On Tuesday, July 17, American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene spoke at a program put on by the Council on American-Islamic Relations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Here are excerpts from Mr. Keene’s prepared remarks for the CAIR event:
I want to begin by thanking you for the opportunity to appear here today, and I am going to take Mohamed Nimer’s assurance that my comments, critical as they might be, will be welcome here.
My decision to accept your invitation to appear on today’s panel stirred up more than a little controversy among my friends. Some were shocked that I would even consider appearing on a panel sponsored by a group such as CAIR — a group that some of them hold suspect because of its origins and others because of its views and the activities, legal and illegal, of some of those who have been associated with it.
I chose to appear, however, both because of the opportunity to say a few things that I think need to be said and because of the importance of the topic we have been asked to address. Our topic this morning is “Attacking Islam: Implications for Social Cohesion and U.S. Relations with the Muslim World,” and I can think of few more important topics in today’s world.
Bin Laden’s Fascists
In the days since 9/11, President Bush has made it clear that as far as he’s concerned Islam is not our enemy: Our enemy, rather, consists of those individuals, groups and nations that have perverted one of the world’s great religions to justify their hatred of the West. Terror directed at civilians — men, women and children — in Kabul, Baghdad, Rome, London, Washington and New York is their weapon of choice, and their goal is to first drive those they hate out of the nations of the Middle East and then create a world in their own image.
The President has described the followers of bin Laden and his ilk as “Islamic fascists,” and while we can parse words all we want, it is a simple fact that they craft quasi-religious appeals to Muslims the world over in a sometimes successful attempt to convince them to accept their view of the world.
CAIR insists, quite properly I believe, that bin Laden and his buddies are anything but good Muslims and urges us not to condemn every follower of Islam for the sins of a few. I agree completely. Most Muslims, like most Christians, Jews and Hindus, are intent upon living their lives, raising their families and worshipping their god. No one should be regarded as an enemy simply because of his or her religion, but neither should those who use religion to hide something much uglier be given a pass.
In the past, fanatics have twisted the teachings of the Old and New Testaments for similar purposes, and the cults and movements based upon such tortured interpretations of legitimate religious teachings and writings have always had some appeal to the frustrated, the ignorant and the maladjusted. Such movements have been defeated or held in check by legitimate main-line representatives of the exploited religions who have rightly and vociferously taken exception to those who would hijack it for their own purposes.
They have done so because allowing fanatics to cloak themselves in the respectability of religion is dangerous, as it allows them to recruit followers who believe their religion sanctions extremism and fanaticism and who make enemies not just for themselves but for the religion they claim to represent.
This, I’m afraid to say, is happening today. Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who attack the West in the name of Islam may represent no one but themselves, but those who represent Islam have an obligation to themselves and to the faith they profess to condemn them lest they suffer for their crimes.
When I came to Washington in 1970, I arrived at a time of great controversy involving a group called the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League that billed itself as the major Italian-American civil rights organization. The league was at the time particularly upset whenever anyone mentioned the existence of the “Mafia,” which they took as implying that Italian-Americans were all Mafiosos or criminals. If someone used the word in public, they were willing to stage demonstrations on the ground that its usage was racist and that, anyhow, the Mafia didn’t exist.
Interestingly, the press seemed to take all this seriously for a while, even though everyone knew that there was a Mafia and that acknowledging its existence or admitting that it had its origins in Sicily and recruited mainly Italian-Americans in this country didn’t mean that one was implying that all Italians or Italian-Americans were criminals.
Eventually, though, people began to ignore the league because what its leaders were insisting on as true just didn’t match up very well with reality. The league became a joke to many, but others wondered why it was out trying to define the Mafia out of existence and began to suspect that it was in fact little more than a front for the criminals whose very existence it denied.
At the same time, many respected Italian-Americans began speaking up to say one could be proud of his or her heritage without having to deny that there are bad elements in any large group of people and that it was the obligation of those proud of their heritage to not only honor it, but to denounce those who would besmirch it.
Eventually, the league’s leaders realized the foolishness of the position they had taken, abandoned it and went on to do much good.
The controversy didn’t last all that long, but it was both interesting and instructive. CAIR likes to characterize itself as the leading Muslim civil rights organization in this country, and your leaders are quick to criticize anyone who in your eyes is “anti-Muslim.”
CAIR Is Over-Reaching
And there are such people out there. There are those who believe deeply that the Muslim world is intractably committed to war with the West and that under his skin every Muslim is definitionally an enemy of the West. The belief is, of course, completely absurd, but it exists and should be countered, but not simply by attacking anyone and everyone critical either of Islam itself or organizations and individuals who justify their actions on its basis.
But let’s face it, CAIR does just that. We are meeting today at the National Press Club, which is in a way a living memorial to the freedom of the press that is so important a part of the American tradition. The platform on which we speak is open to all because we believe in the right even of those with whom we disagree to speak their minds. It is a right that extends to all in this country and involves the need for mutual respect for those with opposing views.
But some reporters have been barred by CAIR from covering this panel, because by criticizing CAIR or its policies, they have been condemned as anti-Muslim when they are, in fact, simply reporters doing their job.
In the past, CAIR has attacked as anti-Muslim such disparate groups and organizations as the New Republic, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Tampa Tribune and even Al Gore and our Weekly Reader. The breadth of CAIR’s attacks would seem to indicate that there is a widespread, deep bi-partisan conspiracy against Muslims in this country or CAIR is guilty over-reaching.
I would suggest that the latter is the case.
In a free society, individuals must expect to be treated as individuals rather than as members of favored or disfavored groups. No free society has ever achieved this completely, but those desiring to benefit from living in such a society have to realize that in asking fairness for oneself, one has to grant fairness to others.
Thus, the Muslim seeking respect for his or her views must respect the views of others. It is not enough to condemn those non-Muslims who mischaracterize Islam or unfairly attack Muslims as a group. It requires one to disassociate oneself from those who rightly or wrongly speak as Muslims to condemn other religions or unfairly attack other groups.
The Muslim who attacks Jews and Christians as “pigs” or “crusaders” is as responsible for the breakdown in civility in the modern world as the non-Muslim who implies that all Muslims harbor a desire to kill a Christian or Jew.
If CAIR wants respect as representing the best of Islam to the West, it must shun the role of enabler by siding with the enemies of terror and intolerance wherever they are found. The Washington Post reported that CAIR in one of its annual reports on “hate crimes” directed against Muslims listed the U.S. apprehension and imprisonment of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman as evidence of U.S. bias against Muslims.
The question we have to ask is whether Rahman was acting in furtherance of legitimate Islamic beliefs in plotting to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993 or was he not. If he was, we all have a problem. If he wasn’t, why would arresting him be an anti-Muslim act?
In a free society, it is not essential that everyone agree with one another. In fact, if they did, we would live in a boring world. It is essential that they respect each other’s right to disagree on basic as well as tangential issues.
I don’t really care if, by the tenants of one’s religious beliefs, someone believes I will go to Hell. I insist only that he refrain from expediting my arrival there.