by Moein Khawaja
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29 2010
Whether by opposing mosque construction, encouraging racial profiling, or fomenting anti-immigration sentiment, right-wing politicians are lining up to bash Muslims and prove their supposed patriotism before November. Here in Pennsylvania, the extreme right has decided to attack Rep. Joe Sestak as anti-Israel just because he spoke to the Muslim American community.
The neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel is spreading a thinly disguised version of the “Obama might be a Muslim” narrative, portraying the president — and American Muslims — as anti-Israel “others.” In a vitriolic, deceitful ad that started to air this month, the group slams Sestak for speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) at a Philadelphia banquet in March 2007. The ad says CAIR is an “anti-Israel organization the FBI called a front group for Hamas.”
Sestak’s U.S. Senate campaign has and will defend him, so I will speak up for the Philadelphia Muslim community. Neocons have defined CAIR as anti-Israel merely because it is a successful Muslim American organization. CAIR is concerned about America, not Palestine, Pakistan, or any other foreign land — unlike the Emergency Committee for Israel and its supporters, who place Israel first and America a distant second.
It is true that, amid the Bush administration’s blacklisting of large Muslim American organizations, a single FBI agent said she thought CAIR was a front group for Hamas. But given the absence of any proof, this claim will never be valid, despite the best efforts of Muslims’ detractors.
Let’s not forget that the FBI wiretapped the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and called him the “most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” CAIR is no King, but American minorities lawfully asserting their rights have often drawn negative attention from law enforcement.
In its 16-year history, CAIR has not been guilty of anything but professional activism. And it has earned praise from countless elected officials and the interfaith community.
Our constitutional rights are only as strong as their application to all Americans, and that is what CAIR unapologetically advocates for the 99.99 percent of Muslim Americans who aren’t terrorists. That is why I signed up to work for CAIR, even though I knew that those who seek to marginalize Muslims would use it against me.
To my Jewish neighbors and fellow citizens, let me say this clearly as the executive director of CAIR’s Philadelphia office: For the security of Israelis and Palestinians, both sides should stop killing each other, and that’s what CAIR has always spoken up for.
CAIR has nothing to do with Hamas except for having repeatedly and unequivocally condemned its terrorism. Attacks against civilians are heinous, disgusting, and a complete perversion of religion when carried out in its name. CAIR has equally condemned attacks against civilians by the Israeli government — a political taboo that does not sit well with right-wingers but is, nonetheless, our principled position.
Some might say the recent attacks on CAIR are not attacks on the Muslim community. Tell that to the more than 10,000 Muslim Americans subscribed to our mailing list in Philadelphia alone. All of this chapter’s funding comes from Pennsylvania Muslims who want an organized voice.
With nearly 1,000 attendees, the CAIR-Philadelphia banquet is the largest gathering of Muslim Americans in Pennsylvania outside major holidays. Gov. Rendell attended the same banquet as Sestak in 2007; does that render him a self-hating Jew? Mayor Nutter addressed this year’s banquet and honored CAIR with a city proclamation.
The Emergency Committee for Israel’s ads won’t hurt CAIR. But they are telling half a million Muslims in Pennsylvania that they shouldn’t bother participating in American democracy.
Moein M. Khawaja is the executive director of the Philadelphia office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Pennsylvania.