Former Member of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) Board Files Complaint with Justice Department About (Among Others) "the 'Jewish Lobby'":
[UPDATE: I originally called Anisa Abd el Fattah a member of the CAIR board, both in the title of the post and in the last paragraph; she was a member of the CAIR board, as the site I link to below noted, but is no longer a member. I've posted a separate correction above, but I've also updated the post below to label her as a former board member.]
Here's the complaint, which asks the Justice Department to "take the steps necessary to end" various "practices," apparently including "statements made that may reach the level of hate speech," "various organizations['] and individuals['] ... provid[ing] misleading and highly politicized information," and more. The complaint "especially alleges":
1. Jewish organizations and activists have created an "enemies" list that includes
Muslims, Arabs and white nationalists' organizations here in the US. This list is
compromised of individuals and groups that are deemed threats or enemies of the
State of Israel.
2. These organizations have used their financial resources and also their formidable
political influence to purposefully poison public opinion against Muslims, Arabs, and
Islam in an attempt to demonize and vilify the same for political purposes, and to
create an environment conducive to the deprivation of and denial of Muslim and Arab
constitutional rights and repression of religious freedoms in respect to Islam.
Presumably these are "practices" that the Justice Department is likewise asked to "take the steps necessary to end." The complaint also alleges some actual crimes — supposed perjury — but the material that is "especially allege[d]," even if it were factually entirely true, would of course remain entirely constitutionally protected, and beyond the Justice Department's reach.
The author, Anisa Abd el Fattah, is writing on behalf of the "National Association of Muslim American Women"; I have no reason to think that this group has any magnitude or influence, but Anisa Abd el Fattah does appear to have in the past been "a member of the Board of Directors for (CAIR), Council on American Islamic Relations, and to be involved as leader and speaker with various other organizations. (If she were just a lone voice, I probably wouldn't have noted her solo letter, but given that she has at least some prominence in certain circles, the letter struck me as newsworthy.)
Correction Regarding Anisa Abd el Fattah and CAIR:
Yesterday, I erroneously reported that Anisa Abd el Fattah — the woman who filed a complaint with the Justice Department about supposed malfeasance by (among others) "the 'Jewish lobby'" — was a board member of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. It turns out that she is a former board member, not a current board member. My apologies to readers, and to CAIR and Anisa Abd el Fattah, for the error. I had posted an update at the start of the original post last night, but I thought I'd also post a full correction for those who won't have occasion to reread the post (see item 2 here.
My assertion in the original post relied on this page, which describes her as "a member of the Board of Directors for (CAIR), Council on American Islamic Relations." But I of course should have recognized that, even if the description was accurate, it could only be relied on to describe matters at the description was posted, which was (I now realize) in 2003. Both Anisa Abd el Fattah herself and Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR report that she is no longer a CAIR board of directors member.
The precise time that she was a board member is not clear. Both Anisa Abd el Fattah and Ibrahim Hooper report that she hasn't been one since 1995 or so, which would mean she was there at or near the founding (this speaker bio of Anisa Abd el Fattah reports that she was "a member of the founding Board of Directors for CAIR"). On the other hand, the Oct. 3, 2001 issue of The Hill reported that she "serves on the board of CAIR"; this page, from mid-2001 or later likewise reports her as a then-current CAIR board member.
Still, I suspect that it's often pretty easy to lose track of the precise status of a nonprofit organization's passive board member, and to recycle people's old bios that were never properly updated. Suffice it to say that she was a CAIR board member, but is not one any longer; my apologies for the mistake, and let that be a lesson to me to check closely the dates as of which certain things are claimed to be true.
Anisa Abd el Fattah Responds:
Anisa Abd el Fattah, as you may recall, filed a complaint with the Justice Department asking it to "take the steps necessary to end" various "practices," apparently including "statements made that may reach the level of hate speech," "various organizations['] and individuals['] ... provid[ing] misleading and highly politicized information," and more, by (among others) "the 'Jewish lobby.'" As I described in the original post, these "practices" consist mostly of constitutionally protected speech, which led me to criticize the complaint. (Abd el Fattah, incidentally, is a former CAIR board member and apparently the current head of the International Association for Muslim Women and Children, "an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians," as well of the National Association of Muslim American Women [NAMAW].)
Abd el Fattah has sent me and others an e-mail in response (paragraph breaks and emphasis added):
While trolling the net today, I came across ... [your material] commenting on the NAMAW letter of complaint to the Justice Department against the Jewish Lobby.
