Last week, the United Arab Emirates announced a list of 82 terrorist organizations. Besides violent extremist groups, the UAE government listed peaceful Western Muslim advocacy organizations, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS).
Designating Muslim American groups as terrorist is absurd.
Some media pundits claimed the designations are meant to deal a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE considers a threat to its ruling dynasty. (The Brotherhood is not a considered a terrorist group in the United States). However, Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR-Michigan, explained last week that there are no links between the American groups and the Brotherhood. CAIR and MAS are both ethnically and religiously diverse, while the Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni Arab movement.
The UAE’s list does not make sense. CAIR and MAS are not terrorist because they do not meet the single most important element of terrorism— violence. Even the U.S. State Department rejected the UAE’s decision.
These organizations are well-respected groups in the interfaith and civil rights communities and have brought together people of all faiths and ethnicities.
Locally, CAIR is at the forefront of battles involving discrimination or government overreach. The organization and its staff are visible and involved in protests, lawsuits and calls for justice on issues that affect all Americans.
Recently, Walid stood by Rasmea Odeh, the Palestinian activist who was selectively prosecuted and wrongly convicted of immigration fraud. He is outspoken about Israeli aggressions on Arab countries. This summer, he helped organize protests against the war in Gaza and the Detroit water shutoffs. He is also a prominent voice in standing up against police brutality against people of color.
Needless to say, CAIR’s advocacy has only been through peaceful activism and the organization’s work is confined to the United States.
While we can only speculate on the specific motives behind the UAE’s illogical move, it is clear that that the Gulf nation’s rulers have created this list to enhance their own interests, not to combat extremism.
The UAE’s decision defies common sense. However, we can benefit from it to distance ourselves from the awful regimes in the Middle East.
Arab and Muslim Americans are often demonized by bigots because of the policies of the governments of some predominantly Muslim countries. The anti-democratic systems of Gulf monarchies have especially been used as an excuse to quell calls of justice for Muslims elsewhere.
For example, when one demands freedom in Palestine, apartheid supporters are quick to point out human rights violations and backward laws of Saudi Arabia, in what can be dubbed as the “look over there argument.” A few weeks ago, after a local activist of Lebanese descent was arrested at a rally demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis, a police officer told her with a racist tone that she cannot protest in Muslim countries.
It is true that the sheikhdoms of the Gulf are dictatorial and intolerant, but as Arab and Muslim Americans, we oppose them. And they oppose us, as evident by their classification of our peaceful organizations as terrorist.