1. Archive

Accusations of terrorist support are wrong, divisive

Public debate, though often difficult, emotional and unavoidable, is a good thing for an open democratic society. Yet, it should not absolve anyone of the responsibility to be factual and accurate.

It is with substantial disappointment that we note the statements made against the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) by respectable religious leaders in Hernando County.

Unfortunately, several readers in the letters to the editor section repeated the often-discredited statements about CAIR and its alleged support for terrorism.

People who make statements connecting CAIR to terrorism should understand the legal consequences of their attempted slander and defamation. The First Amendment does not protect defamation. Recently CAIR was forced to file a defamation lawsuit against a North Carolina congressman for making false assertions about CAIR.

No matter what our political and ideological differences may be with each other, no one should use the charged label of terrorism to score a point.

CAIR is a true American success story. In 10 years it has evolved into the largest grass roots advocacy organization for American Muslims, with a mission to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CAIR has always taken a principled position on terrorism. CAIR joined other major Muslim groups in America to condemn 9/11 less than three hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center towers. CAIR placed an ad in the Washington Post condemning terror. Each gruesome act that shocked Americans, from the murder of Daniel Pearl to the bombing of a Seder party to the beheading of Nick Berg to the massacre in Beslan, has equally shocked Muslims and brought with it swift and unequivocal condemnations from CAIR. CAIR's online petition, "Not in the Name of Islam," has garnered more than 700,000 signatories.

Guilt by association is un-American and those who attempt it are guilty of being divisive.

CAIR's testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security debunks all allegations and myths about CAIR.

Our long history of meaningful association with federal, state and local law enforcement authorities is a reflection of our positive attitude toward legitimate law enforcement, even as we decry unconstitutional methods sometimes used by overzealous prosecutors.

Much ado has been made about two former CAIR associates. Here are the facts. One former CAIR associate, Bassem Khafagi, pleaded guilty to writing bad checks and lying on his visa application _ criminal offenses, but not terrorism.

Khafagi was never an employee of CAIR; he worked as an independent contractor. Moreover, his crimes were committed before his association with CAIR and obviously without CAIR's knowledge.

Randall Royer, a former employee of CAIR, was indicted on criminal acts violating the seldom-used Neutrality Act of 1794, which makes it unlawful for Americans to take part in military enterprise against any foreign state with which the United States is at peace.

Royer was indicted because of his alleged links to a Kashmiri separatist group vying for independence from India. Those charges eventually were dropped and Royer pleaded guilty to common weapons charges, again with no terrorist crime being involved. Royer's indictment stemmed from his activities after he left CAIR. Certainly no organization can be held responsible for the personal activities of its employees or associates, especially after they leave or before they join an organization.

Much of our recent work has focused on the unjust detainment in the United States of many Muslims, Arabs and south Asians after Sept. 11, 2001. Glen A. Fine, the inspector general of the Department of Justice, stated, "We found significant problems in the way the detainees were handled." David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, in his book, Enemy Aliens, posits that the seemingly reasonable argument that justifies treating foreigners differently is fraught with four fallacies: illusory in the long run; likely to prove counterproductive as a security matter; regrettably an oft-repeated pattern of government overreaction in times of crisis; and, most important, constitutionally and morally wrong.

The mass roundup of more than 5,000 Muslim and Arab men, carried out in haste and secrecy, violated due process with not a single detainee being charged of terrorism. Many of the victims of this massive dragnet were subsequently deported on minor immigration violations. This is a travesty of justice.

We are proud Americans who continue to be hopeful in the face of intolerance and prejudice. We will continue to stand tall with the many Americans who shower us with their kindness, love and respect that we deserve as law-abiding and caring citizens of our great nation. Any attempt to divide Americans along racial and religious lines will be challenged by all people of conscience as we march forward toward a hate-free and secure America.

Dr. Parvez Ahmed is a national board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, America's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.