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Panel on Islamophobia Includes Conservative Voice of Dissent

The Council on American-Islamic Relations does not lack for critics — but usually they’re at a greater distance.

This week, the Washington-based advocacy group, which has long been dogged by charges that it is an ally of Islamic extremists, invited American Conservative Union chairman David Keene to participate in a panel discussion on “Islamophobia” with Cair chairman Parvez Ahmed.

The event, held Tuesday at Washington’s National Press Club, was titled “Attacking Islam: Implications for Social Cohesion and U.S. Relations with the Muslim World.”

Keene, however, had other topics on his mind. According to The Washington Times, Keene compared Cair to a 1970s Italian-American organization that, he said, cried racism whenever the Mafia was mentioned. He accused Cair of unfairly labeling media critics “anti-Muslim.”

“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,” Keene reportedly said.

Keene told the Forward that he accepted Cair’s invitation because he “felt that somebody ought to tell them what they think.”

“I don’t have a positive view of them at all,” Keene said.

Cair’s Ahmed — who, during the event, reportedly accused the Bush administration and its surrogates of “fear-mongering” — told the Forward that he thought the event “went very well.”

“David Keene made some remarks that needed to be made,” he said. “He also made some remarks that we kind of disagreed with, but it was good to hear those remarks nevertheless.”

Ahmed said he appreciated that Keene endorsed the right of American Muslims to voice divergent views without being demonized. “That was a much-needed point that needed to be made from somebody from the conservative side of the political spectrum,” he said, explaining, “that’s where most of the demonization of Muslims and Islam and attacks on American Muslim groups have originated from.”

Ahmed said that he has previously discussed with Keene what he called “the constant demonization of Islam and Muslims” by speakers at the annual ACU-organized Conservative Political Action Conference.

At the 2006 CPAC, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter said, “I think our motto should be post-9-11, ‘raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.’” Keene told the Forward that Coulter’s remark was “not helpful.”

While Jewish groups have largely shunned Cair and prominent Democratic senators have sharply criticized it, many conservatives have been particularly dogged in their attacks on the group. Former Tennessee senator and presumptive Republican presidential contender Fred Thompson recently blasted Cair in a podcast commentary on the Web site of ABC Radio Networks. “The group often seems to be more aligned with our enemies than us — which isn’t surprising as it spun off from a group funded by Hamas,” Thompson said.

In his interview with the Forward, Ahmed called Thompson’s characterization “baseless.” Ahmed also denied accusations that Cair is favorably disposed toward Hamas. But he drew a distinction between Hamas’s political and military wings, and criticized efforts to isolate the Palestinian Islamist group.

“Palestinians are living under occupation. And occupation is illegal. Resistance to occupation is legal. So Hamas is a resistance group. It has a political wing; it has a military wing,” he said. “Its political wing is the wing that we think people should work with. Its military wing is somebody that we should not work with, because certainly when its actions are against the principles of civility, the principles of Islam, we have condemned those actions.”

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