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.



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