The killing by an Islamist group in early May of Nick Berg, an American civilian working in Iraq, was so barbarous that it put the heat even on American Islamists. In response, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a petition called "Not in the Name of Islam," by which it hoped to "disassociate the faith of Islam from the violent acts of a few Muslims."
On the surface, this statement "against terrorism" appears impressive: "We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent.
"No injustice done to Muslims," it goes on, "can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam. We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts. We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."
A Koranic passage (4:135) then follows to establish that this is not just CAIR's viewpoint: "Oh you who believe, stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Do not follow any passion, lest you not be just. And if you distort or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do."
The chairman of CAIR's board, Omar Ahmad, whose idea this petition was, expressed his hope that it "will demonstrate once and for all that Muslims in America and throughout the Islamic world reject violence committed in the name of Islam."
The petition indeed won CAIR a fistful of kudos. Among others, the Associated Press, United Press International, Religion News Service, Washington Post, and Philadelphia Inquirer wrote admiringly of it. I found not a single skeptical word on the topic.
But a close look finds this petition lacking in several ways.
CAIR vaguely condemns "terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam" but a genuine condemnation would name names and cite incidents. This is crucial because CAIR has shown, for example, that Islamist suicide bombings against Russians, Israelis, and Indians do not fit its definition of terrorism.
CAIR is silent in this text about supporting counterterrorism efforts, and for good reason. It consistently opposes both the means (such as the Patriot Act, special registration for foreign visitors) and ends of counterterrorism (the arrest of Sami Al-Arian, conviction of the Buffalo Seven, seizure of Holy Land Foundation assets).
The Koranic passage CAIR quotes about "stand up firmly for justice" is not about issuing press releases or signing petitions. "Standing up for justice should mean taking real action." Stephen Schwartz, a Sufi, tells me. "In today's situation, that translates into identifying and helping arrest Muslim evildoers by driving them from the community; outlining a straight path of moderation; and making clear one's loyalty to America."
A petition is a "solemn supplication or request to a superior authority," so the obvious question arises: to whom is this CAIR "petition" addressed? Nobody – it is just an abstract statement. It might carry some weight were it addressed to Hamas, Al-Qaeda, or the extremists in Iraq. Addressed to no one, it amounts to just another CAIR bleating about being "against terrorism."
CAIR claims over 650,000 signatures, but following its usual unaccountable ways, it makes no names available for public inspection. This practice is particularly suspect at a time when websites such as www.petitiononline.com have made it possible to see and count each name on a petition. Until CAIR makes the 650,000 names available, this figure should not be accepted.
In conclusion, "Not in the Name of Islam" seeks to clean up Islam's image without doing anything of substance. It manages to do two things at once: impress naïve Westerners without upsetting anyone in Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Iraqi Islamist organizations, or other violent groups. In this, the petition initiative fits CAIR's well-established pattern of obfuscation and insincerity.