The October murder of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old boy in Illinois, and the shooting attack against three Palestinians in Vermont over Thanksgiving, demonstrate the need for an honest-to-goodness civil rights organization that advocates for the rights of Muslims in the United States. Like every other religious or ethnic group in America, Muslims are fully entitled to advocate for their Constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and for equality before the law. Effective and principled advocacy on these issues by Muslim organizations is not a threat to the American republic, but a bulwark in its defense.
Unfortunately, American Muslims do not enjoy the benefits of such advocacy so long as Nihad Awad serves as national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR presents itself as the premier Muslim “civil rights” organization in the United States. It is no such thing.
Under Awad’s leadership, CAIR serves as the Islamist equivalent not of the NAACP but of the Ku Klux Klan. Specifically, it promotes hostility toward Israel and American Jews.
Awad’s animus toward Israel and Jews manifested itself at a late November conference organized by American Muslims for Palestine to respond to the October 7 massacre in Israel during which Hamas and its camp followers killed, raped, kidnapped, burned and dismembered hundreds of civilians. who have been under siege. In all, Hamas killed more than 1,200 Israeli civilians, including more than a dozen U.S. citizens.
Calling Gaza a “concentration camp,” Awad declared that he was “happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into” Israel. He proclaimed that Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005, had no right to defend itself against attack because it was an “occupying power.”
The Biden Administration rebuked Awad for his hateful comments, declaring “Everyone has a responsibility to call out antisemitism and violence wherever it rears its ugly head.” Officials also removed CAIR’s name from a website with names of groups participating in a White House effort to combat antisemitism.
Awad’s statements were no momentary lapse, but an expression of an agenda he has pursued since co-founding CAIR in 1994. Awad established the organization after meeting with Hamas members in a Philadelphia hotel room in 1993. During the meeting, which was recorded by the FBI, Awad told his Hamas allies of his desire to portray the Islamist effort to destroy Israel as part of a liberationist campaign palatable to progressives in the United States. Awad agreed with a recommendation from a Hamas representative to speak in support of “restor[ing] the ’48 land.” Awad said he would “address people according to their minds.” In other words, he would talk explicitly about Israel’s destruction with Palestinian partisans and speak of liberation with American progressives.
Already in 1994, however, Awad declared that “I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO.” In 2022, Awad eulogized Muslim Brotherhood theorist and inveterate antisemite Yusef Qaradawi as “the most prominent and consequential scholar of Islam of our time.” In sum, Awad is no civil rights activist, but a shill for a genocidal terrorist organization.
With his recent statements regarding Hamas’s violence against Israel, Awad betrayed the interests of young Muslims in America like Wadea Al-Fayoume who are entitled to genuine advocacy on their — and not Hamas’s — behalf.
CAIR is filled with staffers who follow Awad’s lead. In late 2021, Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA) affiliate, accused “Zionist organizations” of being “enemies” of American Muslims. More recently, Zainab Chaudry, director of the Maryland Chapter of CAIR, described Hamas members as “freedom fighters” and declared on Facebook that she “will never be able to understand how the world summoned up rage for 40 fake Israeli babies while completely turning a blind eye to 3,000 real Palestinian babies.” And Hussam Aylush, CAIR’s director in Los Angeles, said that affirming Israel’s right to self-defense is akin to declaring to Nazi Germany had the right to defend itself against the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto. “People would laugh at you if you said that,” he declared. Aylush, who has also called Israel and its supporters “Zionazis,” has also called for, in Arabic, the overthrow of the U.S. republic.
Awad, and other CAIR staffers like him, are a menace to interfaith relations in the United States in America. The organization needs to embark on a serious campaign of self-reform initiated by CAIR’s national board, which includes Emad Sabbah, a prominent businessman in Atlanta, and John Floyd, a prominent lawyer in Texas. Leaders like this should know instinctively that CAIR cannot advocate for Wadea Al-Fayoume and Hamas at the same time.
Its board must act, now.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of Focus on Western Islamism.