Samantha Henry, AP, May 4, 2009
Across the nation, such grass-roots relationships between Muslims and the federal government are in jeopardy. A coalition of Muslim groups is calling for Muslims to stop cooperating with the FBI–not on national security or safety issues but on community outreach.
The coalition is upset over what it says is increasing government surveillance in mosques, new Justice Department guidelines that the groups say encourage profiling, and the FBI’s recent suspension of ties with the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
A petition that opposes FBI tactics is circulating in Muslim communities and has been gaining support, said coalition chairman Agha Saeed. The coalition, represented by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, has requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss what it sees as the deteriorating relationship between the FBI and Muslim communities.
“We have to decide what we’re doing as a country. If it’s not a war on Islam, then these practices must be stopped,” Saeed said. “We’re not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.”
A number of Muslim groups–including some of the nation’s most prominent–have declined to sign the petition. Other organizations say they agree with parts of the petition but also support ongoing dialogue with law enforcement.
Supporters of the petition cite recent cases in California and Michigan where the FBI has been accused of using informants and coercive tactics to spy on mosques.
A federal judge in California ordered a review last week of FBI inquiries into several Muslim groups and activists who claim they have been unfairly spied on and questioned. A Muslim organization in Detroit asked Holder in mid-April to investigate complaints that the FBI asked mosque attendees to spy on Islamic leaders and worshippers.
Miller said there is no factual basis for claims the FBI infiltrates mosques or conducts blanket surveillance of Muslim leaders.
But Muslim leaders say the FBI distinguished itself by reaching out to Muslims, Arab Americans and groups like Sikhs in the wake of 9/11. Relationships forged between the FBI and Muslim leaders in New Jersey have endured since.