Smears are like McCarthyism

The Florida Times-Union
May 10, 2007

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has a long history of positive social and political activism.

Our educational initiatives have opened doors to dialogue and mutual understanding with Americans of all faiths. Yet a recent letter to the editor was published with a provocative but blatantly false headline, "CAIR supports Hamas."

Former President Carter, in a recent CNN interview, said "there's a good chance" that Hamas, which has operated a network of successful social and charitable organizations for Palestinians, could become a nonviolent organization.

After meeting with Hamas leaders, he said, "They told me they want to have a peaceful administration." Should anyone now allege that Carter is a "terrorist" sympathizer because he advocates political dialogue with Hamas? Just as truth is the first casualty of war, so is rationality the first victim when fear overcomes reason.

After attending a CAIR banquet, Rabbi Arthur Waskow (named as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America) wrote the following in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice: "A larger number of Jews attended as supporters ... I spoke as a religious Jew committed to peace between Israel and Palestine. ... They strongly applauded my remarks about the need for each single one of us members of the family of Abraham to feel personally wounded when any member of the family kills another. Former Ambassador Ed Peck gave the keynote address.

"Some of his family were Jewish, and were murdered in the Holocaust. Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania gave a warm and warmly received speech. He is himself Jewish. ... CAIR strongly condemns terrorist actions, but not whole organizations. ... So CAIR's view is that to condemn the whole organization outright, as distinct from specific terrorist actions, is to demonize all its parts instead of trying to peel away the disgusting actions that CAIR does oppose."

The New York Times on March 14, wrote, "More than one (government official) described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association. ...A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link [CAIR] to Hamas and Hezbollah."

We are comforted by the wise words of the Rev. Martin Luther King: "Our finite disappointments ought not to make us give up on the infinite hope of equality and justice for all people."
Over the years, CAIR has received hundreds of letters of support from elected officials, law enforcement agencies and interfaith leaders.

The statements from these leaders can be found on our Web site (

A recent letter of support signed by 203 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha'i leaders, professors and concerned citizens said, "We could and would have freely and accurately characterized CAIR as a responsible and highly esteemed force for reconciliation and sanity, both in international affairs and in deepening interfaith understanding here in the United States."

People who engage in smear tactics never had the temerity to talk to us or get to know us. Which group should Americans of conscience pay attention to?

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Is racial profiling OK at airports?

Is it so wrong to racially profile people who are flying?

Lisa, white, Custar, Ohio
I would be nervous if I saw a couple of Middle-Eastern people get on my plane. I think we [whites] should be aware of how the profiling makes others feel, but those who fit the profile should also understand that at the moment it might just be a necessary evil.

Jason, Kiel, Germany
I shouldn't be subject to racial profiling and harassment just to make xenophobic people like you feel safer.

KMW, 22, black/white male, Boston
[Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh was a white male in his 20s, so, given the pro-profiling notion, all white males in their 20s should be considered a serious threat to national security.
Dee, Cleveland
People are always complaining about how easy we [Muslims] are getting it. Well, we aren't - we get harassed all the time. There . . . rejoice!
Karim, 27, Arab male,
Los Angeles

Experts say
What if conservative radio host Michael Smerconish, author of Flying Blind (which advocates racial profiling in airports), and Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and associate professor at the University of North Florida, got together for a nice chat on this?
Well, they didn't. But we did interview them separately, so maybe the banter would go something like this:

Ahmed: "The fear is very legitimate, but we must acknowledge it's a result of lack of knowledge. . . . The flying public should say something if they see something, but not if they see nothing."
Smerconish: "Profiling is absolutely necessary. The FBI says Al-Qaeda is reconstituting itself . . . and their surnames aren't Jones or Smerconish. There are still Arab extremists who threaten us. The common denominator of the 19 [Sept. 11] attackers remains constant."
Ahmed: "If someone is suspicious-looking, yes, pull them aside. But if you simply see a person with a different color, or a beard, that's diverting law enforcement from things of a genuine security concern. That's counterproductive."
Smerconish: "The blue-haired old lady out of Miami with a walker is undeserving of the same level of attention as Abdul flying in from Saudi Arabia. If that offends people, I'm sorry, but we need to use street-smarts and face the fact there are commonalities among those who threaten us."
Ahmed: "Smerconish and others are exploiting our fears. . . . Law enforcement agrees profiling is the wrong way to go based on race. It should be based on suspicious behavior. The process now is so haphazard. Yes, I feel the stares. . . . If a local agent can detain you for hours because he didn't like how you dressed that day, how have you been made safer?"
Smerconish: "Hey, when . . . bald suburban white guys like me start to threaten us, I'll change my tune."

