As we reported earlier this month, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco director Zahra Billoo recently gave a speech in which she outlined an enemies list for Palestinian advocates.
Her list included the vast majority of American Jewry, whom she dismissed as "polite Zionists," including people with the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation, campus Hillel chapters and "Zionist synagogues."
It's a stunning expression of hate that, if it targeted any other minority group, would create a firestorm of controversy and generate national news.
But CAIR has yet to say a critical word about Billoo. To the contrary, it posted a statement expressing pride in "the courage she demonstrates in her civil rights work" and saying she is the victim: "we strongly condemn this online smear campaign against our sister and colleague, Zahra Billoo."
If you believe in coincidences, this controversy erupted as Billoo prepared to step away from CAIR for a year-long sabbatical. In announcing the move Monday, Billoo wrote that she is exhausted from being "frequently under attack by right wingers, Zionists, and Islamophobes."
In the same speech in which she called so much of American Jewry "enemies," Billoo also told her audience that Jews are behind "a well-funded conspiracy" to push "Islamophobia ... to marginalize us, to imprison us, to deport us, to silence us."
CAIR's silence makes sense because, to its leaders, there's nothing wrong with opposing everyone who doesn't share their goal of seeing Israel disappear. Billoo already was on record in 2018 clearly stating she won't "legitimize a country that I don't believe has a right to exist." And her boss, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad spoke at the same event as Billoo did last month, calling Tel Aviv "occupied" and praying that, "inshallah [God willing], it will be free later."
Another of Awad's top chapter leaders has preached about how Jews incurred Allah's wrath, and deserved it. Another continues to push the anti-Semitic smear that programs which take American police leaders to Israel lead to "deadly police shootings" of Black people.
Los Angeles chapter Executive Director Hussam Ayloush has referred to "zionazis" and openly called for Israel's termination, while then-Florida director Hassan Shibly refused to condemn Hamas and vilified "Israel [and] its supporters" as the "enemies of God and humanity."
But, according to news reports last week, it is the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), and not the CAIR, that is a hate group. The Washington Post, Columbus Dispatch and others threw the reference, anti-Muslim hate group, into their news copy without attribution or setting it off in quotes. It is, in their reporting, fact.
CAIR says it. They accept it. That settles it.
The IPT has criticized Billoo and her organization by pointing to their own words, but it has never come close to the kind of hate speech uttered by her and her colleagues. But none of those news outlets parroting CAIR's rhetoric have taken the time to study CAIR, its history, or its chronic antisemitism.
And if the last week has made one thing clear it's that, at its heart, this is a political disagreement.
CAIR pursues a political agenda driven by a religious ideology. By itself, that's not unusual in American politics. But CAIR's agenda is laser-focused on harming Israel and, as Billoo and Awad's comments indicate, seeing all of it "free" someday soon.
We do not write about American Muslims, or what they believe or how they pray. Our focus is on the political application of Islam – on a radical ideology – and not on the more than 2 million Americans who practice the religion. Like any other group, Muslims are not a monolith. Some are conservative Sunnis, but not all. Others may celebrate the holidays but not be seen at the mosque much otherwise. Still others may not do anything beyond identify with it based upon their upbringing.
Just like Christians and Jews.
But it is in CAIR's interest to cast any criticism of political Islam, known as Islamism, as an attack on all Muslims. Or worse, as an attack on the religion itself. It's a tried and true way to dodge difficult questions.
Others have said it better: People deserve respect. Their ideas and statements deserve scrutiny.
A person or group's political agenda cannot be exempt from criticism because of the religion driving it. We do not do that with anyone else.
CAIR and other groups identified as Islamist do draw scrutiny because of the political objectives they promote. If it is acceptable to challenge the evangelical Christian Right's desire to increase the role their religious values play in society, it must also be acceptable when these policies are advanced in the name of Islam.
Reporting what CAIR officials have said and how their organization came into being is not an act of hate. But CAIR can wave its hand, cry "Islamophobia," and the media is happy to repeat it in headlines and copy. This message undeniably has a chilling effect on speech: Criticize us and you will be tarred as hateful bigots.
Dig into our roots in a Muslim Brotherhood-run Hamas support network in America and we'll be sure you are joined at the hip with the "vehement fascists" – the term Billoo used to smear IPT CAIR's biggest critics.
At the Investigative Project on Terrorism, our mandate is to investigate radical Islam on U.S. soil. That work includes identifying people who ignore CAIR's record and rhetoric and are willing to help CAIR change the law and policy in ways we think would damage the United States and one of its strongest allies.
This is a debate about a radical political agenda – working to eliminate a country isn't exactly a centrist movement. CAIR tries to have it both ways, pursuing a radical agenda and dodging scrutiny by claiming any criticism is an attack on Islam and all who identify as Muslims.
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