Council on American-Islamic Relations Launches ‘Islamophobia’ Division

Patrick Goodenough | October 12, 2010 | 5:09am EDT
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Nihad Awad, national executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), speaks at a news conference in Washington on Dec. 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

( – Spurred by the controversies over Quran-burning and the planned Ground Zero mosque, the most visible Islamic advocacy organization in the United States says it is launching a department to deal with “Islamophobia.”

In doing so, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is following the example of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the 57-member bloc of Islamic states. The OIC set up an “observatory” five years ago to monitor and report on incidents and trends around the world it regards as amounting to “Islamophobia.”

CAIR, which calls itself “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization,” said in a statement Monday that its executive director, Nihad Awad, had announced the move at the group’s annual banquet, held in Arlington, Va. on Saturday.

“We have seen a small but vocal group of bigots and hate-mongers manufacture an atmosphere of anti-Islam hysteria through smear campaigns that rely on distortions, misinformation and outright falsehoods,” Awad said.

The statement said the new “Islamophobia” department would produce an annual report tracking “trends in rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims and will offer accurate and balanced information to be used in the struggle for tolerance and mutual understanding.”

It would also “organize conferences, seminars, cultural exchanges, and other activities and events designed to provide opportunities for education and dialogue.”

“It will take joint efforts by people of goodwill of all faiths to challenge this epidemic of hate,” Awad said.

‘A wretched concept’
The term “Islamophobia” has become widely used in recent years despite criticism – even from some Muslims – about a term which etymologically suggests an irrational fear or horror of Muslims or Islam.

Critics say proponents use the word to cover everything from acts of unjustified discrimination targeting Muslims to legitimate opposition to Islamic tenets, practices, leaders or institutions.

CAIR itself has labeled “Islamophobes” critics who have drawn attention to the fact that the organization was named by federal prosecutors in 2007 among “unindicted co-conspirators” in a case against the Holy Land Foundation in Texas. Five former Holy Land organizers were convicted the following year of providing support to the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas.

Islamophobia is “a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatization of those who believe in it,” a group of writers and intellectuals, including British author Salman Rushdie, said in a joint 2006 statement condemning Islamism as a “reactionary ideology.”

Although increasingly fashionable since 2001, the term “Islamophobia” predated the 2001 terror attacks and their aftermath.

A Nexis search suggests that the earliest usage in media reports came around 1990, when a Soviet Academy of Sciences academic told an Uzbekistan-based newspaper that “Islamophobia” on the part of Soviet leaders could lead to an “Islamic explosion.”

In 1995, Jordan’s Prince Hassan, brother of the late King Hussein, used the word in an address at the U.N. General Assembly.

“The attention of this body should be turned to the spreading of Islamophobia,” he said. “This phenomenon occurs in all manner of ways, from the purely verbal to the bluntly physical. Its proponents deal in inflammatory rhetoric. They preach the inevitability of cultural apocalypse, tarring all Moslems with the brush of fanatical extremism.”

In 1996 a British think tank focused on multiethnic affairs, the Runnymede Trust, set up a body called the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, which the following year produced a report entitled “Islamophobia: A challenge for us all.”

As the decade progressed Iranian diplomats used the term more and more frequently at the U.N. and its now-defunct Commission on Human Rights, describing the phenomenon as “the perception of Islam and its followers as threats to the West.”

The OIC in 1999 introduced its first resolution at the Commission on Human Rights on what it calls “religious defamation” and over the ensuing decade has passed one at the U.N. every year.

Initially the annual resolutions referred to problems like “stereotyping” or “xenophobia” but from the middle of the 1990s the term “Islamophobia” was introduced. Today it appears regularly in U.N. documents, and the OIC last month called on the U.N.’s top human rights official to start tracking “Islamophobia.”

The U.S. State Department has in recent years used the term periodically – sometimes in quotes, sometimes not – in annual human rights and religious freedom.

In a joint op-ed published in several European newspapers last month, President Obama’s envoy to the OIC, Rashad Hussain, and special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, wrote, “We are deeply aware of the growing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry that have blossomed worldwide.”

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