Victims of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) take heart. No longer is it necessary to offer apologies or disclaimers -- a la Kiefer Sutherland of “24”-- when the supposed civil rights group accuses you of Islamophobia. According to talk-show host and columnist Dennis Prager, who recently told the Los Angeles Times that he is proud to be attacked by the “radical Islamist organization,” it is much better to wear CAIR’s contempt as a badge of honor.
Publicity is another benefit of being publicly smeared by CAIR, as was evident on the evening of January 24 when a packed house came to hear Prager speak on “Islam, Iran, the West and Israel” at the North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, California. Earlier in the day most of those in attendance had learned from a Los Angeles Times article (“Controversy follows Dennis Prager to Yorba Linda”) that CAIR was still fuming over a column Prager wrote in November in which he criticized Congressman Keith Ellison’s decision to take his oath of office on the Koran. Proving that a primary concern of her organization is not mature debate, CAIR spokeswoman Munira Syeda was quoted as saying Prager’s column had “undermined all the values of pluralism, diversity and respect for different minorities’ religious freedom” and that Prager “is using the anti-Muslim sentiment that is prevalent in the country right now to spread hate against Muslims.” In a press release about the Yorba Linda speech, CAIR accused the Chabad Center of “hosting an Islamophobic speaker.”
Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Chabad Center, who actually disagreed with Prager’s controversial column, immediately came to his defense telling the Times that CAIR’s personal attack was “akin to a blood libel.” Eliezrie also made clear that he would not respond to the bullying tactics used by CAIR to silence those who disagreed with its positions, adding that if CAIR “were interested in dialogue with the Jewish community, they would have sent me a gentle letter.”
Prager began his talk with an open invitation to publicly debate any member of CAIR. Interfaith dialogue is not new to Prager; between 1982 and 1992 he was the host of “Religion on the Line” on ABC radio in Los Angeles. As Prager made clear in his speech, he was chosen to be the moderator of the program because of his fairness to every religion. Indeed, he so was beloved in the Muslim community for having opened up mainstream American media to Muslims that he was repeatedly invited to speak in mosques and Islamic institutions. (He was a regular speaker at the famous Islamic Center of Southern California.)
It was with this history in mind that Prager said CAIR’s charge of Islamophobia would “make McCarthy cringe.” More than anything else, “Religion on the Line” showed Prager the truth of Nazi Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s statement: “There are only two races in the world -- the decent and the indecent.” It is Prager’s belief that America’s Judeo-Christian value system is what makes it the most decent country in the world. To drive this point home Prager asked the largely Jewish audience if they’d rather live in America or secular Europe, where anti-Semitism is prevalent. His opinion that America’s founders viewed America as a second Israel and the Jews as God’s chosen people was bolstered by little-known historic facts incorporated into his speech. The most powerful example given was the fact that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both wanted the design of the seal of the United States to depict the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.
As for his negative opinion of Ellison’s decision, Prager made clear that it had nothing to do with Islam or the Koran and he offered a mea culpa for letting his passion defeat his reason when he wrote that Ellison “should not be allowed” to swear on the Koran. His primary concern has always been over the place of the Bible in American life. Contrary to what many of his readers think, America does not get its values from the Constitution. After all, Prager noted, the Soviet Union’s Constitution banned anti-Semitism even though the communist nation was one of the most anti-Semitic nations in history.
Ellison, Prager argued, could have honored the fact that America’s values are religiously based if he had brought a Bible along with his Koran to his swearing-in ceremony. This is what Osman Siddique -- the first Muslim to serve as a U.S. ambassador abroad -- did in 1999. Prager, a practicing Jew, stated that he would have no problem bringing a Koran to his own swearing-in ceremony if he lived in a Muslim country that was as free and tolerant as America.
Unfortunately, such freedom and tolerance is not prevalent in the Muslim world today. Prager admitted that he was worried about a significant percentage of the Muslim population that wants to murder others for believing differently. Just as troubling as this evil committed in God’s name is the reticence of the rest of the Muslim world to do anything about it. Looking at Rabbi Eliezrie, Prager stated the obvious: Jews would be so overwhelmed with anger if rabbis began slaughtering human beings as if they were sheep that they would protest such blasphemy in large numbers. But shouting “Allahu Akbar!” while beheading infidels brings nary a complaint from the Muslim world.
Muslim officials spend their time condemning people like Prager for being Islamophobic, not fighting the terrorism that is truly giving Islam a bad name. In her interview with the Times, for example, CAIR spokeswoman Syeda refused to condemn Hamas or Hezoballah as terrorist organizations. “I don’t understand what the relevance is,” she said. Rabbi Eliezrie spoke for many when he said, “I haven’t seen them condemn specific groups who are involved in terror in the Middle East, and that to me is very scary.”
Prager concluded his speech with some suggestions. To the West, he cautioned against bending over in cowardice because of charges of Islamophobia. Westerners need to be kind but firm if they ever want to help bring about the much needed self-criticism lacking in the Muslim world.
Muslims, meanwhile, need to stop thinking of themselves as victims. They dishonor Islam by getting angry at the slightest offense. Prager pointed out that dividing the world between Muslims and Infidels is an evil doctrine; Muslims should start measuring people by their actions, not their beliefs.
Prager offered this advice as a friend to Muslims throughout the world. The tragic irony is that CAIR views him as an enemy of Islam.
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