Are American Progressives Finally Smelling the Rat at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Wednesday 27 October 202107:34 pm

American Muslims deserve quality civic representation in the US’ increasingly strained society, where Muslims are often on the receiving end of bigotry and intolerance. One of the major backers of American Muslims are US progressives, an essential ally as the far-right continues to gain ground.

Founded in 1994, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) presents itself as a defender of the community and cultivator of allies. Unfortunately, a deep leadership crisis at the organization has left the community at a crossroads. Under Nihad Awad’s leadership CAIR has been rife with scandals that undermine CAIR’s progressive credentials – and by extension American Muslims, including a growing crowd of new generation open-minded leaders.

At the start of 2021 came a story that Raseef22 first pubslished: CAIR’s star Florida leader Hassan Shibly had been abusing women, including his own wife – and multiple others. A leading Muslim reporter with National Public Radio later broke the story wide open, revealing in a detailed article how CAIR’s national leadership knew full well about this disturbing misogyny yet took no meaningful action to hold Shibly accountable. Shibly later announced his retirement without condemnation from CAIR.

Another lawsuit has further revealed that Awad himself actively blocked attempts by senior staff to address Shibly’s behavior. One of those former staffers, Lori Saroya went public with emails documenting her failed attempts to get Awad to take meaningful action on Shibly. CAIR sued Saroya for defamation, though as Raseef22 observed after the lawsuit was filed, the case has backfired by exposing Awad’s poor leadership or as news outlet Axios declared in a headline: “CAIR lawsuit offers revelations into organization’s inner workings.”

Now progressives are starting to pay attention to the growing scandals. The latest setback for CAIR is a canceled candidate forum in Seattle, where three aspiring progressive politicians pulled out of the event after learning about the NPR story. What might seem like a small local kerfuffle is actually a bellwether.

First some context: One way CAIR cultivates power is by hosting candidate forums ahead of elections. It raises CAIR’s profile and gives the organization the chance to influence candidates early in their rise from local office to national prominence. The candidates cultivated are mostly progressives, as many centrists and almost all Republicans have spurned CAIR. The alliance between CAIR and progressives intensified with the rise of Donald Trump.

For Arab Muslim progressives, it has been hard seeing an organization like CAIR - formed by the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood who, for decades, have made our lives difficult – get embraced by American progressives
For Arab Muslim progressives, it has been hard seeing an organization formed by the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood – which has made lives difficult for decades – get embraced by American progressives. Attempts to alert American leftists about Awad’s hardcore roots in the Brotherhood in the past ran intro patronizing dismissals. Too often, our demands for progressive reforms to benefit liberal Muslims got expediently sidelined by larger political agendas.

Progressives’ natural desire for universalism and embracing the downtrodden led them to be conned by reactionaries in progressive clothing like Awad. Once the Left committed to an alliance with CAIR, it became hard to backtrack. Abandoning CAIR might expose leftists to potential charges of Islamophobia, not to mention shaming by their political opponents.

Remarkably, a new crop of progressive candidates in Seattle has crossed the Rubicon – pulling out of a CAIR candidate forum because of CAIR’s intolerant and sexist behavior. Jake Simpson and Iris Guzman issued statements formally announcing their withdrawal. Guzman and Simpson noted that their commitments to the “lived experiences of BIPOC families” made them sensitive to “numerous allegations against [CAIR] for workplace harassment, union busting, and gender discrimination.” Both declared: “I will not be seeking an endorsement from their organization.”

Guzman and Simpson’s matching statements both ended by declaring: “I look forward to continuing to fight for American Islamic representation… and I hope that those affected by the alleged abuses at CAIR are provided the space to be heard.”
Muslim progressives are not asking American progressives to abdicate on their principles, but rather to uphold them.  Nihad Awad is our Jerry Falwell – both Senior and Junior combined (Saroya in her court filings has accused Awad of sexually harassing her).
Council on American-Islamic Relations mission on paper is noble and much-needed. The problem is the leadership who have controlled the organization for a quarter century: middle-aged men whose loyalties are to their all male fraternity known as the Ikhwan
CAIR’s mission on paper is noble and much-needed. The problem is the top leadership who have controlled the organization for a quarter century: middle-aged conservative men whose loyalties are not to the Rainbow Flag but their own male fraternity known as the Ikhwan. These older men out of sync with the times have stubbornly refused to step aside for fresh leadership, desperately holding on for power and a nice six-figure paycheck. Principles be darned.
The news out of Seattle gives hope. Kudos to the candidates who had the courage to do the right thing.
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