In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush rushed to assure Americans that Islam was a religion of peace. In his first speech after the murderous attacks, Bush stated, “(Islam’s) teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.”
Bush strained to support this position by seeking out “moderate Muslims” across America. One of the first groups he approached was the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Bush met with CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad soon after Sept. 11. That began a federal precedent of kowtowing to CAIR. In December 2004, FBI counter-terrorism agents in Florida were forced to attend “sensitivity training” by CAIR. In January 2005, CAIR met with top State Department officials to discuss American foreign policy; Awad proposed a cooperative effort to challenge “Islamophobia.” In January 2007, the Transportation Security Administration initiated CAIR’s “Hajj Sensitivity Training,” featuring it on their website.
There was only one problem: CAIR is an organization with deep ties to terrorists in the Middle East. According to Andrew McCarthy of National Review, CAIR was created by a wing of Hamas, the Islamic Association for Palestine. Awad was president of the Islamic Association For Palestine . Much of CAIR’s early money came from the Holy Land Foundation — the same foundation that had its funds frozen in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and the same foundation whose founder, Ghassan Elashi, headed up the CAIR chapter in Texas.
While CAIR was posing as a defender of moderate Islam, it was simultaneously silencing critics with lawsuits. Anti-CAIR, an organization dedicated to exposing the truth about CAIR’s radicalism, found itself hauled into court for defamation. The suit was dismissed in favor of Anti-CAIR. Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the southern California office of CAIR, sued National Review after writer Shawn Steel criticized CAIR. CAIR sued former U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., after he called CAIR “the fund-raising arm for Hezbollah.” CAIR attempted to sue columnist David Frum for similar charges.
Not only is CAIR an extreme group with Islamist sympathies and dissent-crushing tendencies, it is allegedly involved in criminal fraud and racketeering. David Yerushalmi, a securities litigator currently enmeshed in a case against CAIR, told me that CAIR was using its status as a public interest law firm to hire non-lawyers for other purposes.
Finally, in the last days of the George W. Bush administration, the FBI recognized CAIR’s extremism. According to Fox News, the FBI recently cut ties with local branches of CAIR in the aftermath of a 15-year FBI investigation suggesting CAIR’s connections with Hamas fundraising.
What took them so long? The desperation for a group of “moderate Muslims” led the Bush administration to embrace America’s enemies. The Bush administration needed to convince the American people that American Muslims are universally westernized, and so they embraced the most convenient resource: CAIR. That embrace weakened America’s security, allowed terrorist-sympathizers the ear of the law enforcement community, and legitimized extremists to the detriment of true Muslim moderates.
Bush’s ignorance of our enemies — his presumption that Western Muslims are westernized Muslims — caused him to ignore the search for true moderate Muslims in favor of convenient front groups. Unfortunately, President Obama is following in Bush’s footsteps. In Obama’s recent interview with Al-Arabiya, he stated, “my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.” This evades the problem of Muslim extremism. Clearly, not all Muslims are moderate, and treating them as such does real moderate Muslims an incredible disservice. Treating all Muslims as moderate means treating Hamas members like members of the local mosque. That isn’t just foolish, it’s dangerous.
Instead of relying on platitudes, Obama must find moderate Muslims and bolster their moderation. That requires intensive time and effort, the kind of time and effort President Bush never expended.
President Obama is uniquely qualified for such a task. If he truly wishes to reach out to the Muslim community, he must find those who share Americans’ love for liberty and freedom, who believe in an open society of religious pluralism. He can start by denouncing CAIR and any other domestic Islamist groups who call themselves moderate Muslims without demonstrating any moderation.