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Posted by on in Sharia

[My speech on "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" was presented in Maine on March 22, 2014. The below text differs slightly from the original as I was able to check a couple of references that I did not have access to while in Vacationland. From here forward, everything in brackets was added after the speech was delivered.]

Salaam alaykum. Peace be unto you. Good evening.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf asserted that his action was a reflection of his understanding of the Islamic faith.

This sparked a nationwide debate.

Shortly after, one of the major news magazines ran a story about the ensuing controversy. The story featured a photo of a woman at a later Nuggets game wrapped in an American flag and crying. [She was demonstrating her outrage at Abdul-Rauf's deed.]

Abdul-Rauf's action was, in my opinion then and now, disrespectful and inappropriate. Indeed, he later stated that while he believed his motivation was correct, his choice of expression was not the best approach." So while I disagreed with the action, I would defend his right to do what he did.

Abdul-Rauf's act was political dissent, respect for which is enshrined in our national character. [This respect for dissent is why I also disagree with the woman in the photo. I defend her right to do what she did, but I think becoming angry at his act is also not the best approach.]

At the time there were calls for Abdul-Rauf to face consequences. He served a one game suspension.

Often in incidents like this we even hear legislators talk of passing laws to ban certain behaviors or to legally impose them. Outlawing flag burning, another form of protest I view as a crass political stunt, is a frequent example. I think the tension between faith, politics, ideals and their expression we see in the Abdul-Rauf incident is important to think about tonight.

Now, before my hosts get too nervous trying to figure out why the speaker is rambling on about a minor incident, I want to take a moment to increase their tension.

I respectfully disagree with our chosen topic for tonight. I think it draws on incorrect assumptions about sharia, or Islamic legal principles, and democracy. I honestly think there is another, more significant topic to be considered.

So I am going to beg your indulgence for a bit and allow me to make my case. I pray you will find by the end of our discussion that I have answered the "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" question anyway.

Sharia's ideals

To start, let's discuss sharia. Like jihad, it is a term that has been hijacked and turned into something scary.

To assist our discussion of sharia I will turn to a scholar, Asifa Quraishi-Landes. She teaches American constitutional law and Islamic law at the University of Wisconsin and has a doctorate from Harvard Law School among other honors. Here is a short passage from her paper "Sharia and Diversity" in which she describes sharia as literally meaning "way" or "street":

"Sharia refers to the way that God has advised Muslims to live, as documented in the Quran and exemplified in the practices of Prophet Muhammad. In other words, sharia can be understood as the Islamic recipe for living a good life. But of course, no one can taste a recipe. We can only taste the product of a chef's efforts to follow one. In addition, different chefs can follow the same recipe and still come up with quite varied results."

There are a few things I hope we hear in this reading.

First, Muslims recognize that the process of understanding God's will is ongoing. There is not a set of books equivalent to the U.S. Code sitting somewhere that spells out what the law is in fine detail. There is the ideal of divine law [found primarily in the Quran and the life of Islam's Prophet] and the reality of human interpretations of the law, which we can define using the Arabic term fiqh.

Second, we are painfully aware of our humanity and that we can interpret and express these ideals wrongly.

Third, there can be a wide variance in the understanding of Islam.

I like Quraishi-Landes's use of the recipe metaphor. Sharia is the recipe, but different religious scholars produce varied dishes from it.

Let me give you a real world example of the variety [available to Muslims.]

One of Islam's most important holidays is Eid Al-Fitr. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the month wherein Muslims eat no food, drink no water and avoid other physical indulgences during daylight hours. Ramadan is a time of great spiritual reflection and self-denial, Eid is the party at the end. I would be lying to you if I did not admit that after a month of food and sleep deprivation it is a joy to get this party started.

The problem is, we have a hard time agreeing on when it starts. Islam is on a lunar calendar, and thus the date of Eid changes each year in relation to our own calendar. Some Muslims maintain Eid starts when someone of good reputation sees the new moon with their eyes, thus starting the new month. Others say we can use scientific calculations to know the exact moment of the birth of the new moon. Many immigrant Muslims prefer go with when their country of origin says Eid starts. Others say that since Islam is now worldwide, we should all go with when Mecca, the place all Muslims face when we pray, recognizes the start of Eid.

As a result, every year we hear conversations in mosques along the lines of "Are you celebrating Eid on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?"

We have people going to their employers and saying, "next week is our most important religious holiday of the year, I need to take the day off." The boss usually replies, "Sure, what day do you need?" Then we get the rather awkward response of, "Well, it might be Monday, but maybe Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday."

