I am sometimes asked to characterize the difference between the two leading American Islamist organizations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. While they agree on many issues – impeding counterterrorism efforts and forwarding an Islamist vision of America in particular – they also differ in some ways.
- General outlook: MPAC portrays itself as "moderate," a self-definition that presumably has never crossed CAIR's collective mind;
- Aggressiveness: CAIR is the attack-dog, MPAC follows.
- Funding: CAIR takes large amounts of money from at least one foreign state, something that MPAC disavows in its boilerplate fundraising appeal ("As a matter of policy, MPAC DOES NOT accept any funding from foreign governments").
- Geography: CAIR, being headquartered on New Jersey Avenue in Washington, D.C., is more relentlessly political than MPAC, headquartered on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
- On message: CAIR's staff might make careless statements but less so than its MPAC counterparts. One example of the latter's indiscretion: Ahmed Younis, MPAC's national director, stated in July 2002, about the then-attorney general: "I am a person who believes that if Thomas Jefferson or Madison or the like were alive today, they would go to John Ashcroft's house and just shoot him."
But the current crisis in Darfur brings out what is perhaps the key difference. Unlike the many cases around the world of Muslim violence against non-Muslims – what Samuel Huntington has so evocatively dubbed "the bloody borders of Islam" – this one involves Muslims only (or, to complete Huntington's quote, "and so are its innards"). That is to say, both the aggressor (the "Janjaweed" militia sponsored by the government of Sudan) and the victims (the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa of Darfur) adhere to the Islamic religion.
MPAC responded yesterday by issuing a press release, "Humanitarian Crisis in the Sudan," that decries that "the perpetrator of this crime is indirectly the Sudanese government" and calls on the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference "publicly and loudly" to condemn the violence in Darfur and call for a war-crimes tribunal. It also asks Americans "to write to the Embassy of Sudan, expressing concern about this terrible humanitarian catastrophe."
In contrast, CAIR has stayed mum about the whole Darfur matter. When buttonholed by a reporter, its spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, tersely replied "We don't have enough knowledge of the situation to make judgments."
The two organizations can be compared to the PLO and Hamas. Their goals are roughly the same (the destruction of Israel) but the former says what's needed to gain Israeli or American concessions, while the latter sticks to its principles. In like fashion, MPAC says what's necessary while CAIR (not coincidentally, a step-child of Hamas) sticks closer to its principles.
In brief, MPAC takes a public stance of wishing to protect ordinary Muslims from the Islamist furies; CAIR does not. As ever, CAIR is consistently more radical. (July 21, 2004)
Aug. 3, 2004 update: The spin doctors at CAIR apparently figured that saying "We don't have enough knowledge of the situation to make judgments" is not an ideal response when everyone else in Washington does know enough to make judgments. So CAIR issued a press release today announcing it signed a statement demanding the government of Sudan to "stop population displacement and end crimes against humanity." Ibrahim Hooper also changed his tune, now saying that "It is important that Americans of all faiths first understand the misery felt by the people of Darfur and then act to help alleviate their suffering." I am proud to have done my part in shaming CAIR to improve its ways.
July 15, 2005 update: Robert Spencer skewers MPAC for its pretend-moderation in a major piece today, "MPAC Condemns Terror."
Dec. 8, 2005 update: A difference today makes clear why MPAC is ultimately the more dangerous organization, even if it is less well funded, less connected, and less in the public eye. Hours after news that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, raised doubts about the Holocaust and demanded the Jewish state be moved to Europe, MPAC issued a press release, "MPAC Rebukes Iranian President's Comments" in which it "denounced" Ahmadinejad's statements and called these "reprehensible in their attempt to deny history." For an organization eager to win legitimacy, this is a smart step. In contrast, CAIR was mum.
Apr. 2, 2007 update: MPAC develops an "Intra-Faith Code of Honor" among Muslims and CAIR merely signs on to it.