Imagine airport security pulling aside an Arab man for a random search before allowing him to board a plane. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) would want to know; it might be "passenger profiling." It also might be a hate crime, for which CAIR provides a handy, downloadable "incident report" that might result in a news conference, public protest, or indignant statement from "community leaders." CAIR keeps careful track of these incidents (and others) and adds them to its lengthening bar graph: 191 since last 9/11.
Hit the CAIR website-"faith in action"-and view a class-action discrimination lawsuit against America Online or find a "Mosque Safety Checklist" and "Ramadan Publicity Resource Kit," which provides a word-for-word script designed to persuade newspaper editors to write about the Islamic holiday. CAIR also specializes in spamming daily alerts containing hot rhetoric against conservatives and evangelicals-Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham are frequent targets-complete with the occasional "INCITEMENT WATCH" or discovery of a "Muslim Rodney King," the police-beating victim whose case sparked the deadly Los Angeles riots.
Now CAIR is taking its public-relations battle to American libraries. A $150 donation to its Library Project will send an 18-item package of books and multimedia materials to the library of the donor's choice. CAIR hopes to place a package in each of the country's 17,000 libraries by next fall, expanding a similar program by its southern California branch that put Islamic materials in 166 libraries last year. As of last week, nearly 1,400 packages were on their way. CAIR declined WORLD's request to release a list of sponsored libraries.
"If we can provide books that give a fair, accurate, and objective perspective on Islam, then we can do a lot to dispel any myths or stereotypes," said Hodan Hassan, communications coordinator for CAIR's national headquarters in Washington.
WORLD examined 12 of the books on the list. Robert Spencer, author of Islam Unveiled, analyzed five of them. They do not, he said, offer the whole truth about Islam. Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam, by former congressman Paul Findley, frequently quotes Abdurahman Alamoudi as an "early pioneer in Muslim political activism" but quotes none of his statements supporting terrorist groups. In October 2000, Mr. Alamoudi told 3,000 Muslim supporters in Washington's Lafayette Park, "We are all supporters of Hamas [and] I am also a supporter of Hezbollah." Said Mr. Spencer: "Alamoudi's inclusion in this book as a normal guy and a good American is a sign of the blinders people have on."
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam by Yahiya Emerick addresses wife abuse. The Koran says a husband should admonish his disobedient wife, refuse to share his bed with her, and then slap her. Mr. Emerick argues that Mohammed said it was only meant to be a gentle tap, but "the fact that it's allowed permits someone to do something quite brutal and say, 'It's only a tap,'" said Mr. Spencer.
John L. Esposito's The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? distinguishes between Islam, which supports peace, and Islamic "fundamentalism," which supports violence. "I'm sure that the great majority of Muslims want to live in peace," Mr. Spencer said. "But a fundamentalist is supposed to be somebody who takes all aspects of his religion seriously." The fundamentalist who strictly follows the Koran therefore supports violence.
While some of the books WORLD examined acknowledge that not all Muslims are peaceful, none concedes that there is a basis for violence in the Koran. Norm Geisler, co-author of Answering Islam and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said early verses promoting peace are overruled by later verses advocating violence against non-Muslims.
"The history of Islam shows that almost wherever it takes over, it does so by the sword," he said. "To say that it's a religion of peace takes early verses in the Koran out of context. They have no basis for saying that Islam is a religion of peace from the example of their leader, from the Koran, and from their history."
Mr. Geisler said he encourages peace-loving Muslims, but they are losing the battle against their violent brothers. "Their condemnations are so weak and anemic," Mr. Geisler said. "We have to question whether this is a diplomatic effort to make Islam look better rather than telling the whole truth."
Making Islam look better is precisely CAIR's goal: "to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America." Even on its website list of statements condemning the 9/11 attacks, CAIR concludes with a declaration by the group's Midwest communications director that has nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with positive image: "... Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and in the world. We are doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, teachers, and store owners. We are your neighbors."
-Ms. Wooster and Ms. Bilbro are World Journalism Institute students