Thoughts on the Council on American Islamic Relations

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The word “relations” means a connection between individuals, peoples, countries or organizations, i.e. between two distinct entities.

The name CAIR implies that the two entities in question are America and Islam.

1.       America: the government and people of the United States of America.

2.       Islam: the religion.

This creates a distinction between, on the one hand, non-Muslim Americans and on the other, American Muslims.

In other words, CAIR considers that American Muslims are a discrete set, or a subset of the set of all Americans. Otherwise, there would be no need for an organization whose mission is to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

It is also a one-way street. There is no mention of enhancing the understanding of America by immigrants from Islamic countries and teaching them that they must abide by secular American laws rather than sharia or the injunctions of the Koran.

CAIR therefore considers that American Muslims are a distinct set (or subset) by virtue of the fact that they are followers of Islam. But no such organization exists for other religions. There is no “Council on American Jewish Relations,” “Council on American Hindu Relations” or “Council on American Buddhist Relations.”

This must be because people of these religions do not find the practice of their beliefs conflicts with that of their fellow citizens of other religions, or of no religion; that they keep their private devotional life separate from public life and that they do not demand special treatment in the workplace.

CAIR is therefore a sectarian organization insofar as its constituency is confined to followers of one religion. The relations it concerns itself with are multifarious: relations between American Muslims and non-American Muslims resident in the USA and employers, schools and state and federal government.

It also campaigns against critics of Islam and as such reveals itself to be a religious advocacy group opposed to freedom of speech. There is no equivalent group for other religions.

CAIR claims to be a civil rights movement, yet civil rights apply to all citizens irrespective of religion. If, as CAIR claims, American Muslims are victims of discrimination in the workplace, the discrimination is a violation of their rights as Americans, not as Muslims. As Americans they can seek redress at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

A second interpretation of CAIR would be that it is concerned with relations between America and Islam. But America has no relations with other organizations claiming to represent a religion.

America does have relations with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dalai Lama, but they are official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and Tibetan Buddhism and they do not interfere in legal matters within the USA. Islam has no equivalent to these religious leaders; if it did, one may suppose that America would have relations with him.

As well as being sectarian, CAIR is also a partisan organization within the set (or subset) of American Muslims, since it systematically vilifies as “Islamophobic” those American Muslims who do not subscribe to its positions, such as Zuhdi Jasser, an American Muslim who does not demand special treatment.

CAIR would be better advised to educate people arriving from Islamic countries so that they fully embrace the culture of the host country, which is secular, materialist, hedonist, pluralist and tolerant of fellow-citizens no matter what their political or sexual orientations are. Above all, they must embrace the notion of free speech as enshrined in the First Amendment, including the freedom to mock Islam.


Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).

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Leslie Shaw

Leslie Shaw is an associate professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and president of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).