In a rare interview with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Breitbart Texas spoke with Alia Salem, Executive Director of CAIR’s Dallas-Fort Worth chapter about the controversy over Stand With the Prophet, the Islamic fundraiser held at the suburban Dallas public school-owned property, the Curtis Culwell Center. The main speaker, New York Imam Siraj Wahhaj, was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) bombing, who, although never charged, defended the convicted bomb plotters, called the FBI and CIA the “real terrorists,” made extremist, anti-American statements in the 1990’s, and said that he hoped all Americans one day would become Muslim. The residents of Garland were upset.
Breitbart Texas contacted Salem to get her take on the protestor’s rights to assemble on behalf of free speech. Salem felt media coverage had not been fair and wanted to tell her side of the story. Breitbart Texas may have disputed what the CAIR representative had to say, but this is what she said:
Breitbart Texas: This is about first amendment rights and free speech, no?
Salem: They are trying to get this event shut down so they are actually anti-free speech. They are calling the rally a free speech rally but it’s against free speech, in fact.
Breitbart Texas: How?
Salem: (no answer)
Breitbart Texas: Doesn’t the other side have the right to protest?
Salem: I’m 100% for them protesting. I don’t agree with how they view Islamic Muslims but they have every right. I am a patriot in all senses of the word and I believe in free speech and I believe in our right to assemble and I believe in our right to protest. I would never begrudge them that, ever.
Breitbart Texas: That’s what they are doing. Why do you feel that is “trying to shut you down”?
Salem: The last count I got was 200 people calling the school district trying to get it shut down and a lot of people went to the (school board) meeting, their open comments section; they voiced their displeasure and preference to not host this event.
Breitbart Texas: It was maybe five people. The Garland Independent School District (GISD) board president was very fair to your event. A few people spoke. He asked speakers not to say the same (complaints) over and only share news concerns about the event.
(Note: Breitbart Texas viewed the video of the event.)
Salem: I’m not saying GISD has not been fair. GISD has been very staunch in their non-promotion/defense of our right to be there. I’m not affiliated with the organization but they have dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s. They have in no way promoted but also honored the contract that was made.
Breitbart Texas: Why not have it at the Hyatt across the street?
(Note: Other Stand With the Prophet events have been held in privately-owned facilities, i.e., hotels or convention centers. Residents were concerned it the GISD event center paid for by a taxpayer school bond.)
Salem: If it wasn’t an event about Islamic Muslims, this would not be on the docket, I can assure you of that. The groups that are pushing this devote their time and energy to attacking Islam and Muslims. That’s well known.
Breitbart Texas: Is it? Which groups?
Salem: I have no problem with them not agreeing with Muslims, with them not wanting anything to do with Islam. Our country is founded upon our ability to make decisions, our freedoms our freedoms of choice, our freedom of press, our freedom to assemble, our freedom to protest. This is a country of freedoms.
Breitbart Texas: Then you agree that these people protesting also have the freedom to do so?
Salem: They have every right, but what they don’t have a right to do is to bully people in a way that is unfair and that people who are citizens of this country, who have on multiple of occasions, rented that facility with no problems whatsoever and now, all of a sudden, because the individuals who are trying to defame, discredit and attack upon the Islamic Muslims are pushing them to do this.
Breitbart Texas: Unfair how?
Salem: I do not believe that our citizens in DFW are doing this of their own volition and hatred towards Islamic Muslims. I believe this is something that is being instigated by others. However, there are individuals in this community who are misinformed. They are doing what they believe is their patriotic duty to speak against something they don’t believe in.
Breitbart Texas: By whom? Who are these groups or individuals, what you called “the bullies”?
Salem: (no answer)
Breitbart Texas: The people coming on Saturday believe this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian, not Islamic principles —
Salem : — Actually, it wasn’t. Our founding fathers were Deists. They weren’t Muslims, they weren’t Christians, they weren’t Jews.
Breitbart Texas: Really? You realize many Americans who would dispute that.
Salem: And I am sure you are going to publish that.
Breitbart Texas: You say you don’t have a problem with the protesting yet you say the protesting is “shutting you down.”
Salem: I am not disputing their right to protest.
Breitbart Texas: But you see that right to protest infringing upon your rights?
Salem: I never said that. You have to understand where I am coming from, the kind of hatred and vitriol and attacks I’ve received in this last week — death threats, threats to violence, threats to our community, direct death threats, threats of being blown up — so who’s the terrorist?
Breitbart Texas: From whom? What groups or individuals can you specifically name that threatened you?
Salem: They are individuals who are taking it upon themselves to share this information online and post on Facebook events. All over the place.
Breitbart Texas: Who?
Salem: (no answer)
Breitbart Texas: Do you think any of the world events that have happened, most recently, Charlie Hebdo, and the ungodly massacre of 12 in France over defaming the Prophet Mohammad (in a satirical magazine that lampoons other major religions too) has anything to do with how people feel?
Salem: Only because people choose to let it.
Breitbart Texas: What do you mean?
Salem: People who are God-fearing Muslims in this country have nothing to do with what some crazy people do halfway around the world. I’m not responsible for what those criminals and murderers did to those poor people. If our community members think it is okay to blame an entire group of individuals for something that terrorists are doing — I don’t care in what name they do it in — I don’t care if it’s the KKK, the Buddhists extremists, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, a Christian terrorist organization, I don’t care if they are Boko Haram, I don’t care who they are — no group deserves to be blamed for what extremists committed whether it’s in their name or otherwise.
Breitbart Texas: But these terrorist acts were committed by Islamic extremists —
Salem: –One of the men who saved a number of Jewish individuals in the kosher deli was a Muslim man, Lassana Bathily from Mali. He’s getting awarded by the French. A Muslim police officer died at Charlie Hebdo’s office trying to protect people.
Breitbart Texas: Do you understand why the ‘protesters’ feel the way they do?
Salem: Absolutely and I completely sympathize with a lot of Americans who are concerned, they are afraid, all they hear in the media is “Islamist terrorist this,” “Muslim terrorist that,” extremist this.” If I was not in this community I could very well be one of them, one who is fearful of Islam and Muslims. What I don’t sympathize with are these malicious individuals who actually do know better, who spend their lives attacking Islam and Muslims.
Breitbart Texas : I’ll ask again, who do you mean? What groups? What people?
Salem: I’m an 8th generation Texan. I’ve lived here my entire life. Yes, I happen to practice Islam but I have as much right to be here as anybody else —
Breitbart Texas : Eight generations Muslim?
Salem: — and I have as much of a right to be afraid with them. If we don’t stand up together against hatred and terrorism and extremism in all communities, we will fail. We will continue to rip ourselves apart from the inside out. Next, it’s going to be Christians, next it’s going to be Jews.
Breitbart Texas: Next? Aren’t Christians and the Jews already targeted by Islamic extremism?
Salem: We have to stop the cycle of violence.
Breitbart Texas: Do you think that if more Muslim groups would stand up against the atrocities Islamic terrorists have committed it would help? We hear certain voices like Zuhdi Jasser every now and then —
(NOTE: The anti-Islamist Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has been criticized by CAIR as an Islamophobe or Islamophobia enabler as have other FOX News contributors Robert Spencer, Ayann Hirsi Ali, Brigitte Gabriel, and Pamela Geller.)
Salem: No, not every now and then, every single time there is an event in the world perpetrated by someone claiming to be Muslim, every single time, Muslim leaders stand up and denounce this.
Breitbart Texas: By who and when?
Salem: What happens is that it does not get any media coverage.
Breitbart Texas: Not even on MSNBC?
Salem: No. Not any of it. None of the news outlets.
Breitbart Texas: So which Muslim leader(s) stand up? When?
Salem: 120 major world leaders from the Muslim faith. It’s all online in the Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi.
(Note: The letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS leader, argues against ISIS as not legitimate in Islam. There are other other Islamic terrorist groups not mentioned i.e., Hamas, Hizbollah, Al Qaeda.)
Breitbart Texas: The Imam Wahhaj, has said volatile things about the West. Don’t those things bother you as a Texan?
Salem: (no answer)
Breitbart Texas: There is a breakdown in communication, why is that?
Salem: That is such a great question. Why is it there are leaders who are supposedly controversial have little snippets of what they said that have been taken — just that part from the entire speech and then they circulate it. It moves like wildfire through social media. Why is that?
Breitbart Texas: He said some vile things —
Salem: — This imam was listed as a possible person of interest in the 1990’s but he was never charged, never indicted, never had any legal issues whatsoever, and completely dropped off of the list. He has had amazing relationships with the NY Police Dept since the 80’s, in the 90’s he opened a session of Congress, has wonderful relationships with elected officials not only in NY but across the country and has been a leader in the Muslim community for decades. He’s been to Dallas-Fort Worth so many times, I can’t count on my fingers. He was here a week ago but nobody said anything.
Breitbart Texas: Did anyone know?
Salem: (no answer)
Breitbart Texas: What about the imam and anti-Semitism in the Muslim community?
Salem: Not in our community there is not. Are there Muslims who are anti-Semites? Yes. There are Jews who are anti-Semites. There are Christians who are anti-Semites. In our community we have amazing relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. One of my very best friends is Jewish.
Salem also wanted to “relate the love the Muslim Community” has for others in Dallas-Forth Worth. She said they would want nothing more than for (all communities) to come to the table together and bridge this gap of hatred and misunderstanding.
The conversation came full circle with Salem railing against the “protestors,” insisting “I can guarantee you, it will be nothing but hate. This is not free speech. This is about the protestors calling (Islamic Muslims) ‘evil infidels’ and using words that they think Muslims propagate. They will be quoting Koran verses out of context, they will be defaming individuals. It’s all about hate against Islam and Muslims. Mark my words.”
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.