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The special religion

"The special religion" Continued...

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

He added that the deference to the Muslim community has gone so far that agents agree to call a local imam before raiding a Muslim house. "We've never done that before ever," he said. "That's dangerous. We can get people killed."

American Muslim groups have lobbied hard to change the perception that terrorist acts have Muslim roots. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that when Joseph Stack flew a plane into a Texas IRS building in February, that should have been classified as an act of terrorism, though Stack didn't have ties to a larger terrorist organization. CAIR also has aggressively attacked those who criticize Islam, like Franklin Graham, who called Islam an "evil religion." But CAIR has its own baggage. Federal investigators listed it as an unindicted co­conspirator with the Holy Land Foundation, which a federal jury found guilty in 2008 of funneling $12 million to Hamas.

Some of the Muslim groups' lobbying appears to have been successful. Administration officials said in April that they will be erasing phrases like "Islamic extremism" and "jihad" from the national security policy lexicon. Attorney General Eric Holder at a congressional hearing in May highlighted the change as he tip-toed around the phrase "Islamic radical."

"Do you feel that these individuals [like Faisal Shahzad] might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?" Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, asked.

"Because of . . . ," Holder returned.

"Radical Islam," Smith filled in the blank.

"There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions. You have to look at each individual case. We're in the process now of talking to Mr. Shahzad to try to understand what it is that drove him to take the action."

"But radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?" Smith pursued.

"A variety of reasons."

"But was radical Islam one of them?"

"There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious. . . ."

The Obama administration's kid-glove treatment of Islam mirrors the Bush administration's approach to an extent, though President Bush didn't shy away from terms like "Islamic radicalism." The Bush administration was the first to send an envoy to the controversial OIC, which has sponsored defamation measures, essentially blasphemy laws, year after year at the UN (though it should be noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly condemned the defamation resolution.) "There's more continuity between the late years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration than many would acknowledge," said Kristin Lord of the Center for a New American Security.

But "everything's changed" since the Cairo speech, gushed Farah Pandith, the vivacious Indian American Muslim who serves as the special representative to Muslim communities. "There's a new frame, there's a new tone, there's a new lexicon," she said. The outreach to Muslims "is not an effort to 'win hearts and minds,'" she said, mocking the Bush administration's approach of confronting radical Islam by spreading Western ideals like democracy. "This is an engagement effort." Indeed, the United States has never had an official representative to one religion before.

And that official deference to Islam as a religion is what is so dramatically different in this administration. In April the president hosted an entrepreneur summit for Muslims in Washington, something he had promised in his Cairo speech. "What is a 'Muslim entrepreneur'? Do we support 'Christian entrepreneurs' or 'Hindu entrepreneurs' or other entrepreneurs because of their religion?" asked Marshall Sana, an expert on Islam at the Barnabas Fund, a Christian group. "If we keep going down this road, we're on the way to establishment. Some contend that we've made a turn and passed several road signs already."
Email: ebelz@worldmag.com

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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