Billed as a “clarion call to reform the draconian and racist American criminal justice system, the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh chapters of Council Council of American Islamic Relations(CAIR) and Emgage held their Fourth Annual Muslim Capitol Day in Harrisburg Pennsylvania on Wednesday, October 30th. But the event suffered from low attendance, a disjointed message, and confused political demands.
CAIR’s plan for the advocacy day called for bringing over 100 participants from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities (including Jews and Christians), to visit offices of elected state senators and legislators.
Considerably less than 100 participants were visible at the capitol’s rotunda to hear the speeches by State Senators Sharif Street and Anthony Williams, Reps. Joanna McClinton and Movita Johnson Harrell, PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and Mohan Seshadri, Executive Director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific-American Affairs. And there were no speakers representing the Jewish or Christian communities despite what the promotions claimed.
Most Pennsylvania lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, were seemingly unaware of CAIR’s presence in Harrisburg that day, and few scheduled meetings with the group. Several legislators said they were already aware of CAIR’s background, in part thanks to a boycott campaign organized by the Middle East Forum’s Islamists In Politics Project, which arranged over 130 Pennsylvania constituents to write letters to their legislators urging them to avoid meeting with the group. CAIR is known for its extensive ties to Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates.
The first speaker at the rotunda rally, CAIR representative Salima Suswell, used the opportunity to highlight an alleged case of Islamophobia involving a high school athlete disqualified from a track meet while wearing a hijab. Suswell spoke in support young athlete, Noor Alexandra Abukaram claims that not allowing her to wear her hijab was an affront against all Muslims.
“This rule is completely excluding an entire people, all Muslim people from competing in track and field and cross country,” [Abukaram] said. “Saying you can’t wear a hijab is saying you can’t run. I don’t think this should be a rule.”
Curiously, however the incident didn’t even take place in Pennsylvania but rather Ohio and a closer look at the rules reveal that the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) simply requires a waiver be signed beforehand for runners to compete with religious headwear – any religious headwear, with no specific mention of hijabs.
Neither Abukaram nor her coach was aware of the rule before the meet, and when she did apply for the waiver it was immediately granted. None of the speakers admitted the disqualification was attributable to bureaucratic regulation rather than anti-Muslim bias. Nor was there any recognition that promotion of the hijab is an issue of debate among Muslims, or that promotion of the hijab is seen by some Muslims as an attempt to impose an Islamist ideology.
It was not the only claim of Islamophobia made during the rally of questionable accuracy.
Representative Movita Johnson-Harrell used the Muslim Capitol Day Rally to yet again accuse Representative Stephanie Borowicz of “layering with Islamophobia” her invocation for the State legislature on March 25, the same day Johnson-Harrell was sworn in. The newly elected Muslim state legislator said Borowicz’s invocation said, “in so many words, you’re not welcomed here.”
In reality, Borowicz’ invocation made no reference to Islam or Muslims at all, although it did make a reference to Jesus and support for Israel.
CAIR Philadelphia Executive Director Jacob Bender finally topped off the rally by declaring, “we experience slavery from racists who have turned us back to the days of Jim Crow and public lynching.”
Yet this bombastic statement of a community under threat of imminent slavery and lynching was incongruous with the actual stories of grievance which the Muslim Capitol Day event chose to highlight. Nor did the lobbying agenda of CAIR and Emgage realistically correspond to the claims of human rights violations that Bender and company alleged.
Instead the lobbying day focused on the advancement of five bills before the PA legislature. These included SB 70: The Office of New Americans Act, which seeks a new office to work on integrating new immigrants in Pennsylvania, whose primary sponsor is Sen. Sharif Street. The other immigration related bill, SB-35 The Dream Act seeks to provide undocumented immigrant youth access to Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher education. The other four bills focus on prison reform issues. HB-1593: Amending Prison and Parole Title 6 would create certain limitations on male correctional staff performing cavity searches on incarcerated individuals who identify as female is sponsored by Rep. Movita Johnson–Harrell. HB1799: Anti-Risk Assessment Tool seeks to repeal provisions for risk assessment in the sentencing, resentencing and parole of prisoners. Of the five lobbying priorities only HB 1555: The Smart Probation and Parole Act, has bipartisan support.
Whatever one’s views on these particular pieces of legislation, the bills certainly do not reflect the alleged concerns of rampant islamophobia and abuse that CAIR portrayed during its rally. Nor did they, at least facially, have anything at all to do with Islam or Muslims.
As Oren Litwin writes in the American Spectator, Islamists like CAIR have a long history of promoting open borders policies, but not for the reasons one might think. Litwin notes their interest derives from a broader hostility towards American society which,
“…should be seen for what it is: an attack on not only the legitimacy of the United States itself, but on the very cosmopolitan ideal. And this attack is motivating a fictitious rewrite of our history, the wholesale attribution of racist motives to innocent people, and the deepening polarization of our society.”
And as Islamist Watch’s Sam Westrop notes, Islamists like CAIR have increasingly adopted progressivist language regarding issues like immigration, prison reform and even transgender rights.
One promising moment during the Muslim Capitol Day rally was when State Senator Anthony Williams noted to applause that victims of 9/11 were all Americans and included Muslims, Christians and Jews. But Williams failed to identify the perpetrators of 9/11 as Islamists, who had more in common ideologically with CAIR than with their victims. It was a lost opportunity to differentiate between moderate Muslims and Islamists, and so came off as little more than a reinforcement of the Muslims as victims narrative enforced by CAIR.
Despite exaggerated stories of “islamophobia”, and a cloak of progressivism cast over CAIR’s lobbying efforts, few Pennsylvania lawmakers seemed interested in what CAIR had to say, and very few stopped by the rotunda. Perhaps this is a sign that CAIR’s cachet from local lawmakers is waning. In Ohio, the Middle East Forum’s Islamists in Politics (IIP) project succeeded in insuring the Ohio Muslim Capitol day was a flop. In southern states, Arkansas and Louisiana have both passed legislation urging law enforcement not to meet with the CAIR, and the group was recently embarrassed following a move by the U.S. Census Bureau to remove CAIR from participating.
While CAIR and its Islamist allies continue to hold Muslim Capitol Days at state legislatures around the country, there’s increasing evidence to suggest that the group’s political power isn’t as impressive as CAIR would lead either supporters or critics to believe.
This article originally appeared in PJMedia