New FBI guidelines may lead to abuses say Muslims
A national Islamic advocacy group said today that new Justice Department guidelines giving FBI agents wide latitude in monitoring the Internet, libraries and religious institutions could lead to abuses similar to those experienced by minority groups in the past. The new guidelines allow opening investigations without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity.
The Washington Post paraphrased a senior Justice Department official who said "the impact of the changes will be dramatic in allowing the FBI to open a window on extremist activity in mosques."
In a statement reacting to the new guidelines released today, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Governmental Affairs Director Jason Erb said:
"All Americans support the investigation of terrorists or those who are suspected of engaging in or planning terrorist acts, and anyone having information about such attacks should immediately contact the FBI. But America must not respond to past intelligence failures by adopting a 'round up the usual suspects' approach to counterterrorism.
"It is one thing to allow FBI agents the reasonable ability to surf the Internet for criminal activity or do research on issues not related to specific criminal cases, and quite another to have agents entering mosques claiming to be Muslims or people of other faiths seeking spiritual guidance.
"Mosques, along with other religious institutions, are open to all Americans and have nothing to hide, but that openness should not be abused by using tactics of deception to spy on a religious minority engaged in lawful activities. We cannot win the war on terrorism by turning the clock back to the days when the FBI infiltrated groups and harassed individuals engaged in Constitutionally-protected political dissent."
Erb added that CAIR has organized public meetings between FBI officials and Muslim communities across the country since the September 11 attacks and would facilitate future direct communication with mosque officials. He said CAIR works regularly with the Justice Department on individual bias-related incidents and on broader issues of anti-Muslim discrimination.
CAIR thanked Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, who commented on the new guidelines by saying:
"Threatening the private practice of religion constitutes a war on freedom, not a war on terror. I hope it is clear to all that taking it upon himself to institute new rules to wiretap religious organizations, including places of worship, the Attorney General will do little to help us battle terrorism. Instead, it will simply further alienate the American Muslim community, a crucial ally in our efforts."
There are an estimated seven million Muslims in America and some 1.2 billion worldwide. For background, see CAIR's "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait," at http://www.cair-net.org/mosquereport/, and "Stereotypes and Civil Liberties," at http://www.cair-net.org/civilrights2002/
A national poll released today indicates that "nearly 75 percent of Muslim Americans either know someone who has or have themselves experienced an act of anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment, verbal abuse or physical attack since September 1l." See: "Accounts of Anti-Muslim Discrimination Not Exaggerated," at http://www.usnewswire.com/topnews/first/0530-124.html