The United Arab Emirates has reportedly named a number of Muslim organizations as militant or “terrorist” organizations. Among them are the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). Both of these are Islamist organizations we have criticized heavily and with whom we have been engaged in an ongoing battle of ideas. CAIR in particular merits heavy scrutiny as one of the leading Islamist groups in the country, and which engages in dishonest, malicious smear campaigns against any Muslim who dissents with their ideas or their methodology. CAIR and their ilk are undeniably problematic, standing in direct opposition to the principles of pluralism and individual liberty upon which this nation was founded.
Ideally, the UAE’s move would cause individuals associated with these groups and broader American society at large to see these organizations for what they really are: purveyors of Islamist apologetics and the malignancy of supremacism.
Unfortunately, however, this list will do no such thing. Rather, it places CAIR in exactly the position they most enjoy: that of the victim. When an oligarchical Islamist monarchy such as the UAE targets a populist Islamist group like CAIR, CAIR’s ability to prey on both Muslims and non-Muslims by claiming victim status is strengthened. CAIR is put in a position where it can both claim persecution in the United States and abroad; endearing to its cause those who simply don’t know to read between the lines. CAIR has already responded to the UAE’s move by demanding clarification and to be removed from the list entirely, as well as claiming shock that they are named at all. Could this be a case of organizational amnesia? Surely CAIR knows of its own ties to Islamist movements, its connection to imams who praise Yusef Qaradawi, its historical connection to Hamas and the outright support many of its chapter heads demonstrate for the Muslim Brotherhood?
As tempting as it may be for anti-Islamists to applaud the UAE’s recognition of CAIR and their ilk as malignant and terrorist, we caution against doing so. It is important to remember that fascists – from genocidal Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Mubarak and now al-Sisi in Egypt – have attempted to push underground those groups with whom many of us take issue; but not because these fascists value liberty and freedom. Rather, they do so in order to advance their own tyrannical agendas whilst empowering Islamist groups behind the scenes. Mubarak’s decades-long tryst with the Muslim Brotherhood is now no secret to the world; and finally people are beginning to see that continuing to allow Assad to remain in power has boosted groups like ISIS, not challenged them. Simply put, the UAE is only fueling populist Islamism and its progeny, not defeating it. The UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies advance core Islamist beliefs but just want a single tribe to control the Islamist government rather than a populist movement. Like every other fascist government, the rulers of the UAE stand in direct opposition to individual liberty, women’s rights, freedom of conscience, equal rights for minorities and all other human rights we who stand on the right side of history consider to be inalienable. We should not be fooled into thinking that the UAE has our security or our values in mind when it purports to seek an end to extremism.
While it makes perfect and responsible sense to know who these groups are, we must also remember that by simply declaring them “terror groups,” we are not defeating their ideas. In order to prevent their ideas from leading to violent extremism, we must defeat them in the open arena of free speech or else they will garner even more support by indoctrinating Muslims with the lie that secular governance is about autocracy rather than about religious liberty. This includes dissuading those in positions of power from advancing their ideology out of sympathy for them as “victims,” and being smarter than to think their fascist brethren are ever on our side.