Bigotry shows its ugly face, not only on Main Street, but now in the halls of Congress. A recent target is Eighth District Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-Paterson, who represents a district where an increasingly large number of assertive Muslims and Arabs live. Indeed, this is the place often described by the congressman as “the most ethnically and religiously diverse area in the United States.”

Pascrell is now being criticized for facilitating a conference room for CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. The room is located in the Capitol basement. The aim of the panel discussion was to discuss relations between Muslims and the West ? a most timely topic.

This courtesy is routinely extended to groups of various political affiliations and issues.

Like other political organizations, CAIR has done or said things others may find objectionable. But consistently, it has acted as a moderating venue for disseminating timely and accurate information to and about the American-Muslim community. In fact, the FBI and other federal agencies have often worked with CAIR to build bridges with the Muslim community.

Members of Congress routinely give groups, ranging from environmental coalitions to pro- or anti-abortion groups, access to Capitol rooms.

CAIR reports that it held similar meetings in Congress in the past. The latest one ­ a 90-minute briefing on March 13 by Professor Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, concerned a newly completed study of “Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations.”

Pascrell said of the incident that the building is “open to all Americans and should be available to encourage dialogue on the most relevant domestic and international issues of the day.”

For some Republicans to attempt to stifle open discussion of vital national issues belies good judgment and common sense. We salute the congressman for extending the courtesy and opportunity to CAIR to hold a meeting on exactly the kind of issues members of Congress need to be educated about.

We see the Republicans’ baseless attack on the congressman and CAIR as bordering on disgraceful bigotry and moral bankruptcy.

Unfettered but organized access to Congress should be open to all American citizens wishing to advance their reasonable causes.

Aref Assaf, American Arab Forum


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