The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has finally reached its waterloo. Its executive-director, Nihad Awad, has dropped the group’s moderate mask by publicly celebrating Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attacks on Israel, even though CAIR has attacked anyone accusing them of having Hamas ties of being anti-Muslim “Islamophobes.” It has used this label even for its Muslim opponents.
Taking Off the Mask
While speaking at the annual convention of the pro-Hamas American Muslims for Palestine, (AMP), Awad stated:
The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege, the walls of the concentration camp, on October 7. And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, which they were not allowed to walk in. And yes, the people of Gaza have the right to self-defense, have the right to defend themselves, and yes, Israel, as an occupying power, does not have that right to self-defense.
Awad also praised the Hamas terrorists for their faith and having supposedly earned their entry into heaven:
Israel did not scare them, because they knew their heaven is in Gaza, and if they would like to die, they will go to another heaven. That is the faith of the people of Gaza. That is why Gaza and the people of Gaza were able to transform everyone who is watching—they have learned from these people. Those who felt bad for Gaza—they don’t understand the equation. Those who thought that Gazans are less than those who can help them, they are mistaken. They are mistaken. The Gazans were victorious.
With those shockingly brazen statements, CAIR jeopardized decades of its work. For those decades, CAIR has denied its Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas origins. It has put on a moderate mask as a civil rights organization that condemns terrorism and built a broad network of allies in the government, media, think tanks, and left-wing organizations. In the process, it has acquired a megaphone so large it can permanently tarnish the reputations of all who stand in its way as Islamophobic conspiracy theorists. It acts as the self-appointed face of the Muslim-American community—and all of it that is in jeopardy.
The Biden White House swiftly condemned Awad’s comments and removed CAIR from its list of organizations participating in its U.S. National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism. The fact that CAIR was selected for any kind of effort against anti-Semitism in the first place, despite its long history of anti-Semitism, illustrates how successful CAIR’s public relations campaign has been. It doesn’t take much to find out about CAIR’s damning background, but the people who have vetted CAIR in the past either don’t do commonsense vetting or mistakenly trusted agenda-driven sources such as the Southern Poverty Law Center that reflexively defend CAIR and bash its critics as anti-Muslim bigots.
CAIR’s defenders simply could not bring themselves to see the merit in its opponents’ concerns, whether due to political tribalism, the embarrassment of having aligned with CAIR, or simply not being able to see past the deceptions.
The Limits of Deceit
Those who felt compelled to give CAIR the benefit of the doubt would downplay the significance of CAIR’s origins and point to the organization’s statements that it has “consistently denounced violence by Hamas” and that Awad, who publicly identified himself as a Hamas supporter in 1994, stopped supporting the group after it started launching suicide bombings and before it was declared a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1995. To many, the likeliest (and most comforting) scenario was that CAIR had evolved in a positive direction over the years since its 1994 founding. Although CAIR would slip up occasionally, such as when Awad was caught telling Arabic media in 2004 that his group does not condemn Hamas or Hezbollah and sees them as “liberation movements,” there wasn’t a smoking gun to indisputably prove that CAIR’s national leadership supports Hamas at this very moment and that CAIR was lying this whole time.
Then came last month’s AMP convention, where Awad’s desire to express solidarity with the pro-Hamas audience caused him to drop his guard. Perhaps it was also due to an understandable overconfidence that almost nothing—not even comments as incendiary and damning as his—would get national attention and cause a reexamination of CAIR’s credibility by its partners. Awad likely felt that, as long as he didn’t explicitly say “I support Hamas,” his remarks would go mostly unnoticed and be talked about only in the small, inconsequential world of the so-called Islamophobes.
Awad now realizes that he’s finally exceeded the limit of what CAIR can get away with.
CAIR’s panic is evident in Awad’s official statement in response to the controversy, in which he predictably claims the video of his remarks was selectively edited by anti-Muslim bigots. If Awad’s full speech shows him condemning violence against Israeli civilians and the context is so exonerating, then why has AMP deleted the original video from its YouTube channel? Why doesn’t CAIR itself publish the video and a complete transcript?
Awad claims that he wasn’t celebrating the massacres on October 7. Instead, he says he was celebrating nonviolent Palestinians who supposedly broke through Israel’s border fence and entered Israel and then peacefully returned to Gaza:
The average Palestinians who briefly walked out of Gaza and set foot on their ethnically cleansed land in a symbolic act of defiance against the blockade and stopped there without engaging in violence were within their rights under international law; the extremists who went on to attack civilians in southern Israel were not. Targeting civilians is unacceptable, no matter whether they are Israeli or Palestinian or any other nationality.
Where are these (likely mythical) nonviolent participants in Hamas’s invasion of Israel? Even if this actually happened, why would CAIR or anyone else fondly look upon October 7, 2023, unless he or she supported Hamas’s killings? Someone who actually opposes Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians would see it as a terrible and sad day, regardless of what nonviolent Palestinians did or didn’t do. Nothing on that day relegates the attacks to a sideshow of something else that happened.
The video shows that, in his very next sentence after praising Gazans who broke the “siege,” he emphasized that Gazans have the right to self-defense. That’s a clear justification of violence by Gazans against Israel that day, which obviously can only refer to the Gazan Hamas attacks. There’s no need to declare that a supposed quick act of trespassing is legitimate self-defense.
CAIR is clearly floundering, desperately reaching for semantics that can maintain deniability and allow Awad to claim to be the victim. Surely some people in the media and politics will accept absolutely any response by CAIR, no matter how nonsensical, in order to absolve the organization of guilt. However, this self-incriminating incident is so incontrovertible that it will forever be attached to CAIR’s brand, and it will shake even some of the most stubborn deniers of CAIR’s extremism.
CAIR’s (and Its Defenders’) Waterloo
It’s a step too far to say that CAIR is on the cusp of being ideologically defeated. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Muslim Americans totally or partially feel that Hamas’s attacks on October 7 were justified. A significant part of the far-Left has also endorsed Hamas. Therefore, CAIR still has a sizeable pool from which it can draw support.
However, CAIR may have reached its Waterloo—a decisive turning point from which it can never recover. CAIR will likely now be seen as too toxic for politicians, too anti-Semitic to be accepted into interfaith outreaches, too extreme for the media to treat as the authority on Muslim American issues, too indefensible for think tanks and public figures to align with, and too deceptive for virtually anyone to trust. Left-wing foundations and donors who fund CAIR may stop contributing, especially if they are publicly held accountable for their financing.
Awad’s dropping of his organization’s mask is a total vindication for the researchers and activists who have long opposed CAIR based on solid evidence. However, the vindication won’t heal the wounds incurred by CAIR’s opponents who have been labeled by CAIR and its allies as anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists without credibility. The internet is forever. Their damaged reputations are discoverable through a quick Google search by any potential employer, business partner, friend, and date.
This moment should spark a humbling of all those in the public square who have regurgitated CAIR’s talking points and cited it as a credible source. Additionally, it should prompt more scrutiny of accusations of bigotry against those who criticized CAIR and more serious consideration of concerns about other Western-based Islamist groups with extremist backgrounds, especially those who have derived from the Muslim Brotherhood, those who have directly or implicitly supported Hamas, and those who dodge the question of whether they support the terrorist organization.