It’s a citation used frequently by critics to argue the highly influential Council on American-Islamic Relations is an extremist organization – founder Omar Ahmad’s alleged 1998 assertion that Islam must one day dominate the U.S. – but now Muslim leaders have confronted Ahmad, expressing concern that someone from their community could voice such radical sentiments.
Ahmad told the Muslim leaders – and WND in an interview – the attribution is a “total fabrication” and assured them the newspaper, the Fremont Argus in California, issued a “clarification” after he “challenged” reporter Lisa Gardiner.
That seemed to satisfy the Muslim leaders, but Gardiner told WND she continues to stand by the story, and Editor Steve Waterhouse said he’s confident she got it right. After hearing that news Thursday, one of the Muslim leaders immediately resurrected the issue with his colleagues, declaring Ahmad and CAIR need to find a way “to extinguish this fire.”
“She was a good, solid reporter,” Waterhouse said of Gardiner. “She was absolutely certain about what he said and what she reported.”
Gardiner, who now works for a non-profit group, told WND last week she’s 100-percent sure Ahmad was the speaker and that he made those statements, pointing out nobody challenged the story at the time it was published eight years ago.
“She’s lying,” Ahmad said upon hearing Gardiner’s defense of the story. “Absolutely, she’s lying. How could you remember something from so long ago? I don’t even remember her in the audience.”
CAIR, which has enjoyed access to the White House as the country’s largest Islamic advocacy group, recently defended the six imams removed from a US Airways flight because they were deemed a potential security threat.
Ahmad, who stepped down as CAIR chairman last year, maintained to WND he “never uttered those words.”
“It is not my stance, it is not what I believe in,” said Ahmad, CEO of SiliconExpert Technologies in Santa Clara, Calif. “The year before (the 1998 event) I was a commissioner for my city and took an oath on the constitution and never had a problem. It doesn’t make sense for me to think that way. I was shocked to hear somebody reported that.”
It was WND’s 2003 story about Ahmad’s alleged remarks that prompted the Muslim leaders to query the CAIR founder two months ago. In a string of e-mail correspondence copied to WND, the leaders first debated among themselves, then asked Ahmad to tell them whether the report is true and, if so, to repudiate the remarks.
Mike Ghouse, president of a Dallas-based group called World Muslim Congress, told colleagues in the e-mails that Ahmad allegedly has made a “dangerously militant statement.”
“The harsh reality [that] we do not want to hear and acknowledge [is] that no Muslim in America or anywhere else in the world wants to live in an Islamic nation,” Ghouse wrote.
The 1998 Argus article, also published in the sister San Ramon Valley Herald, paraphrased Ahmad saying: “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant,” and, “The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”
In one of his replies to the Muslim leaders, Ahmad wrote: “These statements are total fabrication and I never said them at all. Actually there (sic) were not direct quote and I challenged the reporter and the newspaper and they published a clarification 3 years ago.”
The Muslim leaders, at the time, seemed satisfied with the denial, including Ghouse.
Ghouse told WND he understood Ahmad to be saying the newspaper and the reporter had backed off on their claim that the story is true, perhaps, at least, expressing some doubt about it.
But Waterhouse said flatly, “We did not publish a clarification.”
”This is not going to die’
The editor explained that after hearing from Ahmad in the wake of WND’s May 1, 2003, article, his paper published a story of its own one month later referencing Ahmad’s denial but also clearly stating the newspaper was not backing down.
Upon hearing that information Thursday from WND, Ghouse sent out an e-mail to colleagues on his World Muslim Congress list with a copy of the June 2003 story by Waterhouse’s newspaper chain and stated: “We had discussed this a few months ago, it appears that it still has some fire in it, this is not going to die.”
“I think Mr. Omar Ahmad and CAIR need to think hard and figure out a way to extinguish this fire,” Ghouse wrote. “The above statement is one of the most anti-Islamic, most arrogant, bullying statement[s] made in behalf of Islam. Let’s strip this for good.”
Ghouse acknowledged in the e-mail, “Most of us do not want to deal with this. However, that statement is dangerous, it is indeed frightening to the average American, given the false propaganda that Islam spread through sword is still in currency and I see that non-sense (sic) once a week on the net. The neo-cons live and thrive on propogating (sic) fear, their survival is dependent on hating and denigrating some one or the other. This is going to be a relentless battle.”
CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad with Iftekhar Hai, president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance (Photo: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs)
Another Muslim leader who participated in the string of e-mails in October, Iftekhar A. Hai, told WND that as a Sufi from India, he has a different view of Islam than Ahmad, an Arab, but he respects CAIR as the leading Islamic human rights organization in the U.S.
“If he said it, I say that he’s wrong, but if he said he has not said it, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Hai, co-founder and director of interfaith relations for United Muslims of America in Sunnyvale, Calif.
