One sure way of limiting the amount of criticism one receives is to sue them in a court of law. At least, that’s the plan among such groups as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). According to Robert King, writing for the Indianapolis Star, as many as 40,000 Muslims attended a convention this past weekend in Chicago where they were told that one way of standing up for their religious beliefs is to file lawsuits against those who are critical of Islam (generally) or about Islamic organizations (in particular). According to Mr. King:
“At a Saturday morning seminar attended by more than 200 people, the discussion included how to apply pressure on politicians who smear the faith, the benefits of corporate boycotts and what constitutes legal grounds for defamation suits.
"The key," Corey P. Saylor, government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the audience, "is to not just sit back and take it."
Aisha El-Amin, who sat in on the lecture, agreed with the need to be proactive. She was especially interested in a Web site that tracks contributions to political candidates.
"We can only fight for ourselves," said El-Amin, a New Orleans resident who was visiting relatives in Chicago when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.”
Apparently, CAIR is proud of its record of filing lawsuits against members of congress, website owners, and radio stations as a means of stifling any criticism about Muslims or the Islamic faith. In particular, again according to Mr. King:
“Already fighting on behalf of American Muslims is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, as it is commonly known. The organization, playing a prominent role at ISNA's convention, has developed a reputation for being something of a pit bull in protecting the civil rights of Muslims.
“CAIR, for example, sued a North Carolina congressman after he accused the organization of acting as a fundraising arm for Hezbollah, a militant Palestinian group. The council also organized a boycott against a radio station until it fired a disc jockey who called Islam a terrorist organization. CAIR also brought considerable pressure on a Colorado lawmaker who asserted that America should take out Islam's holy sites in the event of another terrorist attack.
“Arsalan T. Iftikhar, the national legal director for CAIR, said Saturday it was time for everyday Muslims to "defend the image and reputation of the community and Islam in general."
"I am here to teach you how the American Muslim community can legally empower itself to protect itself in the American courts," he said, as he went into the nuances of the limits of the First Amendment.
“Sayyid Syeed, the secretary general of ISNA, a group generally less vocal than CAIR, earlier in the weekend said his organization is considering filing defamation lawsuits against some of its sharpest critics.”
Mr. King goes on to recount a telephone conversation with Islamic critic Stephen Emerson, who maintains that the ISNA’s interest in using defamation lawsuits against those who are critical of Islam seek only to “stifle free speech” and that such organizations “ . . . are apologists for militant Islam.” In response, Iftikhar said that Emerson’s remarks are exactly the reason why Muslims “are becoming more vigilant in responding to their critics. He [Emerson] uses innuendo, conjecture, and defamation.”
Could it be true that Islamic organizations, finding themselves criticized by Americans from a wide range of interests (legislative and journalistic) are resorting to lawsuits because they are unable to provide acceptable responses to such criticism? Is it lawful to stifle any citizen’s right to free speech by alleging “defamation?”
We define “defamation” as an overarching synonym that includes slander and libel. In breaking the law, an individual is proven to have made a false statement of fact that injures the reputation of another. Slander involves a written communication, while a spoken false statement is libel. In most legal systems, the proof of defamation is that the statement(s) issued are false. If the statements are true, there can be no defamation. In addition, many legal systems require that allegations of defamation also prove malice; that a false statement intended to injure the reputation of another, or that in making a false statement, the speaker, or writer exhibited “reckless disregard” of the consequences.
In making the statement that organizations such as ISNA and CAIR are apologists for militant Islam, is Mr. Emerson guilty of defamation? No doubt, his attorney would argue that Mr. Emerson is not guilty of defamation based on an assertion that his statement is true. For example, if the goal of all Muslims is the same, and if some Muslims call for the destruction of infidels as the enemy of Islam, and such organizations as ISNA and CAIR publicly support the creation of an Islamic state within the United States in contravention to our Constitution, are these organizations apologists for militant Islam? Beyond that, what harm has Mr. Emerson done in making such a statement? Has he injured the reputation of people who murder others in cold blood?
Meanwhile, Mr. A. J. Whitehead, who operates a website called Anti-CAIR, recently wrote:
“Let’s recap: if an American Muslim group is criticized, the Muslim group should immediately run to the courts and file a lawsuit rather than answer the criticism? If a company should somehow insult Islam, that company’s products should be boycotted until the proper apologies are made? If Muslims or Islam is criticized, then a defamation lawsuit is called for? Anti-CAIR believes that CAIR’s brand of Wahhabi Islam must not be worth very much considering CAIR’s inability to defend Wahhabi Islam on its merits. Wasn’t it Wahhabi Muslims who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001? Now we fully understand why CAIR can’t defend Islam; their brand of Islam isn’t worth the effort and CAIR knows it can’t win in the court of public opinion.”
The reader must decide for him or her self whether it is the goal of Islamic organizations to deny citizens their right to free speech. And of course, the courts will have to decide such issues, also. But one thing appears to be perfectly clear: stifling criticism is not the American way. In fact, it is decidedly UN-American, and it causes one to wonder why Muslim organizations would pursue such a strategy in the first place.
Cross post: Social Sense