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    Muslims' growing voice-Mashallah

    Muslims' growing voice
    By SHARON TUBBS, Times Staff Writer
    St. Petersburg Times
    published February 3, 2003

    When Ahmed Bedier heard about the Seminole podiatrist
    arrested last August with an arsenal of weapons,
    explosives and a hit list of area mosques, he picked
    up the phone. "We have a major story here," he said.
    "What's the next step?"

    Leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations
    were on the other end. The next step was posting the
    story on CAIR's Web site, so Muslims nationwide would
    hear about it. They later called the U.S. attorney
    general's office and Gov. Jeb Bush's people. Florida's
    Muslim community wanted more information: Were they in
    danger? Was Robert Goldstein only the tip of an
    organized plot against them?

    Four days after the arrest, Bush held a teleconference
    with Islamic leaders. He told them he had ordered the
    state Department of Law Enforcement to call mosques
    from Key West to Pensacola.

    CAIR, an 8-year-old grass roots organization that
    started out combating Muslim stereotypes in movies and
    discrimination in the workplace, has become the voice
    for Muslim rights.

    Since Sept. 11, 2001, discrimination complaints have
    poured into its 21 chapters and liaison groups and its
    national office in Washington, D.C. Membership and
    contributions more than doubled, to 15,000 and
    $2.5-million, respectively. Plans are under way to
    expand CAIR's presence in central and northern

    But as its membership and budget prosper, so, too, do
    CAIR's adversaries. Some say the organization is
    trampling free speech rights and belittling an ongoing
    threat of terrorism by fanatic Muslims.

    CAIR presses on, nonetheless.

    In recent months, CAIR has taken on a Tallahassee
    newspaper columnist and an editorial cartoonist, a
    Baptist preacher in Jacksonville, Western Union and
    the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

    "The caseload expanded so much, it exploded,
    basically," said CAIR founder Omar Ahmad from his home
    in San Jose, Calif. "The issues we deal with are so
    much bigger and serious."

    Debate over a cartoon
    Someone who saw Doug Marlette's political cartoon on
    the Internet called CAIR. Marlette, who works for the
    Tallahassee Democrat, had drawn a man in Muslim garb
    carting a missile in a Ryder truck, similar to the one
    used by 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
    "What would Mohammed drive?" the cartoon read. It was
    a play on the "What would Jesus drive?" movement
    started by religious environmentalists who want to
    discourage people from buying gas-guzzling SUVs. The
    Democrat posted the cartoon on its Web site edition.

    CAIR countered with an "action alert" on its Web site
    that petitioned Muslims to protest with calls and
    e-mails to the paper. More than 4,500 did over the
    next few days.

    "We have built a large infrastructure, a large
    network," Ahmad says. "We utilize the Internet in a
    very efficient way."

    Newspaper executives pulled the cartoon from the Web
    site the same day; the cartoon never made it into the
    next day's printed edition. But that didn't end the
    matter. The cartoon was still circulating, featured on
    a CAIR news release, so more and more Muslims could
    see what the paper might have printed had CAIR not
    intervened. At least one outraged Muslim contacted
    Democrat political writer and columnist Bill

    Cotterell's reply said in part that Arab nations need
    to get over the creation of Israel and make peace.
    "OK, they can squat around the camel-dung fire and
    grumble about it, or they can put their bottoms in the
    air five times a day and pray for deliverance; that's
    their business," Cotterell wrote. "And I don't give a
    damn if Israel kills a few in collateral damage while
    defending itself. So be it."

    The woman who received that e-mail called CAIR.
    Another action alert was issued, this time about

    Cotterell apologized, saying he wished he had never
    written those things. The newspaper suspended him for
    a week without pay, and executive editor John Winn
    Miller issued a formal apology, also posted on CAIR's
    Web site.

    Media pundits weighed in on the debate. CAIR had used
    political correctness to stop free speech, some said.
    Marlette responded in an editorial titled "No
    Apologies for Free Speech." The cartoon was not a
    comment against Islam, but rather the distortion of
    the religion by "murderous fanatics," he said.

    "My cartoon has prompted a firestorm of reaction
    orchestrated by a lobbying group called CAIR," he
    wrote. The objective of political cartooning, Marlette
    said, is "to jab and poke in an attempt to get at
    deeper truths, popular or otherwise. The truth, like
    it or not, is that Muslim fundamentalists have
    committed devastating acts of terrorism against our
    country in the name of their prophet."

    CAIR praised Cotterell's suspension but lamented that
    Marlette wasn't sanctioned, too.

    "We are for freedom of speech, but it's not freedom of
    speech to misinterpret me in any way," Ahmad said. He
    questioned whether the newspaper would have even
    considered printing a cartoon that depicted
    African-Americans or Jews in a negative light.

    The infamous church sign
    A CAIR board member in Jacksonville saw the sign
    outside First Conservative Baptist Church:

    Jesus forbade murder

    Matthew 26 -- 52

    Muhammad approved murder

    Surah 8 -- 65.

    He called Altaf Ali, executive director of CAIR's
    Florida chapter, in Miami. Ali joined in on a
    conference call with the church's pastor, the Rev.
    Gene Youngblood.

    The conversation started politely enough, Ali says.

    "We're calling you regarding the sign you have out
    there," he said. "We want you to understand that by no
    means does Islam condone murder."

    Youngblood countered that the sign was a matter of
    free speech.

    The sign quotes a surah, a passage in the Islamic
    sacred text, the Koran.

