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Conservatives' indulgence of hate speech is cause for concern

Columnist Marta Mossburg's column on the Maryland Council on American-Islamic Relations' protest against Pamela Geller as a speaker at the recent Maryland Conservative Action Network conference in Annapolis is factually incorrect ("A controversial speaker's right to be heard," Jan. 16).

As a moderator at the conference, Ms. Mossburg was understandably biased in favor of Ms. Geller's hateful and hurtful views, but she failed to disclose this potential conflict of interest to her readers.

As a civil rights organization, CAIR-MD strongly supports free speech. We aim to exercise our freedom of speech by speaking out against bigotry and hatemongering.

Our organization has not asked for the removal of controversial, inflammatory ads Ms. Geller has sponsored, nor are we trying to "silence" those who post them. Our primary objective is to condemn hate speech — in this case by Ms. Geller, the leader of a designated anti-Muslim hate group — and to shed light on the backlash endured by American Muslims as a result of it.

Contrary to Ms. Mossburg's claim, CAIR is not "rehabbing its image" with the "MyJihad" campaign. The campaign, co-sponsored by a CAIR affiliate, is an effort to clarify the literal meaning of the Arabic word "jihad" — which in English means "to struggle," but which has been hijacked and misinterpreted by Muslim and non-Muslim extremists alike.

Ms. Mossburg mentions in her piece that CAIR was named as "an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist funding trial of the Holy Land Foundation." What she fails to clarify is that the issue was settled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Department of Justice in CAIR's favor in 2011.

CAIR and CAIR-MD unequivocally denounce terrorism and extremism and applaud sincere, legitimate efforts to educate citizens and protect our Constitutional rights and liberties. That is, after all, a core part of our mission. We welcome constructive dialogue.

What we strongly object to are hateful ideologies and rhetoric that incite hatred and fear of a specific group of people, in this case American Muslims and those who resemble them. The fact that Ms. Geller's incendiary, anti-Muslim propaganda is viewed as acceptable mainstream discourse among educated and informed individuals like Ms. Mossburg is cause for great concern.

Zainab Chaudry

The writer is vice president of the Maryland Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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