Council on American–Islamic Relations
|Formation||June 1994 by Omar Ahmad|
|Purpose||Muslim civil rights|
|Omar Zaki, Chairman
Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director
The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization that deals with civil advocacy. It is headquartered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with regional offices nationwide. Through media relations, lobbying, and education, CAIR presents an Islamic perspective to the American public and promotes social and political activism among the American Muslim community. Critics of CAIR consider it to be pursuing an Islamist agenda.
In 2007 the organization was named, along with 245 others, by U.S. Federal prosecutors in a list of unindicted co-conspirators and/or joint venturers in a Hamas funding case involving the Holy Land Foundation, which in 2009 caused the FBI to cease working with CAIR outside of criminal investigations due to its designation. CAIR was never charged with any crime, and it complained that the designation had tarnished its reputation. It has also been criticized for allegedly publishing propaganda and has been listed as a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates.
Early years (1994–2001)
CAIR was founded in June 1994 by three former officers of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP)—Omar Ahmad (IAP President; became CAIR President), Nihad Awad (IAP PR Director; became CAIR Secretary & Treasurer), and Rafeeq Jaber (IAP Chicago Chapter President; became CAIR Vice President).
CAIR's first office was located in Washington D.C., as is its present-day headquarters on Capitol Hill. Its founding was partly in response to the film True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger which Arab and Muslim groups condemned for its acclaimed stereotyping of Arab and Muslim villains. The offices opened a month before the film's release. CAIR's first advocacy campaign was in response to an offensive greeting card that used the term "shia" to refer to human excrement. CAIR led a national campaign and used activists to pressure the greeting card company, which eventually withdrew the card from the market.
In 1995, CAIR handled its first case of hijab (the headscarf worn by radical Muslim women) discrimination, in which a Muslim employee was denied the right to wear the hijab; this type of complaint is now one of the most common received by CAIR's civil rights department.
CAIR continued its advocacy work in the aftermath of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Following the attack, Muslim-Americans were subjected to an upsurge in harassment and discrimination, including a rise in hate crimes nationally; 222 hate crimes against Muslims nationwide were reported in the days immediately following the bombing. The bombing gave CAIR national stature for their efforts to educate the public about Islam and religious bias in America; their report was featured on the front page of The New York Times on August 28, 1995 and was subsequently mentioned on ABC World News Tonight.
In 1996, CAIR began "CAIR-NET", a read-only e-mail listserve aimed to help American Muslims identify and combat anti-Muslim prejudice in the U.S. and Canada. CAIR-NET contains descriptions of news, bias incidents or hate speech and hate crimes, often followed by information as to who readers may contact to influence resolution of an issue. CAIR also held its first voter registration drive in 1996; CAIR continues to encourage active political participation by American Muslims, for them to address political candidates and elected representatives with greater frequency.
In 1996 CAIR published a report The Usual Suspects regarding its perception of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media after the crash of TWA Flight 800. Their research showed 138 uses of the terms "Muslim" and "Arab" in the 48 hours after the crash in Reuters, UPI, and AP articles covering the incident. The official NTSB report said that the probable cause was mechanical.
In 1997 CAIR objected to the production of sneaker made by Nike with a design on the heel similar to the Arabic word for "Allah". As part of an agreement reached between CAIR officials and Nike representatives, Nike apologized to the Muslim community, recalled the products carrying the design, launched an investigation as to how the logo came about, and built a number of children's playgrounds near some Islamic centers in America.
In 1997, as depictions of Mohammed are seen as blasphemous by most Muslims, CAIR wrote to United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist requesting that the sculpted representation of the Prophet Muhammad on the north frieze inside the Supreme Court building be removed or sanded down. The court rejected CAIR's request.
CAIR increased its advocacy work again after the September 11 attacks. In October 2001 CAIR stated that it was opposed to the US's Afghan campaign. By January 2002, four months after the attacks, the CAIR said that it had received 1,658 reports of discrimination, profiling, harassment, and physical assaults against persons appearing Arab or Muslim, a three-fold increase over the prior year. The reports included beatings, death threats, abusive police practices, and employment and airline-related discrimination." The largest percentage of complaints had to do with alleged profiling of Muslims at US airports.
CAIR has conducted investigations, issued reports, held press conferences, filed lawsuits, and organized political action to protest aspects of U.S. counterterrorism policy.
