CAIR, a controversial lobby group that describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization,” wants the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to investigate its vice-chairman, M. Zuhdi Jasser, questioning his suitability to serve on a body promoting religious freedom.
Jasser said Tuesday that Americans should wonder why CAIR seems so troubled about his presence on a commission whose work often highlights religious freedom violations by Islamic regimes “with which CAIR is apparently so cozy,” like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
CAIR has written twice in two weeks to USCIRF Chairman Robert George on the subject of Jasser, president of the non-profit American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).
On Tuesday, CAIR said AIFD receives funding from an independent foundation called the Abstraction Fund (PDF, 1.1 MB) which, it noted, also funds organizations “known for their active role in spreading anti-Islam prejudice.”
These other “notorious Islamophobes” benefitting from the foundation, it said, included the Center for Security Policy, a 26 year-old Washington think tank; Islam specialist Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum; terrorism expert Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT); and Islam scholar and activist Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch.
A common thread running through the groups is their focus on radical Islam, and on the role played by U.S.-based Islamic organizations to promote an ideology those critics view as inimical to U.S. interests – not least of all CAIR itself.
(Among their concerns: In 2007 federal prosecutors named CAIR on a list of “unindicted co-conspirators” in a criminal conspiracy by the Holy Land Foundation to finance terrorism. Five former Holy Land organizers were convicted in Dallas the following year on charges of providing support to Hamas.)
Tuesday’s letter to George was signed by Corey Saylor, director of CAIR’s “department to monitor and combat Islamophobia.”
“At issue here is the reasonable concern that arises regarding Dr. Jasser accepting financial support from anti-Muslim groups while he is serving on a commission advocating for religious freedom,” Saylor wrote.
“Given the expanding evidence of AIFD’s financial dependency on groups funding anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States, we do not believe Dr. Jasser can act as an honest voice regarding religious freedom domestically or internationally.”
Invited to respond, Jasser said Tuesday that CAIR was “trying to silence the opposition.”
“The Islamist bullies at CAIR would not be paying so much attention to us lately at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy if we weren’t actually so effective in gaining traction among Muslims as well as in exposing their own hypocrisy and anti-American Islamism,” he said.
“It is rather pathetic for an organization which purports to be about American and Muslim interests to squander its resources attacking other American Muslims as well as patriotic American foundations with their fabricated claims of ‘Islamophobia,’ all the while their directors send letters to foreign dictators and autocrats, enemies of the U.S., begging for money.”
Jasser cited IPT reports on CAIR’s past appeals for funding from the late Libyan dictator Gaddafi and Saudi Arabia, as well as a 2011 media report highlighting CAIR’s frequent appearances on Iran’s state-funded Press TV.
“Good luck finding in CAIR’s well-funded press releases any criticism of the fascist Iranian theocrats or the Saudi government who make the oppression and torture of truly moderate Muslims a matter of practice while CAIR turns those Muslims a blind eye,” he said.
“This all should certainly make every American wonder why a so-called American Muslim civil rights organization is so upset about a reformist, anti-Islamist Muslim sitting on a commission like USCIRF which focuses on the advocacy of religious freedom abroad – often in defense of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, targeted by so many [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] regimes with which CAIR is apparently so cozy.”
Two weeks ago CAIR sent another letter to the USCIRF chairman, on that occasion drawing attention to a television interview in which Jasser spoke about changes to Pentagon policy to allow the wearing in the military of religious apparel including turbans and beards.
In the Jan. 23 interview on Fox News Jasser said that while serving in the U.S. Navy, he as a Muslim “was able to practice my faith, fast, pray – and I never saw the need for this type of bending over backwards for political correctness.”
He expressed concern that the changes would open the door for “litigation jihadists, represented by groups like CAIR and others, to use this as a club on the head of officers that want to maintain safety and mission readiness.”
CAIR in its letter to George accused Jasser of “seeking to deny religious rights to Muslim military personnel,” and said “we find it difficult to imagine he can represent our nation’s interest in protecting minority religions internationally with any integrity.”
AIFD in response accused CAIR of misrepresenting Jasser’s comments, trying to undermine his work in defense of religious freedom, and employing “bullying tactics” aimed at “creating a chilling effect on the speech of American Muslims who seek to dissent with CAIR.”
The USCIRF, an independent body created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, comprises unpaid commissioners, appointed by political leaders on a bipartisan basis.
Jasser, the U.S.-born son of Syrian immigrants, was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in early 2012, and last summer become one of the commission’s two vice-chairs.
Attempts to get USCIRF comment on CAIR’s letter were unsuccessful Tuesday.