Washington DC – First, the large Muslim-American advocacy group reported that a “mole” had infiltrated the leadership of one of its branches of government. Then, just days later, the organization said a “spy” at an American mosque passed information to an “anti-Muslim” group.
The two incidents, brought to light by the American Islamic Relations Council (CAIR) earlier this month, have rocked Muslim lawyers in the United States and renewed long-standing concerns about spying on the community.
“Community members were shocked and saddened to hear of this particular situation, but many people were also not surprised that an anti-Muslim hate group is targeting and spying on CAIR,” said Whitney Siddiqi, director of community affairs at CAIR-Ohio. .
The CAIR chapter said on Dec. 15 that he fired Romin Iqbal, his executive and legal director in the Columbus-Cincinnati area, for “major ethical and professional violations.”
CAIR accused Iqbal of handing over confidential information to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), a group that owns the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that tracks down hate groups in the US. said was founded by an “anti-Muslim activist”.
Separately, CAIR’s National Office in Washington, DC said on December 21 that another individual who volunteered at a U.S. mosque said he was paid by Steven Emerson, IPT’s executive director, to provide information about the to provide community.
Community update: A second IPT ‘spy’ volunteered, confessed and agreed to work with us. He was not part of CAIR. “He was an active volunteer in a large mosque that was invited to national community meetings and events,” CAIR said in a statement. Twitter thread, without identifying the suspected spy or where he was volunteering.
Siddiqi said one of the aims of the espionage was to “create fear and mistrust in our own communities”, but she stressed that CAIR is moving forward “with transparency” and doubling its efforts to fight Islamophobia.
“Again, we acknowledge the devastation of this news and it certainly takes time to process, but something positive to come out of this is the fact that we are strengthening our connections and working to protect and defend Muslims,” she said. Al Jazeera said. n e-mail.
In the two decades since 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans cases of supervision faced, a series of discriminatory policies – including travel ban – as well as an increase in hate crimes, while espionage programs managed by federal and local law enforcement agencies targeting their communities.
For example, between 2002 and 2014, the New York Police Department dedicated an entire unit to spy on the city’s Muslim population. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), pointed out to the police where Muslim New Yorkers lived, recruited informants from within the Muslim community and placed mosques under supervision.
Now, the recent incidents involving CAIR have once again raised concerns across the country. “It’s just really scary,” Nadia Ahmad, a law professor and Muslim-American activist based in southern Florida, told Al Jazeera.
The Family and Youth Institute, a Michigan-based mental health research institute, recently released a toolkit on how to deal with the effects of espionage allegations, advising people to recognize the effects of the news and channel their energy. ” after efforts in your community ”.
“When espionage is carried out by an individual who works for an organization that advocates for the civil rights of American Muslims, then the trauma, stress and shock are overwhelming and the damage can last a long time,” the institute said. said.
IPT and its founder
CAIR said it had found “conclusive evidence” that Iqbal – the former Ohio office official – “spent years secretly recording CAIR network meetings and passing on confidential information about CAIR’s national advocacy work” to IPT.
Iqbal’s lawyer refused to comment on the allegations in an email to Al Jazeera on Friday.
IPT rejects it as a hate group. It says it is a research organization and a “main source of critical evidence to a wide range of government offices and law enforcement agencies”.
Emerson and other people associated with the group have testified as experts on terrorism at several U.S. congressional hearings, including as recently as 2016. Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and former congressman senior fellow at IPT, served as ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, the group’s website is filled with anti-CAIR material, as well as articles that criticize Israel, and the organization openly asks for tips on “terrorism-related information”.
“Mr Emerson is not anti-Muslim, nor does he lead a ‘hate group,'” the group said in an email to Al Jazeera on Friday.
IPT also said it “never monitored and will never monitor the broader American Muslim community”, but “will not hesitate to expose and expose radical Islamic activities on American soil”.
But a 2011 report (PDF) by The Center for American Progress, a liberal American think tank, accused Emerson and his group of pressuring them to portray Islam as violent.
“Such exaggerated portraits of Islam as inherently radical require a degree of creativity on Emerson’s part,” the report said. “To prove he is up to the challenge, Emerson boasts a history of producing evidence that perpetuates radical Islamic conspiracies that infiltrate America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.”
The SPLC also has describe Emerson as an “anti-Muslim activist”.
Israel connection claimed
CAIR also accused IPT of “cooperating” with “Israeli officials”.
On Tuesday, the Muslim advocacy group shared screenshots it said an email exchange between Emerson and Israeli government officials showed him asking for possible ties between Students for Justice in Palestine, a student-led advocacy group active in U.S. universities, and the Palestinian faction Hamas.
Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the screenshots. The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment Thursday and Friday. CAIR did not say how he obtained the emails.
Nihad Awad, CEO of CAIR, said in a statement on December 14 that “Emerson’s hate group was communicating with and assisting Israeli intelligence with the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”.
“Let me say it again,” Awad wrote. “The Israeli government has collaborated with an anti-Muslim hate group.”
In a statement to Al Jazeera, IPT denied that Emerson or the organization “ever worked under the leadership of any government, foreign or domestic; and has never received any funding from any government, foreign or domestic ”.
Activists documented ties between right-wing, pro-Israel advocacy groups and organizations that perpetuate Islamophobia more commonly over the years.
“There is a definite link between Islamophobia and activism [against] pro-Palestinian causes, ”Ahmad, the law professor, said in general terms. “And it’s something we’ve seen happen not just in the last few months or years, but for decades.”
Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights advocacy group, also said the alleged cooperation between Emerson and the Israeli government shows the overlap between anti-Palestinian sentiment and Islamophobia.
“This is a serious issue,” he told Al Jazeera.
Ayoub also compared the spying on Muslims to violent attacks on Arab-American civil rights organizations in the 1980s and 90s, including the assassination of ADC’s West Coast regional director Alex Odeh in a pipe bomb attack on his California office in 1985.
The FBI investigation into the bombing remains open. Many media reports linked the attack to the Jewish Defense League, which the SPLC describe as a “radical organization that promotes a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism”.
Ayoub added that the recent incidents highlighted the need for vigilance in American Muslim and Arab communities – and called on federal authorities to investigate Emerson’s possible cooperation with the Israeli government.
“It exposes the extent to which [hate groups] “and this is something that the community needs to take seriously,” he said.
“It is time that we work to protect ourselves and have the right selection processes in place, to have the right behind-the-scenes safety measures in place in our technology, and to take these threats seriously. “Everyone who does civil rights work is a target.”