The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wants to censor discussion of links between Islamic doctrine and terrorism at Arizona's Scottsdale Community College (SCC).
A lawsuit filed June 2 in Arizona federal court seeks an injunction against the Maricopa Community College District, which SCC is part of, and Professor Nicholas Damask to block use of course materials deemed to "have the primary effect of disapproving of Islam."
MCC and Damask, the lawsuit claims, violated student Mohamed Sabra's civil rights when Damask – chairman of the school's political science department – linked Islamic doctrine and terrorism. The class was about world politics, and included a section on Islamic terrorism.
Three questions on a quiz in Damask's online class drew Sabra's ire:
· Q. Who do terrorists strive to emulate? A. Mohammed
· Q. Where is terrorism encouraged in Islamic doctrine and law? A. The Medina verses [i.e., the portion of the Qur'an traditionally understood as having been revealed later in Muhammad's prophetic career]
· Q. Terrorism is _______ in Islam. A. justified within the context of jihad.
"The only objectively reasonable construction of Damask's actions is that his primary message is the disapproval of Islam," the lawsuit reads. "Damask's module quiz forced Sabra to agree to his radical interpretation of Islam. When Sabra did not, he was penalized by getting the questions wrong and impacted his grade."
Sabra told Damask the quiz offended him and his religion. Damask responded in two emails, saying the quiz questions came from the course reading materials. Sabra then posted a screenshot of the quiz to social media, which resulted in death threats against Damask and the school.
To add insult to injury, school officials asked him to apologize, but the MCC district that oversees Scottsdale Community College – where Damask works, as well as nine other community colleges near Phoenix – defended his academic freedom and they backed down.
"This is America, not Pakistan," Damask said. "There is academic freedom here."
Kathleen Winn, a defender on the MCC board, argued that the suit is an assault on his academic freedom.
"The College has protocols if a student has a complaint," said District Governing Board member Kathleen Winn, speaking for herself, told the Arizona Independent News Network. "This student didn't file a formal complaint. Professor Damask's academic freedom is protected. I hope CAIR is not using this student to forward their agenda without regard for the student's interests, freedom of speech, and academic freedom."
CAIR is intent on dictating the content of his course and keeping the good, the bad and the ugly about Islam from being discussed in class, Damask said.
CAIR's Arizona chapter sent out a fundraising solicitation off the lawsuit last Friday. It claims that Damask's class threatens Muslim lives.
The solicitation also links to a form letter to the MCC district for supporters to sign. "We cannot sit by and allow the forces of hate to permeate our education system," it says. "As we highlighted earlier: Islamophobia kills. Anti-Semitism kills. Anti-Blackness kills. All forms of bigotry result in violence against marginalized communities."
Ironically, CAIR invokes "academic freedom" when it suits its purposes, such as defending academics who participate in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS seeks to delegitimize Israel with a regime of boycotts, financial divestments and sanctions.
"They want to make it absolutely impossible for the West to connect forms of Islam to our strategy [against terrorism]," said Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). "First of all, it's a bit rich for the Islamists to endorse and push the establishment of their religion when they're a majority, [and here they] are wrapping themselves in the very thing that's the treatment against political Islam, which is our Establishment Clause.
"It's absurd to say that these questions apply to all Muslims."
CAIR has long fought to sanitize educational texts of considers derogatory against Islam. It entered into a formal partnership in 2010 with the 57-nation global Organization of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) to "redress the image of Islam and Muslims in textbooks." Like CAIR, the OIC condemns connecting Islamic doctrine and terrorism in the minds of Westerners as "unfair," saying it has "created an unfair misinterpretation of the Islamic message in the Western and Non Muslim worlds."
"Education and engagement are key to challenging the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia," CAIR co-founder and Executive Director Nihad Awad said at the 2010 OIC conference.
CAIR took issue with Damask's use of Walid Phares' book, Future Jihad, calling Phares an "Islamophobe" who supports anti-Islam ideologies, an accusation that Phares rejects.
"Within this mandatory reading assignment," the lawsuit says, "Phares explains that jihad is not a 'spiritual phenomenon that would be and was abused by extremist ideologies,' but rather a call for physical action. Damask failed to articulate that other more acceptable, and in fact 'mainstream' views of jihad have nothing to do with violence, but instead he improperly urged students to accept his personal opinions."
CAIR's assault is hypocritical, Phares told the Investigative Project on Terrorism, considering that several groups and individuals that it endorses promote the very ideas that it's seeking to censor at the community college.
"The Brotherhood scholars read terrorism differently than the U.S.," Phares said. "Always limit the reading of Islam to the Brotherhood reading because there are multiple readings of Islam.
"The Brotherhood and CAIR [are] trying to impose a vision of their own on all Muslims in America."
CAIR was created out of a Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Hamas-support network in the United States, internal documents seized by the FBI show. Awad was a part of that network, known as the Palestine Committee.
The OIC, meanwhile, has justified Palestinian suicide attacks and other forms of terrorism saying they are acts of resistance. OIC representatives decided in 2002 that Hamas and similar groups weren't terrorists.
Qaradawi, one of the most popular Islamist preachers in the world, rejects defining jihad as purely spiritual.
"As for the first unacceptable meaning, it is to diminish Jihad in the Way of Allah, and play down its status and virtues in Islam, and its necessity in defending the being of the Ummah (Muslim nation) and its holy sites, if attacked by aggressors and affected by arrogant tyrants," Qaradawi wrote in 2016.
The lawsuit alleges that Damask "intentionally distort[ed]" the Quran and Hadiths (stories about Muhammad's sayings and actions) to "support his gross misinterpretations of 'the alleged theological mandate for jihad.'"
This alleged distortion includes Damask teaching that the Quran advocates the "establishment of Islam through violent struggle against non-Muslims."
Damask points to Surah 4:95 as a justification for terror, the lawsuit says. Classical Quranic commentaries note that this verse implies that "the person who fails to fight can only be a hypocrite, and God holds out no good promise for such a person unless there is good reason, for example, genuine disability."
"I'm informing my students that Islamic terrorist groups cite these and other similar Medina verses that permit or advocate violence to justify their actions and motivate others to join them," Damask said.
"There's a literal mountain of Islamic terror literature, manuscripts, newspaper articles, videos, social media postings, etc. that make these sorts of references," he continued. "CAIR is insisting that I hide from my students these references to Islamic law and doctrine made by the terror groups."