ISLAMOPHOBES MISLEAD SENATOR BOXER
By Parvez Ahmed, 1/5/06
[Parvez Ahmed is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently rescinded an award to Basim Elkarra, the executive director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
This disturbing news was met with a flurry of rhetorical high-fives by anti-Muslim extremists in the blogosphere. After Boxer’s decision to rescind the award was made public, Elkarra received an e-mailed death threat. That threat is being investigated by the FBI.
But what led Sen. Boxer to rescind the award? The justifications offered range from the amazing to the bizarre.
According to Sen. Boxer’s spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz, the senator became “concerned” after she read negative things about CAIR on a virulent anti-Muslim hate site. This despite the fact that the same website describes Sen. Boxer as someone who is “thickheaded” on national security and said, “The nation’s dumbest Democrat, Barbara Boxer, has a plan to lose in Iraq.”
It is truly disappointing to see Sen. Boxer use such a hate-filled and inflammatory site to form her opinions about CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group.
Just days before Sen. Boxer announced her decision, a demand for just such an action was issued by Joe Kaufman, an anti-Muslim extremist in Florida who has a long history of seeking to marginalize the Muslim community in that state.
Kaufman has in the past promoted terrorist organizations such as Kach and Kahane Chai on his website. In an article published on the forum of the radical Jewish Defense League in Florida, Kaufman praised the Kahane movement and its founder Mier Kahane by stating, “It was perfectly understandable, if he (Kahane) were to have hated Arabs.”
Last year, Kaufman once again demonstrated his anti-Muslim bigotry by joining the call of Rev. O’Neal Dozier (who was subsequently removed from the campaign of Florida Governor Charlie Crist in part because of his bigoted views about Muslims) seeking to block the expansion of a mosque in Pompano Beach. “This mosque should not exist on American shores,” said Kaufman.” (St. Petersburg Times, 7/14/06)
The senator said she also relied on information from Steven Emerson, a “terrorism expert” with a history of defamatory attacks on CAIR almost since its founding in 1994. Emerson was the commentator who first blamed Muslims for the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma.
Sen. Boxer’s decision to rescind the award contradicted her previous positive interactions with CAIR and was made without a single phone call or e-mail seeking a rebuttal to the Internet smears. In the past, CAIR received several letters of commendation from the senator.
Members of her staff also attended CAIR events.
While American Muslims have grown used to such behavior from the extreme right, it was shocking to see a progressive politician like Sen. Boxer get caught up in our nation’s rising tide of Islamophobia.
Sen. Boxer has now signaled a willingness to meet with CAIR officials both in California and in Washington, D.C. This is certainly welcome news.
CAIR has always taken a principled stand against terrorism and religious extremism.
From issuing a statement of condemnation immediately after the 9/11 attacks, to taking out a full-page ad in the Washington Post dissociating Islam from terrorism, to launching the “Not in the Name of Islam” online petition and public service announcement campaigns, CAIR’s initiatives all point to an organization unequivocally opposed to terrorism in all its forms.
Representatives of the FBI are frequent participants at CAIR events nationwide and CAIR regularly conducts sensitivity training for federal and local law enforcement agencies.
In defending Boxer’s position, Boxer’s office has been using recycled news stories about the convictions of two people who had past associations with CAIR.
One of those people, a volunteer board member of a local CAIR chapter, undertook his actions after terminating his association with CAIR. The other person’s activities came after he left his employment at CAIR. Whatever they did or did not do in their private capacities has nothing to do with CAIR. Holding CAIR responsible for the actions of former associates is guilt by association.
CAIR has tens of thousands of members, hundreds of volunteer board members and several dozen paid staff members nationwide. It would be unfair and un-American to hold any organization responsible for the actions of every individual, especially when such actions originate outside the scope of their employment or association.
Unfortunately, the general public’s ignorance of their American Muslim neighbors is the oxygen that gives life to Islamophobia.
The reality is that American Muslims make up one of the most productive and law-abiding segments of our society. Recent polls show that nearly nine out of ten American Muslims vote regularly and nearly half volunteer for institutions serving the public (compared to a national average of 29 percent). The same poll indicated that American Muslims have high regard for CAIR.
By acting on smears, distortions and guilt by association, Sen. Boxer has failed her Muslim constituents and has betrayed the progressive values of her party and state.
Despite this disturbing episode, we remain committed to working with Sen. Boxer and with any other public officials who seek to build a better and more tolerant America.