Top Internet Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories About CAIR
Updated May 2013
“CAIR exists to uphold the right to liberty that Americans are guaranteed under the Constitution. We will challenge any attempts to erode constitutionally-protected liberties. We will also continue to work to ensure that American Muslims play a positive and productive role in our society.” – Former CAIR National Board Chairman and retired North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw, March 2009.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has a record of exemplary social and political activism stretching back to 1994. The organization is arguably the most visible and public representative of the American Muslim community.
Because of CAIR’s high profile and very public record of principled advocacy of civil liberties, interfaith relations and justice for all people, a small but vocal group of anti-Muslim bigots has made CAIR the focus of their misinformation campaign. Internet hate sites then recycle these attacks using a template-like style without verifying the authenticity of the information.
This document summarizes the most common of these attacks and offers a fuller picture of these issues for your evaluation.
Internet Disinformation #1: CAIR is “the Wahhabi lobby,” a “front-group for Hamas,” a “fund-raising arm for Hezbollah,” or “…part of a wider conspiracy overseen by the Muslim Brotherhood. …”
CAIR was born out of a desire on the part of its founders to “concentrate on combating anti-Muslim discrimination nationwide.” The organization’s advocacy model — work closely with media and provide direct services to local Muslim communities — was developed when Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper worked as community activists.
In a March 14, 2007 New York Times article, Michael Rolince, a retired F.B.I. official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005, said, “Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares.”
The article also reported, “Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.”
CAIR is not is “the Wahhabi lobby,” a “front-group for Hamas,” a “fund-raising arm for Hezbollah,” “…part of a wider conspiracy overseen by the Muslim Brotherhood…” or any of the other false and misleading associations our detractors seek to smear us with. That we stand accused of being both a “fundraising arm of Hezbollah” and the “Wahhabi lobby” is a significant point in demonstrating that our detractors are hurling slander not fact. Hezbollah and the Salafi (Wahhabi) movement represent diametrically opposed ideologies.
CAIR’s origin story is simple. In the February-March 2000 edition of “The Link,” a newsletter published by Americans for Middle East Understanding, Nihad Awad wrote the following, “The core challenge [to American Muslims], that of stereotyping and defamation, was having a devastating effect on our children and paralyzing adults from taking their due roles in civic affairs.” Based on a desire to address this issue on a national level, Awad, “contacted my friend Ibrahim Hooper, a professional journalist and communications genius, and tried to persuade him to move to Washington and join the project.”
With this premise in mind, CAIR was founded in 1994.
Internet Disinformation #2: The organization condemns terrorism and extremism in a broad sense, but at the same time the group is laying groundwork for anti-American extremism.
CAIR’s advocacy model is the antithesis of the narrative of anti-American extremists. Indeed, our track record of success solidly repudiates extremist arguments that Muslims cannot get fair treatment in our nation.
CAIR advocates for American Muslims through the media, government and all legal, traditional avenues available to public interest groups. CAIR staff and volunteers proactively train our community in strategies to improve grassroots ability to take their due roles in civic affairs and redress grievances.
Our moral position is clear. We unequivocally condemn terrorism. Any group that hurts civilians deserves condemnation. As recently as January, 2009, CAIR’s vigorous condemnation of violence committed in the name of Islam was acknowledged by the United States Institute of Peace in its report “Islamic Peacemaking Since 9/11.”
We are proud of our principled advocacy for just and peaceful resolutions to conflicts even when that advocacy requires stances that are not viewed as politically correct.
In truth, however, condemnations alone do not solve problems. That is why CAIR’s moral position, which is prompted by the basic Islamic principle that no one has the right to take innocent life, is backed by action. CAIR has its sent staff to Baghdad to appeal for the release of a kidnapped American journalist; produced anti-terror public service announcements in English, Arabic and Urdu; coordinated an Islamic anti-terror religious ruling (fatwa); raised money for rebuilding churches in the wake of Middle East violence and called on Islamic religious leaders to deliver anti-terror messages in their sermons.
CAIR has condemned specific terrorist actions against Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Americans, Spaniards, Turks, Israelis, Saudis, Russians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis, British, and so on.
CAIR has condemned specific terrorist groups by name. On 3/11/2009, the fifth anniversary of the tragic Madrid attacks, CAIR issued a statement saying, “We unequivocally condemn all acts of terrorism, whether carried out by al-Qa’ida, the Real IRA, FARC, Hamas, ETA, or any other group designated by the U.S. Department of State as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization’.”
In 2007, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad joined 137 other Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world in sending a first-of-its-kind open letter designed to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians worldwide. The letter, entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” was sent to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and more than 20 other Christian leaders. Awad is also an original endorser of the Amman Message and its three points of tolerance.
