Muslims and the FBI
By Dr. Aslam Abdullah
What should be the nature of relationship between the FBI and Muslims? The simple answer: the same as that of other U.S. citizens. But the matter is not that simple.
Among many FBI officials there is a deep-rooted assumption that some in the Muslim community may not be honest in describing their feelings towards acts of terrorism committed against the US. Many in this and other law enforcement agencies suspect Muslims of harboring soft feelings towards terrorists. Some even suspect some Muslims to be part of the presumed but so far still-sleeping sleeper cells.
Ironically, these doubts and suspicions are raised about a community whose criminal record is relatively clean compared with Christians, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists and Hindus.
Muslims as a religious surpass all other religious communities as law-abiding citizens. The number of Muslims involved in drug trafficking in the US is the lowest. The number of Muslims involved in rape and murder is the lowest. The number of Muslims in fraud and financial embezzlement is the lowest. The number of Muslims in domestic violence
is the lowest and the number of Muslims as delinquent in making payments on loans is the lowest.
This does not mean that Muslims are not sometimes involved in breaking the law— it means that in comparison with other communities, Muslims are the least likely to be involved in crime.
Similarly, the number of Muslims arrested on violence-related charges is far less than any other religious community in the country. With such an impressive record in upholding not only the law but the spirit of the law, the Muslim community can rightly claim that it is committed to the U.S. legal system.
Why, then, do our law enforcement agencies view many Muslims with suspicion? Why, then, is it that most mosques and Islamic centers are under surveillance? Why, then, are many Muslims subject to profiling? The answer, of course, that many might give is that all 19 of the 9-11 hijackers were Muslim. So in order to catch future terrorists, they have to focus on the Muslim community.
Ironically, before 9-11 the Muslim American community didn’t know any of those 19 hijackers to be terrorists. The investigation so far have absolved Muslim Americans from playing any role in the hijackings. The terrorists do not disclose their intentions publicly, and terrorists do not wear convenient badges in our mosques to identify themselves as
The people who commit terrorist acts should be located independently of their religious affiliations—look instead at their dangerous behavior or political affiliations. It is absolutely unfair to throw a dragnet over every American mosque in order to catch a few bad apples presumed to be there, just as it would be unfair to catch an entire school of millions
of salmon on suspicion that one of the salmon may have mercury poisoning. But law enforcement agencies are focussing on the Muslim community in their mosques and Islamic centers. During the four years since 9/11, the Muslim community at large has become the primary suspect in the eyes of people in general. Millions of complaints were lodged with the FBI and other agencies against Muslims. One Muslim was arrested because his neighbor, who was keeping a close watch on him, complained he was involved in some suspicious activities—he would leave his house very early in the morning to return after half an hour. So this Muslim was arrested for praying fajr at his mosque!
Any American Muslim with any sense of being Muslim and of telling the truth must admit that this bias is pervasive, filling the U.S. and affecting all of us.
Since 9-11, Muslims have developed four major opinions about the FBI. Some believe Muslims need to do more to convince the FBI they are not suspects. They believe in closer cooperation with the FBI in order to reduce the pressure against Muslims by the FBI. Others believe Muslims should actively spy on one another in order to report extreme views.
Extremism is a term that anyone is free to interpret and define—perhaps some would think it extreme to advocate that the mosque should be opened for tahajjud prayers, or to insist they should be able to sleep in a mosque whose communities are unknown to them whenever they demand it. In fact, there are several Islamic centers in the country that do not allow members of the Tablighi Jamat to spend the night in their vicinity, suspecting the visitors of indulging in acts that might not be legal.A third group looks at the FBI with suspicion, believing that federal agents are capable of doing anything to frame a people or a community. They cite examples of present-day abuses, and other examples from the civil rights era where federal government agencies committed indiscriminate (and sometimes deliberate) violence, not to mention false imprisonment. A fourth group believes relationships with U.S. law enforcement agencies should be based not on the religion of citizens but purely on the basis of the mandate that our law has extended to them. Perhaps, it is this fourth position that deserves some attention.
The FBI, like any other law enforcement agency, is controlled by law. It is a law enforcing, not a lawless, agency. Muslims who want to go the extra mile to inform the FBI of everything that is taking place in their community should join the agency to serve it better. They would have legal authorities and a mandate to do so. Moreover, they will be better equipped to serve the agency. They can even play the role of informant—there are many in the Muslim community who provide information voluntarily or under pressure.
However, the important thing is that Muslims should be active to express their opinions on laws that are being formulated. They should question laws that violate their constitution. This is an area where Muslims have lagged behind. There are not many in the Muslim community who are capable of and willing to review laws with potential impacts on Muslims.
Perhaps it is this area where Muslims ought to focus their energy and resources. It is a tedious job and it require political acumen and astuteness. It requires a careful understanding of political and legal processes.
But without this, we will always spin in circles, never finding our way out of the problem in which we find ourselves today.