The Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) started livestreaming a series of events on Aug. 16 under the title “EXPOSED”—described as “a compelling series of interviews with former political prisoners and their family members” to “expose real cases of government overreach and injustice.” According to CAIR, those featured in the series are “high-profile cases” whose plights are “critical to the life of […] any person of conscience.”
In reality, CAIR-Florida seems determined to present an associate of the designated Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a convicted murderer, a Taliban supporter who was detained in Guantánamo, and the leaders of a Hamas-funding organization as nothing but admirable “activists” persecuted by an ostensibly vindictive U.S. government.
The series started with a live interview with Sami Al-Arian. Now exiled in Turkey, Al-Arian taught at the University of South Florida before his arrest in 2003. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to provide services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a specially designated terrorist organization. In the plea agreement, Al-Arian admitted that he was associated with the PIJ in the 1980s and ’90s, and that he “performed services for the PIJ” starting in 1995 and until, crucially, after he knew that the PIJ had been designated.
In his plea agreement, Al-Arian acknowledged that while he was aware that the PIJ “used acts of violence,” he “continued to assist the terrorist organization” by helping a PIJ associate to file paperwork in order to obtain immigration benefits and by “concealing the terrorist associations of various individuals associated with the PIJ.”
Al-Arian was deported to Turkey in 2015. A few years later, at a conference on Jerusalem sponsored by Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, he described the United States as “our enemy.”
Since then, his radicalism has not lessened. During his event with CAIR, Al-Arian accused Muslims of providing Israel with information which, according to him, have been used to assassinate leaders from “Muslim communities.” He expressed support for Aafia Siddiqui, also known as “Lady Al-Qaeda” who is currently serving a life sentence for the attempted murder of U.S. officials, calling her the “victim of crime.”
And yet, when CAIR-Florida published its edited version of the livestream a day later, these comments were apparently not what troubled them most. Several other parts, however, had been bowdlerized. Fortunately, however, the Middle East Forum possesses a copy of the original livestream.
In one of the sections removed, Al-Arian denounced Emgage, a leading political action group with its own Islamist links, for speaking on “behalf of the Muslim community,” claiming that they have a “checkered history” of trying to “dance with Zionists” and “infiltrate our community.”
CAIR also removed a section in which, responding to Al-Arian’s complaint that American Muslims “leave our people in prison to rot because we are afraid of speaking truth to power,” CAIR Florida director Hassan Shibly agreed and warned that “our community changed in the wrong direction.”
Interestingly, shortly after the edited version was published, the whole video was taken down.
According to activist Hebh Jamal, “CAIR FL was pressured by Emgage to remove the video, censoring an important member of our community.” CAIR-FL was subsequently condemned by her followers, with one commenting: “Hassan Shibly AGAIN censoring an already censored, once imprisoned, and exiled community elder is unacceptable.”
Now that CAIR has explained the plight of a deported, self-admitted terrorist operative, next up was Jamil Al-Amin on Aug. 23. In 1999, Al-Amin murdered a sheriff’s deputy and shot another during an attempted arrest. He was sentenced to life without parole in 2004.
But Al-Amin has long claimed that the multiple charges against him instead reflect American hostility towards Islam. In 1995, he wrote that “Islam is under attack on a global scale by those who wish to control the world” and claimed that “the charges leveled against [him] are in direct relationship to the success that Islam has experienced in our immediate area.” In 2000, he repeated that “there is a premeditated conspiracy to destroy Islamic leadership” and warned that “when the truth is established, the disbelievers will start to do things.” In spite of all this, he continues to be supported by CAIR.
Moazzam Begg is the subject of the third episode on Aug. 30. A British citizen, Begg moved to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001; he was later detained and transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2003. According to Begg himself, he wanted to live in an Islamic state, and the “Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.” Pentagon officials stated that “Begg trained at three terrorist camps, “associated” with an array of operatives from Al-Qaeda and was ready to fight American-led forces in Afghanistan.” The Wall Street Journal reports that Begg told his Combatant Status Review Board at Guantánamo that he visited camps on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, “where he was responsible for ‘small arms and mountain tactics’ training.”
After being released and sent back to Britain, Begg reinvented himself as a human-rights activist, bringing attention to his allegedly unjust treatment by the United States. But even since then, he and his group have been widely criticized in British media because of their expressed sympathies for jihadi terrorists.
The fourth and last CAIR-Florida episode on Sept. 6 will discuss the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a Texas-based charity described by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “fundraising arm” to support Hamas. HLF’s leaders “provided financial support to the families of Hamas martyrs, detainees and activists knowing and intending that such assistance would support the Hamas terrorist organization.” One of the convicted HLF leaders once referred to “to a suicide bombing as ‘a beautiful operation.’ ” Five of HLF’s leaders were found guilty of providing material support to Hamas; they had illegally routed more than $12 million to the terrorist organization.
CAIR-Florida is attempting to exploit the current tumultuous political climate in the United States and heightened media interest in civil-rights violations to present terror supporters as dedicated activists—punished, ostensibly, merely for being minorities.
Indeed, in its newsletter introducing the series, CAIR-FL despairs that a “a combination of passing time along with deliberate efforts to stifle the memory of civil/human rights giants cause us to forget some of the greatest infringements in our lifetime.”
But even if one believes the claim that the U.S criminal justice system did not treat CAIR’s four subjects fairly, it is undeniably, unbelievably dishonest to present a convicted murderer and other partisans of violent organizations as “civil/human rights giants.” These four radicals are bound together only by a commitment to violence and hateful, totalitarian ideologies. Misrepresentation of their plight serves only to reiterate CAIR’s long-standing extremist agenda.
Martha Lee is the research fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.