Muslims aim to challenge critics in America
Convention seminar focuses on best ways for followers to
respond when their faith is attacked.
By Robert King
Ill. -- In the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many American Muslims
were fearful about leaving their homes.
later, many remained reluctant to respond to critics who made derogatory
comments about Islam or Muslim communities.
almost four years after the attacks, American Muslims are being urged by their
leaders to answer back.
the Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America hosts nearly 40,000
Muslims this weekend near Chicago at its 42nd annual convention, there is plenty
of talk here about how Muslims must answer their critics and, if need be, get
tough with them.
a Saturday morning seminar attended by more than 200 people, the discussion
included how to apply pressure on politicians who smear the faith, the benefits
of corporate boycotts and what constitutes legal grounds for defamation suits.
key," Corey P. Saylor, government affairs director for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations told the audience, "is to not just sit back and
El-Amin, who sat in on the lecture, agreed with the need to be proactive. She
was especially interested in a Web site that tracks contributions to political
can only fight for ourselves," said El-Amin, a New Orleans resident who was
visiting relatives in Chicago when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.
fighting on behalf of American Muslims is the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, or CAIR, as it is commonly known. The organization, playing a
prominent role at ISNA's convention, has developed a reputation for being
something of a pit bull in protecting the civil rights of Muslims.
for example, sued a North Carolina congressman after he accused the organization
of acting as a fundraising arm for Hezbollah, a militant Palestinian group. The
council also organized a boycott against a radio station until it fired a disc
jockey who called Islam a terrorist organization. CAIR also brought considerable
pressure on a Colorado lawmaker who asserted that America should take out
Islam's holy sites in the event of another terrorist attack.
T. Iftikhar, the national legal director for CAIR, said Saturday it was time for
everyday Muslims to "defend the image and reputation of the community and
Islam in general."
am here to teach you how the American Muslim community can legally empower
itself to protect itself in the American courts," he said, as he went into
the nuances of the limits of the First Amendment.
Syeed, the secretary general of ISNA, a group generally less vocal than CAIR,
earlier in the weekend said his organization is considering filing defamation
lawsuits against some of its sharpest critics.
he declined to name the potential targets of such suits, one of the critics most
often cited by Muslim leaders is Steven Emerson.
1994 documentary, "Jihad in America," about radical Islamic groups
operating in the United States, won a prestigious journalism award. But his
credibility suffered after his on-air commentary about the bombing of the
federal building in Oklahoma City. He was among the first pundits to say the
bombing had the earmarks of Middle Eastern terrorism. It turned out to be the
product of homegrown terrorists.
phone Saturday, Emerson said ISNA's interest in using defamation law amount to
an effort to stifle free speech. "They are apologists for militant
Islam," he said.
said such comments are exactly the reason Muslim groups are becoming more
vigilant in responding to their critics. "That's his mantra," he said
of Emerson. "He used innuendo, conjecture and defamation."
conference, focused in part on efforts to repair the image of Islam, began
Friday with presentations on how Muslims can do more to counter extremists who
cite the religion to justify violence and terrorism.
convention comes little more than a month after U.S. Muslim scholars issued a
fatwa, or religious edict, condemning terrorism. The edict came shortly after
the London bombings in July.