In what could be either a major turning point or just an aberration, Sen. Barbara Boxer recently rescinded an award given to a California resident because of his position with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Despite being founded by two self-identified supporters of Islamic terrorism and continually refusing to condemn Islamic terrorism, CAIR has not only survived, but thrived. In the five years since 9/11, CAIR has grown exponentially in both resources and influence, becoming the defacto voice of American Muslims in the mainstream media. It has been embraced by many sectors of the federal government, including the FBI. But politically, CAIR’s success primarily has been limited to forging alliances with leftist organizations, most notably the ACLU.
Though the long-term implications are still far from certain, Sen. Boxer’s very public disavowal of CAIR might encourage real media investigation by changing the perception that criticism of CAIR is a right-wing affair, and it could even inspire other Democrats and liberals to follow her lead.
Shortly after Sen. Boxer’s office last month presented Sacramento activist Basim Elkarra a “certificate of accomplishment,” he was notified that the award was being withdrawn because he heads the local chapter of CAIR. For Mr. Elkarra, it probably means little whether he is the recipient of the certificate or not. For CAIR, however, the move must feel like a stunning rebuke considering that the group that has masterfully courted the left by positioning itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group.”
While Sen. Boxer cited, among other things, quotes from fellow Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois that were critical of CAIR, both statements were made over three years ago—and no other prominent Democrats have said anything similar since. Although no prominent elected Republicans have joined the chorus criticizing CAIR, a fair reading of grassroots Internet activity shows that concern over the organization is largely found on the right.
CAIR claims that Boxer succumbed to the “pro-Israel lobby,” who are “anti-Muslim extremists.” The reality is that Sen. Boxer, as politically safe as any member of Congress’ upper chamber, received little flack for issuing a relatively minor certificate to Mr. Elkarra. She had little to gain, and much to lose. A savvy pol, Sen. Boxer likely realized that she would be subjected to CAIR’s well-oiled attack machine.
Sure enough, CAIR unsheathed the long knives. Calls to Sen. Boxer’s office were overwhelming against her decision, and only one group, California-based Stand With Us, actually encouraged its members to support her. But ironically, in the course of disparaging Ms. Boxer, CAIR demonstrated precisely why the Senator did the right thing.
Interviewed by Paula Zahn last week on CNN, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper let loose a grandiose fabrication:
“We practically have a rubber stamp saying, ‘CAIR condemns blank act of terrorism.’ We’ve repeatedly, consistently condemned terrorism in all its forms, including attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas, Hezbollah. We’ve condemned it repeatedly.”
While CAIR did condemn one specific attack committed by Hamas—the particularly gruesome Netanya Passover Massacre in March 2002—it pointedly omitted any reference to the terrorist organization. (Interestingly, CAIR’s press release also avoided acknowledging that the bombing occurred in “Israel,” writing instead that the attack happened in “the Middle East.”) As for Hezbollah, CAIR has never condemned any of that organization’s many terrorist attacks. During the month-long war last summer, CAIR issued at least eight condemnations of Israel and America—but not one of Hezbollah.
CAIR has, in fact, never condemned Hamas or Hezbollah. Given repeated opportunities to do so by outlets such as the Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, CAIR has flatly refused to denounce either. Asked point-blank by Newsweek just last month to condemn Hamas, CAIR Executive Director (and co-founder) Nihad Awad demurred, dismissing the question as “the game of the pro-Israel lobby.”
When unaware their words were being recorded, though, both of CAIR’s co-founders have freely discussed Islamic terrorism—by voicing their support. In a speech at Barry University in Florida in 1994, Mr. Awad declared, “I’m in support of the Hamas movement.” Addressing a youth session at a 1999 Islamic Association for Palestine convention in Chicago, CAIR’s other co-founder, Omar Ahmad, praised suicide bombers who “kill themselves for Islam”: “Fighting for freedom, fighting for Islam, that is not suicide. They kill themselves for Islam.” (Transcript provided by the Investigative Project.)
Neither statement endorsing Islamic terrorism is out of character for CAIR. When they founded CAIR in 1994, Awad and Ahmad, were both high-ranking officials with the Islamic Association of Palestine, and they maintained close relations for years afterward. IAP, which appears to have ceased operations within the past two years, was an openly anti-Semitic organization long believed to be Hamas’ political front in the U.S. A civil court judge in Illinois last year confirmed those suspicions when he declared that there was “strong evidence that IAP was supporting Hamas.”
Attacks on CAIR, however, require some degree of nuance, as the group doesn’t openly advocate on behalf of Islamic terrorist organizations. Though it has fiercely and loudly defended men charged with aiding terrorism, such as now-open Hamas operative Mousa Abu Marzouk and former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian, CAIR’s primary focus is stifling legitimate debate on the threat posed by radical Islam. Talk radio host Michael Graham was drummed out of Disney-owned WMAL in
Washington because of a campaign spearheaded by the group. More recently, talk host and columnist Dennis Prager was publicly flagellated for criticizing new Congressman Keith Ellison’s decision to swear his oath of office on the Qur’an.
If only CAIR exhibited anywhere near the same kind of hostility for the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.
That its apologism for Islamic terrorism has been remarkably slick is probably why CAIR has thus far escaped scrutiny by the left or the mainstream media. Perhaps the best example is its much-ballyhooed fatwa against terrorism and extremism—terms that intentionally were not defined. No fundamentalist Muslim considers himself “extreme,” and Hamas and its boosters maintain that the only real “terrorist” in the region is the Jewish state. Not coincidentally, CAIR claims to condemn “all forms of terrorism,” yet it almost exclusively focuses on Israel’s actions.
Seeing through CAIR’s tapestry of lies and deceptions is admittedly a tough task, but by no means an impossible one. Sen. Boxer did it with little outside prodding. How many others in the media and on the left will follow suit?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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