advice To Muslims

Investigative Project On Terrorism Highlights Muslim Advocates’ Advice To Have An Attorney Present When Speaking With Law Enforcement. From a March 28 article by IPT News, the news service of Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism:

Another Muslim Advocates message is that Muslims should never talk to the FBI without an attorney present. The group’s web page includes an alert advising:

“The FBI is contacting Pakistani, South-Asian and other Muslim Americans to solicit information and advice about addressing violent extremism.

Muslim Advocates strongly urges individuals not to speak with law enforcement officials without the presence or advice of an attorney.”

During the July 2010 Islamic Society of North America conference, Khan warned Islamic community leaders about talking with FBI agents, saying the FBI only wants to use them as “sources” to cause unspecified “harm.”

“And sometimes these community members don’t even think of themselves as a source,” Khera said.” You know that they just might think themselves - Well I have a good relationship with the head of the FBI office; you know he comes by my office from time to time and we have tea, or we go to lunch, and he just talks to me about the community. But what may seem like an innocuous set of conversations in the FBI’s mind they may be thinking of you as an informant, as a source. And the repercussions and the harm that that can cause can be pretty serious.”

One example she cites is the case of Imam Ahmed Afzali, who was deported last July after pleading guilty to lying to federal agents about his communication with terrorist suspect Najibullah Zazi.

FBI agents had sought Afzali’s help in finding Zazi, who was being sought as he traveled to New York in hopes of carrying out a bombing attack on the subway system. Afzali later called Zazi, alerting him to the fact law enforcement was after him, allowing Zazi to evade law enforcement surveillance.

In remarks at last summer’s ISNA convention, Khera asserted that Afzali’s plight was the result of his speaking to the FBI without counsel, rather than because of his tipping off a wanted terror suspect. [IPT News, 3/28/11]

Daily Caller Attacked Khera For “Opposition To Easy Cooperation With Police Forces.” From a March 28 Daily Caller article:

Khera’s claim to represent ordinary Muslims, however, is tainted by her cooperation with Islamist groups, and by support for Ahmed Afzali, an Afghan-born New York imam. A court ordered Afzali expelled last April after he confessed to warning a suspect terrorist, Najibullah Zazi, of an FBI investigation into his activities. Zazi, an Afghan immigrant, pled guilty in February 2010 to preparing a suicide-bomb attack on civilians in the New York subway.

Khera entangled herself in the terror case in June 2010, after the guilty verdicts, when she spoke at a Chicago convention of Muslims. At the event, she described the Afzali’s tip-off to the suspected suicide-bomber as “self-policing” by Muslim community, not as aid for a would-be murderer. “The imam thinking that he was doing his civic duty, went, spoke to Zazi and said - Hey, what are you doing?,” according to a transcript of Khera’s remarks provided by the IPT. “Police are you know asking questions about you, you better not be up to anything bad.” The imam, she said, thought he was “doing his duty, what he thought was his civic responsibility, and helping, as so many of our community members feel like, to help self-police the community.”

Afzali’s subsequent expulsion, added Khera, “is just one example of really frankly the risks and consequences of engaging with law enforcement without an attorney.” Khera’s opposition to easy cooperation with police forces is matched by other Islamist groups, which argue that federal, state and local governments should appoint them as the conduits through which resident Muslims should deal with the government and law-enforcement. In January, for example, CAIR’s California branch posted an image on its website urging Muslims to “Build A Wall of Resistance. Don’t Talk to the FBI.” CAIR was founded by Islamists with ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Gaza-based affiliate of the brotherhood.

Critics say Islamists’ campaign to limit cooperation with law-enforcement is a part of the groups’ effort to prevent the assimilation of immigrant and U.S.-born Muslims into secular American culture. This effort is also illustrated by pressure on Muslim girls to wear the hijab, which isolates them from non-Muslim men, the critics say. [Daily Caller, 3/28/11]

Gaffney: “Troubling” That Khera “Has Discouraged Muslims From Cooperating With Law Enforcement.” From Frank Gaffney’s March 28 Washington Times column:

Scarcely less troubling are [Sen. Richard] Durbin’s [D-IL] choice of witnesses. They include “civil rights activist” Farhana Khera, who Mr. Emerson recounts has discouraged Muslims from cooperating with law enforcement, and retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is a prominent participant in interfaith dialogues manipulated by the largest Muslim Brotherhood front in the United States, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). [Washington Times, 3/28/11]

This nonsense about the poster should have died long ago, however, like many Islamophobic memes, no amount of actual factual information stops the meme from being repeated endlessly.  Just a few weeks ago, Pamela Geller again referred to this claim and linked to a 1/2011 Robert Spencer article about the charge.  Geller, of course, managed to work in lot’s of memes including the Muslim Brotherhood document, unindicted co-conspirator, and refused to denounce Hamas.

CAIR and other American Muslim organizations have made mistakes, and have been called on those mistakes, this particular “poster scandal” was simply a matter of someone in a local chapter office making an inappropriate decision which was immediately corrected.


Please see Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for information about numerous false charges made by Islamophobes and links to articles de-bunking those claims.