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CAIR vs. Robert Spencer By: Jacob Laksin and Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 09, 2007

It is one of the oddities of American politics that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) can describe itself as a "civil-liberties group" while crusading to crush the free-speech rights of its critics. But that's exactly what happened last week when CAIR deployed its legal arsenal in a bid to stop author Robert Spencer from speaking at a conference of the Young America's Foundation (YAF).

In a letter to YAF dispatched by its lawyer, former Democratic National Committee staff counsel Joseph E. Sandler, CAIR threatened to "pursue every appropriate legal remedy" if Spencer were not immediately silenced. In the event, the YAF honorably refused to yield. The moral of the story: If CAIR disagrees with what you have to say, it'll fight furiously to deny your right to say it. To heck with civil liberties.

CAIR is not a first-time offender in this regard. Indeed, Spencer is only the most recent target of the organization's ongoing campaign to strangle free debate, especially when it turns on Islamic extremism. Other recipients of CAIR's wrath have included scholar Daniel Pipes, conservative columnist Cal Thomas, talk radio host Michael Graham, venerable news pundit Paul Harvey, National Review magazine, Fox's 24, and Andrew Whitehead, the proprietor of the website Anti-CAIR. In a telling example of CAIR's bullying tactics, Whitehead's dogged criticism of the organization got him slapped with a defamation suit. When CAIR's suit was decisively dismissed last year, the victory of an independent critic against the 32-chapter group, with its war chest filled by millions in petrodollars from Saudi royals and Gulf sheikdoms, had a certain David-vs.-Goliath resonance.

Not that CAIR's zeal to sue critics into submission has waned. Most recently, the organization has channeled its energies into harassing Zachariah Anani, a Lebanese Islamist turned Christian activist. For the intolerable offense of speaking out against militant Islam, CAIR's Canadian chapter has worked to have Anani, a Canadian citizen, brought up on hate-crimes charges. Offend CAIR's delicate sensibilities and you, too, can expect to hear from their lawyer.

It's bad enough that CAIR has appointed itself unofficial censor of debate about Islam. Equally galling is that the group routinely engages in the kind of sleazy defamation it so righteously claims to detest. In its letter to YAF last week, CAIR smeared Spencer as a "a well-known purveyor of hatred and bigotry against Muslims." If that's true, though, the organization might have been expected to provide some basis for this ostensibly "well-known" charge. CAIR offered not a shred of supporting evidence.

That is because no such evidence exists. Spencer, who heads the site JihadWatch.org and is the author of a recent biography of the prophet Muhammed, The Truth About Muhammed, is a reputable scholar who draws on Islamic sources to substantiate his work. Contrary to CAIR's objections, Spencer does not engage in theological polemics. He simply reveals what Islamic sources say.

Which calls forth the question: Why would a group that, by its own account, has no truck with Islamic militants, take such heated issue with an authority on Islam who is guilty of nothing more than highlighting those features of that religion that inspire and sanction Islamic terror? If CAIR was genuinely opposed to Islamic terror and wanted to bring Islam into the modern and democratic world, why wouldn't it embrace individuals such as Spencer? After all, Spencer's work equips Muslim moderates and reformers with the knowledge they need to confront the Islamic extremists in their midst. Armed with that knowledge, Islamic reformers who undertake the monumental challenge of liberalizing Islam stand a much better chance. As Spencer himself says: "You can't reform what you won't admit needs reforming."

In the end, it is clear that what CAIR calls "bigotry" and "Islamophobia" is in fact a perfectly defensible historical argument, advanced by Spencer and others, that the roots of modern jihad terrorism can be found in classic Islamic theology. This is a matter of fact, not prejudice: if it is true, policymakers should take it into account, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Unless one thinks, as CAIR evidently does, that any critical analysis of Islam is a form of actionable hatred, the notion that Spencer is a bigot who must be drummed out of polite society looks like what it really is: the intellectually empty bullying of an extremist fringe.

Here one gets closer to the crux of last week's contretemps. Mention of its links to Islamic extremist groups invites effusive indignation from CAIR, but a review of the group's record leaves little room for ambiguity. CAIR's forerunner, the Islamic Association of Palestine, was considered by the FBI a front group for Hamas. CAIR's founder, Nihad Awad is on record supporting Hamas -- and, one may thus reasonably conclude, its terrorist attacks against Israelis. To dismiss these facts as ancient history is to ignore more recent evidence. This June, for instance, federal prosecutors named CAIR an "unindicted co-conspirator" for allegedly aiding an Islamic charity that was busy providing support to Hamas. Given these connections to a terrorist movement committed to the mass murder of Jews, for CAIR to accuse anyone of religious "bigotry" is chutzpah on a breathtaking scale.

That CAIR met with defiance last week is heartening. Still, no one should think that the organization has been chastened. If the past is any guide, those who do not mouth politically correct platitudes about Islamic terrorism will find themselves at the center of CAIR's litigious attentions. At which point, one hopes that they will remind the organization that those who stifle reasonable opposition and ally themselves with actual extremists don't defend civil liberties. They endanger them.

Jacob Laksin is a senior editor of Frontpagemag.com. Jamie Glazov is the managing editor of Frontpagemag.com.

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