As an aside, next time someone tells you Muslims have some shady conspiracy to subvert the Constitution, remember this holiday. If we cannot organize our major holidays, I doubt we can pull off a vast conspiracy. I have also never encountered any actual Muslim interest in such a conspiracy.

So, sharia was and is developed to be flexible and dynamic in practice. This was done in order to achieve two main goals, and protect six main principles in society. The two goals are to bring good to humanity community, and to repel harm from humanity. Please note, this is not bring good to Muslims, and to repel harm from Muslims. It is humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of Sharia, presented here as written out by Sumbul Ali-Karamali:

  • "The right to the protection of life.
  • "The right to the protection of family.
  • "The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • "The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • "The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • "The right to the protection of religion."

Sharia must then adapt with respect to the social, political, and cultural climate of a given place and time in order to ensure that these two goals are met, and these six principles are protected. In fact, sharia mandates that a Muslim practice their faith while respecting the law of the land in which they reside.

Throughout history the way to achieve these goals and protect these principles has differed between various philosophies, eras, communities, and leaders. At the center of these various interpretations is always intended to be human good.

Ibn al Qayyim, a notable medieval-era Islamic jurist put it this way, "The foundation of the sharia is wisdom and the safeguarding of people's interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the sharia. ..."

So these are the ideals behind Islamic legal principles. We Muslims, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

Let's think about one example. In Islamic inheritance a son gets a full share and a daughter gets a half share. This is done because the son is expected to pay for funeral expenses and support all family members. The daughter can choose to help, but it is not an obligation. Similarly, a man is obligated to financially support his family. Any money a wife earns is hers to do with as she chooses, she can contribute or not as she wishes.

These are the ideals aimed at ensuring everyone is supported financially and it is clear who is responsible. Does it always work out that way? No.

American ideals

In my opinion, ideals are at the core of our conversation tonight. They are precious things. We in America have them and strive for them. We Americans, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they chose. John Adams -- who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and become our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In 2013, shortly after revelations of overly-broad warrantless surveillance of the American public by the National Security Agency, or NSA, the Pew Research Center found 56 percent of Americans think this is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism." Sixty-two percent agreed that it is more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on personal privacy." A stark contrast to the men who founded our nation.

More recently, Pew reported, "Today, 40% approve of the government's collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove." Pew adds, "In addition, nearly half (48%) say there are not adequate limits on what telephone and internet data the government can collect."

So here we see an example of our national struggle to balance our ideals with reasonable concerns for public safety and less reasonable fears that may cause us to be too willing to give up ideals the founders valued.

John Adams, by the way, set the standard for placing ideals over emotions when he acted as legal counsel to British soldiers accused in the Boston massacre, one of those iconic incidents that contributed to sparking full scale colonial revolt against King George.

The ideal, broadly embraced in our society, was later expressed in the Sixth Amendment as an accused having the right to the assistance of counsel to his defense.

Writing in his diary, Adams expressed fear he felt for his own safety, as well as that of his family from more radical elements of the revolutionary movement. Of his decision to defend the soldiers Adams concluded: "It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country."

Let's consider a couple of more recent examples.

In 2004, three years after the 9/11 attacks, Cornell University reported that "nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans." This included "27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government."

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any "religious test" for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that "twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court" and that "nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for president."

The lesson I see here is that we have grand ideals in this nation, but our reality does not always live up to them. The struggle to enshrine our ideals is long and difficult.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Civil War, James McPherson reports on English Protestant Americans' suspicion of German and Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century. He writes, "most of these new Americans worshipped in Roman Catholic churches. Their growing presence filled some Protestant Americans with alarm. Numerous nativist organizations sprang up as the first line of resistance in what became a long and painful retreat toward acceptance of cultural pluralism."

Striving to "civilize" Native Americans, the federal government instituted a practice of taking children away from their parents and placing them in off-reservation boarding schools. Here, the children were to learn a culture not their own. These schools still existed in the 1960s.

It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women full voting rights. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law in 2009, reminds us that women in America still struggle for equal pay for equal work.

Our nation placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The deeply troubling story of the African-American struggle for full equality is well known. Sadly, it is commonplace for minority groups and their leaders to be vilified.

Martin Luther King, a non-violent, civil rights icon, has a federal holiday named after him and won a Nobel Peace Prize.

However, before his assassination, he was branded the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. His calls and sometimes hotel rooms were wiretapped. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a degenerate.

Which Democracy?

I hope by now you may begin to see why my concern is not "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" The term democracy may not even be the best for our thoughts tonight. Like Islam, democracy takes many forms.