Anti-American extremists are well aware of our rejection of their views. Following CAIR’s criticism of remarks by an extremist leader, a German blogger noted that some within the “jihadi community…issu[ed] angry rants about the apparent treachery of American Muslims, including specifically the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).” Alleged Tampa Bay extremist Sami Osmakac, who was charged in 2012 with plotting to attack location in Florida, also railed against CAIR.
We find that our detractors prefer to nitpick — to give a facetious example: “You did not condemn terror against Brazilians, ergo you must support it” — rather than acknowledge our resoundingly clear words and deeds.
To allow ourselves to focus on promoting a more positive society rather than writing a specific condemnation of every group or addressing murderous behavior toward every ethnic and religious group on the planet, we have adopted a simple, comprehensive message: “We condemn terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, whoever commits it. Period.”
Internet Disinformation #3: Rather than praise the conviction of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, CAIR or Nihad Awad deemed it “a travesty of justice.”
This is a lie; no evidence substantiating this falsehood has ever been offered. No CAIR document or official ever made such a statement. CAIR obtained hard copies of relevant editions of the Muslim World Monitor, the publication in which Awad is alleged to have made this remark. Awad never wrote or spoke the comment or anything like it. In addition, he was not the editor in chief of Muslim World Monitor as CAIR’s detractors claim.
CAIR has never dealt with this case other than a one-paragraph mention in the 1996 CAIR report on Muslim civil rights in which CAIR quoted attorney Stanley Cohen as saying that he thought “… the case against his client is political rather than criminal.”
Internet Disinformation #4: CAIR receives foreign money.
CAIR’s operational budget is funded by donations from American Muslims.
While the majority of CAIR’s financial support comes from American Muslims, CAIR is proud to receive the support of every individual — whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or of another faith background — who supports the organization’s mission of promoting justice and mutual understanding. This willingness to accept support from foreign nationals exists as long as there are no “strings” attached to the bequest.
The U.S. government, corporations and many other non-profit organizations — such as the American Red Cross — routinely receive money from foreign nationals.
CAIR is frequently criticized for receiving $500,000 from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men. That money was donated specifically to CAIR’s library project, a program designed to distribute a set of books on Islam, the majority of which were written by non-Muslim academics, to libraries so that people can learn more about Islam.
According to Forbes magazine, Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding “…contains his investments in well-known companies such as Citigroup and News Corp., as well as Four Seasons Hotels and Fairmont Hotel management companies, among many others.” (Forbes, 3/05/2008)
News Corp. is headed by Rupert Murdoch and is the parent company of Fox News channel.
If CAIR is taken to task for bin Talal’s donation to us, so should these companies be taken to task for accepting his money.
CAIR was proud to receive that donation to help further efforts to eradicate ignorance and misinformation about Islam.
Internet Disinformation #5: CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad publicly declared support for Hamas at Barry University in Florida in 1994, saying: “I’m in support of the Hamas movement.”
CAIR detractors — such as Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes — selectively recycle this and other incomplete statements to assert their pre-fabricated conclusions.
In response to a direct question from an audience member about social programs in the occupied territories, Awad said, “I’m in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.” This excerpt was lifted from a longer answer in which Awad also stated: “There are some radicals. We are not interested in those people.”
This statement was made in March 1994, before CAIR was formed. Hamas did not commit its first suicide bombing until October 1994. The United States subsequently identified Hamas as a specially designated terrorist in January 1995.
Thus, Awad’s remarks came seven months prior to Hamas’ first suicide bombings and nine months before the organization received the specially designated terrorist label from the government.
Our detractors always fail to add that in 2006 Awad said, “I don’t support Hamas today. My position and CAIR’s position is extremely clear: we condemn suicide bombings. We are mainstream American Muslims.” (Associated Press, 11/22/2006)
Awad and CAIR have consistently denounced violence by Hamas, Israel and other groups and advocated peaceful and negotiated resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Internet Disinformation #6: The labeling of the organization as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial in Dallas, TX implies that CAIR was somehow involved with criminal activity and is facing indictment.
This issue was settled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Department of Justice in CAIR’s favor.
On October 20, 2010, Judges Garza, Benavides, and Crone of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Justice violated the Fifth Amendment rights of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), and by implication the rights of more than 300 similarly-named Muslim organizations and individuals, such as CAIR, when it included them on the publicly-filed un-indicted co-conspirator list in 2007.
