Keystone Cronies: State Agency Colludes with CAIR-PA

Tasked with administering and enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has become entangled in aiding an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in its goal of stigmatizing and silencing any criticism of Islam or Muslims, including those engaged in terrorism.

The law that created the PHRC empowers it to:

Track incidents of bias that may cause community tension and to educate the general public, law enforcement, educators, and government officials in order to prevent discrimination and foster equal opportunity.

Occurrences labeled “bias incidents” are logged into a monthly “bias report” that is forwarded to the Pennsylvania State Police, who decide whether to investigate items appearing there. Thus, the PHRC generates a government-sanctioned report card on the level and types of intergroup tensions and possible hate crimes within the commonwealth. In the words of one PHRC official:

We use the bias report to inform the Legislature about trends and for our community education purposes.

In a better world, this course of action might be considered admirable. But in Harrisburg a system has evolved by which CAIR-PA,[1] the local affiliate of the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- an organization declared an unindicted co-conspirator in America’s most significant terror financing trial -- can manipulate data and push the pernicious myth that the U.S. is filled with hateful, anti-Muslim citizens.

How does it accomplish this? The PHRC convenes a working group, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Civil Tension, whose purpose is “to prevent and/or respond to bias-related incidents and the escalation of intergroup tensions” in Pennsylvania. It includes representatives from the FBI, state police, the state attorney general’s office, and numerous public and private advocacy organizations throughout Pennsylvania. One of these is CAIR-PA.

Beginning in 2004 -- and increasing in tempo from 2006 to the present -- CAIR-PA has fed the PHRC items that it claims demonstrate bias against Muslims. These items then end up in the PHRC’s bias reports with no apparent reflection on whether they truly constitute bias incidents, actually took place, or ought to appear in a report intended to focus on Pennsylvania.

CAIR-PA registered as a non-profit corporation in Pennsylvania in 2005 and was recognized as a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) entity in 2006. Annual reports from the PHRC record an uptick in bias incidents against Muslims coinciding with those dates and with CAIR-PA’s growing relationship with the state agency. After a post-9/11 high in 2001-2002, such alleged incidents declined to an average of eight per year through 2005-2006, then increased again to the present, more than doubling to an average of 19 per year.

The problematic relationship between the two groups has come to light thanks to the efforts of State Representative Curt Schroder, who submitted a right-to-know request to the PHRC for correspondence between it and CAIR-PA at the behest of Islamist Watch (IW), a project of the Middle East Forum. The emails reveal a corrupting, overly friendly relationship between CAIR-PA and the PHRC, resulting in the government agency manipulating data on behalf of the Islamist group.

Examples of the unbecoming nature of this association abound:

  • In the fall of 2008, a DVD documentary about violent Islamism, Obsession, was distributed in newspapers across the country. CAIR’s national office referred to it in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission as “a blatant piece of anti-Muslim propaganda.” CAIR-PA’s Harrisburg representative Samia Malik alerted the PHRC’s Ann Van Dyke about the film; Van Dyke referred to it as bias incident (BI) #24115 on September 15. Shortly thereafter, a PHRC investigator assigned to evaluate the film wrote: “The information … in the DVD does not disparage Muslims as a group, and no racially or religiously offensive or derogatory language was used in the video.” Despite its own findings, the incident remained logged in the PHRC’s September 2008 bias report as a bias incident.

  • In August 2010, Tom Trento, a Florida-based activist, spoke at the Philadelphia Free Library about Islamism. CAIR-PA lodged a complaint with the PHRC about the lecture, alleging that “Trento … spoke in a biased manner against the broader Muslim community in Philadelphia.” The speech was then tagged as BI #34340. When Van Dyke notified PHRC staff, she attached an article about the presentation from the Philadelphia Bulletin, which quoted Trento as saying: “The issue isn’t Muslims, it’s where you stand on Sharia law.” The Bulletin article continued: “While quick to remind the audience his desire was not to bash Muslims … it was his intent to confront the ideology of Islam.” As no one from the PHRC had attended the speech, the agency apparently chose to label it a bias incident based solely on CAIR-PA’s version of what was said.

  • In March 2011, CAIR-PA held its annual fundraising dinner at a country club owned by Springfield Township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The story was picked up by a reporter for who sharply criticized the township’s hosting the group. CAIR-PA in turn threatened with a lawsuit. When the PHRC’s Van Dyke wrote CAIR-PA’s Executive Director Moein Khawaja urging him to file a report about the incident, Khawaja balked because he did not “want a lot of bias incidents against Muslims to be against CAIR.” Van Dyke persisted and suggested masking CAIR-PA’s involvement. Khawaja agreed with the solution, and BI #34387 against an unnamed “Muslim group” was logged for March 2011. By removing CAIR-PA’s identity from the equation, the PHRC transformed a warning about a municipality’s relationship with a suspect organization into a generic incident of anti-Muslim bias. (In a similar example from later that month, CAIR-PA claimed it had received a solicitation from an unnamed group to participate in acts of terrorism; the letter was inexplicably given a bias incident number, 34395, but again the bias report only mentioned an unnamed “Muslim group.”)

CAIR continually claims it is a civil liberties organization watching out for Muslim Americans, which helps explain its presence on the Inter-Agency Task Force. The PHRC is aware of CAIR’s troubling background but chooses to look the other way.

In June 2011, Islamist Watch supplied the agency with two sourced documents: one demonstrating governmental shunning of CAIR; the other illustrating CAIR’s past questionable behavior in word and deed. IW pressed the agency to reassess the relationship. Its reaction? “[T]he PHRC does not anticipate any further response to you at this time.” There is also clear evidence that the PHRC was aware of questions about CAIR before being contacted by IW.

It bears repeating that the PHRC has been charged with keeping accurate records of incidents with the potential to cause harm to the larger community. When such an agency becomes so closely involved with an advocacy group that it fudges or obfuscates data, real-world repercussions can ensue.