A Muslim civil rights group yesterday blamed the Bush administration for promoting "Islamophobia" and said the "war on terror" won't stop terrorists.
"The new perception is that the United States has entered a war with Islam itself," said Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the national board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"Terrorism is a tactic. You cannot eradicate it by declaring a war against it. The war on terror is causing us infinitely more harm than the terrorists could have ever imagined."
Mr. Ahmed, who spoke at a CAIR symposium at the National Press Club, said the war against terrorists is driven by an "irrational" fear that the Bush administration has inculcated in the American public. The chance of being killed in a terrorist attack, he said, is 1 in 80,000 over a lifetime.
"It is important to bear in mind that terrorists cannot destroy America," he said, appearing on a panel discussing the symposium theme, "Attacking Islam: Implications for Social Cohesion and U.S. Relations with the Muslim World." The U.S., he said, is too powerful and too resourceful for terrorists to defeat.
The Bush administration's policies in Iraq have driven a deep wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States, he said.
"Policies driven by fear will be naturally irrational. Thus, in this state of irrationality, the Bush administration, often through their surrogates, have resorted to fear-mongering. This has unleashed a vicious cycle, one in which fear leads to bad policies and bad policies lead to more fear.
"The popular discourse in America today remains mired in stereotypical denouncements about Islam. As a result, Muslims and their faith remained misunderstood, feared and shunned."
Kate Starr, a spokesman at the National Security Council, late yesterday refuted the CAIR accusation that the Bush administration foments or encourages anti-Islam sentiment, saying "this administration has worked hard to improve mutual understanding and cooperation between America and people in Muslim countries and to foster dialogue and friendship among U.S. communities of different faiths."
She called this a point the president "underscored in his recent remarks at the Islamic Center of Washington."
David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said in turn as symposium panelist that while Osama bin Laden and those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam may represent no one but themselves, "those who represent Islam have an obligation to themselves, and to the faith they profess, to condemn them lest [other Muslims] suffer for their crimes.
"If CAIR wants respect as representing the best of Islam to the West, it must shun the role of enabler by siding with the enemies of terror and intolerance wherever they are found," Mr. Keene said. "The Muslim who attacks Jews and Christians as 'pigs' or 'Crusaders' is as responsible for the breakdown in civility in the modern world as the Christian who implies that all Muslims harbor a desire to kill a Christian or a Jew."
Mr. Keene likened CAIR to the emergence of the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League of the 1970s, which he said became "particularly upset whenever anyone mentioned the existence of the 'Mafia,' which they took as implying that Italian-Americans were all Mafioso or criminals.
"If someone used the word in public, [the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League] was willing to stage demonstrations on the grounds that its usage was racist and that, anyhow, the Mafia didn't exist. People began to ignore the League because what its leaders were insisting on as true just didn't match up very well with the world we live in."
Mr. Keene said CAIR feeds negative perceptions of Islam with a similarly censorious and hypersensitive attitude toward American newspapers, magazines, and radio and television networks.
"We are meeting today at the National Press Club, which is in a way a living memorial to the freedom of the press that is so important a part of the American tradition. The platform on which we speak is open to all because we believe in the right even of those with whom we disagree to speak their minds. But some reporters have been barred by CAIR from covering this panel because by [reporting criticism of] CAIR or its policies they have been condemned as anti-Muslim when they are, in fact, simply reporters doing their jobs."
Only a reporter for The Washington Times was asked to leave the room yesterday. After she was escorted out, the doors to the room, which had remained open, were closed.
Mr. Keene said that CAIR has attacked as "anti-Muslim" a number of publications, including The Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Tampa Tribune, the New Republic magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and the Weekly Reader, a popular newspaper for schoolchildren.
"My hope and belief was that this event was going to be an open discussion," he said in a brief interview after the symposium. "It was what I said in my speech. You don't restrict access because someone disagrees with you."