The court also ruled that inclusion on the list was the result of “simply an untested allegation of the Government made in anticipation of a possible evidentiary dispute that never came to pass.” The listing is simply part of tactical pre-trial maneuvering and not an indicator of guilt.
In August 2007 Newsweek reported, “According to one senior law-enforcement official (who asked not to be named talking about an ongoing case), the listing of ISNA, CAIR and other groups as ‘unindicted co-conspirators’ was largely a tactical move by the government.” (Newsweek, 8/08/2007) A June 2008 ACLU press release also reports, “The prosecutor also acknowledged that the public labeling was simply a ‘legal tactic’ intended to allow the government to introduce hearsay evidence against HLF later at trial.”
The three-judge court of appeals panel was the final arbiter and takes precedence over an earlier ruling by district Judge Jorge Solis.
In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that Department of Justice officials determined after “looking at the facts and the law, a prosecution would not be appropriate.” This conclusion was reached after two reviews conducted under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
After Holder, the chief law enforcement officer in America, stated this fact, internet rumor held that a prosecution had been suppressed due to political interference.
This allegation has also been put to rest.
James Jacks, the U.S. Attorney who led the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation issued a statement that was partially reproduced in the Dallas Morning News: “‘The decision to indict or not indict a case is based upon an analysis of the evidence and the law,’ [Jacks] wrote. ‘That’s what happened in this case.'”
The Dallas Morning News (U.S. attorney in Dallas says Obama’s White House didn’t meddle in case, April 29, 2011) went on to report the following:
“Nathan Garrett, a former FBI agent who was also a prosecutor in the Holy Land case until he left for private practice in 2007, said ‘politics played no role’ in determining who was prosecuted when he was there.
“‘Decisions were hashed out in often tough and pressure-filled situations and conditions, but always — in my experience — grounded in evidence and law,’ he said. ‘The process was what the American people would want and expect it to be.'”
Garret’s assertion was later mirrored by special agent in charge of the Dallas FBI Field Office, Robert E. Casey Jr. The Dallas office did the investigating preceding the HLF indictments. Reflecting on his twenty-six years in the FBI, Casey said, “…I’ve never been told to stop doing something that was legitimately authorized because of some political or other agenda.” (Source: Jason Trahan, “FBI’s top North Texas agent looks back at his career,” Dallas Morning News, March 1, 2012.)
Finally, there is no legal implication to being labeled an unindicted co-conspirator, since it does not require the Justice Department to prove anything in a court of law. Merely claiming someone is guilty without due process is both un-Constitutional and offensive to the principles of our justice system.
Internet Disinformation #7: Former CAIR employees and board members have been arrested, convicted, deported, or otherwise linked to terrorism-related charges and activities.
The short answer to this is guilt by association. CAIR has hundreds of board members and employees and thousands of supporters. It would be illogical and unfair to hold CAIR responsible for the personal activities of all these people.
For example, when Aldrich Ames (CIA) and Robert Hanssen (FBI) admitted to being spies for foreign governments, it did not automatically associate the CIA or FBI with being complicit in any of these criminal activities. Currently, former members of US Congress are serving jail time and others are under the cloud of ethical suspicion. Does such behavior by members of Congress while in office incriminate the entire U.S. Congress?
The acts of a person done outside the scope or duration of his or her employment, and without the employer’s knowledge, have no legal bearing on the employer.
CAIR believes that anyone who is found guilty of committing a crime, especially one that furthers terrorist motives, should receive a fair, objective trial and, if found guilty, be punished to the fullest extent of the law. CAIR would never compromise its principles, both American and Islamic, in the furtherance or assistance of any illegal endeavors.
McCarthy-like attempts to portray CAIR as guilty by association with certain individuals evoke memories of attempts to smear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a communist or womanizer.
The smears normally involve the following individuals: Ismail Royer, Dr. Bassem El-Khafagi, Rabih Haddad, and Ghassan Elashi.
ISMAIL ROYER — In January 2004, Royer pled guilty to weapons charges. He did not plead guilty to any charge of “terrorism.” Any criminal action to which he pleaded guilty was done when Royer was no longer employed with CAIR and it was certainly not at CAIR’s direction.
BASSEM EL-KHAFAGI — El-Khafagi was never an employee of CAIR and was never convicted on terrorism charges. According to the Associated Press (AP) article announcing his plea, federal officials stated that he was charged with writing bad checks in February and June of 2001. El-Khafagi was an independent contractor for CAIR, effective November 2, 2001. The actions of which he was accused occurred before any relationship with CAIR had commenced and without any knowledge by CAIR’s of any wrongdoing on his part. Writing bad checks is a criminal offense, not terrorism. Surely if there had been strong evidence of terrorist activities, the Justice Department would have vigorously pursued those avenues and not allowed him to plead guilty to non-terrorism related charges.
