Thursday, July 30, 2009

Do You Know Your Rights?

Being questioned is one thing; being interrogated in an excessive, branching manner is another. Too often, Muslim Americans are caught in situations where they are found questioned about something and feel forced to answer in a detailed, submissive way, trailing themselves into what may become a creation of their own misfortune. In actuality, many do not realize that they are not required to disclose anything and everything given their rights, provided by the United States government.

Whether it is a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee questioning you in the airport or an FBI agent knocking on your door at your place of residence, Muslim Americans have been caught in uncomfortable situations that are complicated because of their unconditional desire to act as law abiding citizens.

In their willingness to assist in the security process, Muslim Americans have been, and continue to be, seen as potential suspects because of the way they mishandle interactions with government officials. These interactions play a significant role in what causes the problem of targeting Muslims through misunderstandings, which has developed even on a federal level. The media and public misconstrue the information they see in a way that perpetuates the misconceptions about Muslims all over the world. This damages any efforts to improve the image of Muslims, whether here or abroad.

The problem in the way we handle uncomfortable situations is perhaps due to an unconscious inability to communicate effectively, allowing the government to misinterpret what is being said in a way that is seemingly suspicious. Such misunderstandings are often due to something as simple as a language barrier. On the other hand, it may very well be that we just do not know how to approach a situation like this, so we become nervous and submit to anything that is being asked of us, essentially making it appear that we have something to hide when in reality we do not. For example, if asked at the airport during TSA questioning what your opinion is on your country of origin’s political leader and his political stances, you have a right to refuse to answer due to irrelevancy and that you would be more than happy to answer any questions that are relevant to the matter at hand.

The solution to preventing such invasive interrogations is not to target the government and demand that we be free of any questioning; after all, they are merely doing their job in their attempt to maintain security for all Americans. Instead, the solution is to concentrate on the source: our knowledge of the system and how to work with it. By learning our rights as Muslim Americans, and more importantly, as American citizens, we are furthering our loyalty to the law by understanding how to react while preserving our dignity. Only when we educate ourselves can we form and maintain a positive image of Muslims in America and finally put an end to the disposition that Muslims are a threat to the security of our country and the rest of the world.

CAIR-Chicago is committed to the education of the rights of American citizens and is seeking more opportunities to help the Muslim community grow in knowledge and participation in the community through the implementation of know your rights workshops and information distribution. If you would like more information on getting your community involved, please contact Reema Ahmad, Government Affairs Coordinator for CAIR-Chicago at 312-212-1520, or visit the CAIR-Chicago website at

Home interrogation tips:
Step 1: Talk to an attorney before answering questions. Lawyer directory-
Step 2: Step outside. Do not let law enforcement into your home without a search warrant.
Step 3: Ask for business cards.
Step 4: Say your lawyer will be in touch. Contact your lawyer immediately.

Airport interview tips:
Step 1: Be prepared for a search.
Step 2: Ask why you’ve been selected. Ask for a supervisor or Watch Commander.
Step 3: Object to inappropriate questions about religious or political beliefs. “What mosque do you attend?” “How often do you pray?” “What do you think of ____’s government?”
Step 4: Keep a record and file a complaint later. Get receipts for seized property. Write down the agents’ badge numbers.
Step 5: Confirm your legal status.

Airport search tips:
Step 1: Remain calm and courteous during the process.
Step 2: You have a right to request the pat-down process rather than the body-scanner. Passengers also have the right to ask the pat-down screening to take place with screeners of the same gender and in a private room.
Step 3: If you believe you have been singled out solely based on your race, religion or ethnicity, contact CAIR-Chicago at (312) 212-1520, or contact immediately.


Iran in Perspective

Few stories have been commanding as much attention recently as the elections and protests in Iran. This attention is deserved. There are few moments in history when both issues and actions culminate as they have in Iran. Despite the complexity of the situation in Iran, it is an important milestone that demands our focus and attention.

First, I want to make a plug for anyone interested in following the election protest. This blog, written by a Persian Literature professor at Washington University and native of Iran, is highly recommended for anyone interested in following the election protests more closely. The blog has been providing detailed and well reasoned accounts of the political, social, and cultural effects of the Green movement protests in Iran.

The outcome of the election appeared to be very certain at first, and many groups within Iran had little hope that anyone could present a challenge to Ahmadinejad’s populist appeal and control of government. However, nationally televised debates that exposed the holes Ahmadinejad’s economic record, and an election campaign by the challenger Moussavi that focused on civil liberties and political freedom, made the election seem close during the campaign. For the first time in a long time, the presidential campaign had people excited about the possibilities of reform politics in Iran. When the results of the election were announced and evidence of fraud and corrupt voting polices emerged, the people were too overwhelmed and their emotion spilled over into protest.

Most information about the protest in Iran should only be used to make the public aware of what is happening in that country. However, the experiences of the people of Iran should generally shape our understanding of Iranian politics and culture in regards to other issues. There are two obvious questions that the public should ask in regards to this issue: 1) What has the United States done about these elections; and 2) What should the United States do about the elections and protest? Our response has been limited and well measured. The U.S. has consulted with its allies about the situation, extended an invitation to Iran to talk about human rights and other issues, and tried to protect its citizens from harm when possible.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer. Many people familiar with the situation, including this commentator, who is also recommended for anyone wanting more perspective on the protests, want the United States to take as limited an approach as possible. This appears to be what the Obama administration is doing. However, it does not appear that the administration is following the tenor of these commentator’s arguments. One of the underlying assumptions of many who seek a hands off approach is that it is inherently difficult for the U.S. to ever understand Iran’s politics and, furthermore, even more difficult to take any constructive action with regards to Iran’s politics. I believe that this is not the position of the administration. If the administration seems limited and well measured, it does so because it is in the interest of the United States in pursuing our foreign policy goals that we seem limited and well measured. But this approach does not change the United States’ goals of a world where freedom and individual liberty is respected. Sometimes the biggest stick just happens to be the one that makes the least amount of noise.

The latest reports from Iran are of protesters being abused during their time in Iranian prisons. Mr. Moussavi and others are continuing their protests despite government arrests and reports of abuse. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad has been experiencing backlash from conservatives in Iran over his cabinet appointments because of the continuing protests.

For anyone interested in reading more then this brief summary, this article provides an in-depth account of the issues at stake during the campaign.