The citizens of Athens, a direct democracy where only landed males could vote, would hardly recognize our system. Pirate democracy, entertaining as the subject is, is probably not a focus for us tonight. On a pirate ship, all crew got a vote and the captain was elected.

Some -- maybe Vladimir Putin -- would call the recent referendum in Crimea an instance of democracy. But voting is not necessarily an indicator of a healthy democracy. We are all familiar with despotic rulers who handily win "vote me or else" elections.

Indeed, our own democracy, the recipe the Founding Fathers gave us is constantly being assessed by new chefs. When the U.S. Constitution came into effect, 10 of the 13 states required a voter to own property or pay some form of tax. Today, such requirements cause outrage.

Examining the ideals side-by-side

But, as you may have noticed, the ideals, the principles behind our expression of democracy do offer us a guide to the target of our thoughts tonight.

Two documents give us a sense of the recipe:

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the right of the people "to alter or to abolish their government" must remain intact and the people must have the freedom to lay government's "foundation on such principles" and organize "its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The Constitution adds additional thoughts: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.""

These are the goals of the democracy our founders created. These are the ideals, the recipe.

Let me remind you of the two main goals and six main principles of sharia. The two goals are to bring good to humanity, and to repel harm from humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of sharia:

  • The right to the protection of life.
  • The right to the protection of family.
  • The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • The right to the protection of religion.

I hope you are beginning to hear what I concluded long ago -- that the similarities between Islamic sharia ideals and western democratic ideals are fairly obvious.

Many Muslims have already concluded the ideals are similar. This is not just my opinion. Early after my decision to embrace Islam I heard a story. I do not know if it is fact, but it expresses a reality I have heard many Muslims agree with. In short, after visiting America, a Muslim scholar is reported to have said, "I went to the east and found Muslims without Islam. I went to the west and found Islam without Muslims."

This scholar is saying he saw in the west Islamic principles in action where Islam was not the majority faith. He is saying in many countries where Islam is the majority faith, politics and history have created circumstances where Islamic principles are not expressed in society.

In 2011, the Fiqh Council of North America adopted a resolution titled "On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans."

Here are a few lines from that resolution:

  • Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura -- mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state, and globally.
  • Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims' obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

Aside: Al-Qaeda is everybody's enemy

At this moment of thinking about the parallels between Islamic ideals and western democratic ideals, let me insert a couple of thoughts about Al-Qaeda and their ideological allies.

Extremists who claim that Islam motivates, or worse, sanctions, their atrocities have done deep harm to Islam. Their terrorism, the blatant human rights abuses, their complete distortion of the faith -- these provide the breeding ground for much of the anti-Muslim extremism we are living through today.

The worldview of violent extremists is a complete distortion of Islam. Islamic teachings clearly state that the killing of one innocent is the moral equivalent to the killing of all humanity.

To the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, Islam is a religion that teaches tolerance, justice and compassion. Unfortunately, for many who know little of Islam or Muslims, violent extremists have come to personify both.

What many do not realize is that in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and its ideological allies we can adopt an us [America] vs. them [Muslims] attitude or we can adopt a "we are all in the struggle against violent extremism together" approach.

At least 31 Muslims were among the victims of the 9/11 attackers. This includes Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went into one of the Twin Towers to offer assistance and died while doing so. His sacrifice was noted in the USA PATRIOT ACT.

After reviewing a 2009 report titled Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al-Qaida's Violence Against Muslims, Ralph Peters wrote in the New York's Daily Post, "Al-Qaeda does one thing extremely well: killing Muslims."

President Obama echoed this conclusion at a White House Ramadan fastbreaking reception in 2010 when he noted, "In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."

American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals

The more we think about it, the more the us [democracy] vs. them [sharia] dichotomy falls apart.

Now here is a key, and for this gathering, crucial reality, that may surprise you: American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in America has resulted in a certain willingness by a significant proportion of Americans to undermine the Constitution.

We are not just talking about [survey respondent's] words and opinions. In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will, marriage agreement or other contracts such as home financing structured according to the Islamic prohibition against interest-bearing loans.

In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that "Islamic religious principles are based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed."

This language rather directly contradicts the First Amendment in two key ways. First, the Establishment Clause prohibits government from condemning or endorsing any religion. Second, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees all persons of faith equal liberty to practice their faith.

Now, persons of faith regularly enter contracts or enact incorporating elements of their faith. So long as such provisions do not violate U.S. law, it is irrelevant to courts from where the provision originates.

