A former newspaper reporter says she stands by her story claiming the chairman of a leading Muslim lobby group declared the Quran should be America’s highest authority.
In a press release accusing WND of “demonizing Muslims,” the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, denied its chairman of the board, Omar Ahmad, made the statement and said it is seeking a retraction from the newspaper that published the story July 4, 1998.
However, Steve Waterhouse, editor of The Argus in Fremont, Calif., since 1997, told WND his paper has not been contacted by CAIR. The article also was run in a sister publication, the San Ramon Valley Herald. The paper’s city editor, Dave Boitano, said he would have known if CAIR had sought a retraction.
The reporter who covered the event, Lisa Gardiner, told WND she remembers the strong statement by Ahmad, who was one of several speakers at a session at an Islamic conference in Fremont titled “How Should We As Muslims Live in America?”
Gardiner, regarded by her former editors as a reliable reporter, is now a legislative aide for California Democratic Assemblyman John Dutra. She said the statement in question is her paraphrase but insisted it is accurate, and she will not retract the story.
Her article also paraphrases Ahmad saying, “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith but to become dominant.”
WND Editor Joseph Farah referred to Omar’s remarks – which have been cited by other critics of CAIR – in a column last week on the Muslim group’s campaign to derail President Bush’s nomination of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute of Peace.
In its press release, CAIR said Farah’s most recent articles “smeared” the Muslim group with numerous “falsehoods and distortions” in an attempt to support Pipes’ “controversial” nomination. The group claims that WND stories “prompted” readers to write “hate-filled” messages to CAIR and that some are being examined by the Justice Department.
Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer responded yesterday to a question by WND’s White House correspondent about CAIR’s opposition to Pipes.
“The nomination continues to stand,” Fleischer said.
Living in America
Ahmad’s remarks have been cited by CAIR critics in the context of charges the group is tied to a radical element of Islam rather than the “mainstream” it claims to represent.
Its press release says: “CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, is a mainstream organization that regularly works with national law enforcement authorities, elected officials and other civil liberties and minority groups.”
Gardiner’s original article, provided to WND by Waterhouse, 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.
When asked by WND whether CAIR had contacted the newspaper for a retraction as indicated by its press release, national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper insisted Ahmad “never made the statement, and we have sought a retraction.”
Pressed several times to specify whether CAIR already has contacted the newspaper, Hooper repeated the statement then finally said someone from CAIR’s California affiliate made the contact.
When confronted with the fact that the newspaper’s editors say CAIR has not contacted them and the reporter stands by the story, he abruptly ended the call.
“If you are going to use distortions, I can’t stop you; it’s a free country. Have a nice day,” he said before hanging up.
Hooper called back only a minute later, however, and said he wanted to change his statement to say, “We will seek a retraction, and we have spoken to the reporter about it in the past.”
Although WND did not solicit or encourage the virulent e-mails, CAIR’s press release ties them to the newssite, and Hooper told WND the Justice Department is “looking into it.”
A Justice spokesman, Drew Wade, said the department does not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations.
But Paul Bresson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who looked at CAIR’s examples of the e-mails when WND forwarded him the press release, said the FBI thoroughly examines the merits of each case, and he could not immediately judge whether they rose to the level of a threat worthy of investigation. He added, however, that if they essentially amounted to epithets, a probe would be unlikely.
With just name-calling, “we would have a lot of work to do” to make a case out of it, he said.
So why is CAIR so upset with WND?
“CAIR’s leadership,” said Farah, “has an Islamic totalitarian mindset just like their funders in Saudi Arabia and their friends in the Hamas terrorist group. They dish it out pretty well, but they can’t take any criticism – not even e-mails! You should see the hate mail I get from CAIR’s members. It would make your hair stand on end.”
Farah added: “These extremists like to try to intimidate people, but they can’t stand up like men and take it. Now they are running to the Justice Department for help. Fortunately for us, we don’t have Shariah law in this country; we live free under the U.S. Constitution.”
Motivated to promote unity
Gardiner explained to WND that the newspaper’s coverage of Ahmad’s 1998 speech – well before Sept. 11, 2001 – was partly motivated by the “need to know more about the diversity of religions in California and the world.”
“That was something we worked for, and the newspaper was covering many Muslims in the community,” she said.
She considered her personal interaction with the Muslim leaders “extremely positive” and enriching.
“I think it would be unfortunate if this [controversy] ultimately ended up creating more hostility and misunderstanding,” she said.