“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 former North Carolina State Senator Larry Shaw, March 2009.
CAIR, its staff, and its board members are honored to have received at least 80 awards and recognitions during the 2011-2016 period. Seventeen U.S. Senators and 85 U.S. Representatives from both sides of the political aisle have praised the organization in that same period.
Despite this significant praise, a series of urban legends surround the organization. The fact that we come under attack by anti-Muslim extremists is no surprise to anyone who works for positive social change. All proponents of justice have faced similar attacks designed to silence their voices. It is our view that the attacks against us are an indicator of the effectiveness of our advocacy.
However, as one wit said, “In politics we are all red meat on the barbeque.” The continued recycling of these urban legends is the price of being a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.
This document summarizes the most common of these attacks and offers a fuller picture of these issues.
CAIR is an American advocacy group inspired by Islamic social justice values to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of faith. We desire to make democracy work for everyone. This means we are committed to upholding the Constitution, with a particular focus on the Bill of Rights.
CAIR is independent of any outside influence. We are not linked to any external movement, entity, party or government. The Muslim Brotherhood affects CAIR the way a dust storm on Mars impacts the weather in Washington, D.C. The two might exist in the same solar system, but neither has any impact on or relationship with the other.
It’s also worth noting that in 2011, the FBI undertook a review of its training materials dealing with Islam and Muslims and removed items that incorporated “factual errors,” “poor taste,” employment of “stereotypes” about Arabs or Muslims, and information which“lacked precision.” Included in the review and assessment of the training materials conducted by five subject matter experts assigned by the FBI is the finding, “Page 10 inaccurately implies that CAIR and MAS are [Muslim Brotherhood] organizations.”1 This factual error linking CAIR to a foreign agency appears to have been removed at the subject matter experts' recommendation.
The Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy theory relies heavily, if not exclusively, on a “widely discredited” memo titled “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America.” The memo lays out one man’s preposterous proposal for Islam in America.
This 1991 memo never mentions CAIR, which was founded in 1994.
The only conspirators who care about and give credence to the memo are Islamophobic groups which were recently described by Politico as “thinkers long considered to be on the conservative fringe.” Two groups are best known for promoting the conspiracy that this lone man’s discredited document is some sort of Muslim roadmap:
According to an article published on May 12, 2015 in the New Yorker, other than a copy of the memo submitted at the 2008 Holy Land Foundation trial, “No other copies have come to light.” We find it hard to imagine that if the document were in fact critical, there would not be multiple copies circulating among conspirators. Rather, those producing and promoting copies of the memo are Gaffney and Gabriel.
The New Yorker piece goes on to note the following about the lone memo:
“The memo, however, is far from probative. It was never subjected to an adversarial test of its authenticity or significance. Examined closely, it does not stand up as an authoritative prescription for action. Rather, it appears to have been written as a plea to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership for action, by an author we know little about, Mohamed Akram. He is listed elsewhere as a secretary in the Brotherhood, but he writes in the tone of an underling. Islam watchers do not quote his appeal that the recipients ‘not rush to throw these papers away due to your many occupations and worries. All that I’m asking of you is to read them and to comment on them.’ These lines reveal the memo as a mere proposal, now twenty-four years old. No other copies have come to light.”
Any employee or staff member knows that simply because a memo is written, that does not mean it is read, cared for, or acted upon. Memos, especially ones which contain an individual's fantasy like the "Explanatory Memorandum", are written all the time.
Islamophobic groups seek to draw attention to a page in the memo which the author titled, “A list of our organizations and the organizations of our friends.” Below that title the author writes, “Imagine if they all march according to one plan!!!”
Addressing the document in general with a special focus on that title at a 2011 Congressional hearing, Harvard Associate Professor Tarek Masoud said the following:
“If you look at the title of that page, it says these are the organizations of us and our friends in America. The second line says, in brackets, imagine if they all marched together. And I thought to myself, what a really odd thing for a kind of organization like the Muslim Brotherhood to be saying. If these were really arms of the Muslim Brotherhood octopus, then why would the guy need to be thinking whimsically about, oh, one day, imagine if all these organizations could work together?’ “And this is important because it seems to me that that list is a kind of aspirational list.”
In 2016, researchers at Georgetown University conducted an extensive review of documents to examine the impact of the memo and its author Mohamad Akram. The researchers concluded that their “findings underscore the inconsequential nature of Akram’s letter for ordinary Muslim communities and Islamic organizations the world over.”
So why do Islamophobic groups continue to push this anemic conspiracy theory?