    "Oh Prophet! rouse the Believers to the fight," it
    reads. "If there are twenty amongst you, patient and
    persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a
    hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the
    unbelievers: for these are a people without

    Ali says that Youngblood refused CAIR's request for a

    Youngblood, a biblical apologist, says he has taught
    courses on world religions. First Conservative
    routinely teaches comparisons of Christianity and
    other beliefs. The church has recently studied Islam
    and posted such comparisons on the sign, which has
    been vandalized more than a dozen times, Youngblood
    said in a press release. Church members have been
    threatened, he said.

    "First and foremost, I want the world to know that we
    love the Muslim people," the release said. "We would
    like to see multitudes of them come to know the Son of
    God, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. . . . We stand
    firmly on our First Amendment Right: The Freedom of
    Speech is Fundamental to American Liberty."

    CAIR sent out a press release to non-Muslim religious
    leaders throughout Florida. Soon, news of the sign had
    circulated to churches and mosques as far away as

    Support poured in for CAIR. Newspapers wrote stories
    about the sign. Some leaders wrote or called
    Youngblood in protest.

    From the Rev. Fred Morris, executive director of the
    Florida Council of Churches: "I want to repudiate in
    the strongest terms possible the outrageous and
    hateful expressions of the First Conservative Baptist
    Church in Jacksonville, as they accuse the Prophet
    Muhammed of approving of murder."

    And this from the Rev. Alan Jones of San Francisco's
    United Methodist Mission: "Just wanted to let you know
    that there are many Christians . . . such as myself
    who are horrified by the Jacksonville church."

    Problems continue
    Muslims were the bad guys in the 1994 movie True Lies,
    plotting to thwart Arnold Schwarzenegger's heroics.
    But real-life Muslims said the movie was stereotypical
    and inflammatory.

    Omar Ahmad, an engineer in California, was one of
    them. He was tired of book writers, media, movie
    producers and corporate executives spewing misleading
    images of Muslims.

    He called Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper, Muslims with
    whom Ahmad had chatted at conferences. Muslims needed
    an advocate, an organized political voice in America,
    they agreed. They started CAIR, which is classified as
    a nonprofit social welfare organization. They set up
    headquarters in Washington because it is a "high
    profile" area, Ahmad said.

    CAIR has grown steadily. It started with two paid
    employees and now has 35, including lawyers and a paid
    communications staff.

    Others volunteer for CAIR, such as Bedier in St.
    Petersburg, who learned about the group last year. A
    CAIR director flew in from Washington to give a
    workshop at Bedier's mosque in Pinellas Park. The
    event encouraged Muslims to be open about their faith
    and opinions. Before then, Bedier said, he had never
    thought about talking with the media and government

    "I didn't really know all my options and how effective
    I could be," he said.

    Today CAIR is involved in other initiatives, some

    truncated pl see link......

    Aafreen, thanks for posting this. This was refreshing article to read. I have a few thoughts on this topic...... not from 9/11/2001 but from the 1st attack on WTC. I just want to air some thoughts. You, as in readers, might or might not agree with. My opinions are based on the general behavior of the Musilms as I have observed where I live and around the nation........ most notably the away from the East Coast. Up to 9/11, CAIR was known for a very particular type activity but a different role/responsibility has been forced upon them, as they have described.

    The main role and mandate of CAIR has been and is the protection of Muslim civil liberties. Since 9/11, they have been made to carry the burden of explaining Islam to America. By CAIR's own admission, this is not a repsonsibility that they are really prepared for nor want to carry on. CAIR is stretched pretty thin. I am very grateful what CAIR is doing and I hope that they continue expand and prosper and grow to be force to be reckon with, an organization that can mobilize millions on an issue. Will that day ever come? I hope it does, insha-Allah.

    But today, in our communities, CAIR is not to be found. CAIR is not everywhere. They don't hear everything nor see everything. We do, where we live, or most of it. We all are feeling increasingly concerned by what's happening to us, collectively. Situations are only begun to get serious. More is in the pipeline. Muslims will need to start waking up and become willing to fight in their communities. This doesn't take much. What does CAIR does? Do the same in your own communities. Get involved and the sooner the better for you, for me and for our Muslim brethren for you will not raise your voice for yourself but to fight an injustice whther prepetrated by Muslims or non-Muslims. We don't have a choice as a Muslim.

    Doing what CAIR does can be done by anyone and everyone. Muslims voices are growing? There are 7,000,000 Muslims (6,000,000 by official count as I remember reading somewhere)..... a few thousand.... 10,000? 100,000? raised their protest when asked by CAIR. Is this enough? No by any yardstick.

    No, Muslims are largely silent. I just have to see what's happening in my community of over 100,000 Musilms. There is dead silence. But we take solace in decrying the attrocities being committed against us, the arrests, the deportations (not meaning of the illegals'), countless "disappearences" on account of secret evidence, the increasing widespread monitoring of Muslims via their use of phone, email, expenditures, lifestyles, etc. We take solace in discussing these issues in our parties and gatherings. We take solace in reading much about our declining conditions around the country. But only a few thousand are willing to rise up to task? Will we see a 1,000,000 Muslims begin to raise their voices? Can we learn from the Jew of similar numbers in the U.S. or the Indians with their much larger ratios of participations and become active as such? Will that day come? Maybe?

    CAIR is a good start. CAIR needs members. CAIR needs money. CAIR needs people who are committed to fighting injustices. Having said this, we can be the active in our daily lives where we live. We can not afford to leave home with our heads bowed and come back in the evening and check to see what issue CAIR is fighting somewhere else and not where we live.

    There are many opportunities to showcase Islam where we live....... and by this I don't mean the open Mosques. But do we have the time, the interest or the willingness to engage? The answer is all around you ....... outside of GS.