BACKGROUND ON THE FBI
Muslims living in the West are often amazed by the noble-sounding notions of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” that the American government supposedly is promoting and guarding.
When we dig below the surface, it’s easy to see that these are in practice nothing more than slogans. Even since the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, at least, a frequent theme of efforts of the US Federal Government has been to label every person as either “us” or “them.” Muslims are clearly “them” and orthodox Islam is treated as a foreign and dangerous ideology that threatens the “American way of life.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security agency which claims to have as its mission to “protect the American people and the US Constitution.” Yet under the guise of stopping extremism (a vague and malleable term) the FBI has been known to 1) infiltrate masajed with spies, 2) induce and encourage violence by ignorant and unsuspecting Muslim youth, and 3) promote suspicion and mistrust among Muslims.
The law firm is regularly contacted by Muslims who have faced interactions directly by the FBI, or where an imam of a masjid has been contacted by the FBI and is encouraging a Muslim to have a meeting with the FBI in the masjid. The usual refrain is “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.”
But this naive attitude fails to take into account the historical nature of police investigative work. Rather than acting as an objective seeker of the truth, police and other law enforcement have often found themselves rubber stamping suspicion. Once the “bad guy” is identified, only incriminating evidence, no matter how weak, is brought to bear and anything which suggests innocence is thrown out. Even worse, the investigators may even manufacture incriminating statements. Call it a suspicion machine.
WHAT SHOULD A MUSLIM DO IF CONTACTED BY THE FBI?
As a Muslim law firm in America, our simple advice is: don’t talk to the FBI (or any other law enforcement) without an Attorney present. Fundamentally, the FBI is a spy agency. Did you know that an FBI agent can lie to you, but it is a federal crime for you to lie to them? And what if English is your second (or third) language and the FBI agent misunderstood you or put words in your mouth? FBI agents are masters of psychological tactics: fear, intimidation, and word games. In short, they can manipulate unsuspecting Muslims into giving statements which can be twisted into confessions or accusations against other Muslims. Given the power and resources of the FBI, simply refusing to talk to them may not be an easy solution. We suggest the following practical steps.
STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS ON DEALING WITH THE FBI
1. DIRECT CONTACT. If you get a phone call or visit from someone claiming to be an FBI agent, simply tell them “I’m not comfortable talking with you.” This will be a truthful statement, but the FBI agent is likely to persist, so just tell them “Like I said I’m not comfortable talking with you” and hang up or walk away.
2. INDIRECT CONTACT. If someone at the masjid, or one of your friends, tells you that an FBI agent was asking about you, just reply “Oh, okay, inshaAllah khayr” and change the topic of conversation. If the Muslim insists and begins asking you questions, then tell him “You know brother I’m really not comfortable talking with you about this.” If the Muslim continues to press you, tell him “Like I said I’m not comfortable talking with you, Assalamu alaykum” and walk away.
3. NAVIGATING THE COMMUNITY. Many Masajed and Muslim organizations, out of their own fear or ignorance, have formed partnerships with the FBI or local law enforcement. One of the first supposed signs of “radicalization” (another vague and malleable term) is not wanting to speak to an FBI or other agents. To avoid triggering further suspicion of fellow Muslims, a person is encouraged to continue their past habits and activities, such as praying salah at the masjid. The FBI have generated a bogeyman of the “lone wolf” or “sleeper cell” Muslim who is a loner. Its easy to avoid this type of projection by politely declining to discuss the FBI’s supposed interest in that Muslim, and instead turn to other beneficial topics of conversation.
4. DEALING WITH PERSISTENT CONTACT. If you start to feel worried or insecure due to the activities of FBI agents or those Muslims who see the FBI as harmless, then it’s probably time to contact an experienced Muslim Attorney. That attorney should be familiar with criminal law, investigations, and when and how to engage law enforcement. The primary focus is to protect your First Amendment rights to Speech, Religion, and Assembly; also that attorney must know how and when to invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Our experience is that once a Muslim uses these approaches, particularly with the aid of an attorney, the FBI loses interest in that Muslim, and goes looking for another easier target. The FBI thrives on communities that gossip and backbite against each other, may Allah (God Almighty) save us from this. For this reason, it should be understood that choosing to “not cooperate” with what the FBI (or certain Muslim leaders who encourage such interviews) can temporarily lead to rumors and gossip about that Muslim. Ultimately, though, a Muslim can safeguard himself by avoiding such interactions. Above all, consider that if in fact there was sufficient evidence that a Muslim had committed a crime, that Muslim would already have been arrested. The simple fact that the FBI merely wants to “talk” to the Muslim should be treated for what it is: a trap and invitation to something which is utterly lacking in any khayr.
NOTE: Nothing in this post should be taken as a discouragement for a Muslim to report a crime to local law enforcement. A Muslim should and must do this, especially if a person’s life is in danger. Nor should the reader jump to the conclusion that every FBI agent has evil intentions. There can be complex crimes which span multiple states for which the FBI’s resources and knowledge can be beneficial to bring the wrongdoer to justice. Finally, nothing in this post is intended or should be taken as legal advice. Any person in need of an attorney is advised to seek the advice of a competent attorney.