CAIR Vs. Real Friends of Muslims
by Stephen Schwartz
In the study of comparative religion, Professor Michael Sells of the University of Chicago is known as an outstanding, sympathetic, but clear-eyed expert on Islam – and a resolute enemy of Islamist extremism.
Sells got in trouble with a few misguided Americans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when his translation of the early sections of the Muslim scripture, Approaching the Qur'an, was adopted as the focus for summer reading by students at the University of North Carolina. Commentators who knew nothing of Sells and his work blasted him for allegedly trying to convert innocent American youth to Islam. None of his critics seemed aware that he had been among the few scholars warning the West, long before 9/11, of the danger represented by al-Qaida's doctrine.
The really awful irony in that instance was that Sells was attacked as something like a "secret Islamist" just as he was being denounced by al-Qaida followers on American soil. Randall "Ismail" Royer was a sometime employee of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the bogus civil liberties organization, having worked for it in 1994 and from 1997 to 2001. Royer assailed Sells on the internet for "bigotry-fueled hysteria" because Sells exposed, in detail, the infiltration of the Saudi-Wahhabi death cult, which inspires Osama bin Laden, into the Balkan Muslim communities. Royer, like others before and after him, declared that Wahhabism was a "figment of the imagination" among Westerners and other alleged enemies of Islam.
Full disclosure here: I am a friend of Sells, and Royer denounced me, and other friends of mine, in similar terms, for shining a light on the Wahhabi threat. But Royer did not continue his campaign of attempted intimidation for long. In 2004, Royer was sentenced to 20 years' federal imprisonment for his involvement in the so-called "North Virginia jihad network," which incited participation in terror groups allied to al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Kashmir. As it happened, he had supplemented his vicious, menacing polemics with the habit of driving around the Washington area with a loaded assault rifle in his vehicle. Some of us were quite relieved when he landed behind bars and are pleased that he has a good, long time to ponder his crimes. We also note that many enablers of Royer have yet to face justice.
Another participant in the "North Virginia jihad," Ali al-Timimi, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement with the conspiracy. Professor Sells, as an expert on Islam, has analyzed the public statements of al-Timimi, and published an extremely serious, scrupulous, and scholarly study titled "War as Worship, Worship as War," tracing the jihadism of al-Timimi right back to Saudi Arabia, where the American-born al-Timimi lived and studied, and Wahhabism.
CAIR alleges that its mission is to defend the civil liberties of American Muslims, but many believe their real agenda is to protect the Wahhabis and to legitimate their radicalism. It was therefore no surprise when CAIR suddenly issued an informal fatwa against Sells. The author was Ahmed Rehab, CAIR's Chicago executive director and the same slippery individual nailed as an apologist for extremists in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation only weeks ago. (We covered that informative encounter in my column "CAIR And That 80 Percent," on FSM, dated December 20, 2006).
Rehab began his "refutation" of Sells by offering a typically-perfumed definition of jihad, which according to CAIR refers to "struggling toward justice," and only accidentally became associated with military combat and, more recently, terrorism. After belaboring this cliché to a rare excess, and adding a few backhanded compliments to Sells, Rehab turned to a more urgent topic for CAIR. According to Rehab, although the Saudi guidance al-Timimi followed demonized Jews and Christians, the Wahhabi personalities who promoted it (two Saudi commentators on Qur'an) allegedly "never themselves urged terrorist attacks."
In this manner, CAIR shows that it has repeated the nasty habits of Communist apologists in the U.S., who argued that if Soviet supporters did not call for immediate revolution, they were harmless, regardless of their indoctrination of Americans in treason and recruitment for espionage. Rehab also tried to ignore the very point of Sells' analysis: that the Wahhabi "interpretation" offered by two scribblers in Saudi Arabia produced radical incitement in America.
And of course, as a good example of a CAIR functionary, Rehab homed in on a non-Muslim purported culprit in the radicalization of al-Timimi: a rabbi who once hurt al-Timimi's feelings by his remarks about Arab hatred of Jews. (Rehab was enabled in this disingenuous display by a rather clueless American Jewish writer, Milton Viorst.) But as Sells sensibly pointed out, the world is not run by behaviorist rules. Some people respond to humiliation by trying to promote better understanding between people, while others use it as a pretext for murderous violence. Indeed, as Sells noted, rather than living his life in a manner that might change the rabbi's attitude, al-Timimi, whose family moved to Saudi Arabia a year after the incident, proceeded to fulfill the rabbi's critique exactly, and to become a venomous Jew-hater.
CAIR's man in Chicago settled the matter to his own satisfaction. According to him, Muslims, or better, Arabs, since Rehab seems not to care about any other adherents to Islam, are angry only because of American, Israeli, British, French, and even Italian aggression – all the work of "White Christian and Jewish colonialists." Radical preaching is simply an effect, not a cause. Rehab thus tries to prove that radicals, militants, and extremists are not intolerant and hateful, but mere victims of "failed governments and dwindling [sic] economies," and again, of the West and Israel.
Nobody sincere can doubt the contribution made by Professor Michael Sells to a fair understanding of Islam. But CAIR, which claims to defend liberty, simply cannot refrain from censuring a critic – any critic – of radical Islam. CAIR is embarrassed by the conviction of its former employee, Royer, and must attempt to absolve Royer's accomplice. CAIR's Rehab may also feel irritated to have so eloquent an opponent nearby, at the University of Chicago.
By supporting convicted extremists even against conscientious scholars whose credentials as friends of Muslims are unchallengeable, CAIR hews to this function: that of an ideological police seeking to suppress all dissent and critical discourse about Islamist fundamentalism. CAIR may have something to do with the defense of the freedom of Muslims, but it also maintains heavy chains on the Muslim mind – and even on that of the proven friends of Muslims.