(CNSNews.com) - Critics slammed a Democratic lawmaker for addressing a Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) function over the weekend, but the Muslim group praised him for doing so "despite being demonized and vilified by the right-wing media and pro-Israel extremists."
"I believe that establishing a dialogue with people is the only way to win the war of ideas. That is why I agreed to speak to CAIR," Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) said in a statement after the event in Philadelphia Saturday night. "But, first and foremost, I attended tonight's banquet because 250 of my Muslim constituents attended the event.
"The American-Muslim community is a wonderful community, and they have my strong support," he said.
In his remarks delivered during the dinner, Sestak praised the organization.
"CAIR does such important and necessary work in a difficult environment to change such perceptions and wrongs -- from racial profiling and civil rights to promoting justice and mutual understanding -- at a time when it is challenging to be an American Muslim and pass, for example, through an airport checkpoint," Sestak said.
CAIR, which calls itself a "civil rights group," has come under close scrutiny for several years, not least of all for its consistent refusal to denounce Hamas and Hizballah, two groups on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
A vocal critic of CAIR, Middle East Forum Director Daniel Pipes, said both Sestak and Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who also attended Saturday's event, "are making a terrible mistake in endorsing CAIR and even helping it raise funds."
"CAIR is the stepchild of Hamas and helps the enemy in the war on terror," Pipes told Cybercast News Service Monday.
"We cannot blindly empower Islamists, like Gov. Ed Rendell and Rep. Joe Sestak have done, and then wonder why we are losing the ideological battle," added Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
"CAIR's focus on apologetics for terrorism, victimization and minority politics is simply a distraction from their responsibility to lead the battle within the Islamic community to defeat militancy and theocracy," he told Cybercast News Service.
"As an American Muslim, I have significant concerns with CAIR and their less-than-transparent agenda," Jasser said. "At the core, they present themselves as a representative of a faith community, but a brief review of all their materials demonstrates a heavily political agenda long on foreign and domestic policy criticism and very short on spirituality.
"These politicians legitimize their faith representation and their political representation of our faith community -- which they certainly do not for many Muslims," he added. "Those reformers who understand that the root cause of terrorism is political Islam will have no chance whatsoever to win the ideological battle over the mosque if the Islamists are repeatedly endorsed and empowered by our government."
Jasser also called CAIR's condemnations of terror "empty" and "dangerously non-specific."
CAIR's national board chairman, Parvez Ahmed, said the group condemns all forms of terrorism.
"Islam does not only mean peace, Islam emphasizes peaceful coexistence as a supreme goal," he said in a statement during the dinner. "Thus, Islamic ethos unequivocally condemns terrorism of any sort."
Ahmed then implied that acts of terrorism carried out by Islamic terrorists were on a par with Israeli security force actions against Palestinians.
"Each gruesome act that shocked Americans, from the murder of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, to the bombing of a Jewish [Passover] seder party in Israel, to the beheading of Nick Berg in Iraq, to the massacre in Beslan, to the subway bombings in London, has equally shocked Muslims and brought with it swift and unequivocal condemnations," he said.
"American-Muslim organizations also rallied behind a fatwa against terrorism," Ahmed noted.
"It is time apologists for Israeli apartheid issue similar condemnation statements against the usurping of Palestinian land, the demolition of their homes and the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Until this happens, they stand on no moral ground to lecture us."
During his speech Saturday, Sestak urged CAIR to "condemn not just terrorism -- as you have done -- but also condemn the specific acts, and specific individuals and groups by name, associated with those acts, such as Hamas and Hizballah."
Said Pipes: "Islamist groups like CAIR condemn the acts of terrorism but not the individuals, groups, ideology and movement behind it.
"And quite predictably, they do not condemn those, as they are part of that same movement, and some six individuals associated with CAIR have themselves been implicated in terrorism," he added.
Though CAIR declined to comment for this article, the group's spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, told Cybercast News Service previously that those implicated in terrorism and their activities were unrelated to the organization.
"Nothing these named individuals did or didn't do had anything to do with CAIR," Hooper said. "They didn't do it in the name of CAIR, on CAIR's time or in association with CAIR. Fifty-thousand members are held responsible for actions we didn't take. That standard is not applied to any other group except a Muslim group."
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