This article originally was published by the Middle East Forum's Focus on Western Islamism.
Too often, the silent majority of moderate American Muslims are faced with the difficult question of why they failed to call out extremists within their midst. But what if their problem isn't so much a lack of will to do so, as it is an incredulous media that refuses to take their concerns seriously?
Recent reporting on a whistleblower inside one such organization demonstrates the problem.
It was recently revealed by one of the most influential Islamist groups in America, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) that a lawyer that was part of its Ohio Chapter, a man named Romin Iqbal, was secretly passing documents to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), an organization founded in the 90's by former CNN reporter Steve Emerson to track radical Islamic networks.
You'd think this would be an issue that would drive deep, thoughtful reporting. The media usually loves stories about whistleblowers, radical networks, and betrayal.
But you'd be wrong. Instead, the coverage almost universally condemns the whistleblower, and ignores any potential concerns he may have raised. In so doing, they marginalize the silent majority of everyday Muslims.
The local paper, the Columbus Dispatch, one of the papers owned by the media behemoth Gannett, wrote a series of stories aimed at painting CAIR as an innocent victim, and making no real effort to hear either IPT's or Iqbal's side of the story. In so doing the ignore Gannett's own "Principles of Ethical Conduct," which states that they "(W)ill be honest in the way we gather, report and present news – with relevancy, persistence, context, thoroughness, balance, and fairness in mind." Yet the coverage of this story fails to do so, particularly in the realms of context, balance and fairness.
The lack of fairness is at the core of the way they frame the issue. Claims that IPT is an "anti-Muslim group," is repeated like a mantra. This plainly uncharitable editorial language drives all their reporting. CAIR is the victim, IPT and Iqbal are the victimizers.
This ignores the reality of the Muslim community, which is incredibly diverse and hardly a monolith. While most Muslims are patriotic citizens and good neighbors, like anybody else, there can be no real doubt there are radicals of various stripes in their midst. Additionally, no well-read person can fail to understand the difference between a Muslim, a follower of a faith, and an Islamist, who is inherently theocratic. This distinction is manifest throughout academic literature.
IPT certainly has criticized, harshly, some Muslim organizations and individuals, it also works with numerous Muslims who support IPT's mission. It never occurs to the Dispatch that they are maligning all Muslims that have worked with IPT, including Mr. Iqbal himself, as well as those that share their concerns.
The lack of necessary context is also striking. CAIR has a long history of trouble. Any reporter could discover this with a quick google search. It was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, the largest terror finance case in US history. Federal Judge Jorge Solis found that there was "ample evidence to establish the association" of CAIR to Hamas. CAIR's Executive Director is on video saying he is a Hamas supporter. Mainstream Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have cited these concerns, among many others.
It gets worse: days before the CAIR/IPT story broke, CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director Zahra Billoo was embroiled in a scandal in which she intimated that every Jew in America was an "enemy" of Muslims, a claim for which she has been widely denounced.
Any decent reporter would know such context is not only relevant, but vital, to such a story. None of this is discussed. But they did find time to write a third story entitled "What is CAIR-Ohio and what does it do in Columbus?" which simply regurgitates CAIR's own self-description.
All said and done, The Columbus Dispatch has written at least thirteen articles consisting almost entirely of reiterating CAIR's position, and making no meaningful effort, and usually no effort whatsoever, to include any contrary perspective.
This complete lack of balance is also beyond reasonable dispute. Throughout both stories, CAIR officials and supporters are quoted, repeatedly, uncritically and warmly. IPT's point of view is not discussed, except for one short, after-the-fact edit of one story to include a single quote.
One might also think that they might want to contact Mr. Iqbal's friends, family or supporters, given that they describe him as a "pillar of the Muslim community." The issue is not discussed, nor is there even a suggestion he may have had a legitimate reason to blow the whistle.
Indeed, the only speculation in the stories concerns a mysterious side-story about parts of an AR-15 that were sent to CAIR's offices. While never specifically stated, CAIR officials seem to want to imply Iqbal had something to do with it. Whatever the truth may be, this fact, without more information, shouldn't even be reported. It exists solely as an attempt by CAIR to smear Iqbal by innuendo and has no relevance whatsoever.
Even if CAIR were purely a victim and IPT and Iqbal were perpetrators, this reporting would still be slipshod and far short of basic journalistic standards.
Unfair prejudice against Muslims is deplorable. But full equality also requires any person, or group of people, to be subject to the same scrutiny as anyone else. A group that has a troubled history, which CAIR plainly does, deserves increased scrutiny, not a pass simply because they purport to represent a minority group, nor does anyone who criticizes them or raises concerns about them deserve to be demonized.
It is no wonder the silent majority of American Muslims have struggled effectively organize against the extremists within their midst. Major media players, such as Gannett, do not even attempt to meaningfully investigate claims of Muslims who raise concerns about individuals or organizations with extremist ideas, and buy the lines of the accused uncritically. Given the harm this does to the everyday followers of the Islamic faith, one might even call the stance of Gannett and their ilk, "anti-Muslim."
Cliff Smith is director of the Middle East Forum's Washington Project