For example, if a Jewish person enacts a will that directs a court to divide his estate in accordance with a particular verse found within his religious tradition, a court would likely comply with this request. But if a Muslim person were to attempt something similar in a state that has passed an anti-Islam bill such as Oklahoma's SQ 755, that Muslim would be prevented from doing so. This differential freedom accorded to members of one faith over another is what the Free Exercise Clause was written to protect against.

For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. Interestingly, CAIR was accused of trying to subvert the Constitution while we were making the First Amendment arguments I just presented to you. In 2013 a federal judge struck the amendment down as unconstitutional.

Oklahoma's bill wasn't unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. I am still tallying 2013, but it looks like another [37 bills in 16 states] total bills. Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.

As a second example that Muslims are on the front line of protecting American ideals, let's look at the 2012 presidential election, one of our nation's most visible platforms for political thought.

Herman Cain was for a while the frontrunner for the GOP's presidential nomination.

Speaking to Christianity Today on March 11, 2011, Cain said that followers of the Muslim religion have "an objective to convert all infidels or kill them." Cain also said that Muslims who wanted to serve in his administration would have to take loyalty oaths. He explained to Fox News host Glenn Beck that he would not require similar oaths from Mormons or Catholics "because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions.""

As we know from earlier, this would violate Article VI's ban on "religious tests" for public office. So, here we have a man, a frontrunner, committing to undermining the Constitution. Did he get tossed from the stage? No. He got applause.

Rick Santorum, also a frontrunner for a time, endorsed religious profiling during one of the GOP presidential debates, saying, "Obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at." In January 2012, journalists brought attention to a lengthy Islamophobic rant Santorum gave in 2007 during which he asserted that in order to "win" against a vaguely-defined Muslim enemy, Americans must "educate, engage, evangelize, and eradicate."

A former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich, yet another onetime frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told an audience that he feared that by the time his grandchildren reach his age "they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." If you find Gingrich's assertion that a future secular atheist America will be run by Islamic radicals confusing, don't worry -- so does everyone else.

While these facts are disconcerting, they are nothing new. Just as Jews, Catholics and others stood up to prejudice, so, too, are Muslims. In fact, Muslims benefit from the lessons these other faith traditions learned in their struggles against prejudice. America's Muslims also recognize that while the lens of prejudice may be on us today, it will eventually turn elsewhere. We want to make sure our struggle is a benefit to this next group and our nation as a whole. We should stop splitting into two different camps.

So, to my understanding, our original topic tonight has the effect of slicing us into two different camps. "Is sharia (them) compatible with democracy (us)?"

I am pretty sure, hearing that topic, most of you did not come here expecting an American history lesson. However, I pray that what I have said tonight brings you to share my conviction that we are, in fact, allies.

Islam and American democracy may disagree on some things. However, just as best friends often disagree without it hurting their relations we too can be adults and debate differences while partnering on ideals. Frankly, those differences are relatively minor. Violent extremists like al-Qaeda may trying to convince you otherwise, but they are everyone's enemy.

I also pray that we can now start our conversation from a healthy place -- not one of "us vs. them," but of how do we work together to establish our shared ideals of justice.

Thank you.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

John Guandolo is a former FBI agent who claims that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim agent of a foreign power, and says that American Muslims "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything." Guandolo left the FBI shortly after reports surfaced that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a key witness in a corruption trial. He also falsely claims "it is a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians."

In February 2014, Guandolo was scheduled to conduct a counter-terrorism training hosted by the sherriff's office in Culpeper, Va. According to documents obtained by CAIR's anti-Islamophobia department, the training was initially accredited for 19 hours of career development, three hours of legal and two hours of cultural diversity continuing education units.

Hints of federal government participation

An email Guandolo sent on February 17, 2014 stated: "Included in the training are: Several from Fairfax County PD, the [redacted] from the [redacted] of [redacted] and two detectives, Albemarle County deputy, VA state Police, Arlington County and a couple from the military." In a separate email the same day, Guandolo wrote: "Some military folks, DC police and others are still trying to figure out how to get folks there."

These sentences raise serious questions. In 2012, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered a top to bottom review of its training materials to remove anti-Islam content. If Department of Defense representatives are being paid and receiving training credits to participate in biased and inaccurate anti-Islam trainings, it is at least violating the spirit of the 2012 order. More research on this issue is needed.

Accreditation withdrawn

After Guandolo's credibility was challenged by the Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR, the accreditation for continuing education units was withdrawn.

