CAIR killing free speech in the U.S.?

Posted: Sep 02, 2005 12:00 AM

Though there is some disagreement between local talk station WMAL and fired mid-morning host Michael Graham over the details of his recent termination, one thing is not in dispute: the big winner is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called for his ouster, yet has never specifically condemned Islamic terrorist organizations such as Hamas or Hezbollah.

In a year that started with it blasting away at the Fox television show “24”—because it had terrorists who were Muslims—CAIR has garnered more attention than ever before.  Now with the firing of Mr. Graham, it has achieved perhaps its greatest feat yet—at least in perception, which is typically tantamount to reality.

And a stronger CAIR almost inevitably means a weakened culture of free speech.

Mr. Graham was fired last week by Disney-owned WMAL for his on-air comments on July 21 that Islam is a “terrorist organization.”  After initially defending him, however, the station suspended him without pay on July 28—three days after CAIR launched its initial campaign. 

In an official statement, the station dismissed the coincidence of timing, saying, “we make our decisions independent of external pressures or third parties.”  But given that the station went abruptly from supporting Graham to suspending him, it seems difficult to believe that the CAIR-stirred controversy had no impact on the sudden switch.

Graham likely was not immediately shown the door after making the comments on July 21 because they were rich with context, with the logic and rationale for his labeling Islam a “terrorist organization” well laid-out.  The remarks were far from flippant, and seen in context, they don’t read as the rantings of a fire-breathing bigot.

Here is a representative sample of Graham’s remarks:

“Because of the mix of Islamic theology that — rightly or wrongly — is interpreted to promote violence, added to an organizational structure that allows violent radicals to operate openly in Islam’s name with impunity, Islam has, sadly, become a terrorist organization. It pains me to say it. But the good news is it doesn’t have to stay this way, if the vast majority of Muslims who don’t support terror will step forward and re-claim their religion.”

Focusing solely on the “terrorist organization” soundbite obviously makes Mr. Graham’s comments indefensible—and legitimately an outrage.  But with his clearly spelled-out reasoning, there is still much room with which to disagree with his labeling—but it is much harder to pillory his comments as bombastic bigotry.

Whether WMAL intended to or not, the station has handed CAIR arguably its biggest victory to date, and has certainly increased the legitimacy of an organization that deserves none.

It won’t just be radio talk hosts that will start feeling chilly when the topic of Islam arises.  Television personalities, reporters, columnists, or anyone who works for a corporate interest that would bristle at being the target of a CAIR scare campaign would think twice before making even entirely defensible statements.  It’s not inconceivable that media outlets could set up clear demarcation lines and declare certain subject matters or groups off-limits.

In fairness to WMAL, it isn’t the first conservative media outlet to bow to CAIR pressure.  National Review (where this columnist once worked) earlier this year removed a book from its online bookstore deemed “bigoted” and “anti-Muslim hate” by CAIR after the group sent a threatening letter to major advertiser Boeing—which sells planes to many wealthy Arabs.

The threat of public controversy is apparently so strong that major media outlets—the top conservative talk station in the nation’s capital and the nation’s premier conservative publication—are fleeing from rather than fighting an organization replete with ripe targets.

Take your pick: CAIR’s radical roots essentially as an offshoot of a rabidly anti-Semitic organization long viewed as Hamas’ biggest political booster in the U.S., its co-founder Omar Ahmad praising suicide bombers who “kill themselves for Islam” in November 1999 (according to a transcript provided by the Investigative Project), or its repeated failure to specifically condemn radical Islam or terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, dismissing requests to do so as a “game.”

CAIR’s key to success in spite of its ugly history is an odd combination of finesse and noise.  Realizing that it needs to pass itself off as moderate, CAIR has become the master of making even intelligent people believe that they’ve condemned something when they haven’t. 

Case in point: its recent fatwa against “extremism” and “terrorism.”  CAIR and others came out against two terms that they intentionally didn’t define.  Hamas, for example, has long maintained that it is not “terrorism” to kill Israelis because of the Jewish state’s mandatory military conscription.  Last year’s CAIR-led “Not in the Name of Islam” campaign was of the same ilk.

Or when four Americans were murdered and mutilated in Fallujah last year. CAIR condemned the mutilations, but not the murders—the same exact position as a leading radical cleric in Fallujah.  This was no mere semantic slip; it was the continuation of a pattern that has snookered many.

All of this information is available to media outlets subjected to a CAIR onslaught.  None has yet to dig in and fight, however. 

Normal debating rules argue against attacking the messenger, but is it really unfair to ask CAIR to condemn terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah before acknowledging their criticisms of even admittedly offensive speech?