Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, lamented Thursday that “at a charter school in Minnesota, what should have been a ‘call the lawyers’ dispute over religion in the classroom has escalated into a ‘call the FBI’ imbroglio involving death threats against school officials.”
Haynes was referring to the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a public charter school in Minneapolis. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) last month asked the FBI to investigate death threats they said had been made against the school’s director, and they said that the students might be endangered.
Whose fault was this? Mine, evidently: Haynes says that “a longtime critic of Islam, Robert Spencer, suggested that TIZA might be part of a ‘grand jihad’ bent on undermining Western civilization. Not surprisingly, TIZA now receives what the school’s director describes as ‘numerous death threats, harassing e-mails, harassing phone calls.’”
Serious charges indeed. But let’s set the record straight: did I call for the death of anyone at Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or ask anyone to threaten them? No, I did not. Did I send anyone at Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy any harassing e-mails, or call anyone there, or ask anyone to contact anyone there in any way? No, I did not.
What I did do was point out in a recent article that the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is housed in the same building as a mosque and the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS), and I quoted journalist Katherine Kersten’s observation that “at MAS-MN’s 2007 convention, for example, the program featured an advertisement for the ‘Muslim American Society of Minnesota,’ superimposed on a picture of a mosque. Under the motto ‘Establishing Islam in Minnesota,’ it asked: ‘Did you know that MAS-MN ... houses a full-time elementary school’? On the adjacent page was an application for TIZA” -- the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy.
I also noted that according to a 2004 Chicago Tribune exposé, the Muslim American Society is the name under which the Muslim Brotherhood operates in the United States. And that according to a 1991 Brotherhood memorandum about its strategy in the U.S., it is embarked upon a “grand Jihad” aimed at “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
So the “grand jihad” phrase came not from me, but from the Brotherhood memorandum. Is the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy part of this stealthy “grand jihad”? Well, even Charles C. Haynes might admit that if such an effort of subversion and sabotage exists, and is being pursued by the Muslim American Society, that it would be a neat trick to establish an Islamic school on the infidel dime, paid for by infidel taxpayers. It would be a small but significant contribution to the effort, if it were happening. In fact, the question as to whether or not it were happening would be an important question to investigate. Even he admits that “class is interrupted so that students can fulfill prayer obligations and that Friday assemblies are indeed prayer services; although the school says that all prayers are voluntary and Friday prayers are led by parent volunteers.” This would be a reasonable basis for, to use Haynes’s own phrase, a “‘call the lawyers’ dispute over religion in the classroom.”
But that polite dispute, says Haynes, has been derailed by these alleged death threats that were supposedly prompted by my asking uncomfortable questions in a column about what is going on at the school, and who is behind it. And of course, maybe the school really did receive death threats. If so, these threats are abhorrent and deplorable, as evil as they are idiotic, as well as contemptible. If someone really did threaten anyone at the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, he should be found and punished.
However, school officials may also want to slip the threatener a thank-you note as the FBI hauls him away, for if there really were threats here, they work to the advantage of the MAS and CAIR. CAIR has played this game skillfully for years: trumping up and exaggerating hate crimes, deflecting attention away from anything Muslims are doing that might cause non-Muslims concern, and doing everything possible to portray Muslims as victims who need a special protected status. For as Haynes’s article shows, just when the school began to face public scrutiny about its use of public funds and its ties to the MAS, the story has now shifted to how terrible it is that Muslims face threats and “Islamophobia.”
It’s interesting also to note how eager the media is to accommodate CAIR in this. CAIR’s claim that the school has received threats has been written up in the Star-Tribune, the local Fox news channel, and elsewhere. And apparently the FBI is right on the case. Compare and contrast: Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson, Michael Scheuer and I received a veiled but unmistakable threat from the first American to be charged with treason since World War II, on a videotape introduced by Al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and -- speaking strictly for myself -- I never heard a word from the FBI or anyone else, and there was no media coverage at all. I’ve
received many other death threats, and never received the interest from either law enforcement or the media that the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is receiving now. Now, I am not saying that anyone should have cared when I was threatened, or that anyone should not care about the alleged threat against this school. But what I do find intriguing is the choice made about which threats to investigate and which are deemed newsworthy, and I think it would be most interesting to discover the assumptions on which such choices are made, and the energy with which the recipients of such threats use them to make political hay.
Meanwhile, Haynes’s implication that I have something to do with the threats is despicable, if not downright libelous, and militates against his claim to be interested in a genuine discussion of what is going on at Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy. If he really wants to have a debate about religion in the classroom, and an honest examination of the Academy’s practices and ties, I’m ready. But I don’t think he does.