On June 22, radio host Chris Baker was conducting an interview with Corey Saylor of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) when Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project — criticized as an “anti-Muslim group” by CAIR — called in.
Baker said he was a regular reader of the Clarion Project website. “They seem to be pretty equal. They talk about peaceful Muslims who believe in human rights, and then they talk about terrorists. How do they get on the list?” he asked.
“They’re well-known for producing anti-Muslim propaganda films,” Saylor replied. “As a matter of fact, the New York police department, at one point in time, was showing one of their films, then when it was reviewed by senior leadership, they rejected it. I believe the term ‘wacky’ was the actual part of the quote from the senior NYPD person.”
Saylor compared this Clarion Project film to what would happen if you took “every criminal in the United States, and cut them into one 10-minute YouTube video, and projected that to the world, and said ‘this is what America is.’”
“You know that’s a lie, I know that’s a lie. That’s essentially what Clarion does,” he charged.
Mauro rejected this charge of dishonesty. “We have three Muslims on the board. I provided information to the authorities about three anti-Muslim threats,” he pointed out.
“So I would just like to ask Corey, why is it that CAIR spends more time attacking me, and the Muslims that we work with, like in our film Honor Diaries, than the amount of time they spend attacking anti-gay laws in Muslim countries, and anti-gay movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. Why is the attention directed on us, and not on things like homophobia in the Islamic world, and other forms of extremism?” Mauro challenged.
Saylor objected to having not been told there would be another guest on the show, telling Baker it was “really objectionable, and a very unprofessional practice.”
He went on to address Mauro’s challenge by saying CAIR is composed of “adults” who are “quite capable of focusing on many things at once.”
“We have called out violent extremist groups,” he said. “We are not a foreign policy organization, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time, in my professional life, talking about some of the things that I object to, that I see coming from Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, I think that’s ridiculous, and there’s nothing in Islam to support that.”
Mauro broke in to point out that, contrary to Saylor’s denial, CAIR “does talk about foreign policy a lot,” and said the letter to ISIS referenced by Saylor “endorses sharia, theocracy, and the hudud punishment. It’s not exactly a great moderate declaration.”
Mauro asked Saylor to respond to a court filing that reads, “From its founding by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists… the conspirators agreed to use deception to conceal from the American public their connections to terrorists.”
“Is that true, or is the Justice Department also part of the Islamophobia network?” he asked, adding that he would like Saylor to address “the fact that a 2011 Gallup poll shows that only 12 percent of Muslim-Americans picked CAIR as the group that most represents them.”
On the first point, Saylor claimed “that whole thing was put to bed in 2011” by a court ruling that CAIR’s naming as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial was “inappropriate” because the filing actually referred to another organization.
He added that Attorney General Eric Holder said, with respect to the charges against CAIR, “when you look at the facts and the law, there’s nothing there.”
“He was attacked for that because somehow people thought we had influence over Holder,” said Saylor.
Mauro responded that Saylor was misrepresenting the court filing that he claimed exonerated CAIR — he was citing a 2010 ruling, not the 2011 document he described, and the 2010 ruling did not actually remove CAIR from the unindicted co-conspirator list — it merely said the list should not have been publicly disclosed. Saylor responded by claiming that an upper court ruling favorable to CAIR superseded the one Mauro was citing.
Mauro said the NYPD’s dismissal of Clarion’s movie was motivated by “political pressure, and mischaracterizations of the content of the film.” He said the political pressure was coming from CAIR and argued that the film was narrated by a “devout, practicing Muslim.”
Saylor responded that it was a “joke” to think an organization like CAIR, whose $5 million budget is small by D.C. standards, could hold so much sway over the Justice Department.
“I think what it actually says is what Holder pointed out, that there had been reviews under both the Bush administration and the Obama administration, and they found there was nothing there. So we’ll continue operating and upholding our First Amendment rights,” he said.
Another issue that arose during the lengthy argument between Saylor and Mauro was financing, where Mauro responded to CAIR’s complaints about an “Islamophobia network” of financing by asking, “but then it’s acceptable for your organization to solicit money from places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Moammar Qaddafi, when he was alive.”
