LIBRARY GROUP PANELISTS WITHDRAW OVER ROLE OF ISLAM-BASHER
Coalition of 50 Muslim organizations joins call
to drop Robert Spencer as speaker
(CHICAGO, IL, 7/11/09) The Chicago office of
the Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR-Chicago) today announced that all other
panelists scheduled to speak at an American
Library Association (ALA) annual conference
session on stereotyping of Islam have withdrawn
in protest over the participation of Robert
Spencer, one of the nation’s leading Islam-bashers.
The Council on Islamic Organizations of Greater
Chicago (CIOGC), a coalition of more than 50
Muslim organizations, also joined CAIR-Chicago,
the other ALA panelists and a number of
librarians and academics in calling on ALA to
drop Spencer from the July 12 panel titled
"Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping."
Spencer is the publisher of the anti-Islam
Internet hate site "Jihad Watch." The independent
national media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in
Reporting (FAIR) identifies him as one of
"America's leading Islamophobes" who
systematically "spread fear, bigotry, and
misinformation." A FAIR special report, called
"Smearcasters," provides examples of Spencer's Islamophobic views."
All of the three other panelists originally
scheduled to speak along with Spencer have now withdrawn in protest.
In announcing her withdrawal, Dr. Marcia
Hermansen, a professor of Islamic Studies at
Loyola University, wrote to the ALA:
"While I heartily endorse the principles of free
expression and diversity of viewpoints that are
part of the ALA mission, the way in which this
information session about Islam and Muslims for
Ethnic and Multi-Cultural librarians was modified
and politicized at the last moment raises serious
concerns about the integrity of the session."
Dr. Alia Ammar, a Neuropsychologist from Hinsdale, Illinois, wrote:
"Given the substantial changes in the
composition, subject, and direction of the ALA
panel to which I was invited to present as well
as the blatant misinformation provided regarding
the purpose of the session, it would [be]
untenable to present in your forum…The lack of
professionalism with which this matter has been
handled has been wholly disappointing as the
efforts of the originally invited panelists to
reach a respectable solution to the problem were
simply ignored. In light of these developments, I
respectfully decline to participate in the panel."
CIOGC Executive Director Junaid Afeef had joined
the call for Spencer’s invitation to be
rescinded. In a letter to the ALA he wrote:
"Robert Spencer is an Islamophobe and his hateful
views, while clearly protected under the First
Amendment, are antithetical to promoting
diversity. Mr. Spencer promotes hateful
anti-Muslim rhetoric. Giving this individual a
platform to advance his hate speech on a panel
discussion aimed at dispelling stereotypes about Islam is simply wrong.
"[CIOGC] joins CAIR-Chicago and all people of
good will and of conscience in asking you to
rescind your invitation to Robert Spencer to
speak on your panel this Sunday in Chicago, Illinois."
Tara Lannen-Stanton, a librarian in New York, wrote in her letter to the ALA:
"While ALA has invited controversial figures to
their conferences before, this appears to be the
first time that they have invited someone that
makes such sweeping generalizations that demonize an entire group of people.
"I now am uncertain as to my future activity and
membership in ALA due to the lackluster response
that has been given to very genuine concerns
which have the potential to alienate a
significant subsection of library users."
In his letter to the ALA, Karim Boughida, a
librarian in Washington D.C., wrote:
"This is the first time that ALA is doing such a
poor job of choosing a panel without informing
panelists and choosing a hatemonger Robert
Spencer to talk about Islam and stereotyping. It is very ironic."
None of the invited panelists were informed by
the ALA that Spencer was invited to participate in the panel.
In his letters to the ALA, CAIR-Chicago Executive
Director Ahmed Rehab emphasized that the issue is
not censorship, but is instead about the need for
the ALA to take responsibility for its
misrepresentation of the event to the panelists and the public.
"We too support freedom of speech, including that
of bigots; what we oppose is false advertising.
If the ALA was sponsoring a debate on whether
Islam is evil and publicized that Mr. Spencer was
an invited panelist, we would not have asked to
rescind Spencer's invitation, as the sordid
nature of the event would have been honestly
communicated to all," said Rehab. "Everyone could
then have made informed decisions about whether
they wished to be co-panelists or attendees."
"But that is not what happened," Rehab said,
adding that the other panelists agreed to
participate in anticipation of a session that
would dispel stereotypes, not promote them.
"The ALA's conduct was unethical. Our community,
our librarians, and all people of conscience who
place their trust in the ALA deserve to know what
went wrong and what they intend to do to correct
their error rather than sugarcoat it," said Rehab.
Spencer recently supported a conference in
Florida featuring Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders.
In 2007, Spencer spoke at a so-called
"Counterjihad Brussels 2007" conference in
Belgium attended by those with links to far-right
parties such as Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang
(Belgium) and Ted Ekeroth of Sverigedemokraterna
(Sweden). Both parties have been accused of
either having a racist platform, a neo-Nazi past
or having links to neo-Nazis and other racists.
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CAIR-Chicago is a chapter of America's largest Muslim civil rights group which has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to promote justice, enhance the understanding of Islam, and empower American Muslims.
CONTACT: Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director, CAIR-Chicago, E-Mail: email@example.com, 312.212.1520; or 202.870.0016; Reem Rahman, Communications Coordinator, CAIR-Chicago, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, 217.493.0912 or 312.212.1520; Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR National Communications Director, email@example.com, 202.488.8787 or 202.744.7726