A Texas legislator who says she asks U.S. Muslims if they renounce terrorism prompted a viral firestorm online with a Facebook post. She followed that up with an explanation, saying the organization behind Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin had been labeled a terrorist group.
In her Feb. 3, 2015, web post, "My Response to the Critics," state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, said her Facebook statement posted Jan. 29, 2015 as Muslims came to the Capitol was misconstrued "into something intolerant, bigoted and anti-American."
Here’s her original Facebook post, as later highlighted by the Texas Tribune:
In her February follow-up, White wrote: "As a legislator who has the responsibility to look out for and protect the safety as well as liberties of my constituents and all Texans, it remains my duty to stay vigilant and inform the public about maintaining our rule of law and protecting our 1st Amendment freedoms."
"First," she wrote, "the genesis of my statement occurred when the organization CAIR was brought to my attention. CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, started Muslim Day at the Texas Capitol in 2003." Sarwat Husain, a council leader from San Antonio, told us by email the day at the Capitol was started by Texas Muslim groups including the council, which took charge of the gathering starting in 2011.
"Second," White’s response said, "it is worth noting that CAIR was recently listed as one of 82 organizations designated as a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates. That’s right, an Islamic country listed the organization that hosts Muslim Day in Texas as one of 82 terrorist organizations."
Legislator cites news story
White’s response included a web link to a November 2014 Fox News story stating the UAE, a tiny oil-rich federation on the Arabian Peninsula, had just designated CAIR a terrorist group on a list including extremists such as the Islamic State and Al Nusra, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. The story also quoted the council calling on the UAE to remove CAIR, the Muslim American Society and other "civil society organizations" from the list, saying its own inclusion was a "bizarre move."
The council, headquartered on Capitol Hill, says it was founded in 1994 to challenge stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. Its Houston-based Texas chapter was founded in 2002.
Advocating terrorism isn’t a declared activity. The council says on its website: "CAIR believes that Muslims worldwide must offer themselves as personal examples of the Islamic values of compassion, tolerance and moderation. We encourage members of the American Muslim community to work in public service." Also: "We have a well-established, very public record of denouncing terrorism and religious intolerance."
Council listed as terrorist group
In contrast, the UAE named the council a terrorist organization in November 2014.
Online, we spotted a full government-issued list of more than 80 groups, including al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, al Shabab and Boko Haram--and CAIR. A Nov. 20, 2014, news story on GulfNews.com said the list designating terrorist organizations around the world had been issued by the government’s cabinet Nov. 15, 2014, in line with an anti-terror law issued in August 2014 by the nation’s president, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Under the law, the story said, any individual or group that even communicates with a group on the list commits an offense. The story said the list would be reviewed by the government at least once a year.
According to the story, Anwar Mohammad Gargash, a government minister, said most objections were from groups tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and "many of them have engaged in incitement and the creation of an atmosphere of extremism." CAIR was not singled out.
As PolitiFact noted in 2013, the Brotherhood is an Islamic political and social movement founded in Egypt nearly 90 years ago that has millions of members throughout the Middle East. In Egypt and other countries, the Brotherhood has frequently been oppressed. After Hosni Mubarak was ousted from the Egyptian presidency in 2011, the group was legalized. But the year after Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate for president, won election in 2012, he was overthrown in a military coup and arrested.
In an interview with Fox News posted online Nov. 21, 2014, UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was asked why its list included the council and the U.S.-based Muslim American Society, which expressed shock at its inclusion.
The minister replied: "Our threshold is quite low when we talk about extremism. We cannot accept incitement or funding when we look at some of these organizations. I mean, for many countries, the definition of terror is that you have to carry a weapon and terrorize people. For us, it’s far beyond that. We cannot tolerate even the smallest and the tiniest amount of terrorism." He did not offer specifics (nor was he asked to do so).
