By Meira Svirsky, The Clarion Project
Not satisfied with the Associated Press’ “redefinition” of the word Islamist close to a year ago, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is capitalizing on recent world events to make another push to silence the conversation about political Islam.
CAIR is now urging the media to stop using the term “Islamist” because, in the opinion of Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, “the term has become journalistic shorthand for ‘Muslims we don’t like.’”
Hooper is upset because he says the term “Islamist” is “used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term ‘extremist.’”
In its updated stylebook, the Associated Press (AP) still defines the word “Islamist” correctly as, "An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. “ In laymen’s terms, this means an Islamist is anyone who would like to see the implementation of sharia (Islamic) law as the law of the land.
However, in deference to objections by CAIR, the influential AP stylebook made the following change in April 2013 telling journalists, “Do not use [the word Islamist] as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.”
Rightly so, CAIR viewed this change as a victory.
However, the media did not comply. In fact, from CNN to the New York Times to FOX, the media recognized AP’s faulty reasoning that “Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals .. may not be Islamists.”
Thus, CAIR has launched a new effort to obfuscate its agenda by pushing the media to stop using the word Islamist altogether. CAIR reasons that, if the word is totally scrubbed, then Islamists like themselves and their parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood -- all of whom have the same agenda as the Islamic fighters, etc. (albeit different tactics) -- would not be lumped together.
CAIR bills itself as an anti-terror Muslim human rights organization. However, who is CAIR really?
CAIR was labeled an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror-funding trial in U.S. history. The U.S. Justice Department listed CAIR as an entity of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee, a secret body established to support Hamas.
Last November, the United Arab Emirates joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in listing the Muslim Brotherhood as a banned terrorist group. Included in the ban were 81 other groups, many of which are Brotherhood affiliates. CAIR was included on that list.
Scrubbing the term “Islamist” from the lexicon is CAIR’s way of shutting down the conversation about political Islam, or Islamism, altogether. "It does not come as a surprise that CAIR is trying to discredit the expression 'Islamist,’” says Dr. Elham Manea, a Swiss/ Yemini professor of political scientist at the University of Zurich and an outspoken international human rights activist.
“When we differentiate between Islam as a world religion and Islamism as a political agenda, we are able to discuss the problematic nature of Islamism and its aim for political domination in a qualified and differentiated matter without slipping into a hate message towards the religion of Islam. We also reveal how the likes of CAIR have often deliberately blurred the lines between the two as a means to present their demands and their own political agenda as the demands of all Muslims and Islam,” Dr. Manea added.
In an Op-Ed, CAIR’s Hooper claims that “Islamophobes routinely use the term to disingenuously claim they only hate ‘political’ Islam, not the faith itself. Yet they, and the media, fail to explain how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political or social arena without attracting the label ‘Islamist.’"
Contrary to CAIR’s objections, the term ‘Islamist’ was actually coined to have a way of distinguishing the religion of Islam and its peaceful, non-political followers from those would institute sharia law on a governmental or global level.
In terms of political or social action, CAIR could borrow a playbook from the many non-Islamists Muslims who are politically and socially active and have not attracted the label “Islamist.” This is for the simple reason that these activists support the separation of mosque and state and are speaking out against the human rights abuses inherent in sharia law as it now stands.
In a recent television interview, Hooper tied the use of the term Islamist to the “tremendous rise in the level of Islamophia” in America.
However, contrary to CAIR’s assessment, an analysis of the FBI’s newly released hate crime statistics for 2013 showed that not only were most hate crimes in America not religiously motivated, incidences against Muslims accounted for only 2.3 percent of all hate crimes (equal to hate crimes committed against Asians).
A common tactic of CAIR is to blur the issues to be able to convince the public that critics of Islamists are simply racists, or “Islamophobes.” A former member of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, has gone on record about a private meeting in the early 1990s with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity, where the participants agreed to use the term “Islamophobia” as a political weapon.
“This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics,” says Muhammad.
Hooper belied CAIR’s true agenda Hooper when he complained in the same interview that, “We’re seeing hate rallies against ordinary Muslim conferences, like over the weekend in Texas."
The conference he was referring to was called “Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect.” A featured speaker at this “ordinary Muslim conference” was the extremist Imam Siraj Wahhaj, labeled by the U.S. government as someone who may be named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Wahhaj supports the implementation of sharia law including all its brutal hudud punishments.
He has said, “If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate.”
Wahhaj has also advised Muslims not to get involved in politics simply because it is the “American thing to do.” Rather, he says, “You get involved in politics because politics are a weapon to use in the cause of Islam.”
Not surprisingly, only selected press was allowed into the conference and only for the first 20 minutes. Also not surprising was that the purpose of the conference was to establish a “Strategic Communication Center” to combat “Islamophobia” and train young Muslims in media relations.
When CAIR’s Hooper urged media outlets to “drop the term [Islamist] altogether … because it is used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term ‘extremist’ …,” he left out an important detail. What Hooper didn’t say is that there is a good reason for the negative connotation of the word: Most of us in the West do not view the prospect of living under sharia law as a positive development.
It’s time for CAIR to stop the deception, come clean on their real agenda and get out of the public discourse if they can’t stand the heat of valid criticism.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org