The United States government's stepped-up courting of Islamist groups is on display at the State Department Web portal www.america.gov. The site bills itself as a place to "meet the people" and "explore the values and ideas that define the character of the United States."
But when it comes to American Muslim organizations, that often means providing a U.S. government stamp of approval to organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) or apologists like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
During the Cold War, government bureaus like the United States Information Agency worked to counter disinformation by driving home the point that freedom and democracy are superior to communism and tyranny. But Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says that in today's struggle with radical Islam, the U.S. government is doing something very different — even perverse.
It aids and abets groups like CAIR and ISNA in anointing themselves representatives of all American Muslims — though many Muslims want nothing to do with the Islamists.
Jasser singles out the State Department’s 64-page booklet "Being Muslim in America" as an example of what is wrong. The publication is "like Pravda. It's all about how Muslims in America are motherhood and apple pie," Jasser said he recently told a State Department official. "It's like the Muslim community has no warts" or divisions.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Jasser said. In presenting this monolithic, idyllic picture of Muslims, the State Department ignores inconvenient facts like the intra-Muslim debate over imposition of Shariah, and Muslims' larger relationship with non-Muslims, Jasser told IPT News.
The following examples from the www.America.gov site in recent weeks illustrate the problem: An Aug. 26 story by Carla Higgins entitled "Muslim Americans Mourn Death of Sen. Edward Kennedy" consisted almost entirely of an ISNA statement praising the late Massachusetts senator. An Aug. 26 story by Ahmed Mohamed ("Muslim Americans Launch Community Service Initiative") that reported that "Muslim Americans are showing their support for [President Barack] Obama's community service appeal by launching the Muslim Americans Answer the Call Campaign."
The article also included a list of seven bullet points outlining CAIR's contribution to the president's community service initiative. It quoted CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad praising the initiative as "a unique opportunity to tell their story through service to others." An Aug. 20 story, also by Mohamed ("New Documentary Film Explores Muslim Experience in America"), that reads like a press release for "Journey into America," a movie that premiered July 4 at ISNA's convention. In making the film, a research team traveled to numerous American mosques. The story quotes ISNA President Ingrid Mattson praising the film as one that would allay Americans' fears of "what might be going on behind the doors of these mosques."
Producers of the ISNA-endorsed documentary linked to Mohamed's Aug. 20 article on their blog. They wrote that the story "not only gives our documentary an immense amount of publicity in the global arena of politics and international relations" but "also proves that high ranking American officials have endorsed the message which we communicated." An Aug. 19 story by Howard Cincotta entitled "Muslim Americans Find Their Voice Through Advocacy, Engagement: Muslim organizations bringing message of inclusiveness, involvement." Salam al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC, was quoted extensively in the story, and his picture appears in it. The story linked to the Web sites of CAIR, ISNA, and MPAC. MPAC its officials have a history of defending terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and anti-Israel slanders, including al-Marayati's suggestion that Israel may have been behind the Sept. 11 attacks. A July 9 story by Mohamed entitled "Islamic Society of North America Promotes Community Service" was a veritable infomercial for ISNA's 2009 national convention. Like the other stories about the ISNA convention noted above, it made no mention of the hate speech or defenses of Hezbollah that occurred there.
U.S. Muslim outreach since Sept. 11 has been plagued by a bias in favor of "Saudi-funded or -supported groups with the biggest publicity machines," said Nina Shea, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute. "All too often, the ones getting covered are the ones with grievances against the United States. Those who are pro-freedom like Zuhdi Jasser are excluded."
The U.S. government's actions "raise constitutional questions," added Shea, a veteran attorney who has been appointed to serve as a delegate to the main United Nations human-rights body by Democratic and Republican administrations. "For the United States to freeze out the Shia or the Sufis or pro-American Muslims, people who are pro-freedom, pro-human rights, is almost an infringement on the no-establishment clause of the First Amendment."
According to Shea, "showering benefits" on Islamists is a "dangerous game" that undercuts major U.S. interests like encouraging respect for human rights and democratization in the Muslim world.
America thrives when all points of view are heard. The State Department is not living up to this ideal.
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