Ibrahim Hooper wants you to put down that Mr. Potato Head
THIS WEEK the Council on American-Islamic Relations released its annual report “The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2004.” Newspapers (the Washington Post in particular) dutifully gave prominent play to CAIR’s claim that hate crimes against Muslims increased 70 percent in 2003. Little skepticism, however, was applied to CAIR’s shoddy information-gathering or its politicized interpretation of the “data.” …
We live in a society of singular, hair-trigger sensitivity to slight, and CAIR is situated at the wacky, exteroceptors end of such interaction. Long before a painful stimulus registers in the reasoning parts of the brain, this hysterical organization screams bloody bias.
Media credulousness is perhaps the strongest evidence that American society is wallowing in gentleness. When someone claims to have been wounded, journalists (the great Victorian Gentleman in Tom Wolfe’s classic formulation) don’t question the witness. Even when the witness clearly has an axe to grind, as CAIR does. Yet common sense begs us to look askance at the evidence gathered by CAIR, which relies entirely on self-reporting.
CAIR’s form for reporting an bias incident is available online. Although the instructions emphasize contacting the police first, and suggest enclosing official supporting documentation, it’s not even clear how one would do so. The annual report seldom references such documentation. Which is not surprising, given how CAIR’s information-gathering process works: If someone merely emails CAIR with a message to the effect that they were the victim of bias, another “hate crime” is tallied, no matter its seriousness or credibility.
It’s almost humorous what tiny offenses pass as worthy of complaint in the CAIR report. That a student at the University of Houston “saw flyers and posters with false and degrading statements about the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad” is apparently a civil rights matter. That a College Republican at Roger Williams in Rhode Island wrote in a student publication that “a true Muslim is taught to slay infidels” is treated with similar gravity.
Several of the report’s examples of anti-Muslim rhetoric (the only prominent ones come from Dr. Laura and Paul Harvey, the latter of which was followed by an apology) hinge on whether or not Islam promotes killing. But this is even a subject of debate within Islam. Also, that the question should be taken up with some interest by outsiders is, again, neither a civil rights matter nor evidence of hatred or bias. The issue is merely relevant to why al Qaeda and other Islamofacist organizations are at war with the United States. And, to put it tamely, it does not speak well of CAIR (or its purported constituents) that the organization does its level-best to close off such discussions.
None of the press coverage on CAIR’s report gives readers a sense of its patchwork quality. Although undermining the USA Patriot Act is the most important item on CAIR’s agenda, the report dismisses the legislation in about four paragraphs giving a distorted picture of controversial Section 215. Nor do the authors note when their evidence contradicts their thesis of increasing bias and decreasing vigilance against bias: In the same section where its truncated discussion of the Patriot Act appears, the CAIR report discusses two cases of government bias in which the rights of Muslims were loudly and effectively defended.
In one, the right of a Philadelphia police officer to wear her hijab to work was successfully defended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the other case, a judge was forced to apologize and resign for suggesting a Muslim appearing in his court was a terrorist. The report’s appendix, too, contains another such story in which a Muslim county employee was allowed to keep his job even though his Friday prayer obligations kept him out of the office all afternoon. The situation was resolved; the employee doesn’t need to be in the office and, it seems, doesn’t need to make up the hours. “I’m really pleased with result,” the employee told a California paper. “They [the county] treated me with a lot of respect.”
NOWHERE does the report’s lack of rigorousness show more clearly than in the section titled “Sample Cases.” “On February 28th,” reads the very first item listed as a hate crime, “two unknown males assaulted a Muslim student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta at night. The attackers beat him for no apparent reason and did not attempt to rob him.” Which means there is “no apparent reason” to call it a hate crime. Under the same heading are listed several instances of minor vandalism, broken windows, graffiti, a defaced “Iraqi display case” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Muslim Students Association.
Quite a number of the sample cases produced by CAIR represent the kind of awkward but individually insignificant difficulties the arise from the meeting of different cultures in a pluralistic society. That a Muslim student is asked to remove her hijab for her school identification photo is not proof of discrimination; it’s proof that our society hasn’t figured out what to do about hijabs in official identification photos. Molehills become mountains in many other cases reported by CAIR, as when Muslim airline passengers singled out for security inspection claim, ipso facto, that they’re victims of profiling.
Finally, some of CAIR’s complaints don’t even pass the laugh test: “A mother called CAIR California to report that on March 14th a school coach barred her daughter from participation in the badminton team because she wears a hijab.” Never mind the sourcing problem–it doesn’t take great powers of imagination to foresee “hijab” problems cropping up in high school sports programs. The most unintentionally funny–and weirdly sad–incident in the entire report is contained in a Newsday article included in the appendix: “A Muslim woman shopping in a Brooklyn toy store was assaulted by a man who slurred Arabs and flung a Mr. Potato Head at her, police said yesterday. The suspect’s father later said his son apparently acted out of grief because a friend in Israel had been killed by a suicide bomber in Israel.”
Despite itself, the CAIR report does seem to have happened onto some serious instances of bias crime, but they clearly represent only a small portion of what CAIR describes as increasing anti-Muslim activity. So until CAIR can distinguish between real crimes and flying Mr. Potato-heads, it would be best if their work were dismissed as the cheap agitprop it clearly is.