In preparation for this year's nationwide census, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order in September 2018 establishing the "Census 2020 Complete Count Commission," an appointed body of commissioners, government officials, and community stakeholders tasked with ensuring that the commonwealth receives a full and accurate count of all its citizens.
Seeking to be all-inclusive, Governor Wolf selected over 40 organizations covering a wide spectrum of Pennsylvania's population to assist in public outreach and education.
One of these groups, however, does not speak on behalf of the people it purports to represent; the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-PA, is an Islamist organization with documented ties to foreign terrorist groups.
Reaching hard-to-count communities during the decennial census is crucial for all Pennsylvanians, since the final count will determine federal program funding, local redistricting, and the reapportionment of congressional seats. The U.S. Census Bureau is depending upon some 300,000 local and regional partners to carry out this imposing task.
Yet, it is unclear how CAIR-PA will fit into this operation after the Census Bureau terminated its consultation with the group's national branch following a public backlash stemming from CAIR's troubling history. If CAIR is deemed too extreme for the federal Census Bureau, shouldn't it be deemed too extreme for Pennsylvania's Complete Count Commission?
Nevertheless, it is understandable why Governor Wolf selected CAIR-PA to join the commission; with strong name recognition and media presence, CAIR promotes itself as a benign Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. However, CAIR enjoys little support among many Muslims living in America, and moderate groups such as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and American Islamic Congress have questioned CAIR's Islamist roots and its attempts to speak for average Muslim Americans. Indeed, a 2011 Gallup poll demonstrated how less than 12 percent of Muslim Americans chose CAIR from a short list of Islamic organizations as being representative of their values.
According to the Washington Times, CAIR's membership in 2006 was a meager 1,700, a minuscule fraction of the estimated 5 million Muslims living in the U.S. CAIR's latest reported online tax form shows zero membership revenue, and the nonprofit does not appear to seek new members, although foreign donations are prominently solicited.
In 2009, around 50 Minneapolis residents of Somalian descent protested CAIR for discouraging cooperation with the FBI, which was investigating the disappearance of dozens of Somali men and teenage boys suspected of joining the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. In 2011, CAIR-California came under heavy criticism for displaying an image reading "Build a wall of resistance—don't talk to the FBI!"
Whomever CAIR is representing, it certainly does not seem to be the broader American Muslim community. Indeed, CAIR's problematic origins may explain why most Muslims shun the self-described civil rights organization.
The nonprofit's beginnings can be traced to a 1993 meeting of Sunni Islamists at the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia. FBI wiretaps from this and other secret meetings demonstrated how CAIR's future leaders, then part of a Hamas propaganda wing called the Islamic Association of Palestine, discussed the need to start an Islamist organization that could disguise its loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, a designated terrorist group.
CAIR was connected to the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity convicted in 2008 of funneling $12.4M to support Hamas. During this trial, prosecutors identified CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator, and a federal judge later upheld this designation by ruling that there was "ample evidence" tying CAIR to Hamas.
Numerous government agencies have blacklisted CAIR because of its controversial past. The FBI and other state police departments severed relations with CAIR in 2008, and the United Arab Emirates designated CAIR in 2014 as a terrorist organization.
In 2019, the Arkansas state legislature passed a resolution urging law enforcement to cut ties with CAIR, and a Minnesota hate crimes panel was cancelled in September because of CAIR's participation.
Governor Wolf has plenty of peaceful and moderate groups to consider from Pennsylvania's rich and diverse Muslim community as an alternative to CAIR. For instance, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has held its national convention in Harrisburg for at least the past decade. Known locally as the "peace Muslims," Ahmadiyya Muslims belong to an historically persecuted Islamic sect which disavows violent jihad and is committed to global peace.
Despite their good intensions – or perhaps because of them -- Ahmadis face criticism and violence from U.S. Islamists, including CAIR. Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR's Florida branch, endorsed an international network dedicated to inciting violence against Ahmadiyya Muslims.
How can CAIR foster trust and build confidence among the Muslim communities when its co-religionists are inherently suspicious of its radical beliefs? Likewise, how can CAIR work as a local liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau when it has been banned?
By working with CAIR-PA, Governor Wolf is legitimizing an extremist organization with overseas connections to violent jihadist groups. CAIR's presence on the commission threatens to discourage Pennsylvania Muslims and other isolated communities from participating in the census.
Pennsylvania residents who are disturbed by CAIR's participation can make a difference. Click Here! to send pre-written letters to your Pennsylvania state legislators and to the governor's office asking them to work together to remove and replace CAIR from the Complete Count Commission.
If Governor Wolf is truly interested in "counting everyone," he should follow the federal government's lead by severing its ties with CAIR and choosing a group more representative of Pennsylvania's peaceful Muslim community.
Leonard Getz, CPA, is the Philadelphia Research Fellow at the Counter-Islamist Grid, a project of the Middle East Forum, and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in American Thinker, the Algemeiner, PJMedia, the Clarion, the Daily Wire, Lifestyles Magazine, Nostalgia Magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Jewish Exponent, and Lock Haven Express. He is the author of the book From Broadway to the Bowery.