CAIR and That 80 Percent
by Stephen Schwartz
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is infamous as a U.S. lobby for radical Sunni Muslims. It has a history of backing Hamas, the Palestinian terror movement. But it has been especially adroit, since the atrocities of September 11, 2001, at presenting itself as a civil-liberties organization mainly concerned with alleged abuses of American Muslim rights.
The situation of CAIR and its partners in the "Wahhabi lobby" was accurately described by Bahrain-born Omran Salman in The Philadelphia Inquirer on August 31, 2006: "On August 10, British police arrested 24 Muslim suspects in a plot to blow up 10 U.S.-bound jetliners over the Atlantic. If successful, the attack would have killed thousands of people. The terrorists were motivated by religious extremism. Rather than just condemn the plot and address the scourge of Islamic extremism, Muslim groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Muslim American Society (MAS) sought to both legitimize terror and portray Muslims as victims. Do these organizations really represent Muslims in the West? Hardly. It is their apologia of Islamic extremism, rather than discrimination or religious hatred in Western society, which most victimizes American Muslims."
CAIR is also well-known for its attempts to suppress the voices of moderate Muslims. On November 9, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) hosted Ahmed Rehab of the CAIR office in Chicago, on the tough-minded and well-named interview show Hard Talk. CAIR was so proud of this media encounter they posted it to their website. But therein, an interesting exchange is to be found.
BBC moderator Stephen Sackur said, "[L]et me just quote to you Shaikh Hisham [K]abbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America. He warned the [U.S.] State Department as long ago as 1999 that there was the real possibility of terror threats coming from Muslim extremists in the United States. Two years later we have 9/11."
Rehab reacted with the automatic lunge toward personal attack especially distinctive to CAIR:
"REHAB: ‘I take his words as demagoguery because when he talks about eighty percent – '
"SACKUR: ‘You may take it as demagoguery, but as I say, he foresaw 9/11 two years before it happened.'
"REHAB: ‘But my point is, when he says "eighty percent" and he puts a number as that; a very specific number: "Eighty percent of America's mosques are being led by extremists," I mean, did he run a survey? If so – where is the survey? And what are the methodologies used in the survey? And so you can't really just come out there and slap a number on the table without you having done any real research, having not interacted within the community."
The essence of this colloquy will be recognized by most non-Muslim experts on radical Islam in America, as well as by millions of ordinary American Muslims. Kabbani, a Sufi spiritual figure, is remembered for his public charge in the 1990s that 80 percent of the main mosques in the U.S. are controlled by the fundamentalist and violent Wahhabi sect, which is subsidized from Saudi Arabia and inspired al-Qaida. This does not mean that 80 percent of American Muslims are radicals – only that the main institutions of the Sunni majority are under such control.
Mr. Sackur, in his query, had not mentioned Kabbani's statements about the 80 percent factor – accusations backed up by the leading Shia Muslim clerics in the U.S. and which I and other moderate Muslims also have asserted. Mr. Rehab leapt at it because he and CAIR are extremely edgy regarding exposure of this radical ratio among American Sunni Muslims.
But it is shameless of CAIR's representative to then demand that Kabbani, or any other Muslim in America, first take a poll and explain its "methodologies" before commenting on the condition of American Muslims. Religious communities are not political parties and do not operate according to polls or polling methodology. The resort to such rhetoric shows that CAIR sees American Islam more in the mold of a leftist movement or an aggrieved ethnic group than as a component of a global religion.
American Muslims who complain about the 80 percent domination of Sunni mosques by Wahhabi radicals have "surveyed" American Islam existentially and experientially. Neither Kabbani nor anyone needs to produce statistical studies to back up this observation, because such realities are learned by the merest participation in the life of the religious community. Every American Muslim knows that radicalization is a reality, but most are too intimidated by CAIR and its cohort to do anything about it.
If a Christian leader made the elementary observation that Protestants outnumber Catholics in America, nobody would be stupid enough to demand that a poll be taken to establish this fact. It is part of the landscape and every Christian knows it.
Similarly, if a Jewish advocate comments that American Jews are divided between secular, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox traditions – leaving aside some marginal elements – nobody would ask if he or she had taken a poll to determine such an obvious fact.
To emphasize, Kabbani, the Shia clerics, and others know through daily observation that 80 percent of American Sunni mosques are controlled by extremists. An inventory of reprisals against counter-jihadists, insults to moderates, threats to dissenters, and preaching of anti-American sermons would be useful but is not necessary to prove the case. Further, it is ridiculously insulting for CAIR's Rehab to claim that Kabbani had "not interacted within the community" of American Muslims. Kabbani is a Muslim preacher, a native speaker of Arabic, and an indefatigable writer on Islam. Every breath he has taken for years represented interaction with the community.
Kudos to BBC for confronting Ahmed Rehab and CAIR with the truth about the 80 percent problem in American Islam. CAIR should not imagine for a moment that their feeble rhetoric will get them a pass forever, notwithstanding their success in convincing too many other media representatives that they are moderate and benevolent, when they are neither.