On Nov. 17, 2014, foreign-affairs reporter Adam Taylor said in a Washington Post news blog post that a significant number of the "more surprising inclusions on the list appear to have ties to" the Muslim Brotherhood: "The Muslim American Society, for instance, was founded by Muslim Brotherhood members in the 1990s. Rumors about links to the Muslim Brotherhood have also dogged CAIR," Taylor wrote.
We contacted the council. National spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said the council has no connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. Asked about the UAE minister’s statement, Hooper emailed: "We are one of the nation's most vocal advocates for constitutionally-protected civil liberties. That is hardly ‘incitement.’ And we do not ‘fund’ anyone."
State Department doubts
Hooper further pointed out C-SPAN video of a State Department spokesman, Jeff Rathke, saying Nov. 18, 2014: "The United States does not consider these U.S. organizations to be terrorist organizations," going on to specify the council and Muslim American Society by name. Rathke also said the government was asking the UAE for more information. (See the State Department transcript here.) The council doesn’t appear on the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations.
Another council official, Corey Saylor, suggested by email that many groups did not belong on the UAE list.
A Nov. 25, 2014, news story in the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, quoted experts including Frederic Wehrey at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace saying that by listing groups like the council, Islamic Relief UK and some of the largest Muslim associations in Finland, Norway, Sweden and other European countries, "the UAE is pushing its view that the fight against militant Islamism is as much an ideological war as a conventional one. The real target of the list," Wehrey said, is "politically active Islamism."
Wehry went on: "(The UAE) is trying to include non-violent, Brotherhood-affiliated groups in the same ideological constellation as real terrorist groups like (Nigeria's) Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda," he said. Andrew Hammond, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations' Middle East and North Africa program, said: "I think the criteria (for the list) has been to look at anything that could have even a remote link to the Muslim Brotherhood."
More recently, according to a Jan. 17, 2015, news story on ArabianBusiness.com, the UAE has agreed to allow groups to appeal listing decisions to the government’s Ministry of Justice; the story said Jenifer Wicks, the council’s civil rights litigation director, had recently "submitted documents seeking to appeal the designation."
Next, we asked Hooper and Saylor about CAIR in 2007 being named among 300 others as an unindicted co-conspirator in a U.S. case regarding funding to the extremist group Hamas, as Fox News said in the news story noted by White.
Saylor said the council was identified that way along with other groups with interests in Muslim or Palestinian issues. In October 2010, Saylor said, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government had violated the Fifth Amendment rights of another group named as an unindicted co-conspirator — and by implication the council and other groups, Saylor said.
The court, saying the government inappropriately failed to file the list "under seal," also said inclusion on the list was the result of "simply an untested allegation of the government made in anticipation of a possible evidentiary dispute that never came to pass."
In March 2011, the Washington Post noted a federal judge, Jorge A. Solis, denied the council’s request to be stricken from the list of unindicted co-conspirators. Regardless, the story said, the council had never been charged with criminal activity. Reporter Glenn Kessler summed up: "The repeated references to CAIR being an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ is one of those true facts that ultimately gives a false impression."
Footnote: White’s February response also noted a Texas Tribune news story revealing her concern that one of CAIR’s Texas leaders, Mustafa Carroll, said at a Capitol rally in 2013 that practicing Muslims "are above the law of the land."
White’s quotation of Carroll was incomplete, the Tribune said, in that Carroll had prefaced his comment by saying: "Following the law of the land is part of Sharia. And we follow the law of the land." Carroll told the Tribune that by saying Muslims were "above the law," he meant practicing Muslims should "behave in a way that would put them above any possibility of breaking the law."
White said the council, which organized Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin, "was recently listed as one of 82 organizations designated as a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates."
So it was. However, her statement failed to note the U.S. government shortly disagreed with the council’s inclusion on the list, saying it doesn’t consider the council a terrorist group. For our part, too, we found no independent indicator the council merits identification as a terrorist organization.
On balance, we rate this singling out of a seemingly flawed designation Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
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