“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”: Voltaire’s axiom articulates a core principle of any free society. Thus when my book The Truth About Muhammad was banned in Pakistan, I immediately thought of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
CAIR”s vision, says its website, “is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding”¦.Since its establishment in 1994, CAIR has worked to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America.” CAIR officials have met with Presidents Clinton and Bush, consulted with the FBI, led sensitivity training seminars for law enforcement authorities nationwide, and are regularly consulted by the media for a moderate Islamic perspective. Since I wrote my book in order to draw attention to the elements of Islam that are being used by jihad terrorists worldwide today to recruit among peaceful Muslims, what group is better situated than CAIR to protest its banning in the name of American pluralism, free and open debate, and a Western Islam that is free of coercion, intimidation, and enforced conformity?
The government of Pakistan banned the book and confiscated all copies and translations because the book, according to the Kuwaiti News Agency, allegedly contains “objectionable material” about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Shahid Ahmed, counselor of community affairs at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, declared: “The book is very, very damaging “” let me tell you.”
In fact, however, The Truth About Muhammad, a New York Times bestseller, contains nothing but material carefully sourced from the texts that Islamic authorities consider most reliable for the life and words of Muhammad. It presents a respectful picture of Muhammad that generally accords with what Muslims believe about what Muhammad said and did. The only difference is that I hold Muhammad to a moral standard different from the one he delineated for himself, and do not in every case consider him to be an excellent example of conduct, an honor which he is accorded in the Qur’an (33:21).
That difference, however, ought to be not an occasion for banning and confiscation, but for free and open debate — particularly when moderate Muslims are crying out to be heard. After all, the reform of Islam that is so needed today — in order to mitigate the elements of it that are giving rise to violence and extremism — cannot possibly begin without acknowledgment of the fact that there are aspects of Islam that need reform. Thus I determined that the banning of The Truth About Muhammad in Pakistan presented CAIR with a golden opportunity to demonstrate its moderation by denouncing the banning of the book and calling for discussion of the issues raised by it, with an eye toward confronting and refuting the use jihadists worldwide make of the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify their actions.
If CAIR condemned the banning and confiscation of The Truth About Muhammad, and called upon the government of Pakistan to adopt the principles of free inquiry and free expression that are hallmarks of the prosperous, democratic societies that CAIR would no doubt like to see arising today in the Islamic world and elsewhere, doubts that have recently arisen about the group would be substantially dispelled. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) just rescinded an award she had given to a CAIR official after she learned that several former CAIR officials are now in prison for various terrorism-related activities; several nights ago CNN”s Paula Zahn tried unsuccessfully to get CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper to denounce the terror groups Hamas and Hizballah unequivocally.
Thinking that CAIR might welcome this opportunity, I contacted Hooper. He limited himself in his response to quoting a Qur’anic verse: “The (true) servants of (God) the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace” (25:63). He didn’t respond to further inquiries.
So does CAIR approve of Pakistan’s banning of my book? Certainly the organization hasn’t condemned it, and is unlikely to do so. It is odd, and hypocritical, that a civil rights group would decline an opportunity to denounce censorship, even if the group members disagree with the material being censored — for is not freedom of inquiry a foundation of civil society? Perhaps Hooper will reconsider, and recoup some of the public relations drubbings his group has been suffering of late.
But I am not holding my breath.