Cyrus McGoldrick Transcript

CYRUS MCGOLDRICK: All right. Cyrus McGoldrick. C-Y-R-U-S. McGoldrick. M-C-G-O-L-D-R-I-C-K. Matthew Jacobson: And to get us started, do you mind just giving me a thumbnail sketch, a kind of autobiographical sketch, where you're from, what you've done, what you're doing now. And you can be as elaborate or not as you'd like, but just kind of give me a sense of how you want to be identified. CM: Alright. Sure, sure. We'll do the skeleton-- Well, I guess, currently I am the civil rights manager here at CAIR New York, at Council on American-Islamic Relations. I was born and raised in America, born in Newport, Rhode Island. Grew up in Pennsylvania, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Lived in Connecticut for three years before coming to New York City for college, for Columbia, to go to school at Columbia University. I graduated last December with my bachelor's and have been full-time here for, I guess, about three, four months now, after about a year of interning here in the civil rights department. So other than that, I have been practicing Islam for about four or five years. My mother is Iranian, my father is Irish-American. And I'm also a musician. MJ: How were you raised, in religious terms? CM: I was raised loosely Christian, but mostly-- I mean, open to all faiths, though. My house was definitely a center of all-- my family is so diverse. It's like we have everything from Jews and Christians and Baha'is and Zoroastrians and-- mostly Muslim, but I grew up comfortable with everything. When it came time for me I got to choose myself, and I--there was no resistance at all to that. MJ: And can you talk a little bit about that choice? CM: Absolutely. So, I think for me, the-- I mean, it came after, it was obviously part of a long process. Not for too many people is there just an epiphany where you just, you know, a light bulb goes on, but I always was interested in religion and spirituality. First, more as a phenomenon than as a real practiced ideology. But I really lost my faith in Christianity long before I gained any in Islam. I think that the issues in the world seemed often to go back to religion and that really pushed me away, and really the man-made nature of religion really pushed me away. And so I really left it. At one point I just stopped going to church and that was my declaration. But after some years, you know, I was much more politically motivated than religiously motivated. I think I was much more-- I had some concept of morality but I just thought that it didn't come from religion. I just imagined it was based on some social justice. But somewhere along the way I think there's always that danger of existentialism and the-- for me, I think the-- I guess I won't try to go too in depth, because this will be a four hour conversation, but the-- for me I think it was really an experience of the unity of creation and the unity of God that really brought me back into an active search for a faith and for a practice. MJ: Mmhmm. CM: And I researched all faiths equally. I tried to really give them all a chance and I always really tried to look into them. What they meant, what they said, what they meant in practice, also. And what I ended up with was, more than any other religion, there was a deep, deep respect not just for Islamic ideology, but also for practice, for the ritual practice also. And I saw, very actively I saw, even before I was doing it myself, I saw the benefits that it had for individuals and for societies. And I really believed in the sources themselves, in the Koran, and in the prophecy, and also in the example of the Prophet, which comes a little bit later. I think that a lot of our actions are also based on the living example of the Prophet, peace be upon him. And seeing the goodness in that, too. And that's another thing that we try to demonstrate, to live. So it was a process, it was over some years, but probably even after I might have already identified as a Muslim, I really started practicing. I remember I woke up on the first of Ramadan one year and I didn't even know it was the first of Ramadan [CM laughs]. And I woke up and something really did feel different, actually, and I went over to my computer, and I was working-- I was working at a bar at the time, I was a bartender [CM laughs], and the whole thing and I just, something felt weird, it was a September day and I remember I was like, oh, it's the first of Ramadan. And I was, like, I'm fasting today. And I start fasting and I started praying. And I already knew how to pray, but I started doing it regularly, and really trying, and I started really trying to make my decisions based on what I believed in. And I've really never gone back. MJ: Uh-huh. It sounds like the search was very much like an internal thing-- CM: Yeah. MJ: --but where were you first introduced to the practices and the theology, even? CM: Yeah, I think there's always, like the way my family raised, the way my parents--I think really the way my parents lived is very--sees all religions as equal. And the difference as very much semantic in nature, rather than something fundamentally better or worse. And so we were always taught to respect all religions, to trust all religions, and that the mistakes of religions were not God's fault, but people's. And I think, and even today that's something that I can appreciate. And I think that, actually, Islam has a really good understanding of that itself. Even when you look at Judaism, when you look at Christianity, and when you even look at the modern "Muslim institutions," I think we can see that. The mistakes are not God's, that's for sure. The message was given to us, even though we messed it up somewhere along the way, and at multiple places along the way. So I always had family around that were--they would pray, they would go to my bedroom and pray. And I grew up comfortable with the rituals and conscious of them, with some idea of how they worked, but without really any attachment to them, myself. And for the first part of my life, maybe up until I was maybe 12, 13 years old I probably I would have identified as a Catholic. And after