Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The truth about the Council on American-Islamic Relations

The Truth about CAIR
By: Hussam Ayloush
Executive Director
CAIR Southern California

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) generally does not bother responding to Steven Emerson, a leading Islamophobe who uses scare tactics to defame mainstream Muslim leaders and organizations. It was Emerson who went on national media in 1995 and insisted that Middle Eastern Muslims were behind the Oklahoma City bombing. He accused Muslims again in the TWA 800 plane crash in 1996.

It is perplexing to see an extremist, anti-Muslim voice make the pages of the Jewish Journal. However, I think it would be of interest to the readership of a mainstream Jewish publication to hear the truth about CAIR’s work in fostering positive relationships with all faith communities, including the Jewish community.

CAIR is the largest American Muslim civil rights organization, with 33 offices across the country. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding. CAIR is well respected by public officials, law enforcement and interfaith leaders. Over the past 12 years, we have worked closely with our nation's lawmakers, media and law enforcement agencies to provide them with the Muslim community’s perspective on issues of importance to our society. We have trained and worked closely with FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, school principals, teachers, interfaith leaders and groups, and civil rights activists.

Emerson’s real aim is for the Jewish community to shun CAIR solely on the basis of guilt by association. CAIR is the largest advocacy group representing American Muslims, with hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of members. It is ludicrous of Emerson to hold CAIR responsible for the alleged infractions of former affiliates acting on their own volitions. It is similar to blaming the entire U.S. military for a few, wrong acts carried out by a minority of the military personnel.

Emerson also attacks CAIR for defending the civil rights of unpopular individuals. Organizations are judged on the quality of their work and substance of their statements. Like the ACLU, we as a civil rights organization, are bound to defend the rights of all Americans, even those perceived to hold unacceptable views. Unlike Emerson, we strongly believe in the due process.

Moreover, CAIR's early and principled stance against all forms of terrorism is well documented and can be found on our web site, www.cair.com. We issued our strong condemnation of terrorism within a matter of hours following the Sept. 11 attacks. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, we issued the statement, "As American Muslims ... we will not allow terrorist groups like Al-Qaida to be the voice of Muslims or the representation of Islam to the rest of the world." We are additionally proud to have launched one of the many initiatives against terrorism, “Not in the Name of Islam” petition, which has been signed by nearly 700,000 people. That petition was turned into a television public service announcement that was viewed by millions of people nationwide. CAIR also coordinated the release of a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against terrorism and extremism issued by Muslim scholars in America.

CAIR is a human rights organization. As such, it is our duty and Islamic obligation to speak out against human rights abuses, whatever the faith of the victims or the perpetrators. We recently issued a statement against a predominantly Muslim country, Tunisia, for banning Muslim women from wearing the headscarf. We have regularly been critical of our government’s handling of the Iraq War. Yet, we are not labeled anti-American, anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. However, when we denounce human rights violations committed by Israel, we are quickly criticized as being anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic.

CAIR will speak out against injustices and abuses committed against innocent civilians, whether that be in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Israel or any other country, including our very own. No country in the world is beyond legitimate criticism. Moreover, an essential tenet of democracy is that no person or nation is above the law.

Emerson’s allegations against CAIR, and his previous attacks on Muslim Public Affairs Council Senior Adviser Maher Hathout, are nothing more than desperate attempts to marginalize the American Muslim community and its leaders, to stifle legitimate debate over the Middle East conflict and to undermine genuine efforts by moderate Muslims and Jews to foster dialogue and mutual understanding.

American Muslims and CAIR have unequivocally condemned all acts of terrorism, stand side by side with other Americans for justice and peace, and are committed to continue working closely with our Jewish partners and friends, even those with whom we have differences on the Middle East conflict.

It’s time Emerson and his extremist associates stop crying wolf, drop their fear-mongering and intimidation, and join others in the efforts for peace and justice.

People of all faiths must challenge and repudiate extremists. CAIR, through initiatives like its fatwa on extremism, is doing its part. Will the mainstream Jewish community do the same with extremists like Emerson?

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