By Dr. Aslam Abdullah
Six Muslim Organizations in Southern California took a bold step when they asked the FBI to release its records on monitoring of Islamic groups in southern California. The six Muslim groups, including the Anaheim-based Council on American Islamic Relations in Southern California, filed a Freedom of Information Act request on May 15, 2005, asking about suspected law enforcement monitoring of Islamic religious institutions.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the request on behalf of CAIR, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, Hadi, the Islamic Center of Hawthorne and Masjid Ansar, as well as six leaders in the Muslim community. They include: Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, Hussam Ayloush, executive director at CAIR, Sabiha Khan, CAIR spokeswoman, and Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. More organizations and leaders may join later.
The federal government has 20 days to respond to the public-records request, which seeks to learn whether area mosques and community leaders are being monitored and, if so, why, said Ranjana Natarajan, the attorney handling the matter.
The Freedom of Information Act, which outlines request procedures, was enacted by Congress in 1966 to give the public greater access to the federal governmentâ€™s records. Natarajan said the ACLU decided to request FBI records after working with the Muslim community and conducting â€œknow your rightsâ€ presentations at mosques.
Natarajan said worshippers at mosques have been asked what their imam is preaching, where they go and what they do on pilgrimages to Mecca, and for details about religious practices.
CAIR wanted the records request filed on the belief that no person or organization should be monitored because of peaceful religious practice, this is a very significant development and a defining moment for Muslim Americans. For almost four years, several law enforcement agencies have been treating them as suspects. Their houses are not safe and their places of worship are under constant watch. There seems to be an undeclared policy of intimidating and harassing Muslims under the guise of national security. At the airports and on streets they are often stopped by local officials who use their own imagination to humiliate Muslims in whatever way they want. Recently, a group of Muslims who didnâ€™t possess a valid driving license were handcuffed and offered as a showcase to other drivers in a city not far from Washington.
On average 7 of ten Muslim passengers are stopped at the airports for national security issues. This despite the fact that even the congressional report on the 9/11 attacks admits that no Muslim American was involved in 9/11.
So far, Muslim orgnaizations in general were reluctant to take any significant action on civil rights. There exist two opinions within the major Muslim organizations. One believes in working closely with FBI officials and the other believes in working within the legal framework.
So far those who have worked closely with law enforcement agenices have not succeeded in protecting Muslimsâ€™ rights. Law enforcemnent agencies have rewarded many of them by promoting them in circles of power in the country and abroad. In fact, some law enforcement agencies decscribe a few Muslim organizations and leaders as theirs. It is also learned that some of these Muslim leaders have often provided details of discussion that take place among Muslim organizations on civil rights issues.
Obviously, there is a serious attempt on the part of some law enforcement agencies to promote some Muslim organizations and leaders. They have also succeeded in recruiting some. Obviously, no official record is available or will be available to substantiate this. However, Muslims can judge the position of an organization on the basis of their stand on key issues. For instance, in southern california, several promiment Muslim organizations and leaders refused to sign the Shura council request for FBI records. Some of course were cautious, but the others who have very close ties with law enforcement agencies did not want to join as it would tarnish their reputation in official circles.
Regardless of what some of these leaders and organizations do, Muslims must take a bold stand on the issue of civil rights. They must not allow anyone to intimidate and humiliate them. They must not allow anyone to suspect their loyalty to the country. LAw enforcement agencies are there to protect them, not to prosecute them. They must come out from this circle of intimidation.
They must speak out, and the best way is to ask law enforcement agencies to release their records in official files. Obviously, not everything in the records will be released.
But asking for the records sends a clear message to those entursted with protecting peopleâ€™s rights that they can not misuse their authority to prosecute a people on the basis of their religion, culture or ethnicity.