Islamophobic Smears of ISNA Convention 2012 Rely on Deception and Hate
The ISNA Convention is one of the most important gatherings in the American Muslim calendar, so it is unsurprising that anti-Muslim activists focused on spreading misinformation and Islamophobia would target the convention with attacks and smears.
Well known hate groups, the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force (VAST) and the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) both claim to have jointly “monitored” the convention. These two organizations have been flagged by websites and organizations that monitor hate organizations, with the Southern Poverty Law Center labeling the TVC an “anti-Gay hate group.” It should also be noted that VAST is led by virulent anti-Muslim Islamophobe James Lafferty, an extremist who as RightWingWatch reported has gleefully bragged about how “proud” he was that “pickup trucks have been driven into Mosques in the South.”
In keeping with their long and repeated attacks on Muslim organizations, particularly ISNA they published an article that traveled across the Islamophobia echo chamber titled “ISNA Convention Offers Two Views of Islam–the Manufactured Public Persona and the Truth.” The title of the article itself indicates a predictable return to a favorite Islamophobic trope; the supposed “dual-nature” of Muslims.
The VAST and TVC smear campaign attempts to cast ISNA as a subversive organization based on their claimed monitoring of “several key briefings and presentations at the convention,” in other words they only went to a few presentations. Finding it difficult to scrounge up even the slightest crumbs of evidence to support their attacks on ISNA, VAST and TVC invent “evidence,” and sillily add “scary quote marks” to the titles of non-controversial panel discussions.
VAST and TVC first claim that some speakers at the convention criticized President Obama for “letting down Islam and not doing enough to advance its cause in America.” They provide no video or audio recording of such remarks but instead quote a speaker at one of the panels, CAIR president Nihad Awad pointing out that in today’s political climate Muslims are treated as “radioactive,”
“Even those who go to the White House and have a reception that’s great. But their names are not published on the official list. Why? Because Muslim money and votes are radioactive.”
Whatever you may think of the above quote there is no way to surmise that Awad is actually somehow claiming that Obama has let “Islam down” or isn’t “doing enough to advance its cause” in America. Such language is in fact eerily close to the type of rhetoric we hear from VAST and TVC’s anti-Muslim allies who routinely claim President Obama is a Muslim Brotherhood plant who has infiltrated the government.
The second claim that VAST and the TVC proffered as “truth” was that “a general rule established in many presentations was don’t talk to the FBI.” They attempted to buttress this point by highlighting that there was an ACLU lawyer on the panel, Mike German, as if that in itself is enough to render the ISNA convention too radical.
In reality, VAST and TVC contradict their own claim in the next sentence by pointing out that panelists actually encouraged convention attendees to talk to the FBI and other government agencies but to do so generally with “lawyers present.” This is a completely uncontroversial point, in fact it is a principle of American civil liberty that Islamophobes don’t seem to understand. American citizens whether Muslim or not have a right to the presence of an attorney. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez made this point quite sharply to Zuhdi Jasser during the Peter King hearings on “Homegrown terrorism,”
“The right to have an attorney present when speaking to law enforcement is a specific principle of American civil liberty,” Ms. Sanchez said sharply, adding, “So by what legal principle do you assert that any minority in America should waive that American principle?”
Next VAST and TVC try to pick on writer, ACLU board member, President of the Safe Nation Collaborative and immigration lawyer Rabia Chaudry who discussed the negative impact of the NYPD’s controversial spying on the Muslim community. That the NYPD spying program proved to be a disaster is an incontrovertible fact; it resulted in no actionable intelligence, no terror arrests, and led to an erosion of trust between the Muslim community and law enforcement, as well as a muddying of the civil liberties and the rights of all Americans.
The true import of the vilification of American Islam’s largest gathering is to divert attention from the true substance of the three-day long convention. The theme of the convention was “One Nation Under God: Striving for the Common Good,” only Islamophobes could twist such a theme into an insidious plot to take over the United States. The plethora of interfaith leaders, including Karen Armstrong, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Maureen Fiedler, Rabbi David Saperstein and others all participated in panel discussions and events. Maureen Fiedler wrote of her experience for the National Catholic Reporter, describing it as “enlightening,”
It was an enlightening evening, showing that American Islam is developing and moving in a distinctly American way.
The topics discussed during the convention related in one form or another to the maine theme, “One Nation Under God: Striving for the Common Good.” Family and the relationship between life and religion was discussed in panels such as “Raising the Next Generation,” “Nurturing the Mind and Soul, Revitalizing the Ummah [Muslim community],” and “Interweaving Religion and Life in a Moral Society.” One would think that such themes should resonate with those who espouse “family values.”
There was also much discussion about “social justice,” in the spheres of economics, politics, civil rights, and religious freedom. Panel discussions such as “Sacred Principles in Striving for the Common Good,” “Forming A More Perfect Union,” “Economic Growth and Justice as a Public Good, and “Honoring Human Dignity: Toward a Just Society” all targeted the issue of justice from various angles and perspectives with contributions from eminent scholars and activists from around the globe.
Events at the convention were not limited to panel discussions and seminars but covered a diverse array of programing, including a Bazaar, where various goods and products from across the United States were sold,
More than 400 vendors and businesses participate in the ISNA Bazaar consisting of more than 500 booths. Participants sell, promote, and market their products and services to a large customer base. Because the Convention represents the Muslim community inAmerica, this show also acts as a niche market for businesses. The Bazaar also provides an opportunity for businesses to communicate, understand, and cater to the needs of their customers.
The Art Exhibit at the convention was an opportunity for American Muslims to highlight their creativity and also bring their work to a wider audience,
ISNA organizes the “Art Exhibit” every year at its Annual Convention. This exhibit provides an excellent platform for participants, both professional as well as amateur, to showcase their work and form networks for further growth. The exhibit includes calligraphy, paintings, glass, ceramics, and other forms of art work.
The attempted maligning of such a convention is par for the course when dealing with the Islamophobia Movement. They will do and say anything to fan the flames of hatred and suspicion of American Muslims, even if it means taking the largest gathering of Muslims in North America and twisting and stretching it into a meeting to “undermine” America.
Rational individuals who view the topics and themes of the convention, the program, the video footage, the academics, scholars, and entertainers participating will know that Ms. Fiedler is correct, the convention proves that Islam in the USA is “moving in a very American way.”
Instead of casting the convention as subversive, hate groups such as VAST and TVC have only validated the fact that the ISNA convention is a hallmark for rejuvenating the American Muslim community towards making America a stronger country, a country that is “one nation under God.”