The position that you appear to take on this issue is very interesting, especially since I have never heard Jewish academicians argue so robustly for the right of people to have free speech rights to deny the holocaust, or to compliment Hitler, or to say that Israel should be wiped off the map. Every time any such statement is publicized, in whatever context, Jewish people raise a fuss, and the speaker is ordained, an "anti-Semite," in an effort to deny their right to free speech by making the price of such speech so high that it wont be utilized.
I'd like to ask if you believe that there is one standard of free speech for Jewish people, and another for other Americans. I'd also like to know why you sought to characterize our position as "against" free sppech and civil rights for Jews, without asking me if that is actually our position, or even allowing me to give my opinion on the 1st amendment, prior to your posting your opinion about what you thought I meant or said, or what you feel compelled us to submit a complaint. I have cc'd several others on this e-mail, since I want my comments to be public, so they cannot be misrepresented, and also your response, should you decide to respond....
Let me respond in turn:
(1) I can't speak to what Anisa Abd el Fattah has heard; but a quick search reveals that quite a few Jewish "academicians" have spoken out in favor of free speech rights for Holocaust deniers and for Nazis and Hitler sympathizers more broadly. Harvard law professor (and noted commentator on Jewish matters) Alan Dershowitz, in the Jerusalem Post, Mar. 17, 1998: "Even Holocaust denial speech — among the most offensive imaginable — should not be censored." Nadine Strossen, law professor and ACLU President, 25 S. Ill. U. L.J. 243, 279 (2001): "I support free speech for Nazis and other anti-Semites not despite my background and my first-hand experience with the evils of anti-Semitism, but rather, precisely because of that fact." Me: "Holocaust denial laws are ... pernicious." There are plenty of other such examples. (I can't give similar examples as to statements urging that "Israel should be wiped off the map," because I know of no incidents in America where anyone has even suggested that such speech should be restricted, and thus of no scholars who have had occasion to disagree with such suggestions.)
(2) Let me turn, though, from my view and the view of many other scholars, Jewish and otherwise, and look a bit at Abd el Fattah's. She writes that "[any time a statement] deny[ing] the holocaust, or ... compliment[ing] Hitler, or ... say[ing] that Israel should be wiped off the map ... is publicized, in whatever context, Jewish people raise a fuss, and the speaker is ordained, an 'anti-Semite,' in an effort to deny their right to free speech by making the price of such speech so high that it wont be utilized."
Now, I would hope that when people compliment Hitler or deny the Holocaust, or say that Israel should be wiped off the map — not just that Israel is in error in some way, but that it should be wiped off the map — it isn't just "Jewish people" but other people as well who would protest.
But beyond this, what exactly is wrong with inferring that people who "compliment Hitler" are likely anti-Semites (in all but the most unusual of contexts)? Are there are a lot of people who have nothing against Jews but compliment a man who is remembered for (among other things) deliberately arranging the slaughter of six million Jews? Shouldn't we "raise a fuss" about such compliments — not by asking federal prosecutors to "take the steps necessary to end" the statements, but by condemning the speech? If the "price of such speech [is made] so high" because people widely condemn the speech and the speaker, that is the exercise of free speech, not a denial of free speech.
Likewise, it's possible that some Holocaust deniers are not anti-Semites. And it's possible that some people who want Israel "wiped off the map" (a term that both in its tone and its substance suggests a violent destruction of the nation and likely a substantial chunk of its inhabitants) are not anti-Semites. (Note that I'm not speaking here simply of disagreement with Israel's policies, but a call for it to be "wiped off the map.")
Still, it's a fairly plausible inference that these speakers are indeed anti-Semites. And even if they aren't anti-Semites, it's quite proper for "people [Jewish or otherwise to] raise a fuss," and impose a social price on such speech by persuading people to strongly condemn it. People who make these statements should "have free speech rights" to do so free of the Justice Department's "tak[ing] the steps necessary to end" the speech. But they naturally have no right to make the statements free of others' making statements disagreeing.
So I'm rather puzzled by Abd el Fattah's reaction. Does she think that when people "deny the holocaust, or ... compliment Hitler, or ... say that Israel should be wiped off the map," people shouldn't "raise a fuss"? Does she think that "compliment[ing] Hitler" is not likely to be evidence of the speaker's "anti-Semit[ism]"? And if she doesn't take such views, then how can one explain her e-mail?
