Homeland Security

Kurds vs. CAIR: Turkish Cash Prompts Protests at Islamist Group’s LA Banquet

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaks during a news conference of Muslim leaders at CAIR's office near the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)

Halloween ended two days prior, but on the evening of November 2, 2019, plenty of monsters and heroes walked about the Anaheim Hilton, just across the street from Disneyland. Two big events bumped up against each other, each constructed on fantasy worlds and drawing distinctly-attired attendees. But the real world intruded upon their fantasy in the form of pro-freedom protesters.

The Anaheim convention center was hosting “BlizzCon,” celebrating computer game company Blizzard Entertainment, responsible for such titles as World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Thus, numerous individuals were fully decked out in “cosplay” attire, from ogres and elves to sorceresses and space soldiers.

In clothes of a different sort were the event’s protesters: pro-Hong Kong demonstrators, some sporting Winnie the Pooh outfits, a satisfying jab at China’s authoritarian leader Xi Jinping, who has been savagely mocked for resembling the lovable bear with a very little brain. (Blizzard has chosen the predictably corporate and wrong side in the Hong Kong vs. China question.)

But inside the Hilton hotel, on the second floor, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Greater Los Angeles branch (CAIR-GLA) conducted its annual fundraising banquet featuring keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill, Philadelphia state representative Movita Johnson-Harrell, Shaykh Mohammed Faqih (previously an imam for 13 years at the Islamic Institute of  Orange County and currently imam at the Memphis Islamic Center and AlMaghrib instructor), and comedian Amer Zahr. Hill is particularly notable for losing his job as a CNN contributor after a public endorsement of Palestinian terrorism and call for the destruction of Israel.

What inspired the evening’s protests against CAIR had more to do with who was behind the scenes than who was on stage. Turkish Airlines was a silver-level sponsor of the event. This prompted Kurdish activist Amir Sharifi to organize a group of protesters and to issue a press release endorsed by the Southern California Kurdish Committee in Defense of Rojava, the United Rights Council, and the American Hellenic Council of California.

The release said,

Although some moderate Islamic clerics and reformists have decried the Turkish invasion and barbarities, it is indeed appalling and paradoxical that CAIR and other Ruling Party (AKP) apologists continue to promote the agenda of the Turkish regime in North and East Syria… This is what happened to the Armenians in the Genocide of 1915-1923… We expect all conscientious people to raise their voices against this genocidal campaign.

CAIR is the nation’s most prominent Islamist influence group with dozens of chapters around the country which work to control local media narratives, radicalize their local Muslim communities through sponsoring events featuring controversial speakers and imams, and ally with radical regimes including Turkey. The FBI refuses to meet with CAIR and the United Arab Emirates have designated it a terrorist organization due to its close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Beginning around 4:30 p.m. and lasting until almost 7:00, the Kurdish group gradually grew from a dozen to around fifty protesters as more people of all ages, from children to the elderly, came with hand-drawn signs and flags of red, yellow, and green.

Initially, the Kurdish protesters began next to the Hong Kong activists, in front of the entrance to BlizzCon, chanting “Shame on Erdogan! Shame on Turkish Military!” which initially led to some confusion between the two protesting groups. But before long the Kurdish group shifted to the other side of the roundabout on the Southeast corner of the Hilton, what turned out to be an ideal spot as many banquet attendees had to drive past them – sometimes painfully slowly – to enter the Hilton’s parking structure.

The new protest location offered the opportunity for Kurdish advocates to peacefully engage with a group of gray-haired “interfaith witnesses” wearing white and waving “Welcome CAIR” signs. (The group had also engaged in such counter-protesting at the last CAIR-GLA banquet, when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was hosted in Woodland Hills on March 23, 2019.)

River Hagg is an American Navy veteran and documentary filmmaker who had served as a medic in Syria with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and filmed tons of footage of the experience that would become the documentary film The Volunteers. He came in support of those with whom he served. Reflecting on his experience with CAIR’s defenders Hagg said,

As we set up next to them, I could see the look on their faces was kind of like “what is going on?” I think that as the demonstrations proceeded, they started to figure it out. They tried to address some of my protesting information towards them, because I think it’s really important that when people actually understand what’s happening, there’s a lot difference [sic] response… So when we started directing our comments at the CAIR welcoming committee I could see some just outright horror on some of those people’s faces when they were learning about the atrocities that were being committed by Turkey. And I think that most good people when they learn of what’s happening are outraged. You know, Turkey has armed the al-Qaeda of Syria, they have actively just given guns and sent them across the border. And that’s a terrorist organization.

The pro-CAIR group wrapped up early – around 5:45 — and after they left, the protest’s heat started to rise. Many of the cars obviously included banquet attendees as women sitting in passenger seats wore fancy outfits with hijabs. Some of the Gala attendees responded to the protesters with thumbs down signs and even the occasional middle finger, prompting angry yells in response. One Kurdish woman blasted, “Islam does not mean supporting terrorism! Do not support Turkish airlines!”

“The Turkish airline is owned by the Turkish government, which is right now killing the Kurds in northeastern Syria and also in southeastern Turkey for many, many years, for decades, and right now I believe the Turkish government is pushing too much here in Los Angeles to try to mislead people,” Sereke Welat, a protester and activist who attended the event, explained.

Many activists in the group took their turn at the bullhorn with such chants as: “Turkey out of Syria! Fascist Erdogan!”; “Hey hey, ho ho, Erodgan’s got to go!”; “Down with ISIS, Down with ISIS! Down with Erdogan!”; and “CAIR does not care! Turkey does not care!” At times, traditional Kurdish music played. Among the signs on display: “Erdugan kills Kurdish children in Afrin”; “Trump betrayed and murdered the Kurds”; “Turkey = ISIS”; “No to Kurdish Genocide;” and “Divest Turkey” — the latter in a style and font similar to the Armenian Genocide protests in April.

Around 6:20 a young woman took over on bullhorn duties, leading such chants as:“What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”; “Stop killing Kurdish Kids!”; and “Turkey is not our ally! Turkey out of NATO!” At one point a protester showed a video on his phone that had been circulating around. It showed two Kurdish girls being beheaded.

After the protests wrapped up around 6:50, this reporter entered the hotel lobby and requested to speak with Eugene W. Fields, the chapter’s communications director. Jasir Soomro, CAIR-GLA’s Outreach and Events Coordinator, soon emerged to hear the subject of the inquiry: What did CAIR have to say about the Kurdish protest outside?

After about 20 minutes of waiting and engaging in friendly conversation with the guard – who admitted he mostly attended these events for the food and socializing – Soomro returned with the anticipated answer: “No comment.”

After all, what could CAIR say that would justify taking money from a government engaged in brutal war crimes and ethnic cleansing?

Dozens of protesters outside a luxury hotel chanting in the name of the Kurds, a forgotten people far away being slaughtered by a monstrous Islamist dictator, while LA’s Muslim elite dine inside, laughing at their comedian and awarding a man who calls for the elimination of the Jewish state. While the BlizzCon attendees scurrying around the convention center and hotel may have dressed as monsters in celebration of their benign fantasy worlds, with the banquet attendees it was the opposite. While CAIR and its supporters pretend to be heroic protectors of oppressed minorities, the banquet demonstrated that the opposite is true, that CAIR is merely another cog in the global machine of authoritarian Islamist oppression.

Yes, of course, “No comment.” None is needed – CAIR-GLA’s actions again speak more than clearly about the organization’s moral standards.

David M. Swindle is the Southern California associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid and a fellow for Islamist Watch. He also works as the Director of Research for The Israel Group. Follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle