The Middle East Forum's associate director strikes a victory blow for free speech.
Introduction: On May 5, Mr. Ibrahim gave a talk on Islam at Everett Community College (EvCC) in Seattle. Months prior, local Muslim groups tried to pressure the college to cancel the talk, right up to the day before the talk, when the notorious Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched an aggressive campaign, including writing an op-ed and issuing a press release demanding that EvCC cancel the talk. The college refused, and much media attention followed, including a featured story for MSNBC.
FP: Hello Raymond. Thanks for joining us today.
Ibrahim: Hello, Jamie; thanks for having me.
FP: A great victory for free speech. Thank you on behalf of us here at Frontpage.
Let’s start with how all of this began and why CAIR targeted you.
Ibrahim: Back in September 2010, EvCC invited me to come and speak on Islam sometime in early May 2011. It wasn’t long before I discovered that there were rumblings in Seattle, specifically by one Jaffar (“Jeff”) Siddiqui, who has a long history of trying to quash free speech on Islam. As early as January he began pressuring the college to cancel my talk including by writing a letter to its president; also in January, the director of CAIR’s Washington chapter, Arsalan Bukhari, asserted that “Inviting Raymond Ibrahim to give an alternative viewpoint on being Muslim is like inviting the KKK to speak about African American history.” Then, the day before my talk, this same Bukhari wrote an op-ed in Seattle’s Herald saying “by inviting a known conspiracy theorist with a history of making unfounded claims about Islam, the college is doing a disservice to the public and risks creating a hostile learning environment for its students” (see Robert Spencer’s dissection of Bukhari’s op-ed here). Also the day before my talk, CAIR’s main headquarters issued a particularly inciting and accusatory press release that culminated as follows:
By issuing Mr. Ibrahim an invitation, giving him an audience, and in any way providing him a platform, Everett Community College is complicit in inflaming a tinder box of hate and violence against Islam and Muslims, and is abusing its public trust as a federally funded educational institution. Therefore, we urge the College to cease its promotion of bigotry and hate speech by rescinding its invitation to Raymond Ibrahim to speak on campus.
To CAIR’s chagrin, the college refused to budge, pointing out that my appearance was “consistent with the belief that students be exposed to a variety of views.”
FP: Why do you think CAIR failed to stifle you, though it has succeeded in stifling others?
Ibrahim: For starters, CAIR’S most potent weapon—the eternal cry of “racism!”—fails with me: though born in the States, I am a native Arabic speaker of Egyptian origin who has lived, sometimes for extended periods of time, in Egypt, where I have family and friends. I also have credentials that far transcend CAIR’s caricatures of me as just another “Islamophic blogger.” Finally, I think that people are getting tired of Islamists always trying to kill freedom of speech—always crying wolf. For example, if you look at the nearly 3,000 comments on the MSNBC report on my talk, you’ll find that, as “leftist” as MSNBC is, at least half of its readers are against censoring free speech critical of Islam; in more centrist media, the numbers are overwhelmingly larger.
FP: How was the turnout, and did you get a sense as to how the audience received your message?
Ibrahim: Thanks to CAIR’s trumpeting, turnout was good, with people sitting in the aisles and leaning against the walls. As usual, the majority of the attendees, especially the students, appeared receptive and appreciative of the talk—or so the many emails I received since would indicate. (Indeed, weeks earlier I spoke at Berkeley University and had two students come and tell me that they had planned on disparaging me, but after listening to my talk, found it to be logical and reasonable.) Of course, you wouldn’t know that from news media such as King 5 which distorted the Seattle event by interviewing the two Muslims present at the talk (Sidiqqui himself and a woman in full burqa), while ignoring the many, once again demonstrating the great disconnect between what the media portrays and what the regular people think.
FP: How do you respond to the charge that you’re spreading hate?
Ibrahim: As I told reporters at the event, I’m just the messenger; the hate exists in the texts that I quote—texts, I might add, which form the cornerstone for Islamists such as CAIR. Here’s a verse off the top of my head, always being quoted by Islamists: “We [believers] disown you [non-believers, including family] and what you worship besides Allah. We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us—until you believe in Allah alone” (Koran 60:4). That’s just one of many. Rather than project the hate ingrained in its own worldview onto me and others, if CAIR was sincere, it would admit to and try to “reform” the anti-infidel hate that litters its texts.
Arsalan Bukhari only needs to appreciate the significance of his names—Alp Arsalan was the jihadist chieftain who terrorized the Christian east, and the ultra-authoritative Sahih Bukhari contains 199 references to jihad, all in the context of war against non-Muslims—to know where the hate stems.
FP: What do you say to those who say you breed mistrust of Muslims, especially by focusing on the doctrine of loyalty and enmity?
Ibrahim: I say my primary interest is to ascertain the truth, not its consequences. Rather than be concerned whether “loyalty and enmity”—or in Arabic al-wala’ wa’l bara’—breeds mistrust of Muslims, I believe the more critical question is whether this doctrine is true or not. Obviously, if large numbers of Muslims believe they are forbidden from being loyal to non-Muslims, then our problems far transcend breeding mistrust.
FP: Did you receive any challenging questions at your talk?
Ibrahim: Not really, just the usual lines about how “all religions can be interpreted anyway,” “the Bible is equally as violent as the Koran (a widespread but flawed argument I addressed here). At one point, a faculty member somberly asked me if what I was saying was true, then why did so many Muslims in America condemn bin Laden (mind you, I had already spent quite a bit of time talking about doctrinal deceit). Some did not feel my curt response—that they might simply be lying—sufficient. So here’s a little known anecdote from the annals of Islamic history to further elaborate:
When Omar, Muhammad’s close companion, was captured by the Quraish, the opponents of Muhammad and Islam, Omar, the future caliph, publicly renounced Muhammad in order to be freed; later, when he told Muhammad what he had done, the prophet was okay with it—“so long as your faith was secure in your heart.” Now, if the righteous caliph Omar can publicly condemn the prophet of Allah to get out of a bind, is it difficult to believe that a Muslim can condemn bin Laden to get out of a bind?
FP: What do you say to your Islamist detractors?
Ibrahim: First, the grand irony: in January, months before my talk, the same CAIR characters now moaning and groaning because I got to speak—such as Siddiqui—spoke at EvCC, despite the fact that many Americans including locals protested, knowing CAIR’s terrorist links. How telling, then, that the same CAIR that insists on getting its way even when the people protest, screams bloody murder to prevent others from having the same opportunity to speak. In short, CAIR wants the ability to spew lies, while denying others from speaking the truth. That’s all any American needs to know about CAIR.
So I say to CAIR and other Islamist groups that, if they ever wish to be sincere, they need to stop trying to suppress free speech (even if Sharia law demands it); they need to move beyond sensationalist, kneejerk words—“racist,” “hater,” “Islamophobe”—move beyond tears and appeals to emotionalism, and actually try to defend their position in the realm of open and rational debate.
But you see, CAIR can’t do that; it knows full well that if you put two equally-matched speakers to debate a controversial topic, the one with the truth—yes, such a thing still exists—will win. Sophistry goes only so far.
FP: Thank you for joining us, Raymond, and congratulations for scoring one for free speech and exposing CAIR. You are a true courageous warrior for liberty and truth in our perilous times.
Ibrahim: Thank you, Jamie; I appreciate the opportunity.