In an email obtained by CAIR, Mike Harvey, executive director of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, which approves in-service training credits, wrote in part:

"In speaking with another academy director who also pulled support for this training I learned Mr. Guandolo appears absolute in his message that all Muslims ascribe to a violent ideology against westerners. While I support much of his message I cannot support one that casts all people of one faith in the same light. Certainly there are Muslims who are terrorists and I support training that discusses this but I cannot in good faith support a training that espouses because one is Muslim he or she must support violence and hatred toward those who are not Muslim." [Email obtained by FOIA request.]

The unaccredited course still cost Culpeper County taxpayers $4,375.

Questions regarding Guandolo's resume and supporters

Guandolo's biography for his company, Understanding the Threat LLC, asserts the he "served as an adjunct instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army War College." However, Major General Tony Cucolo, a commandant with the US Army War College, wrote in a personal email to CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper that "Mr. Guandolo's claim (in print) that he teaches at the Army War College and any other references (e.g., online) identifying him as an adjunct instructor here are simply untrue." Cucolo adds, "At some point during the Spring of 2011, during the elective portion of this course, Mr. Guandolo was invited to speak as a guest lecturer during one lesson of an elective entitled, 'Strategic Intelligence for Counterterrorism: Contemporary Threats to National Security.' This invitation was made by the faculty member who was in charge of that elective. To our knowledge, Mr. Guandolo came here, participated in an academic small group discussion that lasted no more than three hours, and then departed. That is all."(March 6, 2014)

Announcements for the event distributed by the Culpeper County Sherriff's Office included a supportive quote from retired Lieutenant General William Boykin. Boykin asserts that "[Islam] should not be protected under the First Amendment," that there should be "no mosques in America," that Islam is a "totalitarian way of life," and that there can be no interfaith dialogue or cooperation between Muslims and Christians. In 2013, Boykin warned, "If you are tied to the mainstream media you will never know anything about the true nature of Islam."

As pre-training viewing, Guandolo recommended Glenn Beck's The Project. In February 2011, Beck hosted anti-Muslim speaker Joel Richardson on his Fox News program and the two "tied Islam to the Antichrist in the New Testament." In 2013, Beck implied that Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) failed run for president was under investigation because, "We have been sold to radical Islam." Bachmann had previously led a campaign falsely alleging that many Muslims in public service were operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. This false allegation was rebuked by senior members of the Republican party.

Guandolo's program in Culpeper included a presentation by former CIA Case Officer Clare Lopez. In 2013, Lopez told an audience, "When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people -- Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists." Lopez is on the Clarion Project's board of advisors, on the Florida-based United West's board, and is a fellow at the Center for Security Policy. All three groups have well-documented histories of spreading falsehoods, fear and mistrust of Islam.

CAIR has long maintained that good counter-terrorism training leads to good law enforcement. Gunadolo's conspiracy theories and broad-brush condemnation of an entire faith do not qualify.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

By Corey Saylor

According to a January 6, 2013, Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) guest column, "All the evil storms of history visited upon humanity did not expose to the people of Europe (who today host well-established enclaves of radical Islam in their midst) even the surface of the slaughter and injustice carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam, 'the religion of peace,' against Jews and Christians."

IPT's special guest, Dr. Reuven Berko, goes on to report, "They know that the Arabs' thirst for blood has a multitude of causes that are not even remotely related to 'Palestine,' but nevertheless they delude themselves into thinking that the chaos in the Middle East will somehow disappear if the Palestinian issue is 'resolved.'"

Other racist gems in the article include:

  • "Europe is still ... captivated by the specious charms of the Arabs and Islam."
  • " ... pitiful Arab, whose inherent culture left him no shred of sincerity, creativity or courage."
  • "Those crimes accompanied the Arabs and Muslims from the rise of Islam and accompany them to this day."

My question for Steven Emerson: "Are you going to publically renounce Berko's Islamophobia, anti-Arab prejudice, and blatant inaccuracies?"

(On a side note, the last time I questioned inaccuracies related to Emerson and IPT, I got a letter from his lawyer asserting that what he said was his First Amendment right. I agreed. The First Amendment does not require accuracy. But since I am not the government and have no legal power to interfere in his right to say whatever he pleases, I found the approach rather odd.)

Steven Emerson's IPT is part of the Islamophobia network's inner core.

Emerson has a history of not getting the facts correct.

After terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, Emerson alleged that based on "certain classified information" he was "privy to" he was confident that the bomber was a Saudi national who was at the time in custody. The bombers turned out to be of Chechen descent. The Saudi was cleared of any wrongdoing, but rumors circulated that he may have been deported. This too turned out to be untrue. Questioned about this later, Emerson alleged, "This is the way things are done with Saudi Arabia, you don't arrest their citizens, you deport them, because [the Obama administration doesn't] want them to be embarrassed and that's the way we appease them."

