Pretending to speak for an entire culture
By Frank Salvato
web posted November 2, 2009
One of the things that brings me to the boiling point is when I hear elected officials tell me what "Americans want" or what "Americans think." To believe that today's federally elected politicians understand – or care – what their constituents want, never mind Americans on the whole, after they belittled town hall attendees and ignored the citizenry's opposition to government-run healthcare is to exist in fantasyland. No, federally elected politicians (and in many cases local politicians, as well) only invoke the wants and thoughts of "Americans" when they want to bolster their political positions and those have more to do with special interest groups and ideology than what Americans really think and want.
How many times have you heard Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, President Obama or any number of their surrogates – and to be fair and honest, it does happen on both sides of the aisle – begin a sentence with, "What Americans really want..." or "The Average American thinks that..." It is an insult to the intelligence of the citizenry, no matter how dumbed-down the American populace has become.
Another facet to this intellectual arrogance is when an elected official or public figure uses a "broad brush" to address an entire group or demographic, regardless of whether it is favorably or unfavorably.
One example of this simplistic arrogance was illustrated on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, when the tired sportscaster-turned-propagandist, Olbermann, provided a platform for the marginally-talented Janeane Garofalo to say of Tea Party attendees:
"It's not about bashing Democrats. It's not about taxes; they have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about. They don't know their history at all. This is about hating a Black man in the White House. This is racism, straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks and there is no way around that."
To Garofalo and Olbermann, anyone who attended one of the thousands of Tea Parties around the country was a "tea-bagging redneck," each and every one of them. Not one of them every studied history and every attendee was a racist. This is an example of painting an entire demographic with a "broad brush" in an unfavorable manner.
Another event that provided examples of painting with a broad brush and speaking for entire demographics happened in September in the Phoenix-Mesa Arizona area when US Rep. Keith Ellison (P-MN) – I designate the "P" for Progressive as all members of the Progressive Caucus are Democrats – spoke at a fundraiser for the Arizona chapter of CAIR, the Council for American Islamic Relations.
After announcing that he would indeed speak at the fundraiser for CAIR, three federally elected officials from Arizona – US Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), US Rep. John Shadegg and US Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), wrote a letter urging Congressman Ellison – the only declared Muslim in Congress – to reconsider associating with CAIR and to cancel his appearance. The Republican legislators cited the fact that CAIR has questionable ties to the terror group Hamas as established by evidence submitted in the recent Holy Land Foundation trial in which CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator. Further, there have been several high-ranking CAIR operatives who have been either indicted or convicted of having transgressed the law:
- Randall Todd Royer, who has served as a communications specialist and as a civil rights coordinator for CAIR, was charged with a variety of firearms violations and attempting to mount a military attack against a friendly nation, India, after he trained with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Kashmir terrorist group that is listed on the State Departments international terror list, linked with al-Qaida.
- Bassem Khafagi, who served as community affairs director of the CAIR, was accused of having ties to terrorism and was sentenced after pleading guilty to bank and visa fraud.
- Siraj Wahhaj, CAIR Advisory Board member, was named by federal prosecutors as one of the "unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators" in a plot to blow up monuments in New York City.
So, as we can see, the questions surrounding CAIR, their activities and their high-ranking members are certainly valid and anyone – especially a federally elected official – would be wise to think long and hard about associating with a group that apologizes for and includes Islamic extremists.
But Ellison, a convert to Islam, chose to attend the event, ignoring the requests from his fellow legislators. In fact, he addressed the issue before taking the podium to celebrate Pres. Obama's "fresh start in relations with Islamic countries," as reported by Jim Walsh of The Arizona Republic:
"'I would never associate myself with anyone even soft on terrorism,' he said before the speech. 'We all want to fight terror. We all want to live in a safe community.'
"The fears Kyl, Franks and Shadegg expressed in the letter are 'ridiculous,' he said.
"If there is any truth to the allegations that CAIR supports the Palestinian terrorist organization, Ellison said, there should be arrests and prosecutions."
In responding to the accusations leveled against CAIR, Ellison uses the collective "we" indicating that he was speaking for the whole of the Muslim community. Again, this is using a "broad brush" to address the issues of CAIR, the organization, and the actions of its operatives. The facts, as they present, certainly indicate that CAIR is conflicted, both in its organizational loyalties and with regard to who it chooses to lead the group.
Mr. Ellison's response was championed by Asim Ameer in another article in The Arizona Republic (which has since been removed) in which Mr. Ameer states:
"To label CAIR an 'unindicted co-conspirator' and as a 'front group for terrorism' without any evidence is ludicrous...The US is a land of laws. Baseless charges by enemies of American Muslims create hatred and incite violence towards them. The people who are making these charges should back them up with incontrovertible proof. Name-calling by biased members of Congress is just mudslinging that is unbecoming of them."
Evidenced by what I have pointed out earlier about CAIR's legal and prosecutorial woes, we can see that Mr. Ameer not only painted with a "broad brush," but did so disingenuously.
These irresponsible actions, declarations and writings by Mr. Ellison and Mr. Ameer prompted a brave and necessary response from one of the founders of the Moderate Muslim Summit, Mr. Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria. The summit was recently hosted by US Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC):
"I was concerned by statements made in two pieces published in The Arizona Republic, one article by Jim Walsh under the title 'US Rep. Meets Group Accused of Terror Ties' on September 19, and a piece by Asim Ameer titled 'Lawmakers Show Bias, Create Hatred,' published on September 26.
"With all due respects, Rep Keith Ellison (D-MN) doesn't represent the Muslim American community in the US Congress just because, as Mr. Walsh introduced him, he is 'the only Muslim in Congress.'
"Ellison was elected in his district in Minnesota by American citizens from all creeds. Lawmakers' religions don't give them a special privilege to hijack the representation of an entire religious community of over 3 million individuals. He neither represents my community nationwide in Congress nor does he even represent the entire spectrum of opinions inside this community. His view about the so-called 'fresh start in relations with Islamic countries under President Barack Obama's administration' doesn't represent the views of those Muslim-Americans who criticize cutting deals with Syrian, Saudi, Libyan and Iranian regimes.
"Mr. Ellison meddled in intra-Muslim American politics by defending CAIR against charges by other Muslims that some of its members were involved in terrorism. Mr. Ellison must refrain from supporting organizations receiving financial support from regimes abusing human rights of millions of Muslims. It goes against everything this country stands for.
"Mr. Asim Ameer attacked three esteemed legislators whose concerns reflect the feelings of many Muslim Americans. He claimed 'CAIR consistently criticized terrorist attacks by individuals, organizations and countries.' I never read any statement by this group condemning al-Qaida, the Taliban and Hezbollah. Worse, he claimed, CAIR 'has a history of assisting the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies,' a matter that endangers our national security as Americans because of the groups links to Terror organizations.
"American Muslims have had enough of being hijacked by Jihadist ideologues."
Pres. Obama, as he traveled down the campaign path to the White House, was correct about one thing: Words do matter. When we are addressing issues as deadly serious as radical Islam, terrorism and the funding of terrorist organizations, words matter. So do deeds. The actions of CAIR and its operatives lend credence to the notion that they should be held suspect when it comes to their motives and goals. To hide behind the moniker of "advocate for the American-Muslim community" when their high-ranking officials are engaged in nefarious deeds is not only disingenuous, it is deceptive.
Mr. Ameer and Mr. Ellison, according to the facts of the matter – as they present – are either ill-informed, naïve or sympathetic to CAIR's ulterior motives. Given the facts – as they present – Mr. Ellison would be wise to speak for himself, instead of the whole of the American-Muslim community, especially as the introspective debate about how Muslims and non-Muslims will co-exist in American culture is taking place.
Frank Salvato is the Executive Director and Director of Terrorism Research for BasicsProject.org a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and education initiative. His writing has been recognized by the US House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention. His organization, BasicsProject.org, partnered in producing the original national symposium series addressing the root causes of radical Islamist terrorism. He is a member of the International Analyst Network. He also serves as the managing editor for The New Media Journal. Mr. Salvato has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News Channel, and is a regular guest on talk radio including on The Captain's America Radio Show airing on AM1220 WSRQ and on the Internet catering to the US Armed Forces around the world and on The Roth Show with Dr. Laurie Roth syndicated nationally on the USA Radio Network. His opinion-editorials have been published by The American Enterprise Institute, The Washington Times & Human Events and are syndicated nationally. He is occasionally quoted in The Federalist. Mr. Salvato is available for public speaking engagements. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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