Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, July 2009
Chicago Library Group Panelists Withdraw Over Role of Islam-Basher Robert Spencer
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scheduled to speak at an American Library Association (ALA) annual conference session on stereotyping of Islam have withdrawn in protest over the participation of Robert Spencer, one of the nation’s leading Islam-bashers.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.”
SEE: Library Group Asked to Drop Anti-Muslim Bigot from Panel SEE: The Librarians' Open Letter to ALA SEE: Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping SEE: ALA Under Gun Over Panelist Robert Spencer (Library Journal)
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.”
SEE: Robert Spencer
All of the three other panelists originally scheduled to speak along with Spencer have now withdrawn in protest.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.
CAIR-Chicago is a chapter of America's largest Muslim civil rights organization, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 312.212.1520; or 202.870.0016; Reem Rahman, Communications Coordinator, CAIR-Chicago, E-Mail: email@example.com, 217.493.0912 or 312.212.1520; Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR National Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.488.8787 or 202.744.7726
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