So far this year, the regional branches of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have held several annual fundraising banquets — each touting the uplifting theme, "Living our Faith, Defending Our Freedom." While these fundraisers seem innocuous at first glance, CAIR's latest two banquets — on April 7 (by CAIR-Oklahoma) and April 21 (CAIR-Cleveland) — continued a long line of such events which reveal CAIR's underlying extremist ideology. They have all featured radical Islamists speaking alongside well-meaning non-Muslim activists brought in to sanitize the host's extremism.
At CAIR Oklahoma's banquet, two avowedly progressive Christian civil rights advocates — Rev. Lori Walke and comedian Jeremy McLellan — joined CAIR Florida director Hassan Shibly and the extremist cleric Suhaib Webb. Walke and McLellan are activists who focus on social justice and LGBT rights. Given their declared commitment to egalitarianism and interfaith relations, it's surprising that Walke and McLellan should choose to share the stage with Islamists such as Shibly and Webb, or to appear publicly on behalf CAIR in the first place, which has a long history of giving platforms to such hate preachers.
Is it possible that Walke and McLellan — despite their deep involvement in LGBT issues — are not familiar with the anti-LGBT record of many of CAIR's chosen Islamists? Perhaps Walke and McLellan are unaware that Hassan Shibly, for instance, once opined, "Alcahol [sic], Pre-Marital Sex, Homosexuality, worshipping a Human are all evils… [P]re-Marital Sex and Homosexuality are quick ways to earn God's wrath."
Maybe Walke and McLellan never heard that Suhaib Webb (a CAIR favorite) posted on his own website that homosexuality is an "evil inclination," and once told a homosexual would-be convert to Islam to seek treatment for his "problems."
Or perhaps Walke and McLellan don't know that another frequent speaker at CAIR fundraisers, Siraj Wahhaj, famously threatened to burn down a proposed LGBT-friendly mosque in Toronto in 1992; or that Omar Suleiman, who has recorded numerous promotional videos for CAIR, has called homosexuality a "disease" and a "repugnant, shameless sin."
Then again, maybe Walke and McLellan are familiar with such examples of bigotry but have been misled by CAIR's efforts to sanitize its image when the cameras are rolling. When terrorist Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, CAIR executive director Nihad Awad called for solidarity with "all communities who are the victims of violence and persecution in our country" and Hassan Shibly himself declared his "overwhelming love and support and unity" for the LGBT community. Maybe such lip service to the LGBT community was enough to convince Walke and McLellan of CAIR's good intentions — despite its long record of connections with homophobes.
Similarly, it appears that CAIR's efforts to present as an interfaith dialogue group have convinced Walke and McLellan that CAIR cares about other religious minorities beyond its own. While CAIR has worked with the progressive Christian community, lobbying state legislature to ensure that chaplaincy programs include Muslim imams, and holding interfaith services, it has also refused — time and time again — to condemn hate speech against minorities. CAIR's own Hassan Shibly endorsed an extremist group that advocates putting the minority Muslim sect, the Ahmadis, to death for their "apostasy." CAIR never answered a call to condemn Shibly's comments, and he remains employed as head of its Florida chapter.
If CAIR's duplicitous behavior on LGBT and interfaith activism is not enough to convince Walke and McLellan of CAIR's true disregard for the communities about which Walke and McLellan care most, then perhaps they'll accept the words straight from the horse's mouth. CAIR founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad once described CAIR's methodology in action — tailoring its messaging to appeal to Americans while hiding its true intent: "What is important is that the language of the address is there even for the American. But, the issue is how to use it…Address people according to their minds. When I speak with the American, I speak with someone who doesn't know anything…"
Walke and McLellan must understand that CAIR is not an organization to celebrate. Its behavior directly contradicts the ideals of progressive Christianity. It's time for well-meaning activists such as Lori Walke and Jeremy McLellan to abandon their sanction of Islamists and seek out truly moderate Muslims for partnership instead.
Nicci Thomson is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.