At Thursday’s contentious Congressional hearing on radicalization in the American Islamic community, one Muslim advocacy group became a repeated target for damning accusations from Republicans: the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.
Representative Peter T. King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, led off the critics, calling CAIR “discredited” and congratulating the Federal Bureau of Investigation for cutting off high-level cooperation with the group. Representative Frank R. Wolf of Virginia accused CAIR of “an attempt to stifle debate and obstruct cooperation with law enforcement.” Representative Chip Cravaack of Minnesota went further, telling a witness, Leroy D. Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff, “Basically, you’re dealing with a terrorist organization.”
Sheriff Baca, the only law enforcement official invited to testify, said he worked regularly with the CAIR chapter in his area and pushed back. “I have not experienced anything that suggests that CAIR supports terrorism,” he said. He suggested that such accusations should not be cast about recklessly in the absence of solid evidence.
For the casual observer, it may have been a puzzling set of comments. But it is an old argument for CAIR, an aggressive civil rights organization that has long been pilloried by conservatives as the American Civil Liberties Union with a Muslim spin. A representative of the group was not invited to testify at the hearing on Thursday but submitted 30 pages of written testimony – including a list of dozens of CAIR statements dating back to 1997 condemning terrorist attacks around the world, among them attacks in the United States and Israel.
“We are the answer to violent extremism,” said Nihad Awad, a Palestinian-American who is the executive director of CAIR, noting the group’s longstanding campaign against religious violence, called “Not in the Name of Islam.”