Shortly after 9/11, I gave an interview to Eric Boehlert of Salon.com. Titled "Islamism is fascism," I was asked about a verbal attack by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on me, and I replied that "CAIR realizes that the obscurity in which it toiled before Sept. 11 has now ended, and the sort of activities it engaged in and could get away with then [has ended]."
Asked about this comment today, nearly five years later, the head of CAIR's Los Angeles office, Hussam Ayloush, wrote in an e-mail to a correspondent:
Since that ridiculous claim by Pipes, CAIR has grown by manifold. Our chapters have grown from 10 or 11 to 33. Our staff has grown from about 15 to over 65. As for our budget, it has grown from under $1 million to over $5 million. More important, CAIR is today the most mainstream and trusted Islamic organization in America. It is a partner to the nation's PD's, Sheriff Departments, and FBI. It works closely with hundreds of members of Congress and State Assembly. Candidates from all parties compete to meet with CAIR members and to attend CAIR activities.
If anything, Pipes has helped the Muslim community realize the importance of having CAIR. In a way, CAIR and the Muslim community owe Pipes a thank you for helping us organize and grow. May be one day I should send him a thank you card and a dinner on me.
I actually think Ayloush is serious here, and that he and his organization do see themselves benefiting from using me (and Steven Emerson) as aides to whip up their constituency.
Evidence for this conclusion comes from a series of incidents. First, on August 14, 1999, CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper published an attack on me in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. At that point, I had never mentioned CAIR publicly but with this assault, he initiated a verbal war that has continued to the present.
Second, on April 12, 2002, Hooper and I met for our one and only encounter at a roundtable sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. After the public session, I offered him a deal in the hallway: pull down your attacks on me and desist in the future, and I will do likewise. Hooper declined.
Third, CAIR tried to prevent my 2002 book, Militant Islam Reaches America, from being published by sending a threatening letter to the publisher, W.W. Norton.
Fourth, in 2003 it saw advantage in trying to obstruct my nomination to the U.S. Institute of Peace – a quite nominal appointment by the president.
In these and other ways, CAIR has positioned itself in opposition to myself, suggesting it sees this as advantageous for institution building. But there are two flaws with this approach.
Yes, it has grown in chapters, income, and stature as Ayloush boasts; and yes, the scrutiny I expected five years ago has never quite come about. But my November 2001 comment was correct to the extent that as CAIR has shed its former obscurity, it became the object of political anger, popular resentment, and perhaps legal inquiry. If I were in Ayloush's position, I would be far less sanguine than he is about his organization's future.
More profoundly, CAIR is doing lasting harm to Muslim interests in the United States by vilifying me, who says that the Koran is what Muslims make of it, that Islam can be reformed, and that moderate Islam is the antidote to radical Islam. For beyond me, the polling data agrees, lies an ever-strengthening contingent of analysts, voters, and politicians who argue that the Koran is a hate document, that Islam cannot change, and that the religion is inherently evil.
So, really, CAIR does owe me a thank-you, not for helping it grow but for insisting that a form of Islam – not its kind, to be sure, but a moderate, modern, and good-neighborly version – can fit into the United States. (September 30, 2006)