In November, 2016, J.M. Berger, a counterterrorism analyst at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism offered this opinion to Buzzfeed: “Let me be extremely clear. This initiative is concerned with controlling American Muslims, not with any issue pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood in any practical or realistic sense.”
In a similar vein, an article by Bloomberg News’ National Security Corespondent Eli Lake was titled “Trump's Coming Witch Hunt Against Political Islam.”
The Washington Post echoed this, observing, “Proponents of the measure, including members of Trump’s incoming administration, have long used the Muslim Brotherhood label as shorthand for Muslim organizations, politicians and government officials who they disagree with.”
As the judge in the Holy Land Foundation trial noted during court proceedings, “This case is not about CAIR.”2 Despite this clear statement from the bench, Islamophobic groups attempt to exploit the public’s unfamiliarity with the trial to use the unindicted co-conspirator listing to smear CAIR’s reputation.
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. Regardless, the issue of our inclusion on the list was settled 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.” In this ruling, the court was building on public knowledge that the listing was tactical pre-trial maneuvering.
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.”
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, then Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that Department of Justice officials determined that 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 at the time, 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 which was partially re-produced 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," he wrote. "That’s what happened in this case."
The Dallas Morning News 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 Robert E. Casey Jr. at the FBI Dallas Field Office. This office had conducted the investigation 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.”
The Justice Department recognizes that such a listing does cause harm to a group. Consequently, the Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorney’s Manual states, “There is ordinarily ‘no legitimate governmental interest served’ by the government's public allegation of wrongdoing by an uncharged party” in part due to “reputation interests.” CAIR has never been indicted and can attest to the enormous reputational damage done by the inclusion on the massive list.
Claiming someone is guilty without due process is both un-Constitutional and offensive to the principles of our justice system.
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 at the time when co-founders Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper worked as community activists in Minnesota.
In a March 14, 2007 New York Times article, Michael Rolince, a retired FBI 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 that, “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 “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 Wahhabi movement represent diametrically opposed ideologies.
The smear "Hamas-CAIR" was popularized by Islamophobic groups. It too falls flat. Hamas is on the U.S. Department of States’ Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Thus, being affiliated with or in any way supporting such a group would be illegal. However, in 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry wrote a personal letter to CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and said, “Let me reiterate, first, that the U.S. government clearly does not consider CAIR to be a terrorist organization.”
CAIR’s origin story is quite simple. In the February-March 2000 edition of “The Link,” a newsletter published by Americans for Middle East Understanding, Nihad Awad wrote, “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 [his] 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.
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.
Anti-American extremists are well aware of our rejection of their views. In 2016, CAIR's National Executive Director Nihad Awad was included in a hit list of Muslim leaders in the West published by ISIS. The terror group also mocked CAIR after CAIR leaders condemned the June 2016 massacre in an Orlando nightclub.
CAIR advocates for American Muslims through the media, the government and all other legal, traditional avenues available to public interest groups. CAIR staff and volunteers proactively train the grassroots American Muslim community in strategies to improve their ability to take roles in civic affairs and redress grievances.
Our moral position is clear. We unequivocally condemn terrorism. Any group which hurts civilians deserves condemnation. CAIR’s vigorous condemnation of violence committed in the name of Islam was acknowledged by the United States Institute of Peace in January 2009 in its report “Islamic Peacemaking Since 9/11.”
We are proud of our principled advocacy for equitable and peaceful resolutions to conflicts, even when that advocacy requires stances which are not perceived to be politically correct.
In truth, however, condemnations alone do not solve problems. This is why CAIR’s moral position, prompted by the basic Islamic principle that no one has the right to take innocent life, is backed by action. CAIR has sent its 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 numerous groups, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Americans, Spaniards, Turks, Israelis, Saudis, Russians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis, and the British.
CAIR has condemned specific terrorist groups by name. On March 11, 2009, the 5th 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 2014, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad joined more than 120 international scholars of Islam and Muslim leaders in refuting the ideology of the terrorist group ISIS and urging its supporters to repent and "return to the religion of mercy."3
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.4
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 the promotion of a more positive society, rather than writing a specific condemnation of every group or addressing murderous behavior toward every ethnic and religious group, we have adopted a simple, comprehensive message: “We condemn terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, whoever commits it. Period.”
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.”
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 also 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.
The 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 collection of scholarly books on Islam, the majority of which were written by non-Muslim academics, to libraries in order for people to become more informed about Islam.
According to a March 5, 2008 article in 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.”
News Corp. is headed by Rupert Murdoch and is the parent company of Fox News Channel. If CAIR's detractors attack the organization for bin Talal’s donation, it is only logcial for the aforementioned companies to also be taken to task for accepting his money.