RABIH HADDAD — Haddad was never an employee of CAIR. He was “deported for overstaying his tourist visa” and was “never charged with a crime.” He was never an employee or associate of CAIR. His only association with CAIR was as a speaker at a single CAIR chapter event. He was not a “CAIR fundraiser,” as is sometimes claimed.
GHASSAN ELASHI — Elashi was never an employee or officer of CAIR. The fact that Elashi was once briefly associated with one of our more than 30 regional chapters has no legal significance to our corporation since any actions he took were outside the scope and chronology of his association with one of our chapters.
Internet Disinformation #8: The FBI severed relations with CAIR in October 2008
Writing in the New York Times on March 11, 2011, Scott Shane reported, “Last month, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, said that the bureau had no ‘formal relationship’ with CAIR, but that the organization’s officials and chapters regularly worked with F.B.I. officials on investigations and related matters. This included a news conference held on Thursday in Sacramento to announce an arrest in a mosque vandalism case.”
CAIR’s work with law enforcement was highlighted by the Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan institution which works for the U.S Congress, in its 2010 report American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat:
- “The  story of the five men from the Alexandria, Virginia area…became public when the Council on American-Islamic Relations got their families in touch with the FBI after the five left the United States without telling their families.” [CAIR note: This case is cited in numerous sources as a core example of the American Muslim community working with law enforcement.]
- “Posing as a new convert, Monteilh arrived at the Irvine Islamic Center in 2006 wearing robes and a long beard, using the name Farouk al-Aziz. Monteilh had a criminal record that included serving 16 months in state prison on two grand theft charges. Members of the Islamic Center of Irvine were reportedly alarmed about Monteilh and his talk of jihad and plans for a terrorist attack. The local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported him to the Irvine police and obtained a three-year restraining order against him.” [CAIR Note: It was later revealed the Monteilh was an FBI informant.]
CAIR has long worked to improve Muslim community relations with law enforcement, a CAIR press release issued in October of 1998 is the earliest record we have of CAIR meeting with FBI representatives.
Despite this, in 2008, FBI offices contacted many CAIR chapters stating that they were suspending some ties between the Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group and FBI field offices. This action was apparently taken in relation to issues laid to rest in Internet Disinformation #6.
The letters also stated that the FBI would continue to work with CAIR on civil rights issues impacting American Muslims.
As a civil rights organization, CAIR is frequently called upon to challenge FBI actions. In this role we have filed legal challenges against the FBI in cases involving the placement of an agent provocateur in mosques in California (the case noted above) and the apparent use without a warrant of a GPS tracking device on a man’s car, also in California. We have also challenged the bureau on its use of anti-Muslim trainers for its agents.
As a Muslim advocacy organization, CAIR frequently calls upon the FBI to investigate acts of hate directed at community members. As demonstrated above, when persons of concern are brought to our attention we also report that.
Internet Disinformation #9: CAIR is part of a conspiracy, sometimes alleged to be a plot hatched by the Muslim Brotherhood, to infiltrate the U.S. government and subvert the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution is the law of the land and CAIR likes it that way. Our organization expends enormous legal and advocacy energy defending its principles,” CAIR-NY Civil Rights Manager Cyrus McGoldrick told the New York Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs by in 2011. McGoldrick’s words are the best summary we can offer of CAIR’s position on our nation’s founding document.
CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor said the same thing in a 2011 blog post discussing the role of Islamic law in the United States, a subject that is in vogue among conspiracy theorists who assert that Muslims are sneaking sharia into America:
“The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. Individuals may enter into agreements based on their faith. Such practices are reasonably common. However, any such agreement must comply with U.S. law. So if I choose to finance my house with a sharia-compliant company, the resulting contract must be within the boundaries of standing law.”
For the most part, the subversion conspiracy allegation relies on a line found in wiretaps of a 1993 meeting in Philadelphia during which a participant discussed “establishing alternative organizations which can benefit from a new atmosphere, ones whose Islamic hue is not very conspicuous.” The conspiracy theory runs that CAIR was the product of this discussion.
CAIR is subjected to reams of false accusations, but even our most vehement detractors never assert that the organization is “not very conspicuous” in its “Islamic hue.”
Indeed, “Islamic” is all over our founding. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was created as an “organization that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims,” a “Washington-based Islamic advocacy group” and an “organization dedicated to providing an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.” (Emphasis added.)
In 1995, CAIR took on its first discrimination case involving an employer refusing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s choice to wear the hijab, or Islamic headscarf. Since the headscarf is one of the key things frequently associated with Islam in the public consciousness this choice appears contradictory of the alleged goal of being inconspicuous.
