This year has been a rocky one for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the self-professed "prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy" group. First, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer rescinded an award her office had issued a CAIR official, stating that she was uncomfortable with many of the organization's positions. Then, two weeks ago, the GOP House Conference objected to the use of a Capitol facility--provided by Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell to host a CAIR forum, labeling the group "terror apologists" (based on CAIR's long track record of extremism and anti-Semitism).
Yet, just as people began to realize this and to ostracize CAIR accordingly, The New York Times arrived with a life raft. Earlier this month, Neil MacFarquhar wrote an incredibly generous profile called "Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S." MacFarquhar's piece is so fraught with errors--of commission and omission--that it is a coup of CAIR propaganda.
MacFarquhar gets off on the right foot, noting, "Several federal officials said CAIR's Washington office frequently issued controversial statements that made it hard for senior government figures to be associated with the group." But he cites none of these "controversial statements." Nor does he mention the CAIR-sponsored fund-raisers and conferences featuring former neo-Nazi leader William Baker and jihadist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim. (At a 1998 CAIR event, Ghoneim sang, "No to the Jews, descendants of the apes." And, after he was deported in 2004 for overstaying his visa, Hussam Ayloush, CAIR's Southern California director, called Ghoneim's removal from the U.S. "a dent in our civil rights struggle.")
Readers of the Times wouldn't know, for example, that Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin alleged CAIR's links to terrorists; nor that Steven Pomerantz, former counterterrorism chief of the FBI, has written, "Any objective assessment of the material ... leads to the conclusion that CAIR, its leaders, and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups."
In airing critics' complaints about the group, MacFarquhar cites its refusal to "endorse the American government's blanket condemnations of Hezbollah and Hamas." Actually, that's only half the story. At a 2001 rally in front of the State Department, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad actually defended Hamas's murderous tactics: "The Palestinians are using legitimate means of resistance. We should not be shy about it, and we should not be apologetic about it."
The devil, however, is in the details, and MacFarquhar doesn't even bother with them. CAIR has received significant funding from the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, an outfit notorious for publishing anti-Semitic, jihadist literature. (Sample passage: "Teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors, and teach them that our youngsters will liberate Palestine and [Jerusalem] when they go back to Islam and make jihad for the sake of Allah.") CAIR officials also make frequent pilgrimages to the Persian Gulf to solicit funds (for a $50 million p.r. campaign and a new $24 million office building).
The Times even parrots a typical CAIR refrain--that "some pro-Israeli lobbyists" are responsible for the group's woes--and stands it up in the mouth of some unnamed government official. If MacFarquhar had dug deeper, he would have found conspiracy-mongering. A March 1998 article in the Georgetown Voice (titled "Muslim group sponsors controversial speaker; Jews Control U.S. Policy, Awad Says") reported that Awad called U.S. policy "driven in part by the Jewish origin of many Clinton administration officials." Awad continued, "Who of Clinton's advisors ... is opposing the latest agreement with Iraq? Look at their names. Look at ... their ethnic or religious or racial background. You will see that these are the same groups that belong to the same interest groups in the administration. These are the same people who are pushing the United States to go to war on behalf of a third party." And, at a Washington, D.C. rally in 2000, Awad unequivocally announced his vision for the Middle East, "They [the Jews] have been saying 'next year to Jerusalem.' We say 'next year to all Palestine.'"
While the Times did not see fit to provide its readers with any of CAIR's "controversial" statements (Awad in 1994: "I am in support of the Hamas movement"), the paper did disingenuously quote one of CAIR's most dangerous supporters. Former FBI agent Michael Rolince--who spent much of his time at the agency championing "partnership" between Islamist groups and law enforcement (and has, since his retirement, frequented the Islamist speaking and fund-raising circuit) told MacFarquhar, "Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares."
Not only is this a total falsehood, but it's also a conflict of interest. Rolince was involved in a highly controversial program, eventually de-funded and cancelled by the FBI, that would have funneled millions of dollars to a constellation of radical Muslim groups, including CAIR (to, in the words of the Times, "institutionalize bridge building"). I have met with Rolince several times, and he simply refused to read the materials on CAIR that I, and others, provided. Moreover, Mike Rolf, a retired FBI agent, disagrees with Rolince's casual acceptance of CAIR. Rolf states, "It is clear that CAIR has had a number of people in positions of power within the organization that have been directly connected to terrorism and have either been prosecuted or thrown out of the country" and has said that, despite Rolince's contention, "there are no blank stares from people working in counterterrorism in the U.S., and it is troubling that CAIR seems unable to directly and specifically condemn terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah."
In truth, as Rolince would know if he'd read what I gave him, CAIR's ties to terrorists are numerous and well-documented. For one, the group was incorporated by members of the Islamic Association for Palestine , a now defunct organization shuttered by a successful lawsuit against U.S.-based Hamas front organizations (the suit was brought by the family of an American victim of a Hamas attack).
For another, CAIR received $5,000 in 1994 from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which goes on trial later this year for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas (the Treasury Department has designated it a Hamas front group). In the days after September 11, CAIR used its website to raise money for HLF, sending people who clicked on a link--called "Donate to the NY/DC Emergency Relief Fund"--to the HLF website. Perhaps Rolince and The New York Times, when presented with such facts, would only respond with blank stares.
At one point, MacFarquhar even strays into direct Hamas propaganda, asserting that Mousa Abu Marzook is "a Hamas leader deported in 1997 after the United States failed to produce any evidence directly linking him to any attacks." Actually, in his extradition order, Judge Kevin Duffy saw reason to believe that "Abu Marzook engaged in and intended to further the aims of [a terrorist] conspiracy by his membership in and support of the Hamas organization." Duffy also concluded "that probable cause exists that Abu Marzook knew of Hamas's plan to carry out violent, murderous attacks, that he selected the leadership and supplied the money to enable the attacks to take place, and that such attacks were, therefore, a foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy."
CAIR's very public defense of Marzook--which the Times neglects to mention--is illuminating. In June 1996, CAIR signed an open letter to then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher calling for Marzook's immediate release, railing against "the injustice that has prevailed," and alleging that "our judicial system has been kidnapped by Israeli interests." Then, its 1996 report "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States " included Marzook's arrest in its list of incidents of anti-Muslim bias and violence.
The Rolinces and MacFarquhars of the world might not lose any sleep for propping up a group that publicly supports Hamas kingpins and other anti-American terrorists, but thankfully, most people do. The Times got one thing right: Scrutiny of CAIR is on the rise, and that is something everyone should welcome.
Steven Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the author, most recently, of Jihad, Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the US (Prometheus).