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The American Congress for Truth (ACT), an anti-Muslim group run by firebrand Brigitte Gabriel, has targeted a Muslim professor serving on a human rights board in Florida, accusing him of having ties to radical Islamic groups and serving as a “mosque operative” in city government.
After months of opposition to Parvez Ahmed’s nomination to the Human Rights Commission of Jacksonville — he was appointed earlier this year — ACT held a news conference on the steps of Jacksonville City Hall Thursday to release a DVD of edited clips of a speech Ahmed gave in October, which the group claims shows “irrefutable” evidence of Ahmed’s associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam — despite the absence of any footage speaking directly to that charge. The lack of evidence apparently didn’t trouble Randy McDaniels, the Jacksonville ACT chapter leader who called the news conference. “It’s how he says what he says. What he doesn’t say. What’s inferred and the facts we know,” McDaniels said, adding that Ahmed was a “made man in the Muslim mafia.”
Ahmed is a former national chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Muslims in America. Fueling ACT’s accusations against Ahmed is the fact that CAIR was named in 2007 as an unindicted co-conspirator in charges brought against the Holy Land Foundation. The foundation is a Muslim charity that was ultimately convicted of funneling more than $12 million to Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamist organization considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government. Charges were never brought against CAIR in the case.
Ahmed says ACT’s claims are categorically false, and that the group, whose lobbying arm is called ACT! for America, has gone too far in its efforts to sully his reputation. “They are going to make the waters so muddy that sensible people will shy away from engaging Muslims in this country. That would be such a tragedy at this time when we need more Americans to engage with Muslims, even have disagreements with them.”
The waters may already be muddied in Florida, however. ACT’s campaign to discredit Ahmed has gone on for months. Ruffians claiming to be ACT members have disrupted his public appearances, screaming that he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ahmed described being harassed at one public appearance to the point that audience members, fearing for his safety, escorted him from the room. Another eyewitness confirmed Ahmed’s account.
Last week, Jacksonville General Counsel Cindy A. Laquidara told the Florida Times-Union that the city is standing by Ahmed. “Once he’s appointed, he’s appointed,” she said. “And there is not a procedure for people to change their mind.” A message left with Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton’s assistant requesting comment was not immediately returned.
ACT’s attacks on Muslims elsewhere have moved onto the Web, where the hate-filled rhetoric has reached an incendiary level. YouTube clips show people claiming to be ACT members suggesting the Koran is best used for toilet paper and the footbaths outside mosques are better suited for urinals.
ACT officials in Florida and Oregon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story. But ACT! for America executive director Guy Rodgers sent an E-mail to Hatewatch on Dec. 20 disavowing any connection with the offensive anti-Muslim comments by an individual which were captured on video. However, ACT! Orlando coordinator Alan Kornman posted a comment to this blog on Dec. 17 implying that there had been a prior relationship between the organization and the individual in the video. This post-publication exchange follows this story.
Still, the campaign against Ahmed is part of a groundswell brought on by groups such as ACT and Pam Geller’s New York-based Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) whose members see themselves as footsoldiers in the so-called “anti-jihad” movement and domestic patriots on the front lines of a war on terror. Claiming nearly 300 chapters nationwide, with the largest concentrations in California, Texas and Florida, ACT representatives have pushed for legislation to prohibit courts from acknowledging Shariah or international law and asked for deeper investigations into U.S. Muslim charities. Gabriel, ACT’s founder, has written two books titled They Must Be Stopped and Because They Hate, the latter partly a memoir in which the Lebanese-born Christian claims to have the experience to judge all of Islam.
On its Web page, ACT claims without proof that “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America, operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government.” ACT’s Web site also chastises the “purveyors of political correctness,” saying the “political Left in America denies, apologizes for, or blames America for the rise in Islamic extremism.”
Three thousand miles from Jacksonville, ACT is at work trying to save another professor’s job. Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., cancelled a scheduled class on Islam to be taught by an ACT chapter leader named Barry Sommer. The class, called “What is Islam?” was pulled from the school’s catalogue after CAIR wrote a letter of concern to administrators that Sommer would spread hateful untruths about Islam based on his association with ACT and statements he had made on his personal blog, Islam Today Oregon. Neither Lane College administrators nor Sommer responded to telephone calls and E-mails seeking comment, though Sommer has told several media outlets he is talking to the American Center for Law and Justice about possible legal action.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said Sommer’s class would be a disservice to Muslims nationwide and stoke already-burning flames of intolerance. “Once you look at what this guy believes, it’s clear what he would have taught,” Hooper said.
In a Dec. 6 entry on his blog, Sommer wrote: “When I say that Islam wants to rule the world, I am called a hatemonger. When I say sharia [sic] law is creeping into western civil law, I am accused of demeaning a religion. When I say that Islam is a patriarchal society where men control women I am said to be a [sic] Islamophobe. My view that Islam is more political than spiritual is shouted down as being intolerant.”
Ahmed, who has no association with the controversy in Oregon, says it all comes back to respecting and tolerating difference. “It’s one thing to have a negative opinion of Islam. And somebody may not like Muslims, and that’s fine,” he says. “But to have the kind of rhetoric and the kind of tactics that ACT and Pam Geller’s group engage in is way over the top.”
In a response to this blog post, ACT! for America executive director Guy Rodgers contacted Hatewatch in an E-mail on Dec. 20 with the following comment:
“ACT! for America does not condone the statements made that were captured on video, and stated so at the time. The individual captured on video making statements such as using the Koran as toilet paper was not a representative, chapter leader or member of ACT! for America. He confirmed this with an email he sent to me on April 5, 2010, in which he wrote `I am not a member of ACT nor do I represent them…’ For any person or organization to represent otherwise is to misrepresent what occurred without any evidence to support this erroneous allegation.”
But four days earlier, the ACT! coordinator in Orlando, Alan Kornman, said in a comment posted to this blog:
“While we can not control what comes out of someone’s mouth at public events, we can control what happens to that individual relative to any future involvement with ACT For America. ACT For America has severed any and all contact with this individual since those comments were made.”
When Hatewatch brought this apparent discrepancy regarding previous relationships between the videographer and ACT!, spokesman Jameson Cunningham responded in an E-mail:
“Alan does not say he severed a “relationship” with ACT for America. He says he severed “contact” with this person; he asked the person not to show up at any future ACT! for America events. The person was not a part of ACT! – he was not a chapter leader, “representative” or member.”