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