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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

CAIR new leadership, new vision

WASHINGTON — Working for Muslim unity, supporting Muslims' blending into the U.S. society and defending their rights and freedoms are some of the pressing items on the agenda of the new chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim civil rights group.

"We have to make a more concerted effort to educate others on who we are, what we stand for, and why we will settle for nothing less than the full rights and liberties guaranteed to us by the constitution," Senator Larry Shaw, the newly-elected CAIR Chairman, told in an exclusive interview.

Shaw, the member of the North Carolina Senate General Assembly and the former member of the North Carolina House of Representatives General Assembly, was elected new CAIR Board Chair last week.

Shaw, who served on CAIR’s national board for three years, was America's highest-ranking Muslim elected official until the 2006 election of Keith Ellison as the country's first Muslim Congressman.

The new CAIR chairman has a long set of targets and challenges for his group in the coming period.

"We have to be the vanguard in opposition to states wanting to ban headscarves and profiling individuals just because of a bias few," he said.

"We have to do more with interfaith dialogue and coalition building with faith groups, civil rights groups and other organizations in which we share a common interest."

Shaw believes that another important task for CAIR is to help bring Muslim groups from across the US under one unifying umbrella.

"It is a necessity that we become more coalition driven in our quest for equality and justice; to the inclusion of obtaining the American way of life."

Established in 1994, CAIR is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC, with 32 offices and chapters across the US and Canada.

According to its mission, it strives to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

* Hardships

Senator Shaw believes that CAIR has achieved a notable success given its short history.

"The success was the establishment of a political organization that is national in scope and unlimited in resources."

He notes that during such brief history, CAIR has emerged as the prominent Muslim civil rights organization in America.

"CAIR has been very effective in keeping up with the relevant issues and attacking discrimination issues that impact Islamic communities in America, which are many."

Yet, he admits that the organization had its share of challenges too.

"I would not use the word failure, but plateau," says Shaw. "I think its activities and success have leveled off because it has reached a milestone."

Shaw believes one of the biggest hardships is that since CAIR has become a mature organization, some parties have sought its demise.

After 9/11, CAIR became a vocal player in the public debate as it developed relationships with members of Congress and had FBI officials frequently attending its meetings.

However, the group faced fierce attacks from some media outlets and officials over so-called ties to terrorist organizations and sources of funding.

The FBI decided earlier this year to server cooperation with CAIR on the pretext of its links to some radicals.

Senator Shaw regretted the "negative and counterproductive" policy-shift.

"The FBI’s misguided policies, after many years of a very productive relationship with FBI district offices and CAIR chapters [in] the last days of the Bush administration, sought to take parting shots at CAIR," he said.

"[This] insinuates a very negative stigma."

U.S. Muslims

The new CAIR board chair believes US Muslims have been through much over the recent years.

"After 9/11, there were wide sweeping legislation and regulations that were aimed directly at the Islamic community and other immigrant communities in America."

American Muslims, estimated at nearly seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights since 9/11, with many complaining of being discriminated against on religious bases.

Senator Show cited the recent presidential election campaign as a proof of the stigma still haunting the community.

"Then Candidate Barack Obama constantly defended himself against the accusations of being a Muslim. This had a very poisonous effect in the media being played on television, the internet, and all of the mass media outlets routinely."

He insists that despite the challenges facing them, American Muslims have to end the trend of disengagement with the US political life.

"This trend must be reversed…It is very negative and it doesn’t help our cause but it helps our enemy."

Shaw sees some hopeful signs emerging, with so many Muslims being elected to public offices.

He believes that it’s the mission of CAIR to encourage Muslims to engage with their country’s politics and to get better integrated in the wider society.

"The work that we do today is for the next generation and not so much for ourselves. It is all the more important that all of us across the country have to get involved."

Source: IslamOnline

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