From 2002–2004 CAIR organized the Library Project, an effort to distribute materials about Islam and Muslims "to as many as 16,000 public libraries nationwide" in the United States. The initiative sent a set of 18 books and tapes to public libraries written by Muslim and non-Muslim authors on Islamic history and practices, as well as an English translation of the Quran. As of December 2004, CAIR received 7,804 sponsorships for the $150 set. The initiative was funded with an initial $500,000 matching contribution from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, whose donation to the Twin Towers Fund was refused by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani because it came with a letter attributing US support for Israel for the 9/11 attacks.
In 2005 CAIR coordinated the joint release of a fatwa by 344 American Muslim organizations, mosques, and imams nationwide that stated: "Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram or forbidden—and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not martyrs." The fatwa cited passages from the Quran and hadith that prohibit violence against innocent people and injustice, and was signed by the Fiqh Council of North America. Authors Kim Ezra Shienbaum and Jamal Hasan felt it did not go far enough in that it did not address attacks on military targets.
Also in 2005, following the Qur'an desecration controversy of 2005 at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, CAIR initiated an "Explore the Quran" campaign, aimed at providing free copies of the Quran to any person who requested it. Nearly 34,000 Americans requested a copy.
In 2006, during the protests over cartoons depicting Muhammad, CAIR responded by launching an educational program "Explore the Life of Muhammad", to bring "people of all faiths together to learn more about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and to use mutual understanding as a counterweight to the tensions created by the cartoon controversy". It provided free copies of a DVD or book about the life of Muhammad to any person who requested it. Almost 16,000 Americans requested materials. In June 2006, CAIR announced a $50 million project to create a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in the US. ($10 million per year for five years), in a project to be spearheaded by Paul Findley, a former US Congressman.
California Senator Barbara Boxer in December 2006 withdrew a "certificate of accomplishment" originally given to former CAIR official Basim Elkarra after Boxer's staff looked into CAIR, and she became concerned about some of CAIR's past statements and actions, and statements by some law enforcement officials that it provides aid to international terrorist groups.
In May 2007, the U.S. filed an action against the Holy Land Foundation (the largest Muslim charity in the United States at the time) for providing funds to Hamas, and federal prosecutors filed pleadings. Along with 245 other organizations, they listed CAIR (and its chairman emeritus, Omar Ahmad), Islamic Society of North America (largest Muslim umbrella organization in the United States), Muslim American Society and North American Islamic Trust as unindicted co-conspirators, a legal designation that can be employed for a variety of reasons including grants of immunity, pragmatic considerations, and evidentiary concerns. While being listed as co-conspirator does not mean that CAIR has been charged with anything, the organization was concerned that the label will forever taint it.
In response, National Association of Muslim Lawyers and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, saying that the move to list the largest Muslim organizations in America as unindicted co-conspirators was an effort to smear the entire Muslim community. They also stated that the list breached the department’s own guidelines against releasing the names of unindicted co-conspirators.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism reported that on August 7, 2007, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent testified at the Holy Land Foundation trial that CAIR was "listed as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee", that it had received money from the Foundation (conflicting with Nihad Awad's Congressional testimony), and that co-founders Awad and Omar Ahmad were "listed as individual members [of] the Brotherhood Palestine Committee in America."
On October 22, 2007, the Holy Land Foundation trial ended in a mistrial. CAIR stated that the reason for the mistrial, and no convictions on any of the charges, was that the charges were built on "fear, not facts."
In 2008, the FBI discontinued its long-standing relationship with CAIR. Officials said the decision followed the conviction of the HLF directors for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas, revelations that Nihal Awad had participated in planning meetings with HLF, and CAIR's failure to provide details of its ties to Hamas. During a 2008 retrial of the HLF case, FBI Special Agent Lara Burns labeled CAIR "a front group for Hamas." In January 2009, the FBI's DC office instructed all field offices to cut ties with CAIR, as the ban extended into the Obama administration.
U.S. Congressmen Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) wrote Attorney General Eric Holder on October 21, 2009, that they were concerned about CAIR's relationships with terrorist groups, and requesting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) provide a summary of DOJ's evidence and findings that led DOJ to name CAIR an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism trial. The four Congressmen also wrote House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood a letter the same day asking that he work with members of the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Intelligence Committees to determine if CAIR was successful in placing interns in the committees' offices, to review FBI and DOJ evidence regarding CAIR's Hamas ties, and to determine whether CAIR is a security threat. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), "appalled", said "I urge the rest of my colleagues to join me in denouncing this witch hunt." She was echoed by Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, in a speech that included a statement by the House's Tri-Caucus. The four Republican Congressmen, joined by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), then wrote IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman on November 16, 2009, asking that CAIR be investigated for excessive lobbying and failing to register as a lobbying organization.