But Hai, who noted he was educated at a Catholic school in India, says his main job “is to work among religions for peace,” and he is a part of CAIR only to the extent that once a year he buys a ticket for a local fund-raiser.
Ghouse also is a native of India.
‘How Should We As Muslims Live in America?’
WND tried to get comment from others reported to be at the 1998 event in Fremont, Calif., a session organized by the local Islamic Study School titled, “How Should We As Muslims Live in America?”
Gardiner’s article mentions two other speakers – Sheik Hamza Yusuf, a prominent American convert who directs the Islamic Study School’s parent group, the Zaytuna Institute; and Hatem Bazian, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Bazian drew national attention during a 2004 anti-war protest in San Francisco when he asked why there is not an “intifada,” or uprising, in the U.S. as there is in the Holy Land. Later, in an “O’Reilly Factor” interview, he explained he was referring to a non-violent, “political intifada.”
Bazian did not respond to messages from WND, and an assistant to Hamza said the sheik was on sabbatical and was too busy to reply.
Hamza’s aide, however, referred WND to Feraidoon Mojadedi, the director in 1998 of the Islamic Study School.
Mojadedi said in an e-mail he had no record – audio or visual – of Ahmad’s presentation.
“I don’t know if the article is accurate or not, because it’s been about 10 years since that event,” he wrote.
Mojadedi did not reply to a follow-up e-mail asking specifically if he heard Ahmad’s speech, and, if so, what the CAIR founder said.
Gardiner’s 1998 article, which quotes Mojadedi, said in part:
Omar M. Ahmad, chairman of the board of the Council on American-Islamic relations, spoke before a packed crowd at the Flamingo Palace banquet hall on Peralta Boulevard, urging Muslims not to shirk their duty of sharing the Islamic faith with those who are “on the wrong side.”
Muslim institutions, schools and economic power should be strengthened in America, he said. Those who stay in America should be “open to society without melting (into it),” keeping mosques open so anyone can come and learn about Islam, he said.
“If you choose to live here (in America) … you have a responsibility to deliver the message of Islam,” he said.
Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant, he said. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth, he said.
‘We have to respect others and be respected’
Ahmad told WND he had no recollection of what he said at the 1998 event. Asked what he would say about the subject of the role of Muslims in America, he replied: “We’re here as a minority, and we live in a pluralistic society, and we have to respect others and be respected.”
Ahmad said it was only in 2003 that he learned of Gardiner’s story, and by then it was too late to press any legal action.
“I would have gone there and sued them if I had known about it,” he said.
In April 2003, CAIR national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told WND his group had demanded a retraction from the California newspaper. But he amended his statement after being informed by WND the editors and reporter had not been contacted with any such demand.
Ahmad told WND he has tried to find some way of verifying the contents of his speech and even “offered $1,000 to someone” to find a tape of it, if any existed.
“I know I didn’t say that,” he said. “How could anybody believe that when I say Muslims enjoy freedom here to worship, and it’s better for them than anyplace in the world.
“If people know me personally, they will say it’s nonsense,” he continued. “Look at the whole of my life, what I’ve said.”
He was one of several contributors to an editorial published by the San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 2003, titled, “We need a conversation on the post-9/11 world; What does allegiance in a time of war mean?
Ahmad began his piece saying, “America is one nation out of many peoples. Many of us from diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences can band together around a common theme: freedom. The protection and preservation of freedom should be the mission of all of us today.”
At the same time, he entered into another flap over explosive verbiage, protesting Rev. Franklin Graham’s invitation to hold a Good Friday service at the Pentagon after calling Islam a “very wicked and evil religion.”
“One day you get a signal from the administration that Islam is a religion of peace and of tolerance to the Muslim community,” Ahmad told the New York Times in an April 28, 2003, story. “More of the time you get the other signal – the silence of the administration over comments made by evangelical Christians.”
While Ahmad insists the alleged 1998 comments are inconsistent with his character, CAIR and a number of its staff members have been tied to jihadist groups bent on Islamic conquest.
Ahmad served as president of CAIR’s parent group, the now-defunct Islamic Association for Palestine, or IAP, which was founded in 1981 by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook and former university professor Sami al-Arian, who pleaded guilty this year to conspiracy to provide services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The U.S. deported Marzook to Jordan in 1997.
Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook (Photo: Der Spiegel)
Ahmad denied any association with Hamas, arguing U.S. authorities never shut down the IAP – it folded in 2005 – and it was founded before the emergence of Hamas itself in 1987.
Two former FBI counter-terrorism chiefs, however, called the IAP a front organization in the U.S. for Hamas, which features in its charter the goal of Israel’s destruction and Islam’s dominance over the Holy Land.
Last year, investigative journalist Steven Emerson testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information that “internal Hamas documents strongly suggest that parts of the Hamas charter … were first written by members of the IAP in the United States in the early to mid-1980s.”
