Savage vs. CAIR:  Free speech vs. hate speech

Safaa Ibrahim

Posted Jan 11, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Savage vs. CAIR:  Free speech vs. hate speech

by Safaa Ibrahim

Cinnamon Stillwell’s recent column in SF Gate, “Savage vs. CAIR: The battle over free speech” on Dec. 19 offers a holiday assortment of misleading truths and omissions of facts. In her misguided defense of the “Savage Nation” radio show, Stillwell essentially defends anarchistic hate against minority groups including African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, immigrants and women. She does so under the pretense of defending free speech.

Of course, most elementary school students will tell you that hate speech is not to be confused with free speech.

CAIR, the California Council of Churches, Rabbi Haim Dov Beilak and other Hate Hurts America Coalition coalition members cherish America’s tradition of freedom of speech. HHA is practicing its own freedom of speech when it calls people of conscience to stand up against Michael Savage’s hate-filled anti-minority tirades.

Stillwell’s wrath against CAIR and other HHA members as a mere consequence of their advocacy against hate speech puts in question her credibility as a columnist.

Is Stillwell arguing that the incitement of violence against minorities is protected under free speech, or did she just never chance upon the numerous times Savage has advocated hateful acts against many other minority groups.

It cannot possibly be the latter because Savage’s record is out there for all to see. In 2004, Savage stated “I think (Muslims) need to be forcibly converted to Christianity ... It’s the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings.” In 2006, he called for a ban on Muslim immigration and recommended making “the construction of mosques illegal in America.” Also that year, he advocated “kill(ing) 100 million” Muslims.

Luckily, many Americans who become familiar with his divisive hatemongering have not fallen prey to Stillwell’s expediency. A growing list of companies including AutoZone, Citrix, TrustedID, JC Penney, OfficeMax, Wal-Mart, and AT&T have pulled their sponsorship from the Savage Nation radio show in compliance with their companies’ policy of not supporting hate speech.

Stillwell’s column takes the Savage controversy as an excuse to publish yet another attack against CAIR using the same old tired allegations favored by the likes of Daniel Pipes, a colleague of Stillwell.

But when it comes to CAIR, Stillwell, like Pipes, is neither an objective journalist nor a neutral scholar. Stillwell does not initiate her research of CAIR by asking questions for which she seeks answers, but by providing answers for which she cherry-picks evidence. A quick review of Stillwell’s writings leaves one to wonder whether she bears an agenda against Muslims and the organizations that represent them.

Readers deserve to get the straight record on CAIR:

CAIR, along with all major American Muslim organizations, has consistently condemned terrorism in all its forms, including attacks against Israeli civilians. A section on CAIR’s Web site includes comprehensive information that demystifies the list of recycled smears and distortions used by Stillwell to defame CAIR. The fact that CAIR comes under attack by the likes of Stillwell and Savage is no surprise to anyone who works for positive social change. All proponents of justice have faced similar attacks designed to silence their voices.

These smear campaigns aim at marginalizing Muslims in America by silencing one of the most prominent and respected American Muslim voices. It can be demonstrated that the sources of fabricated allegations, distortions, and smears against CAIR are recycled repeatedly by the same Islamophobes.

During a 2004 meeting at the FBI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, the assistant to Cassie Chandler, then assistant director for public affairs told CAIR privately that they have researched all these allegations and they concluded that they come mostly from one or two biased sources, and yet are becoming an “urban legend.” CAIR has to live with it just as the FBI has to live with some urban legends of its own.

Stillwell goes further to attack CAIR for having been listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the recent case involving the Muslim charity the Holy Land Foundation and its alleged financial ties to the Palestinian terrorist group turned terrorist government Hamas. However, she omitted that after a record 19 days of deliberation, a jury in Dallas did not return even one guilty verdict on almost 200 charges brought against officials of the HLF Muslim charity.

One HLF case juror told the Associated Press, “I thought they were not guilty across the board.” Juror William Neal added that the case “was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence.” He said the government “really used fear” to try to sway the jury.

This was a classic case of guilt by association and a political vendetta against American citizens to carry out the agenda of a special interest group — the Israel Lobby. HLF officials were never accused of any acts of violence. The prosecution laid out a bizarre theory that HLF, by sending money to feed orphans in Palestine, was freeing up funds that were then used to pay for acts of terror. Missing from Stillwell’s argument was the fact that the 12 charities HLF funded have not been designated as terrorist organizations by either the U.S. or Israeli governments. Moreover, some of the same charities also received money from the U.S. government-funded USAID.

Probably the most widely recycled example of McCarthy-like attempts to portray CAIR as guilty by association is Stillwell’s assertion that CAIR officials were convicted of terror ties. Such efforts evoke memories of attempts to smear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a communist or womanizer. It should be absolutely clear that it is CAIR’s belief that anyone who is found guilty of committing a crime, especially one in the furtherance of terrorist motives, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. CAIR would never compromise its principles, both American and Islamic, in the furtherance or assistance of any illegal criminal endeavors.

Anyone who has any knowledge of the law would know that the acts of a person done outside the scope or duration of his or her employment, and without the employer’s knowledge, have no legal bearing on the employer. For example, when Aldrich Ames (CIA) and Robert Hanssen (FBI) admitted to being spies for foreign governments, it did not automatically associate the CIA or FBI with being complicit in any of these criminal activities. Currently, we have members of the U.S. Congress serving jail time and many others under the cloud of ethical suspicion. Does such behavior by members of Congress while in office incriminate the entire U.S. Congress? Only Islamophobes will assign guilt to Muslims by such false associations.

Yet another misleading untruth by Stillwell is her assertion that CAIR receives money from “Saudi funding.” This is yet another attempt to invent a controversy. CAIR’s operational budget is funded by donations from American Muslims and philanthropist grants.

CAIR remains an open and transparent organization. I invite Stillwell and the public to visit the CAIR Web site at to become familiar with the true nature of the organization and allow its work to speak for itself. Also, visit to find out more about CAIR’s recent accomplishments and to find out what America’s leading politicians, interfaith leaders and community activists are saying about CAIR.

Safaa Ibrahim is Executive Director, CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area.