Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Erick Stakelbeck: Jihad at the St. Petersburg Times

By Erick Stakelbeck, November 3, 2004

Over the past month, Mike Frazier has received, by his count, six death threats and 47 menacing phone calls. He’s been accosted by complete strangers in public and vilified as an “extremist” by the largest newspaper in his state. Frazier—a pastor at Landmark Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida—has even seen several churchgoers leave his congregation during this period, because, according to him, “they were afraid.”

Such is the price Frazier has paid for criticizing the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the most influential radical Islamist group in the United States.
Frazier’s plight is symptomatic of the politically correct hysterics that critics of militant Islam have been subjected to since 9/11, as anyone who dares question the motives of certain American Muslims is invariably tarred as an “Islamophobe” by the mainstream press. Even if—as is the case with CAIR—the Muslims in question are clearly on the wrong side of the issues when it comes to the War on Terror.

Frazier’s problems began on September 14, when he spoke at a meeting of the Hernando County (FL) Commission. Frazier, who hosts a local radio program, was troubled that several local and state officials had attended an awards dinner hosted by CAIR a few weeks before.

After calling attention to CAIR’s radical ties, Frazier requested that any officials who had attended the CAIR dinner and accepted awards from the group return them immediately and apologize to the people of Hernando County.

“As an elected official, you can’t sit down with just anybody,” says Frazier. “If these people would have bothered to check CAIR out beforehand they would have seen that it is a radical group. At the meeting, I made very clear that I wasn’t talking about all Muslims. I was only talking about CAIR. But it was absolutely unbelievable what followed.”

Two days after the county commission meeting, St. Petersburg Times reporter Jennifer Liberto wrote an article detailing the event. Her piece laid the groundwork for what would soon become a venomous assault on Frazier’s character by the paper.

“A taste of the Crusades broke out at the Hernando County Commission meeting Tuesday,” wrote Liberto. “When a local Baptist pastor accused county leaders of supporting terrorism by attending a private, educational forum on Islam last month.”

As if comparing Frazier’s actions to the Crusades weren’t sensationalistic enough, Liberto went on to allege that members of Frazier’s church chanted “terrorists, terrorists,” when elected officials tried to speak, a charge Frazier flatly denies.

“Only three people I knew were even at that meeting,” says Frazier. “My son-in-law and two friends who came for moral support. As I was speaking, two people sitting behind me—who I didn’t even know—said the word, terrorist. They certainly didn’t chant it. Another reporter who covered the meeting has backed me up on this.”

Nevertheless, the St. Petersburg Times gleefully hammered Frazier. The same day as Liberto’s screed appeared, the paper’s editorial page editor, Jeff Webb, penned a column titled, “Pastor’s Talk of Terrorists is What’s Truly Scary.”

In the piece, Webb labeled Frazier an “extremist” and a “fundamentalist zealot,” and accused him of “propagating fear, terror and disunity.” He also blamed Frazier for spreading “misinformation and exaggeration to stir the pot of intolerance.”

Furthermore, according to Webb, Frazier’s criticism of CAIR was nothing more than “irresponsible, alarmist, conspiratorial claptrap.”

First, some facts: CAIR was founded in part with seed money from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization that has been indicted for providing material support to Hamas. CAIR has also accepted substantial donations from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as well as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, two Saudi–funded, Wahhabist groups.

Two of CAIR’s founding members, Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad, both previously worked for the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a group which has “acted in support of” Hamas, according to a federal judge’s August 2002 ruling. Tellingly, during a 1994 speech at Florida’s Barry University, Awad, who is now CAIR’s Executive Director, stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.”

In addition, former CAIR employee Randall “Ismail” Royer was sentenced to 20 years in prison last April for “participation in a network of militant jihadists centered in Northern Virginia,” according to the Department of Justice. And Ghasan Elashi, the founding board member of CAIR’s Texas chapter, was convicted of violating the Libyan Sanctions Regulations in July 2004 and has also been indicted for providing material support to Hamas.

Much of this information—which, incidentally, only begins to scratch the surface of CAIR’s radical activities—is readily available online. Yet the St. Petersburg Times, in its headlong rush to demonize Frazier, conveniently dismissed CAIR’s nefarious history.

“I’ve had to completely alter my life,” says Frazier. “I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. I’m considered a bigot by the biggest newspaper in the state. I never know when I open the paper if this is the day they are going to attack me again. They’re taking me apart piece by piece, article by article.”

Indeed, on October 1, just when Frazier thought the controversy may begin to die down, Jeff Webb wrote yet another column accusing him of “the worst sort of religious stereotyping,” and “using anger over domestic terrorism issues to cloak…religious prejudice.”

For the St. Petersburg Times, which has also shown a troubling deference toward Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who currently stands accused of being the North American leader of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, its support for CAIR is par for the course.

In defending CAIR and denouncing Mike Frazier, the paper has not only apologized for radical Islamists, it has also tarnished the reputation of a patriotic American.

Florida deserves better.

Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer for the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counter-terrorism research institute.

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