Emerson said the IAP “has a long history of links to Middle East terrorism and its financial support.” He pointed to a 2001 Immigration and Naturalization Service memo that “extensively documented IAP’s support for Hamas and noted the ‘facts strongly suggest’ IAP is ‘part of Hamas’ propaganda apparatus.”
In August 2002, a federal judge ruled there was evidence the IAP “has acted in support of Hamas,” and in November 2004, a federal magistrate judge held IAP civilly liable for $156 million in the 1996 shooting of an American citizen by a Hamas member in the West Bank.
Further, Emerson testified, in November 2004, an immigration judge labeled IAP a “terrorist organization” and noted its “propensity for violence.”
Organizing holy warriors
A number of figures associated with CAIR have been convicted on terrorism-related charges since 9-11, including Randall Todd “Ismail” Royer, a former communications specialist and civil rights coordinator, and Bassem Khafagi, former director of community relations.
FBI agents arrest Ghassan Elashi and brothers in 2002.
Royer was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges he trained in Virginia for holy war against the U.S. and sent several members to Pakistan to join Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmiri terrorist group with reported ties to al-Qaida.
In a plea bargain, Royer claimed he never intended to hurt anyone but admitted he organized the holy warriors after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.
After his arrest, Royer sought legal counsel from Hamas lawyer Stanley Cohen, who said after 9-11 he would consider serving as a defense lawyer for Osama bin Laden if the al-Qaida leader were captured.
Khafagi was arrested in January 2003 while serving with CAIR and convicted on fraud and terrorism charges in connection with a probe of the Islamic Assembly of North America, an organization suspected of aiding Saudi sheiks tied to Osama bin Laden.
In October, Ghassan Elashi, a member of the founding board of directors of the Texas branch of CAIR, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for financial ties to a high-ranking terrorist and for making illegal computer exports to countries that back terrorism.
In his interview with WND, Ahmad downplayed the convicted figures’ connection to CAIR, contending they acted as individuals. He argued that if someone who worked for WND went out and murdered, it wouldn’t necessarily say anything about the nature of the news organization.
Critics of Ahmad and CAIR also have pointed to comments he made at a youth session of the Islamic Association for Palestine’s annual convention in Chicago in 1999 in which he praised suicide bombers who “kill themselves for Islam,” according to a transcript provided by Emerson’s Investigative Project.
“Fighting for freedom, fighting for Islam, that is not suicide,” Ahmad asserted. “They kill themselves for Islam.”
Ahmad told WND he does not justify suicide bombing and other acts of terrorism but says the desperation of Palestinians under Israeli “occupation” explains why many are willing to do it.
‘I’m going to do it through education’
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes – whose nomination by President Bush to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace was fiercely opposed by CAIR – has cited Ahmad’s 1998 remarks frequently as one piece of evidence showing CAIR is not the mainstream group it claims to be.
Pipes calls it a “major statement,” especially when put in the context of undisputed comments by CAIR spokesman Hooper, who indicated in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune he wants to see the U.S. become a Muslim country.
“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper told the paper. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”
Ahmad’s alleged comments “fit a pattern” and show a “disposition,” according to Pipes.
“Given that the reporter contemporaneously wrote this, and given that she stands by what she wrote, I’m inclined to believe it,” he said.
Pipes pointed out he says this despite having been in a similar situation himself.
“But I’ve been able to show, in context, this is out of character, this is not how I talk,” Pipes said. “If he can plausibly show this is at odds with views elsewhere, with employees and members, then I would be inclined to accept it. But it doesn’t, it fits, and I do not accept it.”
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islam and director of Jihad Watch, believes such declarations of Muslims’ role in America should be taken very seriously.
“It’s the same goal as Osama bin Laden has, to Islamize the U.S.,” said Spencer, also a frequent target of criticism from CAIR. “Even though Omar Ahmad is not pushing that in the same way, the fact that it is the same goal is something that hasn’t been adequately appreciated by law enforcement and government officials.”
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, from which CAIR is derived, Spencer said, “have affirmed the traditional Islamic notion that the law of Islam must be ultimately imposed by Muslims.”
An immediate response, he offered, would be for the U.S. government to stop all contact with CAIR, such as “sensitivity training,” and “stop treating CAIR as if it were a moderate group.”
Recipients of CAIR’s cultural training include Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and the military. In June, a senior Department of Homeland Security official from Washington guided CAIR officials on a behind-the-scenes tour of Customs screening operations at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in response to CAIR complaints that Muslim travelers were being unfairly delayed as they entered the U.S. from abroad.
CAIR also has regular meetings with the Justice Department and FBI, prompting complaints from case agents, who say the bureau rarely can make a move in the Muslim community without first consulting with CAIR, which sits on its advisory board.
Related special offers: