Is it possible for Muslim Americans to criticize our administration’s neoconservative foreign policies, our government’s complicit role in Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinians, or our domestic breaches of civil liberties, and not be branded as “apologists for terror”?

That is the key question at the heart of last March’s controversy in our nation’s capital pitting the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) against some in the GOP – a question that every columnist and talk show pundit commenting on the spat was careful not to consider.

Since 9/11, anti-Muslim hysteria has evolved from a collective knee-jerk reaction to a premeditated and coordinated cottage industry patronized by an agenda-driven elite who seek political and sometimes financial gain.

In the resulting hostile climate, “suspicion” of Muslims – not evidence of wrong doing – is apparently cause enough to demand that we be stripped of our right to speak freely on our nation’s beacon of democracy and pluralism, Capitol Hill.

Such was the demand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by members of the GOP after it was “revealed” that CAIR would host an educational panel on the findings of a BBC/PIPA poll on international public opinion, delivered by the D.C. director of PIPA who is also a professor at the University of Maryland.

Sound the alarm.

While there has been a lot of media buzz about the controversy, one obvious question has yet to be asked: what is an “apologist for terror”?

This loaded designation, leveled at CAIR by some in the GOP at the behest of no more than an amateur blogger from Florida, is designed to withstand quantification, or any form of objective assessment, and therefore be beyond contention.

If CAIR’s consistent condemnations of acts of terrorism and coordination of a national fatwa against all forms of terrorism and religious extremism is not enough to debunk that subjective designation, then what is? Is endorsing the hawkish policies of this administration or the oppressive treatment of the Palestinians by the state of Israel the only option for political redemption?

Besides the ethical concerns that the malign-and-marginalize political tactic raises, I am deeply concerned about the spirit of lawlessness that it seems to sanction.

It used to be that objective standards – otherwise known as the laws of the land - were trusted to separate “the good” from “the bad” (more scientifically classified as “legal” and “illegal”).

Within the realm of civilized pluralistic democracies – where CAIR fits comfortably – there ought to be respect for alternative viewpoints that challenge traditional power centers via the spoken and written word. The added hope is, of course, that the challenger would not suffer vindictive retribution in the form of smear campaigns – “suspicion” not withstanding.

Uncensored, free debate should be honored as the sacred cornerstone of healthy democracy that it is, not repressed and muffled only to be replaced with a classification system that permits some to speak and orders others to shut up.

Beating a law-abiding, law-promoting Muslim American organization with the “terror stick” simply because it questions certain foreign and domestic policies is an affront to the very foundations of American democracy and an insult to all Americans. What kind of impact does such suppression have on the “hearts and minds” of this country’s Muslim youth? Independent research has shown that ostracizing minorities from the political process is a contributing factor towards extremism – the same extremism we are pumping billions to fight.

The moment we allow our common fears to overpower our common sense and our common law is the moment terrorism wins. Our laws, not our whims and suspicions, must be the ultimate arbitrator in the social contract also known as the United States of America. A self-respecting democracy entrusts professional investigative agencies, well-trained law enforcement, and fair and open courts of law to ascertain who is an actual danger to society.

At what point did the GOP decide to relegate this numinous responsibility of government to self-serving bloggers?

Indeed, the ease with which an amateur blogger from Florida armed with little more than a keyboard and a narrow political-agenda can single-handedly shape the discourse on US Muslims and their organizations, both in the halls of Congress and on the pages of mainstream newspapers, is an indication of the pitiful point Islamophobia has reached in America. [1]

It is shameful that some in the Republican Party seek to exploit the apparent susceptibility of many of our fellow citizens to believe anything about Muslims and their representative organizations in order to score a political point against a rival party.

It is high time the polarizing tactics of fear-mongering and identity politics are erased from our political handbooks.

Now more than ever, America needs to converse; voices need to be free to speak and free to be heard. Since the GOP regularly uses “freedom” as a buzzword, I am inclined to remind them that freedom is not spelled “feardom”.

Note:

[1]. CAIR has a document directly addressing urban legends about its mission and history at: www.cair.com/urbanlegends