that probably agnostic. I never would have said I was an atheist. I think I always knew that there was something, I just wasn't really ready to either choose one or to change my actions based on what I believed. MJ: Right. Or to know what to call it. CM: Yeah, or to know what to call it that. Yeah. Exactly. MJ: So, now the civil rights work that you're doing now, does that connect with earlier political interests and commitments or does it come out of your religious commitment? Or are those two things so fused that it's hard to even separate them? [CM laughs] Or how would you describe? I guess, how do you get to this office, is one of the questions? CM: Yeah. Maybe some of the, some of everything. I think I always, my parents were always very politically conscious and active, always-- MJ: Active in what particular realms? CM: Both politically, but also socially. I think that there was, they were always engaged in voting. Like, my mother's from Iran, and she was a part of a revolution to overthrow one dictator and that ended up going right into another dictator. And so she was always very conscious of the importance of that, and always instilled in us the understanding-- MJ: What year did she come to this country? CM: So she came literally weeks before the Shah left. She came in January, 1979. So like, it was a very hot time, and my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, they are, they're still there. They stayed. It's impossible to kind of grow up ignorant of that, with--- And my parents also, they're very moral people. I don't think they-- some of like the more superficial elements of religion, which-- and I don't say superficial to devalue them, because I also practice them myself, but my parents never really did. That wasn't really so important to them. But they really had a real strong morality, and a love of God, and a love of people. And they really instilled that in me, and my younger brother, also. We always did community service, we always did, feeding old people, feeding homeless, always stuff like that. That was always so important. But politically it was a little bit harder to kind of put your finger on. As a young person, it's really hard to tell how you can do it. I mean, 9/11 was the, my first day of high school, and—crazy!--as the only person of Middle Eastern descent in a very small town. I was in Pennsylvania at the time. MJ: Where? You were in Pennsylvania. OK. CM: Yeah, and I was only person of Middle Eastern descent in a very white town, in a very homogeneous town. Even Catholicism was a little bit radical for that type of town. You know it's, if you've ever been through, driven through the middle of Pennsylvania, you'll know it's Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and, like, Alabama in the middle. So it was a difficult time. There were, I remember even that year, that first year of high school, that was my freshman year of high school, and there were gangs of kids who would, before they would go to school they would meet in the parking lot of the supermarket with Confederate flags flying from their cars, from their trucks. It was very interesting. MJ: Did people in that town kind of read you physically as racially “other”? Or did people know that--I mean, that you're-- CM: I think it wasn't, people that I didn't know, didn't actually…  It was more people who knew me and who knew that my mother was-- I think a lot of people at that time, they thought Iran was a misspelling for Iraq, also. Like people didn't really have a really deep understanding of what that part of the world was like, and the nuances-- MJ: Right. Or still. CM: And still, also [CM laughs]. And some of the nuances to these identities. But there was an otherization there. In the, just in that, in a very short time span. I think that, I mean, overall I will say that I've been very lucky in my life. That I think people who grow up with another identity, either from the Muslim world or from a specific Middle Eastern or Arab environment, I think people either grow up feeling special for their differences, or they feel estranged. They feel like marginalized for that difference. And I was always very lucky that I felt special. And that was a-- socially it wasn't a huge issue, but definitely was a-- 9/11 was a slight turning point, I think, in that-- MJ: So can you describe those days immediately after 9/11? CM: It was-- yeah, I remember getting calls, and we were getting calls not just from my Muslim family, but just from anybody who was dark, like people were getting calls, like getting flipped off in the street, getting cursed out from cars, people would be-- I don't think anyone, thank God, I don't think anyone in my family was a victim of violence, but we knew enough people who were. And it was very strange. It was a very scary time. Because that day, it affected everyone equally. We were all, we could, we felt more American than anything else. That was shocking, seeing that. I remember when they called us in, they called us out of our classroom to--when the first tower was hit, and this was before, there weren't like TVs in classrooms, really, is so we all had to go to this other room, and there was a TV there, one of those big rolling carts. And they had the screen up and there was a--it had the towers, there was smoke in the towers, smoking. And I thought it was a joke. I thought, I was like, there's no way. I was just there last year, there's no way that it was hit. And I went up and literally, like, God forgive me now, I was laughing a little bit. Like, I went up I thought they were playing a prank on us, I stuck my hand in the VCR to see that there was a tape there. And there was no tape. That was a pretty shocking thing. And I guess at that age I didn't really have a concept of what that loss of life meant, like what that number meant. Because we were still looking at-- I was taken out of a history class where, I mean, thousands of people die in every battle that we study. But that was really, when we really thought about that, when we thought about how people were affected, that was really crazy. And I think it even did change some dynamics in the