The New York Times Book Review said Emerson's 1991 book Terrorist was "marred by factual errors ... that betray an unfamiliarity with the Middle East and a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias."

Emerson said of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, "This [the bombing] was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait."

Timothy McVeigh, a Caucasian American, was later convicted for committing the terrorist act.

In 1996, after a plane exploded off the coast of New York, Emerson quickly asserted, "I have no doubt whatsoever, at this point, that it was a bomb that brought down TWA Flight 800 -- not a missile, but a bomb. ... " The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the tragedy was vapor in a fuel tank, a tragic accident rather than a deliberate bombing.

Emerson's credibility was further derailed in the late 1990s when the Florida Weekly Planet newspaper senior editor John Sugg quoted two unnamed Associated Press reporters who said Emerson gave them a document on terrorism supposedly from FBI files:

"One reporter thought he'd seen the material before, and in checking found a paper Emerson had supplied earlier containing his own unsupported allegations. The two documents were almost identical, except that Emerson's authorship was deleted from the one purported to be from the FBI. 'It was really his work,' one reporter says. He sold it to us trying to make it look like a really interesting FBI document.'"

 

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Posted by on in Civil Rights
Since 2007, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has labored under a cloud of vilification. Through the support of many who share our commitment to sticking to principle in the face of adversity, we greeted 2013, in which we will celebrate nineteen years of service, free of this cloud.

Vilification of outspoken minorities is nothing new in our nation. Civil rights icon Martin Luther King--who now has a federal holiday named after him--was wiretapped and branded "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a "degenerate."[i]

While CAIR is not claiming any equivalence with Dr. King, we do note that if such an icon can be attacked and smeared, so can a much smaller 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.

The smearing of King does, however, contain a valuable insight: Those who effectively challenge injustice will be attacked and smeared. Irrelevant and ineffective groups get ignored.

Read on to see some of the great things CAIR has been doing and how sticking to our principles has dissipated the cloud hung over CAIR in 2007. We thank God Almighty for His blessing and invite you to join us in advocating for justice and mutual understanding.

Legal and advocacy challenges to anti-Islam legislation. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Islamic religious practices were considered in 31 states and the U.S. Congress. These bills threaten to undermine both the First Amendment and the Constitution's supremacy clause, making them a danger to the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans. Bills were signed into law in Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Louisiana and Oklahoma had previously passed such laws. CAIR staff wrote the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Oklahoma law. Four federal judges have so far ruled in favor of our Constitution-preserving arguments.  In Minnesota, the bill was pulled shortly after CAIR held a community press conference announcing our opposition to it. Similarly, in New Jersey a lawmaker withdrew an anti-Islam bill and met with Muslim community leaders following CAIR's intervention. In other states including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan, CAIR played a crucial role in efforts that succeeded in ending proposed limits on American religious freedom. 

Expanding legal capacity. CAIR now employs more than 25 attorneys on staff across the nation.

There when we you need us. CAIR lawyers and staff processed 5,580 civil rights complaints in 2011 and 2012. CAIR protects the civil rights of all Americans. In August 2012, CAIR staff went to Joplin, Mo. after a suspicious fire destroyed a mosque there. CAIR staff also attended the opening of a mosque in Murfresboro, Tenn. after helping that community confront a years-long Islamophobic campaign.

Largest American Muslim Capitol Hill advocacy. In March 2012, representatives from more than 20 CAIR chapters met with elected officials and staff at 113 congressional offices. This included 66 Democratic, one Independent and 46 Republican offices. CAIR discussed measures to end racial profiling and ensuring that anyone detained by the United States cannot be held indefinitely and without trial. For the recent 2012 election, CAIR used a list of almost 500,000 American Muslim voters to encourage Muslims to go vote.

Significant ability to push positive messages about Muslims in the media. In a recent one-year period, there were there were 2,811 references to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the Nexis media database, a source that compiles most domestic print media as well as major international media. This year, American media outlets carried 12,298 stories about the month of Ramadan, with the vast majority of the stories offering positive information. Since 1995, CAIR was able to help local communities maximize the positive impact of Ramadan through the distribution of our "Ramadan Publicity Kit" to leaders and activists nationwide and CAIR's own news releases. In 1994, before CAIR's founding, there were just 376 references to Ramadan, according to the Nexis media database. Since our founding, CAIR has promoted media coverage Ramadan annually as an excellent way to highlight the Muslim community's unique contributions to American society.