CAIR pointed to an arrest of five men in Pakistan on December 10, 2009, as a "success story" between Muslims and Muslim community organizations (like CAIR) and American law enforcement authorities. When the five men left Washington for Karachi on November 28, the families of the men discovered an extremist videotape. Worried, they contacted CAIR, which set up a meeting with the FBI on December 1, and the families shared their sons' computers and electronic devices with FBI agents. A U.S. law enforcement official described them as models of cooperation. CAIR hoped the event would ease "strained" relations of American Muslims with the FBI.
Hours after it was announced by President Barack Obama that Osama bin Laden had been killed, CAIR put out a statement: "We join our fellow citizens in welcoming the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world through the actions of American military personnel. As we have stated repeatedly since the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and Al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide. We also reiterate President Obama's clear statement tonight that the United States is not at war with Islam."
In June 2011, CAIR lost its federal tax-exempt status for failure to file the appropriate 990 forms for the previous three years. (This does not apply to the local chapters, however.) A spokesman blamed it on an incorrect filing.
In January 2012 CAIR's Michigan chapter took a stance along with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in defending four Muslim high school football players accused of attacking a quarterback during a game. The organizations claimed the players were targeted for criminal prosecution over the attack because of their ethnic origin. A judge later dropped the charges after deciding they had no merit.
Projects and media
CAIR conducts research on the American Muslim community, releasing annual reports on public opinion and demographic statistics on the community, as well as annual Civil Rights reports concerning issues such as hate crimes, discrimination, and profiling. It also sponsors voter registration drives and outreach, and interfaith relations with other religious groups in America.
Local CAIR chapters such as the Michigan chapter organized a "Remember Through Service" campaign which was a video and billboard media campaign which featured positive representations of Muslim-Americans including a Muslim first responder during the September 11th World Trade Center events.
Allegations of ties to Hamas
Critics of CAIR have accused it of having ties to Hamas. Federal Judge Jorge A. Solis said that there was evidence to show that CAIR has an association with the Holy Land Foundation, Islamic Association for Palestine, and Hamas. However, Judge Solis acknowledged that this evidence predates the official designation of these groups as terrorist organizations.
Critics of CAIR, including six members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, have alleged ties between the CAIR founders and Hamas. The founders, Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad, had earlier been officers of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) and were described by a former FBI analyst and a US Treasury Department intelligence official as "intimately tied to the most senior Hamas leadership." Both Ahmad and Awad participated in a meeting held in Philadelphia on October 3, 1993, and this meeting involved senior leaders of Hamas, the IAP, and the Holy Land Foundation (which was designated in 1995 by Executive Order, and later designated in court, as an organization that had raised millions of dollars for Hamas). Based on electronic surveillance of the meeting, the FBI reported that "the participants went to great length and expended much effort hiding their association with the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas]." Participants at the meeting discussed forming a "political organization and public relations" body, "whose Islamic hue is not very conspicuous." Critics also point to a July 1994 meeting identifying CAIR as one of the four U.S. organizations comprising the working organizations of the Palestine Committee of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization and supporter of Hamas.
The Anti-Defamation League states that CAIR's work as a civil rights organization is tainted by past links to Hamas, sometime failure to condemn terrorist organizations by name, and the presence of anti-Semites at some of its rallies. Steven Emerson has accused CAIR of having a long record of propagating anti-Semitic propaganda. Journalist Jake Tapper criticizes CAIR for refusing to condemn specifically Osama bin Laden and Islamic extremism, but rather making only vague and generic criticisms.[page needed] CAIR acknowledges that Nihad Awad declared support for Hamas in 1994. It notes that Hamas was only designated a terrorist organization in January 1995 and did not commit its first wave of suicide bombings until late 1994, after Awad made the comment. Since then CAIR has denounced violence by Hamas, and in 2006 Nihad Awad said, "I don’t support Hamas today ... we condemn suicide bombings."
As of 2007, FBI officials attended CAIR events. In 2009, Fox News said that the FBI broke off formal outreach contacts with CAIR, and shunned all of its local chapters, concerned about CAIR's ties to Hamas. In 2011, the New York Times said that while the FBI and CAIR had no "formal relationship", CAIR officials and chapters worked regularly with FBI officials.