CAIR was proud to receive Bin Talal's donation to further efforts to eradicate ignorance and misinformation about Islam.
CAIR detractors 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 fail to add that, as reported in the Associated Press on Septembr 22, 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."
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.
This charge demeans CAIR via the presupposition of 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 of these individuals.
For example, when Aldrich Ames (CIA) and Robert Hanssen (FBI) admitted to being spies for foreign governments, their actions did not automatically imply that the CIA or FBI were associated or complicit in any of their criminal activities. Currently, some former members of the US Congress are serving jail time and others are under the cloud of ethical suspicion. However, such behavior by members of Congress while in office does not 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 and 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 evoke memories of attempts to smear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a communist or womanizer.
The smears targeting CAIR normally involve the following individuals: Ismail Royer, Dr. Bassem El-Khafagi, Rabih Haddad, and Ghassan Elashi.
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 comitted when Royer was no longer employed with CAIR. It was certainly not at CAIR’s direction.
El-Khafagi was never an employee of CAIR and was never convicted on terrorism charges. According to the Associated Press 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 commenced, and without any knowledge by CAIR of any wrongdoing on his part. Writing bad checks is a criminal offense, not terrorism. If there had been clear evidence of terrorist activities, the Justice Department would have vigorously pursued those avenues.
Haddad was likewise never an employee or associate of CAIR. He was “deported for overstaying his tourist visa” and was “never charged with a crime.” His single relation to CAIR was as a speaker at one CAIR chapter event. Contrary as to what is sometimes claimed, he was never a "CAIR fundraiser."
Like El-Khafahi and Haddad, Elashi was never an employee 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 organization. Any actions he took were outside the scope and chronology of his association with one of our chapters.
This troubling action raises reasonable questions of whether it is acceptable for the FBI to defame a private entity which has not been indicted for anything and when there are no means for that entity to defend itself in court. These questions have First and Fifth Amendment implications.
CAIR remains disappointed with the FBI’s decision to sever outreach ties with us. We applaud the special agents who internally pushed back against the action. CAIR has been a leader in developing relationships between law enforcement and Muslim communities, with a record on the subject dating back to the 1990s.
Like the rest of the mainstream American Muslim community, CAIR believes it is both our civic and religious duty to work with law enforcement to protect our nation.
At the same time, as a civil rights and advocacy organization, we work to ensure that American democracy, with its foundational belief that individuals have a right to legal counsel when dealing with law enforcement, works for everyone.
Three years after the FBI chose to severe outreach ties with CAIR, 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 FBI 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."
Two years later, 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:
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, various FBI offices contacted numeours CAIR chapters and stated 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 related to the Holy Land Foundation trial discussed elsewhere in this document. The letters also stated that the FBI would continue to work with CAIR on civil rights issues impacting American Muslims.
According to a Department of Justice Inspector General report issued in 2013, pushback against this action from local FBI offices was significant enough that FBI headquarters felt compelled to host a “mandatory” coordination meeting for the “senior manager” or “high-level designee” of 31 of its 56 field offices. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) report states the "meeting was scheduled because the field offices were facing ‘unique challenges involving their established, and in some cases, long –term relationships with local CAIR chapters.'"
Partially, this pushback was a result of the new policy damaging existing FBI-Muslim community relations. As the OIG review notes, "According to the former AD, some of the field offices saw the policy as an obstacle to the overall implementation of their outreach strategy for the Muslim community.” The OIG review also notes, “According to the former AD, the ECs contained ’kid glove’ language to make it more palatable to the field offices, who did not want to be controlled by a perceived [redacted] policy and were interested in protecting their own community outreach activities with the Muslim community, which they also regarded as good sources of information."
As a Muslim advocacy organization, CAIR frequently calls upon the FBI to investigate acts of hate directed at community members. As demonstrated above, CAIR also reports when persons of concern are brought to our attention. As a civil rights organization, CAIR is frequently called upon to challenge FBI actions. In a country founded on checks and balances, this is a natural role for a civil liberties organization.
CAIR is a high-profile organization which represents a minority in the United States that is often treated as suspect and frequently subject to discrimination. We recognize that this 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.”
Former CAIR board chairman and South 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 individuals and entities are subject to the misinformation campaign against CAIR. It is our hope that this document alleviates confusion, answers honest inquiries, and dispels lies and falsehoods.
For more information, please visit the CAIR website.
1 Documents responsive to Judicial Watch’s FOIA Seeking Records of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Training Materials, Tracking System No. 2 JW1367-1787, pg. 198. Available here.
2 Source: trial transcript for October 7, 2008
3 See: Letter to Al-Baghdadi.
This website is a project of CAIR's Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia.