In the days since the awful Boston Marathon bombings, a controversy has exploded inside the Muslim-American community. The Shi’a Public Affairs Committee (ShiaPAC) – an organization founded to combat the defamation, discrimination and persecution of the Shi’a Muslims – cannot remain silent while other organizations claiming to speak in the name of Muslim-Americans spread fitna.
When President Obama came to Boston for an interfaith memorial service, a representative from the American Islamic Congress (AIC) was asked by the office of Governor Patrick to offer a reflection. At the time, the Marathon killers had not yet been identified, but already Muslim-Americans were in spotlight. In that difficult environment, AIC’s representative Nasser Weddady appeared at the podium with America and the world watching. He gave a brief speech that people of any faith could find moving and inspiring.
Instead of saluting Weddady’s eloquent remarks and important effort to present an appealing Muslim-American message at a time of national crisis, some organizations claiming to speak in the name of Muslim-Americans have instead attacked Weddady and AIC. Specifically, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has widely and publicly spread an article attacking AIC.
ShiaPAC would first like to commend Weddady (who is not a Shi’a) for speaking effectively as a Muslim American to fellow Americans throughout the Boston Marathon crisis. We also feel compelled to recognize the work of AIC for the past eleven years under the leadership of Zainab Al-Suwaij, who has shown dauntless determination towards numerous Islamic and humanitarian causes.
ShiaPAC notes that AIC is one of the few Muslim civic organizations headed by a Shi’a woman. Ms. Al-Suwaij is a native of Iraq who was nearly killed while participating in the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein, an uprising initially encouraged by then-President Bush. When America failed to make good on its promise, Al-Suwaij had to flee her homeland before settling in the US and becoming a proud American. After September 11 attacks, again in the midst of a national crisis, Al-Suwaij launched AIC as a non-religious group that could foster interfaith understanding and tolerance while promoting civil rights at home and abroad. AIC has launched innovative programs around the world that empower individuals and foster inclusive communities.
AIC has worked on the ground in very difficult environments and Ms. Al-Suwaij regularly puts herself at personal risk in order to advance AIC’s unique approach to International Development. This includes pioneering programs in Iraq amidst a violent civil war, as well as bold efforts in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak’s repression and is now helping Syrian refugees. She has helped engage women and youth and in the process become a source of inspiration for non-Muslims and Muslims alike, Sunni as well as Shi’a.
Her accomplishments come at a time when Saudi-funded Islamic organizations including those based in the United States, are unfortunately working to marginalize and disenfranchise Shi’a Muslims across the globe. ShiaPAC must note that Saddam Hussein butchered nearly a million Shi’a and Sunni Muslims during his 35 year old reign, while Al-Qaeda and its underlings, the Taliban, have massacred en masse Muslims of all sects in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia continues to suppress its Shi’a minority and has collaborated with Bahrain in suppressing and persecuting that Island’s Shi’a citizens (a majority of the population). These crimes against Humanity are intensifying by the day, and yet CAIR and many of its allies fail to speak up on behalf of these innocent victims. CAIR does not hesitate to attack federal, State, or local arms of the U.S government, for alleged cases of civil rights violations against American Muslims. It frequently cries of Islamophobia in defense of American Muslims, yet it ignores the frequent and flagrant Human Rights violations against Shi’a and other fellow Muslims by the Wahabi and Salafi States.
Millions of US Citizens hailing from Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond owe their survival to the United States. While these immigrants were persecuted for committing no crime, CAIR does not stand up to save victims like Zainab Al-Suwaij. Yet now that she is a free woman in a democratic country exercising her right to free speech and free association, CAIR comes along to chastise her. CAIR and related organizations established by the Muslim Brotherhood unfairly try to impose a monopoly on representing Islam and Muslims in America, Europe and beyond. They claim to defend Muslims and Islam, but only do so in a manner that serves their purpose.
CAIR in a distasteful manner has attacked Ms. Al-Suwaij and AIC publicly – apparently in an attempt to ostracize her via character assassination and defamation. This was hardly an act of civility, much less proper Islamic behavior. We judge AIC and Ms. Al-Suwaij by their actions. She and her organization have led ground-breaking work to protect the civil rights of people of all backgrounds. She and AIC have pioneered new avenues of inter and intra-faith understanding. And most importantly, she and many of her colleagues have risked physical danger to put their principles into action on the ground.
Now, only a few weeks after the awful Marathon bombings, is a time for healing and respect, not division. In that spirit, ShiaPAC calls on CAIR – which launched an unprovoked attack on another organization doing important work around the world – to publicly apologize to AIC and Ms. Al-Suwaij.