Lobbying and victimology
Tawfik Hamid referred to CAIR as "perhaps the most conspicuous organization to persistently accuse opponents of Islamophobia". He criticised the way the organisation uses the "charge of 'Islamophobia' as a tool to intimidate and blackmail those ... who rightly criticize current Islamic practices and preachings", citing its lawsuit filed in the Flying imams incident. Zuhdi Jasser has been stridently critical of CAIR by claiming that its agenda focused on "victimology". Neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris, noted mainly for his contribution to the New Atheism movement, criticized CAIR by doubting their legitimacy saying CAIR is "an Islamist public relations firm posing as a civil-rights lobby".  Some Muslims criticize CAIR for taking a conservative religious approach on many issues. These critics claim that statements by the organization (for example, that all Muslim women are required to veil) often follow conservative Saudi religious doctrine and do not capture diverse religious perspectives.
Responses to criticisms
In 2004 an FBI agent said "false claims originate from one or two biased sources," and that a senior FBI official said CAIR would just have to live with them. In early 2007, the New York Times wrote that "more than one [U.S. government official] described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association." At that time (prior to the Holy Land trial), the Times called efforts to link the organization to Hamas and Hezbollah "unsuccessful," citing a retired FBI official who was active through 2005 and who suggested that while "of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR", you don't get "cold hard facts"[context needed] although the article goes on to cite the suspicious background of some of CAIR's donors as a source of contention within members of the organization itself. The Times also noted that even though a handful of its former members had faced prosecution, no criminal charges had at the time ever been linked to CAIR.
CAIR also says that accusations against it have their roots in its refusal to endorse the U.S.'s blanket condemnation of Hezbollah and Hamas, though it says it did criticize Hamas for civilian deaths.
Senator Boxer's 2006 decision to withdraw a "certificate of accomplishment" originally given to former CAIR official Basim Elkarra on grounds of suspicions about the organization's background "provoked an outcry from organizations that vouch for the group's advocacy, including the ACLU and the California Council of Churches. "They have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling," said Maya Harris, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California.
A book entitled Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America by Paul David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry was published in October 2009. According to the Charlotte Observer, it portrays CAIR "as a subversive organization allied with international terrorists."
Consequently, CAIR brought a federal civil lawsuit against Dave Gaubatz and his son (who had obtained the book's CAIR source documents as a CAIR intern) for allegedly stealing the documents. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly concluded that the Gaubatzs "unlawfully obtained access to, and have already caused repeated public disclosure of, material containing CAIR's proprietary, confidential and privileged information," which CAIR says included names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of CAIR employees and donors. As a result, the judge ordered Gaubatz to remove certain documents from his website. Judge Kollar-Kotelly also said that CAIR's employees have reported a dramatic increase in the number of threatening communications since the release of Mr. Gaubatz's book.
Gaubatz agreed in early November to return more than 12,000 pages of disputed CAIR records while the judge considered the lawsuit, but in late November before he could do so the U.S. Government, which previously had no role in the lawsuit, filed a motion in the case under seal, and FBI agents served the Gaubatzes' attorneys with a grand jury subpoena demanding the CAIR records.
CAIR’s literature describes the group as promoting understanding of Islam and protecting Muslim civil liberties. It has intervened on behalf of many American Muslims who claim discrimination, profiling, or harassment. CAIR is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with affiliates in 20 states (many of which manage multiple offices), and 33 chapters in the US. CAIR and its affiliates are managed by board members from 50 American cities, and combined employ more than 70 full-time staff.
CAIR has an annual budget of around $3 million (as of 2007). It states that while the majority of its funding comes from American Muslims, it accepts donations from individuals of any faith and also foreigners. In the past CAIR has accepted donations from individuals and foundations close to Arab governments. Within CAIR there is debate regarding foreign funding, and several CAIR branches have criticized the national office for accepting foreign donations.
In April 2011, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. cited a 2009 letter sent from CAIR's executive director, Nihad Awad, to Muammar Gaddafi asking Gaddafi for funding for a project called the Muslim Peace Foundation at a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations sub-committee hearing with Robert Mueller. The letter also said, in part, "I am pleased to send to Your Excellency in my name most solemn assurances of thanks and appreciation for the efforts you exert in the service of Islam, Muslims and all mankind through your initiative to teach Islam, spread the culture of Islam, and solve disputes, for which you are known internationally." Steven Emerson called the funding request "hypocritical," while CAIR spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, said that the organization didn't receive any money from the Libyan government and also that CAIR was one of the first American organizations to call for a no-fly zone.
- American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
- American Muslim Council
- Arab American Institute
- Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations
- Islamic Information Center (IIC)
- Muslim Public Affairs Council
- Muslim American Society
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