First American Muslim Supreme Court amicus brief. CAIR filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Jones seeking the court's support for the requirement that law enforcement authorities obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on any individual's vehicle. This was the first time in our nation's history that a Muslim organization wrote its own amicus to our nation's highest court. The court ultimately ruled that warrantless, prolonged GPS tacking of an individual's vehicle is unconstitutional.

Forty-three Members of Congress congratulate CAIR. In 2012, CAIR's national office received congratulatory letters from 43 Members of Congress, this included both Democrats and Republicans.

CAIR respected internationally (part 1): two national CAIR leaders among world's 500 most influential Muslims. Two of CAIR's national leaders--Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper--have been listed among the world's 500 most influential Muslims by Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center. The 2012 entry for Awad calls CAIR, "the most prominent Muslim lobby group" in the United States.

CAIR 'Important' in Iran's decision to release two U.S. hikers. In 2011, CAIR officials were part of a delegation of American Muslim and Christian leaders that went to Iran to foster theological dialogue and to seek the release of American hikers who had been detained in that nation. CAIR had met with President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials about the issue of the detained hikers several times over the previous two years.  CAIR National Director Nihad Awad and then Board Chair Larry Shaw travelled with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington and Interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral. The delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that its work prior to the trip and during its stay in Iran was important in the ultimate decision to release the hikers.

Nation's oldest Muslim newspaper honors CAIR. In December 2011, CAIR received an award for "Civil Rights Preservation" from the Muslim Journal, the nation's oldest American Muslim newspaper. 

CAIR chapters locally awarded and respected. In 2012, CAIR-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid received an award from the Islamic Society of North America for his work in promoting intrafaith and interfaith understanding and cooperation. CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab was appointed by Chicago's Mayor to the city's New Americans Advisory Committee. Looking "at contemporary American Muslim women who founded or lead non-profit organizations" during Women's History Month, Islamic Networks Group recognized five of CAIR's key female leaders. CAIR-Minnesota's Nausheena Hussain was given the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits 2012 Leadership Award in the Catalytic Leader category.

CAIR respected internationally (part 2). Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the general delegation of the PLO to the United States, wrote to CAIR in September 2012 expressing the delegation's "great admiration for CAIR's work." Also in 2012, the Ambassador of the League of Arab States wished the organization success in its "good and noble efforts promoting cooperation and understanding."

Unjust and untested 2007 government allegation against CAIR put to rest in 2011. In 2007, a list of more than 300 un-indicted co-conspirators (UCC) was released by Holy Land Foundation trial prosecutors. The list included some of the American Muslim community's leading organizations, including CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).

Groups opposing American Muslim organizations seized upon the list as a tool. While there is no legal implication to being labeled an un-indicted co-conspirator, since it does not require the Justice Department to prove anything in a court of law, the smears that can result from such a designation are exactly why the Justice Department's manual for prosecutors says: "In all public filings and proceedings, federal prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged third-parties."

This issue of the designation was settled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Department of Justice in CAIR's favor. 

On October 20, 2010, three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Justice violated the Fifth Amendment rights of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), and by implication the rights of other similarly-named Muslim organizations and individuals, such as CAIR, when it included them on the 2007 list.

Regarding CAIR, in 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder, who indicated that Department of Justice officials determined after "looking at the facts and the law, a prosecution would not be appropriate."

This conclusion was reached after two reviews conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. After Holder, the chief law enforcement officer in America, stated this determination, internet rumor held that a prosecution had been suppressed due to political interference. 

These allegations have also been put to rest. James Jacks, the U.S. Attorney who led the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation issued a statement that was partially re-produced in the Dallas Morning News: "'The decision to indict or not indict a case is based upon an analysis of the evidence and the law,' [Jacks] wrote. 'That's what happened in this case.'"

While the FBI severed outreach to CAIR in 2008, this has had no impact on substantive work on bias complaints, investigations and similar issues. In 2008, subsequent to the UCC designation discussed above, FBI offices contacted many CAIR chapters stating that they were suspending some ties between the Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group and FBI field offices. The letters also stated that the FBI would continue to work with CAIR on civil rights issues impacting American Muslims.

Substantive work on bias complaints, investigations and similar issues never stopped. Writing in the New York Times on March 11, 2011, Scott Shane reported, "Last month, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, said that the bureau had no 'formal relationship' with CAIR, but that the organization's officials and chapters regularly worked with F.B.I. officials on investigations and related matters. This included a news conference held on Thursday in Sacramento to announce an arrest in a mosque vandalism case."