(3) As to "why [I] sought to characterize [the letter's] position as 'against' free sppech and civil rights for Jews": The letter calls on the Justice Department to "take the steps necessary to end" various "practices," which apparently include — for the reasons I gave — First Amendment-protected speech by "the 'Jewish lobby'" and others. Sounds like a restriction on free speech to me.
Nor did I see much reason for asking Abd el Fattah "if that is actually our position, or even allowing me to give my opinion on the 1st amendment, prior to your posting your opinion about what you thought I meant or said, or what you feel compelled us to submit a complaint": The letter (which Anisa Abd el Fattah sent out as a press release) seemed to speak for itself, and I didn't see need to ask for further clarification.
This having been said, I'd be delighted to hear Anisa Abd el Fattah's views on the First Amendment more generally. I have e-mailed her asking for those views, and I'd be glad to post them and respond to them later.
Anisa Abd el Fattah on the First Amendment:
Anisa Abd el Fattah (head of the National Association of Muslim-American Women, head of the International Association for Muslim Women and Children, and coauthor, as Caroline Keeble, of The Agent: The Truth Behind the Anti-Muslim Campaign in America) passes along this "National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW) Statement on Free Speech":
As US citizens and women of faith and conscience, the National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW) recognizes, and works to uphold and protect the Constitutional rights of every American.
We believe that the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights are the pillars of freedom, and true liberty in the US and that they are indispensable, and should be interpreted, used and protected as intended, and explained by our country's Founders.
We do not believe that slander, libel, defamation, perjury, seditious speech, or speech that is intended to undermine the equal rights, and equal protection under the law of any US citizen is protected by the First Amendment.
The NAMAW complaint to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation of the Jewish Lobby is not an attempt to chill, or to remove the right to free speech of Jewish Americans or anyone else.
It is an attempt to end a historic campaign by certain organizations and people, of misinformation and hate mongering against Muslims, Arabs and other Americans who are targeted by these groups, and slandered and defamed as "anti-Semites" or worse, "terrorists" or "potential terrorists" if they utilize their rights to free speech to criticize Israel, question aspects of the Holocaust, or to give an opinion about the US/Israel relationship that is not favorable to Israel, or that is in support of Palestinian rights, or that calls into question the behavior or speech of any Jewish personality or person.
The NAMAW complaint is an effort that is aimed at leveling the political playing field in the US, so that all Americans, rich, poor, Jewish and non Jewish, can participate freely, fairly and equally in the political process, including debates and discussions on any topic, including topics pertaining to the Jewish history, religion, and culture, and also Israel, and Palestine. It is intended to protect the rights of every American to formulate and express a political or religious opinion, make and express their religious and/or political choices, traditions, cultures etc., without fear of reprisal from these organizations and people, and their international network of facilitators.
We believe that the Jewish Lobby in the United States has used its resources and influence to chill, deprive and violate the first amendment rights of other Americans in an attempt to dominate the political discourse in the US on issues related to the Palestine/Israel conflict, and to prevent opposing views, and/or information about Palestinian suffering, and Israeli violations of international law, and human rights abuses from being exposed. We believe that to accomplish this repression, deprivation, and violation of rights of other citizens, the Jewish Lobby and its facilitators and supporters have used threats, harm, and acts of persecution that include defamation, slander, perjury, vandalism and other acts, such as carrying out organized campaigns to deny other citizens their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We also believe that the Jewish Lobby has acted to create an environment in the US that is hostile to Muslims, Arabs, and others, including White nationalists, and Christians so that members of these groups can be discriminated against, and denied rights such as rights to the assumption of innocence unless proven guilty of a crime in a court of law, fair trials, due process, and justice, political association, organizing and petitioning our government on matters related to civil rights, liberties, and foreign policy.
We also believe that the Jewish Lobby in the US has worked to undermine the US Constitution, since the Constitution protects the inalienable rights of all citizens equally. Certain interpretations of the Jewish faith calls for limiting the Constitutional rights of non-Jews, and the establishment of special rights, laws and protections for Jews, and their special interests. We believe that this behavior is criminal, and unconstitutional and that it must be stopped.
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." US Declaration of Independence
Anisa Abd el Fattah
I leave it to others to discuss what exactly would flow from recognizing a "seditious speech" exception to the First Amendment (see here for the Court's most recent extended discussion of that), or an exception for "speech that is intended to undermine the equal rights, and equal protection under the law of any US citizen is protected by the First Amendment."
