Engaging Islam

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Council for Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR, is the leading Muslim advocacy organization in the United States.  CAIR states that its mission is "to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue ... and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding."  CAIR also asserts ten core principles, the first being to support for – among other freedoms – freedom of expression.

On the homepage of its website, CAIR features a YouTube posting titled "Video: CAIR 'Confronting Fear' Report…"  In it, a measured, unsmiling narrator says the following:

What would you do with 205 million dollars?  33 organizations around the United States, what we call the inner core of the US Islamophobia network, use that much money to spread fear and hate of Islam between 2008 and 2013.  Instead of using this money to do something positive, these groups are using it to spread fear and prejudice.  They're spreading lies about what Muslims believe; they're spreading conspiracy theories about what Muslims are doing in this country.  So go to islamophobia.org today; get a copy of our new report, 'Confronting Fear;' learn more about these groups; more importantly, we want you to learn what you can do to help push back [no call for "dialogue" or "mutual understanding" here] against their fear and prejudice.

The Islamophobia.org website that the speaker directs the listeners to is divided into four categories, the first two of which will be addressed here.  The first is "Islamophobic Organizations."  This category includes 45 organizations divided into two sub-categories: the "Inner Core" and the "Outer Core."  The Inner Core is defined as follows:

Groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims and whose work regularly demonstrates Islamophobic themes.

Note the wording.  CAIR is not saying that these groups are misguided.  (To say that would imply that CAIR's recourse would be to engage in dialogue with them.)  Instead, CAIR says that their actual purpose is to promote prejudice.  These groups are, in other words, knowingly engaging in an evil purpose.  What dialogue can there be with them?

The Outer Core is:

Groups whose primary purpose does not appear to include promoting prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims but whose work regularly demonstrates or supports Islamophobic themes.

Here, CAIR is not charging evil intent.  In fact, one could conclude from CAIR's description that such groups are simply misguided – in which case, CAIR's recourse would be not name-calling, but dialogue.  But no, such groups fall within the general "Islamophobe" category nonetheless.

(This "Outer Core," incidentally, includes organizations such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which makes no direct advocacy itself [see mission statement], but only contributes to other organizations that do, which includes organizations CAIR deems to be Islamophobic.)

The second category is "Islamophobic Individuals," where CAIR lists 62 persons.  Here, oddly enough, there is no distinction between "Inner" or "Outer Core."  Either such a binary division does not, for some reason, apply to individuals, or they are all in the same sub-category, but one which CAIR neglects to identify.  (In such case, we must assume that all such individuals would be considered to be "Inner Core.")

Whether "Inner Core" or "Outer Core," whether "Organizations" or "Individuals," CAIR addresses them all in the same way, which is to provide a brief, sometimes one-sentence description and a link to a fuller one.  The fuller description includes statements, associations and actions of the alleged Islamophobes, etc. that CAIR does not comment on but appears to presume that they are damning on their face.

CAIR does not state that it has provided any of those listed as "Islamophobes" with an opportunity to respond their description, and there is no indication that it has done so.  So let this writer respond for them generally.  After reviewing several descriptions, he finds none that justify CAIR's designation of "Islamophobe."

This includes the description for the blog Bare Naked Islam.  In connection with the smoke-bombing of a mosque, CAIR quotes BNI as saying, "We do not condone this act of violence but we support the courageous counterjihad efforts of the EDL, Geoff Ryan [the smoke bomber] ..."  CAIR also states that, due to BNI's violation of terms of service relating to threats and/or incitement to violence, WordPress.com removed BNI from its hosting platform.  While such facts certainly justify CAIR's identification of this blog, that identification is not justified by any Islamophobic beliefs, but rather by the group's apparent support for violence.  It should be identified not under a category of "Islamophobic Organizations," but under "Organizations that Support Violence against Islam."  However, CAIR has no such category.

Primarily, CAIR's descriptions rely on quotations from its designated Islamophobes.  From Brigitte Gabriel, for example:

America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy: Islam.

Is this, on its face – the identification of Islam as "the real enemy" – evidence of Islamophobia?  Not necessarily.  Not if there is rational basis for it.  And particularly not if we include the motives that CAIR ascribes to it – that is, the deliberate purpose of spreading fear and hate.  If Gabriel believes what she says, then her purpose is not to spread fear and hate; it is to save America.  Whether her statement is true or not is another question.  But it is one that should be subject, not to demonization, but to debate.

CAIR, however, does not appear to be interested in debate.  If that were the case, it would not be calling such persons "Islamophobes," ones "spreading lies," "fear and hate" in the first place; it would be calling them "critics" or "opponents of Islam."

In such "spreading fear and hate against Islam," in stating her assessment of Islam, Gabriel is doing no less than what Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Salman Rushdie have done – all of whom are under sentences of death from fatwas issued by Muslim imams.

Were Muslims a majority in America, that would perhaps be what CAIR would be calling for here.  But Muslims currently are not a majority, so we do not have that.  What we have instead is a listing of "Islamophobes" who "spread fear and prejudice."  We have a kind of discreet, non-lethal fatwa, one might say – at least for the time being.


Not long ago, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (currently not listed by CAIR as an Islamophobe) said that Islam is not compatible with Western democracy.  Certainly, CAIR, based on its website, is not compatible.  To be compatible, CAIR must tolerate criticism that goes to the heart of Islam.  Reliance on the word "Islamophobe" is not toleration.  Nor is even silence really toleration.  Real toleration is shown really only through engagement.  If CAIR is to become compatible, it must not only tolerate criticism, but engage with it.  And, as the leading Muslim advocacy group, it can start right now.  It can, in public debate, defend its charges.  Or, through Gingrich's charge, it can rebut the "Islamophobes" more generally.  It can argue that Islam is, in fact, compatible with American democracy.  (Its mere participation in such a debate would be its greatest rebuttal.)

And, because there are two candidates for the presidency with opposing views on this issue, there is a great opportunity to unite such a debate with those presidential campaigns.  CAIR, and/or its allies, can join Hillary Clinton (who calls for greater Muslim immigration), and "Islamophobes," with Donald Trump (who has, in the primaries, called for a moratorium on it).

The debate wouldn't be between Clinton or Trump, but between advocates chosen by them.  And, to make clear and to ensure that the advocates would be speaking for the respective campaigns, it would not be an oral debate, but a written one – one in which, prior to public posting, the candidates would have to approve of all statements and rebuttals made by their respective advocates.  (Just for fun, a more informal, televised oral exchange between the advocates could follow.)  So it would be more than just a debate between CAIR or its allies, and "Islamophobes."  It would be something new in American politics – presidential candidates, exchanging, though selected advocates, the rationales for their policy positions.  We could use something new.

And, it must be said, particularly on this issue.  For if Trump loses, and Muslim immigration continues at its current or greater levels, and American Muslims, as reflected by CAIR's website, are in fact hostile to critical discussion of Islam, there will soon come a time when discussing this issue at the presidential level will not even be an option.  (Indeed, but for the political anomaly of Donald Trump, it probably would not be an option even today.)  It may well be much later than we think.  Let us have a presidential debate on this issue, and let us have it now.

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