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No Critical CAIR in the Times

Reporter Neil MacFarquhar avoids the controversial accusations about the "Islamic civil rights group" CAIR, while suggesting its critics are motivated by hatred and McCarthyism.

The man on the Times' Muslims-in-America beat is Neil MacFarquhar. An in-house ad last year claimed that he "brings subtlety and insight to his reporting on a people often portrayed in one dimension." And one dimension is all readers got from MacFarquhar in Wednesday's potentially revealing piece on the controversial Council on American-Islamic Relations, which calls itself "America's largest Islamic civil liberties group."


MacFarquhar is the same reporter who, during the Israeli-Lebanon war, lamented "Bush's bombs" going to Israel and eroding America's reputation in the Middle East, and who couldn't be bothered to obtain the basic disturbing details of the suspicious behavior ofMuslim imams on a plane in Minneapolis.


In Wednesday's ironicallyheadlined"Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in U.S.", none of that scrutiny comes from MacFarquhar. Instead, hespends most of the article defending the controversial CAIR, who evenDemocratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York has criticized for some of its prominent members' "intimate links" to the anti-Israeli terrorist group Hamas.


MacFarquhar: "With violence across the Middle East fixing Islam smack at the center of the American political debate, an organization partly financed by donors closely identified with wealthy Persian Gulf governments has emerged as the most vocal advocate for American Muslims - and an object of wide suspicion.


"The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, defines its mission as spreading the understanding of Islam and protecting civil liberties. Its officers appear frequently on television and are often quoted in newspapers, and its director has met with President Bush. Some 500,000 people receive the group's daily e-mail newsletter."


"Yet a debate rages behind the scenes in Washington about the group, commonly known as CAIR, its financing and its motives. A small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link it to Hamas and Hezbollah, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, and have gone so far as calling the group an American front for the two."


While lumping CAIR's critics with McCarthyites, MacFarquhar avoided possibly unflattering left-wing labels for the group's supporters: "CAIR and its supporters say its accusers are a small band of people who hate Muslims and deal in half-truths. Ms. Boxer's decision to revoke the Sacramento commendation provoked an outcry from organizations that vouch for the group's advocacy, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Council of Churches.


"'They have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling,' said Maya Harris, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Northern California.


"Government officials in Washington said they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group. More than one described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association."


MacFarquhar had no difficulty slapping ideological warning labels on groups critical of CAIR: "Joe Kaufman, who Ms. Boxer's office said first drew her attention to CAIR's reputation, is the founder of a Web site that tracks what he calls the group's extremism, cairwatch.com. Other critics include the Investigative Project, a conservative group that tries to identify terrorist organizations, and the Middle East Forum, a conservative research center that says its goal is to promote American interests in the region."


MacFarquhar sounded like an apologist for CAIR here:


"Broadly summarized, critics accuse CAIR of pursuing an extreme Islamist political agenda and say at least five figures with ties to the group or its leadership have either been convicted or deported for links to terrorist groups. They include Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader deported in 1997 after the United States failed to produce any evidence directly linking him to any attacks.


"There were no charges linked to CAIR in any of the cases involved, and law enforcement officials said that in the current climate, any hint of suspicious behavior would have resulted in a racketeering charge."


MacFarquhar found some pro-CAIR "federal officials" to suggest the focus on CAIR was a witch hunt: "Several federal officials said CAIR's Washington office frequently issued controversial statements that made it hard for senior government figures to be associated with the group, particularly since some pro-Israeli lobbyists have created what one official called a 'cottage industry' of attacking the group and anyone dealing with it.


"Last summer, the group urged a halt to weapons shipments to Israel as civilian casualties in Lebanon swelled. In September, it held a dinner for former President Mohamed Khatami of Iran at a time when much of official Washington had ostracized that Islamic republic. In November, the group sponsored a panel discussion by two prominent academics who argue that the pro-Israeli lobby exercises detrimental influence on United States policy on the Middle East."


Since MacFarquhar doesn't name these "two prominent academics," they are John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, who released a paper about the "Israel lobby" which was labeled anti-Israel by many, including former Clinton administration Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and was praised by former Klansman David Duke.


Captain's Quarters commented: "For an article that purports to inform its readers of the controversy surrounding CAIR, it does its best to avoid looking for any details of the criticism it has received - which has been specific and part of the public record. Even while MacFarquhar notes Joe Kaufman, the Investigative Project, and the Middle East Forum, the only coverage he gives of their opposition to CAIR is a quote from Kaufman about CAIR being a front group."


The Captain listed the specific accusations that the Times was too squeamish to cover and concluded with tough words for MacFarquhar's "hackery": "It's practically a textbook example of hackery; spend all of an article rebroadcasting the complaints of one side and none of it covering the specifics of the other. MacFarquhar apparently couldn't disprove these specifics, and so pretended they didn't exist. The result should be an embarrassment for the New York Times, if they weren't already so incapable of shame."