The Free Congress © Commentary:

Americans: Be CAIR-ful
By Paul M. Weyrich
March 20, 2003

For the last month, the Council on American Islamic Relations has been advertising reassuring messages about what it means to be a Muslim in America. The pictures are of warm, friendly faces. One of the advertisements goes so far as to insist that "American Muslims condemn all acts of terrorism and we are as outraged as our fellow Americans by atrocities committed in the name of God and our religion."

But Americans should look beyond the smiling faces in the advertising, and ask some probing questions about CAIR. So should the American news media.

One man who is unlikely to be featured in CAIR's advertising is Bassem K. Khafagi, who had been identified in an Associated Press story as the community affairs director for the organization's Washington, D.C. office before his arrest by federal agents in January relating to an investigation of a suspected terrorist-related website in Idaho. See this web site for more details.

Khafagi faces bank fraud charges in Michigan; an organization that he was affiliated with, the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), is under investigation by the FBI for involvement in the operation of web sites for "radical" Saudi sheiks who are said to be in direct contact with Osama bin Laden. IANA stands accused of aiding terrorism by funneling money to activities that support it. Incidentally, Mr. Khafagi is also under investigation for violating immigration laws.

The American system of justice will determine Mr. Khafagi's guilt or innocence.

But this incident only raises more questions about CAIR and its real purpose.

Robert Spencer, in his new monograph "The Islamic Disinformation Lobby: American Muslim Groups' Politically Motivated Distortions of Islam" takes a searching look at what CAIR and other American Muslim groups are teaching about Islam, and how it compares to the truth about Islam. The Islamic Disinformation Lobby that is operating in our country is trying to obstruct the war on terror with Orwellian semantics, claiming that Islam means peace and that jihad does not mean holy war.

Not only are these claims distorted and misleading -- they're also potentially dangerous, for they are designed to deflect attention from the fact that terrorists are using mosques and other Islamic institutions in the U.S. and worldwide to recruit and motivate more terrorists. CAIR is critical of FBI surveillance of mosques, even though the al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn has been identified as a prime source of funding for al Qaeda, and Professor Sami Al-Arian used an Islamic religious center in Florida as an important base of operations for the American wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Just a few years ago, one Muslim sheik told a State Department Open Forum on religious extremism that over eighty percent of the mosques in our country were under the control of the extremists -- but if CAIR gets its way, the FBI will never be able to discover whether or not that sheik was correct.

Furthermore, CAIR's funding for a campaign to place pro-Islamic texts in public libraries throughout the country has been identified as coming in part from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, a member of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Islam. Who else is funding CAIR? What are their backgrounds? What specifically is CAIR doing in exchange for the money?

When Spencer called Ibrahim Hooper, the CAIR communications director, to ask him these simple questions, Hooper hung up on him. But these questions aren't going away.

It's time the news media start asking them. The story about Khafagi was reported last Friday, but there has been little follow-up so far.

We are on the verge of war in the Middle East. CAIR is entitled to exercise its right to freedom of speech. But given CAIR's importance as a representative of the American Muslim community at a time when we are in conflict with Islamic organizations linked to terrorism, it should not be exempt from the accountability and openness expected of a patriotic American organization, which CAIR certainly purports to be. It's time more scrutiny be devoted to CAIR. It's also time for the organization to demonstrate the responsibility expected of an organization that prides itself on commitment to American values. And the way that CAIR can do that is by providing completely honest, comprehensive answers to the tough questions that the news media should start asking.

Paul Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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