(Editor's note: Fixes spelling in 7th and 9th paragraph.)
(CNSNews.com) - America's largest and most well-financed Islamic advocacy group has been called out for allegedly hiring terrorist sympathizers and for helping to advance a radical ideology incompatible with the principles of a free society.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) bills itself as a civil rights organization and as a responsible voice of moderation. But its history, legal activities, and financial ties suggest otherwise, said Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch.
Spencer made his remarks last Thursday in Washington, D.C., at the 29th National Conservative Student Conference held by the Young America's Foundation (YAF).
In an e-mailed response to Cybercast News Service, Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman, said the organization questions some of the allegations and criticisms made by Spencer and others in a document entitled "De-Mystifying 'Urban Legends' about CAIR."
"As a result of the organization's high profile and its stellar record of principled advocacy of civil liberties, interfaith relations, and justice for all people, a small but vocal group of anti-Muslim bigots has made CAIR the focus of their mean-spirited attacks," the document states.
An attorney representing CAIR sent a letter to YAF last week demanding that the conservative outreach group cancel Spencer's talk, "The Truth about the Council on American Islamic Relations."
However, YAF officials told Cybercast News Service they had no intention of canceling Spencer's talk, which proceeded as planned. The CAIR letter made it clear that legal action would commence if YAF refused to comply.
"Our clients have instructed us to pursue every available and appropriate legal remedy to redress any false and defamatory statements that are made at the session," the letter stated. The CAIR attorney also described Spencer as a "well-known purveyor of hatred and bigotry against Muslims" in his letter. That is false and defamatory, Spencer said in response while addressing the students.
"It is a common tactic of both the left and the Islamic advocacy groups in America to accuse every critic of purveying hatred and bigotry," said Spencer. "But I am not intimidated by their threats or troubled by their smears ...."
Spencer also said his criticisms of CAIR are well documented and easily verified.
YAF President Ron Robinson told Cybercast News Service that the attempt to stifle free speech reflected poorly on CAIR.
"I've been running this conference for 29 years and I've never had anyone try to exercise prior restraint of a speaker," he said. "To say in vague terms they object to a speaker without specifically outlining what those objections are speaks to a lack of professionalism in their organization."
Allegations against CAIR
In many respects, CAIR grew out of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), an organization shut down by U.S. officials in 2005 for funding terrorism, said Spencer.
Nihad Awad, a former IAP president, and Omar Ahmad, a former IAP officer, co-founded CAIR. Spencer also claimed that Hooper, the CAIR spokesman, was active with IAP at one time.
A report issued through the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in 2001 shows IAP was aligned with Hamas, reported Spencer. Hamas itself was founded as a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987, according to the U.S. State Department.
Even if Awad, Ahmad, and Hooper all left IAP to become active with CAIR as a way of disassociating themselves from questionable activities in the past, they continued to embrace individuals involved with unsavory activities, said Spencer.
Randall (Ismail) Royer is one such individual whom Spencer identified in his talk. Royer, who Spencer said previously served as a civil rights coordinator for CAIR, was also a part of the "Virginia Jihad Group," which, Spencer noted, was indicted on 41 counts of "conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas. Royer also was charged with conspiring to help Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in their battle against American troops in Afghanistan.
Spencer also named Ghassan Elashi, whom he described as the founder of CAIR's Texas chapter. Elashi was charged with giving over $12 million to Hamas via a charity organization. Elashi was also convicted in 2004 for illegally shipping computers to Libya and Syria.
"If CAIR is a moderate group that abhors all jihad violence, how did those former CAIR employees who are now in prison get through the interviewing process?" Spencer asked rhetorically.
But the point Spencer made about former CAIR employees proceeds from a "disinformation" campaign that depends on "McCarthy-like attempts to portray CAIR as guilty by association," according to the CAIR document. Moreover, the document states, the "smears against CAIR are disseminated by agenda-driven extremists who seek to marginalize and disenfranchise the American-Muslim community and its leaders."
Although CAIR acknowledges that Royer pleaded guilty to weapons charges, the document claims he did not plead guilty to any charge of terrorism. CAIR also says Elashi was never an employee or officer.
"The fact that Elashi was once associated with one of our more than 30 regional chapters has no legal significance to our corporation, given the fact that any actions taken by him were outside the scope and chronology of his association with one of our chapters," CAIR declared in its document.
The alleged links between CAIR and Hamas figured prominently in Spencer's address. He pointed out, for instance, that federal prosecutors named CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator as a consequence of its support for the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) for Relief and Development, which has been charged with directing funds to Hamas.
However, in its response to Cybercast News Service, CAIR noted that the HLF case was still pending in court. Furthermore, CAIR claims the donation in question was made "at a time when there was no public concern raised about HLF."
In a separate interview, Spencer told Cybercast News Service that CAIR's overriding objective is to "silence all criticisms of Islam and all investigation of the elements of Islam that Islamic jihadists are using to foster their goals."
Spencer also said top officials in CAIR have made "statements of Islamic supremacy" that should be of "grave concern" to the American people. There is an effort underway, in his estimation, to impose sharia law in the U.S.
The "moderate" label CAIR ascribes to its organization does not square with its activities or methodology, said Spencer. Instead, it would appear that CAIR is working to "silence any genuine investigation into the elements of Islam which are in need of reform," he said.
CAIR apparently has not deterred YAF so far. "We haven't heard a peep from CAIR or their lawyers," YAF's Jason Mattera wrote in an e-mail to Cybercast News Service.
In his e-mail message, CAIR's Hooper declined an invitation to comment on the status of any pending legal action against YAF.
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