“Our organization is primarily domestically funded,” Saylor responded. “If we asked for any money overseas, it was completely in line with the law.” He, in turn, accused the Clarion Project, known as the Clarion Fund at the time, of itself being a front group for an Israeli organization.
Mauro denied this and objected to the comparison of Israel with Hamas, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Qaddafi — “known state sponsors of terrorism and human rights abusers,” as he put it.
“There’s been things that you’ve done that I’ve said that I like,” said Mauro, when Saylor accused him of ignoring CAIR’s good works to “throw mud at the wall and see what sticks.”
“When there are legitimate acts of anti-Muslim bigotry, any voice that speaks up about that is very important, especially considering the fact that ISIS has said they want to trigger anti-Muslim sentiment,” said Mauro. “But then when you go out and you start attacking organizations like my own, and you go beyond saying ‘we disagree, but you are part of a conspiratorial Islamophobia network, you are bigots, part of a network,’ that I think is really uncalled-for, particularly when you go after Muslims.”
Mauro mentioned a CAIR official “saying that we shouldn’t honor foreign soldiers on Memorial Day,” an incident Saylor did not dispute.
“That’s her opinion,” he said. “Many other people, we have veterans within our organization, who are proud veterans. I regularly tweet out my thanks to soldiers for their service to the country.”
“I find it very interesting that one person says something, and you hold that up as the standard for the whole organization,” Saylor continued.
However, when Baker broke in to ask if the CAIR official who flatly stated that American soldiers should not be honored on Memorial Day if they “killed innocent people and uncritically participated in unjust wars” — she didn’t merely “question” the practice, as Saylor implied — had been denounced, he could say only that “it’s been talked about internally as policy, but I’m not going to condemn somebody else’s free speech in that case.”
“But wait a minute — CAIR condemns other people’s free speech,” Baker pointed out, as indeed Saylor had spent the first ten minutes or so of the broadcast doing before Mauro entered the conversation. “Why wouldn’t you condemn the ‘free speech,’ so to speak, of a person who says, don’t honor soldiers?”
“My free speech in that moment was to thank our soldiers, for their service to our country, regardless of their political beliefs, regardless of their faith,” Saylor replied. “What my colleague was trying to do was assert her concerns about the use of our armed forces overseas, and I think that is a legitimate thing to ask about.”
“Many Americans wonder why our nation invaded Iraq for the second time, and many of us think that was not the best use of our troops, that was not the best idea to put our young men and women in harm’s way, in a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks — and really, in many ways, the result of that has been chaos in that area, that continues to affect our country.”
“She was making our soldiers sound like murderers, though, Corey,” Mauro objected. “It was really nasty depictions. I was looking at the tweets, and you guys did give her a platform. If I did that, I would have been fired. But why didn’t you fire her, or distance yourself from her? Instead, she’s still a star, she’s one of the stars of your group.”
“You just heard my explanation, and that entire explanation, which I don’t hear you challenging, all you do is you say, ‘murderers,’ right? You try to boil it down to one thing,” Saylor shot back.
“She said that about American soldiers! Yeah, that is offensive,” said Mauro.
“The problem is, you can’t have nuance and complex discussions on Twitter,” Saylor complained.
When Saylor tried to leave the conversation on that note, plus a final complaint about the unfairness of allowing Mauro into the interview, Baker refused to let him off the hook. “I’ve seen CAIR call for people to be removed, fired, for things that they’ve said, and then a member of CAIR makes a controversial statement about American soldiers, and there’s no condemnation. Nobody says a word.”
“I’m not going to discuss what our internal conversations were,” said Saylor. “You don’t know what they were.”
“But it’s not about internal conversations,” Baker objected. “It’s about public statements and credibility with citizens.”
Saylor insisted CAIR has “put out a number of alternate statements, through official channels, not through somebody’s personal Twitter,” which Baker and Mauro didn’t seem to accept as a substitute for publicly denouncing or disciplining the anti-Memorial Day official.
The Clarion Project has archived the entire conversation, in an audio-visual clip that displays various photos and documents onscreen to support their positions as Mauro, Saylor, and Baker have their debate: