The Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MD) capitalized on the vulnerability of refugees who escaped the clutches of the Taliban in war-torn Afghanistan by distributing leaflets at the Diyanet Center of America (DCA) just outside of Washington, D.C. The job fair, food distribution and community outreach that took place on March 19, 2022, may have appeared to be part of a well-intentioned campaign to help refugees adapt to life in America, but they were not.
CAIR-MD is part of a national organization with a well-documented history of using civil rights activism as a cover for promoting Islamism. The building in which the event took place, meanwhile, belongs to the Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) of the Turkish government, a bureaucracy with a history of doing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bidding in his efforts to disrupt political life in Western democracies in the U.S. and Europe.
CAIR’s Islamist ties are irrefutable. In 2009, the FBI blacklisted CAIR after federal prosecutors named it, during the 2008 Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial, as an unindicted co-conspirator. Its officials across the country continue today to express and justify violently anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric. The FBI’s former chief of counter-terrorism, Steven Pomerantz reported in 2002 that “CAIR, its leaders, and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups.” And in 2014, the United Arab Emirates designated CAIR as a terrorist organization.
The Diyanet is an official branch of the Turkish government which regulates religious affairs in Turkey. In 2012, the Diyanet began building one of the largest mosques in America, providing $110 million to cover the cost of construction. Erdoğan’s presence at a dedication ceremony at the mosque in 2016 prompted the Armenian Weekly to designate the mosque as Erdoğan’s “Trojan horse.”
Internationally, critics of the Diyanet assail the institution for its array of scandals, influence operations, and espionage throughout the world. Through the Diyanet and other tools, Erdoğan reportedly incites the members of the Turkish diaspora to disrupt public life in their host countries.
Both CAIR and the Turkish regime (as well as Islamists all around the world) have long used welfare and charitable outreach as a means to advance their own ideology in Muslim communities. By providing extensive social and welfare services, ordinary Muslims become reliant on Islamist infrastructure, money, and ultimately, leadership. It is a tactic employed not just by lawful Islamist groups in the West, but also jihadists in the Middle East and South Asia.
With the tragic fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, refugees fleeing the country have made their way to the U.S. Those refugees have unknowingly entered an environment where a diverse set of organizations jockey for new recruits to their cause. Refugees expecting a peaceful sanctuary after escaping the iron fist of the Taliban now risk falling into the dual sphere of influence of CAIR and the Diyanet.
The leafleting operation, which coincided with a job fair organized by CAIR, the Diyanet, and other organizations, was conducted to provide “resources on rights to newly-arrived Afghan families at the Diyanet Center of America.”
Helping refugees adapt to their new home is a noble cause, but CAIR’s efforts to “empower” and teach about “civil rights” is, in light of the evidence, more likely an attempt to gain new recruits to the cause of Islamism – not to facilitate the entry of refugees into the American economy and civil society.
CAIR’s website informs individuals on a myriad of “rights while protesting” and then quickly jumps to advice on “what to do if you are being detained or arrested.” In light of the material posted on its website, it seems that CAIR is encouraging Afghan refugees to protest against the U.S. government, and risk arrest, as soon as they have arrived in the country.
This is why CAIR-MD’s cooperation with Erdoğan’s Diyanet is so troubling. According to a trove of leaked emails belonging to Beret Albayrak, former Turkish Minister of Energy (and Erdoğan’s son-in-law), published in 2016, Turkish operatives in the U.S. gave updates on what CAIR was doing for over a decade. The updates focused on CAIR’s efforts to accuse its adversaries of “Islamophobia” and using social justice and civil rights issues as a wedge to divide American society.
Erdoğan himself has embraced this strategy. In a recent speech broadcast over the internet, the Turkish President, who oppresses political dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities in his own country with a heavy hand, recently accused Western democracies of tolerating and promoting Islamophobia in a speech broadcast to Muslims in the West over the internet in mid-March.
“Muslims must react strongly, seek their rights on legitimate grounds, and fight against this injustice, unlawfulness and discrimination, which targets hundreds of millions of people along with them,” he said.
Links between humanitarian assistance and the Islamist activism in the U.S. is not limited to CAIR and the Diyanet. Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), another institution that participated in the March 19 event, is part of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). Like CAIR, Islamic Relief has irrefutable ties to terrorist organizations. As documented in a report prepared by the Middle East Forum, “Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have designated Islamic Relief as a terror-financing organization. In 2005, Russian authorities accused Islamic Relief of supporting terrorism in Chechnya. And in 2012, the Swiss banking giant UBS closed down Islamic Relief’s accounts and ‘blocked donations coming from its customers to the charity,’ reportedly over terror financing fears. Four years later, HSBC did the same.” Islamic Relief regularly hosts hate preachers at its events as well.
In 2020, the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism condemned the organization, stating its “record of anti-Semitism presents a significant issue for all donors and donor countries to IRW. The consistent pattern of spreading the most vile anti-Semitic vitriol by IRW’s leadership causes us to question the core values of the organization.”
Food boxes, job fairs, and trainings on civil rights are perfectly legal, and in the proper context, laudable, but for groups like CAIR, Erdoğan’s Diyanet, and Islamic Relief, social activism such as this is a useful tool to gain notoriety, new followers, and promote Islamism.
Unfortunately, Islamist groups such as those mentioned above make more noise, enjoy more media coverage, and greater access to resources, than moderate Muslim organizations, which also provide charity and welfare — without the accompanying dose of Islamism.
Before Afghan refugees even have a chance to get acclimated to life in the U.S, CAIR and the Diyanet have sought to indoctrinate them in a manner that isolates them from American civil society. For many of these newcomers, it seems they risk switching one form of Islamism for another.
Afghans being welcomed into America as refugees deserve better.