An attendee of the “Stop the Terror Rally” sponsored by the Council for America-Islamic Relations – Ohio held at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Columbus, Ohio, on Friday July 28 says she was twice assaulted by CAIR’s National Vice-Chairman, Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, when she asked too many questions about the organization’s apparent support for Hezbollah terrorists. Fortunately, she caught it all on tape and has put the video online so the public can see the reaction of one of CAIR’s top officials.
The alleged assault victim, who chooses to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, but who posts under her nom de guerre “ciaospirit” at Little Green Footballs, describes herself as an independent filmmaker and “new media” journalist. And she is no stranger to Dr. Al-Akhras. In June she conducted an extensive interview with him at the “Eyes Wide Open” antiwar event on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse, where she recorded his thoughts on the war in Iraq, U.S. foreign policy, and the implementation of Shari’a in America. At one point in the video, Dr. Al-Akhras is asked by one of his associates who she is, and he mentions aloud the name of ciaospirit’s employer – a fact she says she had never disclosed to him or anyone else.
In a phone interview shortly after the incident, “ciaospirit” described the events that precipitated the unprovoked attacks by Dr. Al-Akhras.
I went to the event because CAIR had advertised that it was open to the public, and regardless, it was held on a public sidewalk in front of a Federal building. I had every right to be there. It was clear that they had a message they wanted to express, and I hoped to get them to speak beyond their scripted press release comments…to get some straight answers about how they really feel about the violence and terrorism committed by Hezbollah that provoked the Israeli response.
I wasn’t there more than a couple of minutes when I began to interview a gentleman wearing a kafiyyeh that concealed everything but his eyes. I was asking him about his support for Hezbollah when Dr. Al-Akhras approached us and began telling everyone in the vicinity not to speak to me. I then asked him what his message and I kept rolling as he explained how they were there opposing terror. He was clearly agitated. It was when several of them were telling me about Israel bombing innocent civilians, and I responded by asking them about Hezbollah missiles being fired into Israel killing innocent civilians that Al-Akhras lunged at me and grabbed ahold of my camera as I was filming.
At 5’3” and 100 pounds, “ciaospirit” is not a physically intimidating figure. Yet she says Dr. Al-Akhras assaulted her a second time as she was filming him as he addressed the rally – again, all captured on a video she made available on her blog.
I was really surprised because I didn’t go to the rally anticipating this kind of aggressive behavior. These speakers made it clear that they had a message to deliver, and so I asked them what they had to say. They clearly felt that my questioning was threatening, but I never could have anticipated the second attack. He really scared me when he came at me from more than 10 feet away, grabbed my camera again and gave it a good shove that almost sent me sprawling. I was in shock, because I didn’t know what he intended to do. Was he going to smash my camera? Was he going to try to take it away from me, because he had a pretty good hold of my camera?
Prior to the first alleged assault, Dr. Al-Akhras can be heard in the video directing subordinates to find a sign to hold in front of her camera to block her view. The video also shows that immediately after the second alleged assault, “ciaospirit” was surrounded by sign-wielding CAIR staff members and supporters that prevented her from filming Al-Akhras. In apparent compliance with his directive, one of the signs held in front of her to obstruct her view is in the colors of the Israeli flag – white and blue – and prominently features a swastika where the Star of David would appear.
She described CAIR’s tactics as intimidating and its message on terror as contradictory:
His people – all male and much larger than me – swarmed me and wouldn’t let me tape, and I was concerned about what they intended to do. All I could do was to remind them that this was a public event held on a public sidewalk in front of a public building and that I had as much right to be there as they did. And I really believe that someone there had to ask the hard questions. All day the speakers were screaming about Israel killing innocent Lebanese civilians, but no mention was ever made about the targeting of Israeli citizens by Hezbollah or the kidnapping of Israeli military personnel in violation of international law. I was told by one CAIR spokesman at the rally that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization because they run hospitals and schools (which I caught on tape). Not one mention of innocent children in Israel that have been killed in indiscriminate Hezbollah rocket attacks. No one there wanted to confront the glaring contradiction of their position. They apparently think that if they don’t answer the question that the question doesn’t exist. There’s clearly an agenda they want to hide. They were condemning Israel all day long, but not one word about Hezbollah violence. Their statements condemning terrorism clearly run only one way – towards Israel.
She says that throughout the rest of the rally, Dr. Al-Akhras followed her closely, instructing people not to talk to her as she tried to interview them. At one point in her video, one woman can be seen taping her.
Even before last month’s rally, Dr. Al-Akhras has made no reservation about publicly expressing his thoughts on Israel. In April 2001, while he was serving as CAIR-Ohio’s president, he was responsible for having the city of Gahanna, a Columbus suburb, take down the Israeli flag that was flying at the Gahanna City Hall in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Americans cannot, without a strong sense of hypocrisy, praise the principles of Holocaust remembrance on the one hand, and turn a blind eye to the daily atrocities committed by Israel on the other,” he said in an official CAIR press release.
Nor is this the first time that Dr. Al-Akhras has expressed his ideas on “free speech,” like when he spoke out during the Danish Cartoon controversy earlier this year. According to a Columbus Dispatch article (which in an Orwellian moment identified him as a “free speech advocate”), Al-Akhras likened the published cartoons to a physical assault, saying, “Your fist should stop where my chin is.”
But according to “ciaospirit,” Al-Akhras didn’t honor his views on free speech or physical abuse:
The amazing thing is that he attacks me twice in one day. If he says that he believes in free speech, why does he engage in intimidation and acts of violence?…After the first time he lunged at me and grabbed my camera, no one was shocked more than I was. But when the second attack came, I was even more surprised. I would have thought that after the first attack he would have taken a moment to compose himself and think about what he was doing. He knew I was taping. That’s what made the second attack so bizarre. It seemed that he was in an uncontrolled rage. That really had me worried about what he was going to do to me.
Since both incidents were captured on videotape, “ciaospirit” told me that she is still considering pressing charges against Dr. Al-Akhras.
On July 29, I e-mailed Dr. Al-Akhras, Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR, and Adnan Mizra, president of CAIR-Ohio, asking them for comment on the attacks at the CAIR rally, but none of them responded to my inquiries.
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