Part I: The Attack on CAIR-MN With offices in the U.S. and Canada, the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has worked to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America since its establishment in 1994. It is America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. Because Minnesota is home to the largest Somali diaspora in the U.S., much of it in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the state’s CAIR office is often involved with advocacy for people of Somali origin—hearing complaints, advising them of their rights, and helping to resolve issues of harassment, discrimination, and bias. Subscribe or “Follow” us on WAMMToday.org. For the TC EVENTS calendar and the ACTIONS AND ACTION ALERTS click on the tab at the top of the page and click on the item of interest to view. WAMMToday is also on FACEBOOK! Check the WAMMToday page for posts from this blog and more! “Like” our page today. Find us on TWITTER at WAMMToday (@touchpeace).
Man with Briefcase. 50 ft. aluminum-plated sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, Ft. Worth, Texas. photo: Jim Peirpert
Somalis in the Twin Cities have complained of FBI harassment ranging from being stopped at random on streets, in shopping malls, and campus libraries; stalked at mosques; interviewed without translators or access to lawyers; and having their legitimate businesses raided and shut down, their employment threatened, and airline boarding passes denied without due process. It was in the nature of these kinds of concerns that earlier this year, a distraught Somali man came to CAIR-MN for help, stating that two FBI agents threatened to withhold his asylum application and defame him in the Muslim community if he didn’t agree to be an informant for them. He said that despite his repeated requests for an attorney, the agents continued to try to coerce and intimidate him, and ultimately they caused him to lose his job after they had followed him conspicuously and photographed him at his job site. CAIR requested that a special agent with oversight investigate the actions of the agents for improper behavior. On January 30, the CAIR-MN (Minnesota) office issued a press release announcing that it welcomed the FBI’s response to their request to investigate the threatening tactics alleged to have been used by the two agents. However, just two days after the press release was issued, two FBI agents appeared unannounced at the home of Lori Saroya, the executive director of CAIR-MN, stating that they were conducting “community outreach.” Subsequently, CAIR-MN’s attorney called the agents and asked if they were assigned to “community outreach”; he admitted that they were not. The American Civil Liberties Union commented: “Once again it appears FBI agents are improperly exploiting the goodwill established through community outreach programs as a method of gaining access to community members for investigative purposes. Trained FBI investigators know that showing up unannounced at someone’s home is intimidating, and they could have contacted Ms. Saroya by telephone or at her office to set up an appointment if the true purpose was a simple ‘meet and greet’ with a member of her household.” 1 The Wall Street Journal (www.wjs.com) picked up the story and reported that on February 13, 2013, in a letter to Attorney General Holder, CAIR National Legal Director Nadhira Al-Khalili wrote: “The FBI has a well-documented history of using community outreach methods as a means to coerce, threaten, and intimidate members of the Muslim community. Given the above facts, it is difficult for us to reach any conclusion other than that [the agent’s] visit was prompted by what the field office may have perceived as negative media attention. Further, we believe reasonable people can conclude the visit was an attempt to intimidate a highly regarded community leader.” Lori Saroya has served in civic organizations including the Minnesota Alliance on Crime, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights Task Force, and the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs. For her work with CAIR-MN, Saroya received the St. Paul Foundation’s Facing Race Ambassador Award twice. She also received the 2011 Rising Star St. Catherine University Alumni Award in the areas of social justice and community advocacy. She was named one of the 2012 Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans by the Minnesota Jaycees. In 2011, CAIR-MN was awarded the “2011 Mission & Excellence Anti-Racism Award” from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MAP for Nonprofits. But, while CAIR receives respect and accolades from many community leaders in Minnesota and nationwide, the organization has endured years of accusations and threats from those who make a living off the concept of Islamophobia. A positive view of Muslims hinders the multibillion dollar industry that profits from promoting fear of Muslims as part of the U.S. “War on Terror.” Zaytuna College, located in Berkeley, California, is the first Muslim liberal arts college in America; Dr. Hatem Bazian, the co-founder, stated that “those who are working on Islamophobia believe that the more hatred we have of Muslims here, the more that we have reflexive hatred of Muslims abroad, thus authorizing or making the need for military action and the death and destruction [of Muslims abroad] more palatable to us without having to think we are actually killing humans.”2 Part II: The Industry The always-expanding surveillance industry receives billions of dollars from the Department of Homeland Security. The Washington Post discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a “Top Secret America” hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.3 Private counterterrorism training firms capitalize on plentiful public grant funding. G.W. Schulz, an investigative journalist who tracks homeland security spending, notes that “agencies can apply for a dizzying array of federal grant programs, often without notifying local government officials about how grant funds are spent.”4 One training firm, Security Systems International, or SSI, uses alarmist rhetoric about Muslim organizations and also boasts that its “homeland security training in Israel” is the only privately operated trip of its kind that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.5
Man With Briefcase sculpture reflected in window of office building across the street. photo: Jim Peirpert