Coming soon to a mosque near you: Muslimedia, a forum that promises to offer "blunt debate about the way journalists cover Muslims at home and abroad." For the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which organizes the events with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the forum serves as an opportunity to deceive the press and attain legitimacy for its extremist worldview.
SPJ and CAIR make for strange bedfellows. While SPJ is concerned with defending freedom of speech and pursuing ethics in journalism, CAIR was designated as a terrorist entity by the United Arab Emirates in 2014. The FBI and Justice Department suspended contact with CAIR in 2008 because of the group's links to terrorism, and the Anti-Defamation League has labelled CAIR an anti-Semitic group with ties to terrorism.
Despite this dark past, CAIR has enjoyed the support of a naïve media long before SPJ's Muslimedia experiment. CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times are among the mainstream media outlets to regurgitate CAIR's deceptive press releases and publish their theological opinions in over 5,000 media references every year. Although the terror-tied Islamist group seems to have persuaded the media that it represents Muslim Americans, a 2011 Gallup poll shows that 88 percent of this population believes that CAIR fails to represent their interests.
Much of this distrust from moderate Muslims is likely due to CAIR's frequent support for some of the most hateful, homophobic, and misogynistic religious leaders in the country—some of whom will lead discussions at Muslimedia panels in three separate states.
CAIR-less reporting in Boca Raton
The premiere Muslimedia event was held at the Islamic Center of Boca Raton (ICBR). Citing "Islamophobia," event participants brought up a controversial decision by Florida election officials to preclude the ICBR mosque from serving as a polling station during the 2016 election. However, no one mentioned the mosque's long and troubling history of anti-Semitism, or how this hateful rhetoric may have dissuaded voters from visiting the ICBR mosque.
Locals were certainly troubled by ICBR's co-sponsorship of an anti-Israeli protest in 2000 where Muslim participants chanted, "With jihad we'll claim our land, Zionist blood will wet the sand." ICBR Imam Ibrahim Dremali was also on site to whip the crowd into a frenzy with a sermon on martyrdom.
An essay appearing on ICBR's website in October 1999 (only removed after September 11, 2001) concluded that, "There can be no harmony between Jews—who are usurpers and aggressors" and who have "taken organs from [Muslims] for transplant into Jewish patients..."
Muslimedia panelists failed to discuss how Florida Atlantic University Professor, ICBR founder and Muslimedia panelist Bassem Alhalabi once served as an assistant to Palestinian Islamic Jihad member and convicted terrorism financier Sami al-Arian. In fact, the Islamist guest speakers at the event also avoided talking about how current ICBR Imam Fathi Khalfi has railed against Shia Islam, calling its adherents "worse than Jews and Christians." Instead, discussions were limited to media coverage of the presidential election, and a debate about the accuracy of the term "Islamic terrorist."
A second Muslimedia conference, held at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City (ISGOC), strictly prohibited the participation of any non-Muslim with a background in Islam or Arab culture. University of Oklahoma SPJ adviser and panel moderator Judy Gibbs Robinson intentionally sought out journalists with "no special knowledge about Islam."
Multiple corroborating reports of extremism at the Oklahoma mosque began to emerge in 2014 when ISGOC congregant Jah'Keem Yisrael brutally beheaded a coworker after an argument about "stoning" women for crimes against Islam. He was heard shouting Islamic scriptural phrases moments before the decapitation. The Imam preaching from ISGOC at the time of Yisrael's attendance was also present at Oklahoma's Muslimedia as the lead panelist. CAIR advisor, Imam Imad Enchassi, spoke to "an intimate gathering of 29 people" about basic Islamic beliefs before showing them around the mosque grounds.
In talks with the media, Enchassi attempted to distance himself from extremism following Yisrael's crimes as reports began to emerge claiming that ISGOC was a sanctuary for radical Islam. In an interview with Fox News's Megyn Kelly, a Muslim convert using the pseudonym "Noor" explained his experience at ISGOC, relating how imams at the mosque taught congregants to "smite" the necks of unbelievers. Noor also revealed that Enchassi told congregants in 2011 that "the Israelis were trying to collapse the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by digging tunnels underneath it," and that he offered prayers for the holy warriors in Iraq waging war against U.S. troops.
In a letter appearing in Frontpage Mag, a convert to Islam and congregant of ISGOC described Enchassi as "a Lebanese-born Sunni who hates Israel" and has "no issue with Palestinian suicide bombings."
Trouble in Buffalo
Muzzammil Hassan would have been an ideal candidate to sit on the most recent Muslimedia panel held at the same mosque he was known to attend in Buffalo, New York. Hassan and his wife pioneered the founding of Bridges TV, a Muslim American television network whose mission statement coincided with the goal of SPJ's Muslimedia forum: to dispel negative stereotypes of Muslims commonly broadcasted by the mainstream media.
However, Hassan was unavailable -- he was jailed in 2011 for having stabbed his wife to death and removed her head with a hunting knife. Instead, the lead presenter at the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier (ISNF) Muslimedia was Hassan's close friend, University of Buffalo clinical professor and former president and ISNF chair Dr. Khalid J. Qazi. Qazi was very active with the press in the days following the beheading, insisting that it was Hassan's financial struggles and not his religious beliefs that compelled him to decapitate his wife.
Anyone familiar with Qazi's previous involvement with terror financing operations would object to his appearance as a representative of moderate Islam at an event meant to foster improved interfaith relations. In 2000, Qazi led fundraising efforts for the Global Relief Foundation, collecting money for an Islamic charity front that directly supported Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and other known terrorist groups before being shut down by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Before this, Qazi served as director of the Western New York chapter of the American Muslim Council (AMC), a group that enjoyed widespread recognition as a moderate, mainstream organization until its leader, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was charged with involvement in an Al Qaeda-linked plot to assassinate a Saudi Prince.
Finally, Qazi sat on the board of the Kashmiri American Council, a non-profit organization whose top leadership was charged with attempting to influence U.S. policy-makers on behalf of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. Despite these connections, Qazi has maintained a complimentary reputation with local media and law enforcement through the use of sophisticated PR campaigns like Muslimedia.
SPJ's code of ethics simply demands that its members, "Seek truth and report it." The truth is that CAIR is far too radical to speak for moderate Muslims. Yet, by partnering with this subversive Islamist group and sponsoring talks at some of the most secretive and radical mosques in the country, SPJ succeeds only in amplifying some of Islam's most militant voices -- to the detriment of ordinary Muslim Americans.
Benjamin Baird is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He is a graduate of Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University and a U.S. Army infantry veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan