The indictment of American citizen Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for terrorism-related charges that include conspiring to assassinate President Bush made headlines last week in the New York Times. And as it has done previously when reporting on the War on Terror, the Times failed to get the real story.
Abu Ali attended the Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia for high school and also spent a year at the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA). Both of these schools receive funding from the Saudi government and both have been the subject of repeated concerns regarding the intolerant, extremist Wahabbi material they use to “teach” students.
In a February 24 piece, the Times dutifully reported on Abu Ali’s student days and noted that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had previously complained about the Islamic Saudi Academy’s use of a textbook for first-graders that disparaged Judaism and Christianity. This left the unmistakable impression that CAIR is a moderate voice for American Muslims—and yet nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the Times neglected to mention a recent statement by CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper actually defending the Academy despite its attempted brainwashing of first- graders:
“The fact that one sentence in one book, out of an entire curriculum, needs to be changed or clarified hardly justifies sweeping charges of extremism.”
The Times also missed the point that CAIR, like the two schools that were the subject of the story, has received Saudi funding. Missing, too, was the fact that CAIR has a long track record of defending extremist Islam and has accepted donations from terror-linked organizations, including the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization that has been indicted for providing material support to Hamas.
Had the Times bothered to launch its vast army of investigative reporters—or do a Google search—it would have found a mountain of examples of absurd, black-is-white denials by CAIR that have at their core the defense and promotion of Wahabbi Islam and those that act on its behalf.
CAIR’s national legal director, Arsalan Iftikhar, recently wrote an op-ed attacking last month’s acclaimed Freedom House report—which detailed the bevy of extremist materials funded by the Saudi government found at U.S. mosques—as “more hysteria than substance.” And Hooper even denies the existence of Wahabbism, saying it is “one of those terms which is invented to scare people about Muslim bogeymen. It’s just all part of the extremely powerful right wing and their agenda right now to demonize Saudi Arabia and demonize anything associated with Saudi Arabia.”
Similarly, CAIR officials have attempted to recast jihad as a peaceful activity akin to an anti-littering campaign. CAIR’s co-founder and current Executive Director, Nihad Awad—disregarding centuries of Islamic conquest in the name of jihad—has said it “never means holy war.”
“The United States army, when it goes to defend innocent people, that’s a form of jihad,” Awad told National Public Radio in 1998. “Whenever a conductor tries to save the life of a baby, is a—is a jihad. A mother to raise her children is jihad. You know, an honest person who wants to get good life is jihad.”
It would appear, then, that the Bush administration has it all wrong: Al-Qaeda’s frequent calls for jihad against the West aren’t motivated by genocidal hatred, but, rather, a sincere desire for friendship and solidarity.
Awad’s deceptive reasoning isn’t limited to jihad apologia; for CAIR, the War on Terror is really a war against Islam. For example, Awad has decried “the racist policies and practices being carried out by some branches of the U.S. government,” while Hooper has said that the Department of Justice has a “general policy of targeting Muslims because they are Muslims.”
Perhaps no one exposes the disingenuity of CAIR better than Ibrahim Abdul Mu'min of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism. Speaking of CAIR and its persistent claims of America’s “victimization of Muslims,” he notes:
“The real victimizer is CAIR itself...Muslims are not in danger from America or in America. America and Muslims are in danger from CAIR.”
Rational people acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of Islamist terrorist activity is carried out by Wahhabi devotees. And yet, when asked about Congressional hearings held in 2003 on Wahhabi influence in America, Hooper complained, “elected representatives like Senator [Charles] Schumer and Senator [John] Kyl…are jumping on this issue in order to demonize all Muslim groups and all Muslims in America.”
Hooper’s condemnation of Schumer and Kyl comes as no surprise, given the two men’s repudiation of CAIR. Schumer has stated that CAIR “has ties to terrorism,” while Kyl has written that CAIR’s “terror-related activities are being scrutinized by my [Senate Judiciary] subcommittee as well as the federal government.”
Despite all of this, the Times chose to limply portray CAIR as a benign moderate Islamic group devoted to civil liberties and interfaith harmony. This does a grave disservice to the legitimate Muslim groups in America that want no part of medieval Wahhabi extremism and to readers who expect what they read to have at least a passing relationship with the truth. Whether due to laziness or a stubborn refusal to admit that its past characterization of CAIR has been misinformed, the Times dropped the ball—once again.
Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.