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Islam has no ties to terrorism
Posted on Sat, May. 05, 2007

Five years into President Bush's declaration of the ''global war on terrorism,'' the latest State Department report shows a 25 percent increase in worldwide terrorist attacks over the previous year. Terrorism is an abominable tactics, not an ideology. Thus declaring ''war'' against it, while politically expeditious, is in reality temerarious, as it only attacks the symptom without addressing the cause.

Global patterns show that terrorism is not exclusive to any one group. Between 1980 and 2003, the world's leader in suicide terrorism has been the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group that recruits from the predominantly Hindu Tamil population in Sri Lanka. According the Terrorism Knowledge Base (, between 1968 and 2007, the largest purveyors of terrorism have been groups affiliated with communist/socialist or nationalist/separatist ideology.

Despite this, Islam continues to be conflated with terrorism.

The intertwining of political rhetoric with religious imagery by groups like al Qaeda certainly precipitates the notion of some intrinsic link between Islam and terrorism.

Historic links

This perception is greatly assisted by a veritable cottage industry of neo-experts pontificating with great certainty about the cause-effect relationship between Islam and terrorism. Such mischaracterization is at odds with the reality that Islam unequivocally condemns terrorism and advocates the preservation of life, honor and dignity of all human life as a supreme endeavor. Thus, terrorism even when carried out in the name or defense of Islam cannot be called jihad but is rather an unholy war. Robert Pape in his seminal work Dying to Win contends that military occupation, not religious ideology, is the primary enabler of terrorism.

Douglas Streusand and Harry Tunnell of the National Defense University in a recent paper argue that characterizing terrorism committed by Muslims as ''Islamic'' alienates billions of peace loving Muslims worldwide. Using terms like jihadist to describe terrorist misrepresent legitimate Islamic concepts of jihad, which to most Muslims mean striving for good. Calling terrorists jihadists also legitimizes an un-Islamic activity in the eyes of the disenfranchised Muslims, thus aiding recruitment. Developing an alternative vocabulary is a necessary but not sufficient step towards addressing the problem of terrorism.

The State Department report cites continued instability in Iraq as one of the major reasons for the increases in terrorist acts. Terrorism is indeed a consequence of wars of choice such as Iraq, but it also has historic links to other wars of necessity such as the Cold War.

During the Cold War, U.S. financing, recruitment and arming of foreign fighters to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan led not only to Soviet retreat but also its demise. However, the enabling of a culture of drugs to finance the war and the deliberate injection of religious rhetoric to motivate recruits had unintended consequences. Compounding the problem, unlike post World War II Europe, no Marshall Plan was enacted to rebuild Afghanistan where out of a population of roughly 15 million, a million Afghans had died, an additional 1 ½ million were maimed, and five million had become refugees. Amid this death and destruction, with a country littered in drugs and guns, violence became law enabling terrorists to carve out safe havens.

Common-sense methods

Failed states, like occupations, can also breed and incubate terrorism.

To contain terrorism, if not eliminate it, the way forward is to engage in common-sense methods of intelligence gathering without criminalizing entire groups of people, military strategies without resorting to indiscriminate bombings and enabling the emergence of democratic and civic societies by eliminating foreign occupations. Addressing grievances cannot automatically be dismissed as appeasement. Britain succeeded in disarming the IRA by engaging them, not ignoring its demands. In fact, the conversion of terrorist groups into peaceful political movements has often occurred when their rationale for violence ceased to exist.

In a recent Washington Post article, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, called upon moderates, including Muslims, to from a global alliance ''to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism.'' This alliance is only possible when American foreign policy changes course to reflect America's values of liberty and justice for all, with an unwavering commitment to dialogue and diplomacy.