In 2002, PR Week noted that, “Since 1994, CAIR has employed a well-rounded plan in its role as a top Muslim voice in the US.” (Source: PR Week, 11/04/2002) That CAIR is the American Muslim organization most frequently cited by media outlets, a “top Muslim voice,” also undermines any assertions that CAIR was sneakily founded to be “inconspicuous.”
Another pillar of the subversion conspiracy theory is that CAIR is attempting to infiltrate the United States government for nefarious purposes. This conspiracy theory’s key document is the book Muslim Mafia. One of the book’s authors has likened Islam to a “cancer” and the other once proposed putting pigs’ blood in water in Afghanistan.
At the time of the book’s release, Newsweek concluded, “CAIR has tried to place interns on Capitol Hill, but as it points out, that’s standard practice for advocacy groups of all types and allegiances. There’s no proof of sinister motives or an effort to encourage international jihad.”
The book’s sole credibility boost came from its forward, which was written by then U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC).
According to Mother Jones, community activist Mohamed Elibiary met with Myrick in September 2011. Elibiary says, “[Myrick] let me know that she doesn’t hold any bad feelings towards the community and that some of the previous things, like her writing the foreword for the Muslim Mafia book, was done through bad advice she received.”
Mother Jones adds the following:
It wasn’t Myrick’s only attempt to make things right. She conveyed a similar message to Ellison. “I don’t think she ever knew what she was really getting herself into,” Ellison says. “She was a little stunned that she would be associated with hating a religious minority group. I think she re-evaluated a number of things, and I think she’s far less aggressive than she used to be.”
CAIR staff and volunteers see their job as making sure that American democracy works for everyone. One of the ways we achieve this goal is by undertaking advocacy efforts or filing legal challenges against our government when we believe it has exceeded the authority granted to it by the Founding Fathers.
Much of our legal work involves upholding First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
For instance, Awad v. Ziriax, a lawsuit filed by CAIR-OK Executive Director Muneer Awad seeking to block the implementation of an anti-Muslim amendment to that state’s constitution argues that the law would violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Supremacy Clause. On January 10, 2012 the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to block implementation the law based on Awad’s arguments.
Similarly, on March 2, 2011, CAIR filed a civil rights lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of a California Muslim who found a secret GPS tracking device that was placed on his car without first obtaining a warrant. The lawsuit states that the FBI violated the California Muslim’s First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place the GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.
Also, CAIR frequently invokes the Constitution’s Article VI in defending the right of minority faiths, most recently in the case of Mormon Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to hold public office.
Eighteen years of work, dozens of campaigns, and thousands of civil rights cases, much of it involving defense of constitutional principles result in a very public track record of making democracy work for everyone.
In 2011, the FBI undertook to training materials dealing with Islam and Muslims and remove items that incorporated “factual errors”; “poor taste”; employment of “stereotypes” about Arabs or Muslims; or presenting information that “lacked precision.” Included in the assessments of the five subject matter experts assigned by the FBI to conduct the review is the finding, “Page 10 inaccurately implies that CAIR and MAS are [Muslim Brotherhood] organizations.” This factual error linking CAIR to a foreign agency appears to have been removed on the basis of the subject matter expert’s recommendation.
CAIR is a high-profile organization that represents a minority in the United States that is often treated as suspect and frequently subjected to discrimination. We recognize that this very public profile, along with our community’s current struggle to find full acceptance in our nation’s pluralistic landscape, will draw the ire of nativists, bigots and those who seek to profit from the Islamophobic “fear industry.”
CAIR’s former board chairman and North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw summed up the truth of the organization’s mission when he issued the following statement in March, 2009:
“CAIR exists to uphold the right to liberty that Americans are guaranteed under the Constitution. We will challenge any attempts to erode constitutionally-protected liberties. We will also continue to work to ensure that American Muslims play a positive and productive role in our society.
“In carrying out our mission of promoting justice and mutual understanding, we honor and will continue to learn from groups who have faced similar challenges, including African-Americans, Asian-Americans and many others.
“CAIR embraces the cultural and religious pluralism that is a hallmark of America and repudiates any misuse of Islam to falsely justify violence or intolerance.
“We look forward to partnering with the Obama administration to help defend civil liberties and to project to the world the best of our nation’s universal, constitutional and pluralistic values of freedom and justice.”
We realize that many people and entities are subjected to the misinformation campaign about CAIR. It is our hope that those who seek the truth and are willing to evaluate the full picture share these responses with interested individuals and entities.