But I do wonder just how much protection NAMAW's speech, with its repeated condemnation of "the Jewish Lobby," would likely get if such a standard were adopted. (Even if NAMAW's actual intentions were pure, it would be up to judges and juries to evaluate them.) I likewise wonder about the allegation that "Certain interpretations of the Jewish faith calls for limiting the Constitutional rights of non-Jews, and the establishment of special rights, laws and protections for Jews, and their special interests." Isn't it the case that certain interpretations of the Muslim faith (not all interpretations, but "certain" ones) call for limiting free speech and religious freedom rights of non-Muslims, and the establishment of special rights, laws and protections for Muslims, and their special interests?
In any case, I thought I'd pass this along, in case some of our readers would find this interesting. To get a sense of Anisa Abd el Fattah's public role -- which doesn't seem to be vast, but is apparently not nil -- google Anisa Abd el Fattah or Caroline Keeble (though the latter will get quite a few false positives).
A Heartwarming Tale of People Coming Together:
One thing I noted about Anisa Abd el Fattah's statements is their repeated and seemingly amicable reference to "White nationalists" -- e.g., "We also believe that the Jewish Lobby has acted to create an environment in the US that is hostile to Muslims, Arabs, and others, including White nationalists, and Christians ...." This Web page describing a page on which Anisa Abd el Fattah appeared (curiously, alongside Noam Chomsky) suggests that Abd el Fattah is black, and of course we know that she is a Muslim. Why then the specific support for White nationalists? Perhaps from a laudable desire to make sure that free speech is protected for all, including even those who would likely hate her for her race and quite likely for her religion?
I asked Abd el Fattah about this, building on her framing of what exceptions the First Amendment would have (exceptions that she sets forth to justify supressing certain speech from "the Jewish Lobby"):
I notice some references in your message to "White nationalists," but I'm not sure I quite grasp their connection to your argument. I take it that White nationalists tend to try to undermine the equal rights and equal protection of some US citizens. If so, what is exactly your complaint with regard to attempts to create a hostile environment for White nationalists?
She was kind enough to answer:
The point is that every American has equal rights to free speech. That aspect of White nationalist behavior that includes fear mongering, name calling, and intimidation is wrong, yet they argue that their actions result from their frustration that they are stereotyped, and misrepresented by the media and made to appear as enemies of blacks and Jews, and others, when they simply want to preserve the white race, and its majority status. They feel that Jewish supremacism threatens their existence, and that Jewish activism is aimed at limiting their rights, and many Christians feel that same way.
Most of what we are talking about here is how we can colllectively preserve and protect the identies, and rights of groups in the US that have conflicting desires, and sensitivties, while preserving a sense of nationalism, or rather Americanism that can serve as a glue for our society that is strong enough to hold our country togther in spite of some of the stark differences that we represent in race, religion, political outlooks, socio-economic backgrounds etc.
In our opinion, the Bill of Rights is that glue, and a near perfect social contract. I'm not suggesting that we are going to resolve these issues tommorrow, but I am suggesting that we must start. I am praying that the complaint will serve as a first word in a dialogue that will embrace all of the various groups, and that will remove all unfair stigmas, and stereotypes, allowing every group to define itself, and also to set the tone and rules for everyone's co-existence, and participation. The public space is increasingly smaller in my view, making it essential that we begin a dialogue on how 300 million people of different faiths, colors, races, cultures, attitudes, histories, hopes, etc., will share that space as equally and fully entitled American citizens.
Now please correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like she actually thinks the White nationalists have a point. True, she says, "That aspect of White nationalist behavior that includes fear mongering, name calling, and intimidation is wrong."
But then she goes on to explain how she feels their pain: "[Y]et they argue that their actions result from their frustration that they are stereotyped, and misrepresented by the media and made to appear as enemies of blacks and Jews, and others, when they simply want to preserve the white race, and its majority status. They feel that Jewish supremacism threatens their existence, and that Jewish activism is aimed at limiting their rights, and many Christians feel that same way." (She literally just says what "they argue" and "feel," but in context it seems like an endorsement of at least the legitimacy of their arguments.)
How touching! A black Muslim seeing white Nationalists not just as evil racists, but as people who have understandable grievances and simple desires. After all, "they simply want to preserve the white race, and its majority status"; simply that, and what they get out of it is "stereotyp[ing]," and "misrepresent[ation] by the media ... as enemies of blacks and Jews." (See here for a similarly touching story.) Seems hardly fair to the poor White nationalists, and even black Muslims should realize it. I mean, aren't we all brothers and sisters? All good Americans? Shouldn't we all be on the same side? Fighting against "the Jewish Lobby," of course.