Among the public reasons for the FBI's 2008 move is a line found in wiretaps of a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia during which a participant discussed "establishing alternative organizations which can benefit from a new atmosphere, ones whose Islamic hue is not very conspicuous." The conspiracy theory runs that CAIR was the product of this discussion.

CAIR raised reasonable questions about why the agency would pursue a working relationship from the organization's founding in 1994 through 2008 and then break it off citing a problem that arose in 1993.

CAIR is subjected to false accusations, but even its most vehement detractors never assert that the organization is "not very conspicuous" in its "Islamic hue."  Indeed, "Islamic" is all over CAIR's founding. According to early CAIR documents, the Council on American-Islamic Relations was created as an "organization that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims,"[ii] a "Washington-based Islamic advocacy group"[iii] and an "organization dedicated to providing an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public."[iv]

Outreach ties or not, some of CAIR's ongoing work with law enforcement was highlighted by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan institution which works for the U.S Congress, in its 2010 report American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat:

  • "The [2010] story of the five men from the Alexandria, Virginia area...became public when the Council on American-Islamic Relations got their families in touch with the FBI after the five left the United States without telling their families." [CAIR note: This case is cited in numerous sources as a core example of the American Muslim community working with law enforcement.]
  • "Posing as a new convert, Monteilh arrived at the Irvine Islamic Center in 2006 wearing robes and a long beard, using the name Farouk al-Aziz. Monteilh had a criminal record that included serving 16 months in state prison on two grand theft charges. Members of the Islamic Center of Irvine were reportedly alarmed about Monteilh and his talk of jihad and plans for a terrorist attack. The local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported him to the Irvine police and obtained a three-year restraining order against him." [CAIR note: It was later revealed the Monteilh was an FBI informant.]
Former Rep. Myrick (R-NC) admits she got "bad advice" when supporting Muslim Mafia. The authors of Muslim Mafia, one of whom likens Islam to a "cancer" and the other proposed putting pig's blood in water in Afghanistan, accused CAIR of trying to infiltrate the U.S. Government. At the time, Newsweek concluded, "CAIR has tried to place interns on Capitol Hill, but as it points out, that's standard practice for advocacy groups of all types and allegiances. There's no proof of sinister motives or an effort to encourage international jihad."[v]

The book's sole credibility boost came from its forward, which was written by then U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC). 

According to Mother Jones, community activist Mohamed Elibiary met with Myrick in September 2011.[vi] Elibiary says, "[Myrick] let me know that she doesn't hold any bad feelings towards the community and that some of the previous things, like her writing the foreword for the Muslim Mafia book, was done through bad advice she received."

Mother Jones adds the following:

It wasn't Myrick's only attempt to make things right. She conveyed a similar message to Ellison. "I don't think she ever knew what she was really getting herself into," Ellison says. "She was a little stunned that she would be associated with hating a religious minority group. I think she re-evaluated a number of things, and I think she's far less aggressive than she used to be."

Senators see through false allegations, commend CAIR. In 2003, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) made negative statements about CAIR. In 2012, Senator Schumer wrote, "I applaud CAIR for their determination to the mission of humanity around the world and perseverance to continue to cultivate and encourage mutual understanding among Americans of all background and cultures." Similarly, Durbin wrote to CAIR's Chicago chapter in 2011 saying the group, "advances a greater understanding of the Muslim culture and serves as an essential thread in the multicultural fabric of our nation. [CAIR's] efforts to advocate for tolerance promote the civil liberties of all communities." In 2012, when Durbin held a hearing on hate crimes, his district director attended a viewing of the hearing hosted by CAIR-Chicago.

U.S. history shows clearly that those who advocate for justice will at times be vilified. It also shows that those who stick to our nation's principles can ultimately emerge from this vilification having contributed to a more perfect union. Before Muslims came under the lens of bias African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and any number of others faced it. Each in their turn has pushed back. Today it is our turn. If history is any guide, then tomorrow this lens will turn to another group. We believe it is essential that this group be able to look to Muslims with pride and know we honored the hard work done by groups before us and will be there to help those who come after us.   

[i]Christensen, Jen. "FBI tracked King's every move," CNN, December 29, 2008.
[ii] CAIR letter to Vice President Gore, 10/06/1995
[iii] CAIR press release, 8/28/1995
[iv] CAIR press release, 12/13/1995
[v] "Know Your Conspiracies: Newsweek's guide to today's trendiest, hippest and least likely fringe beliefs," Newsweek, February 12, 2010.
[vi] Tim Murphy and Adam Serwer. "The GOP's Anti-Muslim Wing is in Retreat," Mother Jones, January 3, 2013.

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