school that year too. Overall it was pretty, I was pretty fine, but I do remember one young man coming up to me. He was, I was a freshman, and he was a senior. And his mother was my Catholic Sunday school teacher. And I knew his younger brothers and everything, we were close. We were on the lacrosse team, and he came up to me one day, and I was a little bit darker than him, but he was like a real redneck type, he was one of those Confederate flag truck guys. And he comes up, he says, when I'm older, I'm going to have a private club, and he puts his arm up next to mine, and he says, and no one darker than me can come in. I was this little guy, I was tiny. I was the youngest one in my class, I was like, OK [CM laughs], like, just cut to the other side. That was a little bit weird to deal with. I didn't really know-- I think that that might have been the first time that I was faced with it. Like, of course you always hear the slips, usually you hear like little comments and jokes and stuff. That was the first time when it was like one to one, like, oh-- MJ: Somebody just putting it right on you. CM: Yeah, putting it on me. Like, it wasn't just about those people it was you. MJ: And how long, so-- and this, I mean, this could be a matter of weeks, a matter of years, as far as I can imagine, but how long after 9/11 did you feel kind of that visceral sense of fear, that, like, things could happen to you or to people that you knew. Or has it ever gone away? CM: Yeah. I think we, ever after that we were always conscious and my parents were, and like, I'm the older, it was just me and my younger brother, he's younger by about three and half years. But my parents always told us that, I mean, in relation to the government, that the government is made up of us, and that we do have some role in it, but to know, and to live, as if we were always being watched. Kind of an interesting thing to tell a child, but the-- I think it was because my mother came from Iran and she, after college she was working at a Navy shipyard, building, working as an engineer for nuclear submarines, so she had a certain security clearance, and so she assumed that they would have a file on her. An Iranian, like an ex-Iranaian, working on nuclear submarines. But they always raised us that way. MJ: What about your dad? What was his story? CM: And so he was American born. Irish and Norwegian heritage. And they actually met because he was working in the same shipyard, but more on the unskilled labor, on the union side, on the pipe-fitting side. So he probably had very little experience with Islam or anything like that. It was actually when they met, when they got married, excuse me, when they got married, they first got married in the city hall, and then they got married in a mosque, and they got married in a church, in a Catholic church. And they figured they wanted all the paperwork, if they ever went to Iran they wanted to be valid, and they wanted everything to be in order. And I didn't even know that, really, until some years ago. They always figured that we should--I told my interns this today, I said that everything you say, make sure that you're comfortable with it being printed in the New York Times. That was a lesson I took from Keith Ellison, one time. He was saying something, and I think we were like chuckling or something, he was like, hey, everything I say you can put it on the New York Times, put it on the front page of the New York Times. I think that was a good lesson that we can all walk away with. I think that was a big factor in us leaving that year. We left after a year. We left Pennsylvania that summer after. Because we knew. It was a strange town. There was a KKK chapter the next town over. MJ: What town are we talking about here? CM: This is Perkasie, Pennsylvania. P-E-R-K-A-S-I-E. I don't even know what it looks like now. I haven't been back in years. Now every time I see Bucks County, they make it look like a tourist attraction. It's kind of funny. MJ: Well parts of it are. But I've been through the part of Pennsylvania you're talking about. CM: Yeah, right? It's a little bit funny. MJ: I've seen those Confederate flags. CM: Yeah. Yeah, I always see the pictures of the covered bridges, and the trees and stuff [CM laughs]. And it was a nice town, I was very happy with my home, and most of my friends were there. And I think even still that's more my home than Connecticut is. But it was definitely a change of atmosphere, I think. So then I went to the Taft School, which is a boarding school. And I lived in the town, so I just went for the day. It was a very different atmosphere. All the kids are like, it's a great education, kids are already like you're-- I went from being one of the smartest kids in the school to being one of a lot of really smart kids. But also very politically active, very conscious of what's going on. We had an email system where we could all-- we had emails, we had Taft emails. That was huge for me. And like we had a forum, a political forum, where we would debate these things. But it was really in those years that we really saw so many of these post-9/11 policies. Of course, we were battling it out in our political forum on the email system. These were huge issues. I was there when we went to Afghanistan. I was there when we went to Iraq. And those debates were happening for us, even though we had no voice in these decisions. So that kind of turned into political activism during Bush's second term. And I remember as that freshman year, I think it was the day after 9/11, in my Pennsylvania high school, and I said in my history class, everyone was in that patriotic mood, everyone was all, we've got to work together and fight the terrorists and this and that. I remember I raised my hand and I said that I'm worried because I don't think President Bush is smart enough to deal with this. Which, I think it was naive at the time, because now we know that he was smart enough to deal with this. But that was just my reaction. I thought-- I saw him as a dumb guy, and that he would blow it somehow. When I knew that-- now I know that the whole time they had a great plan [CM laughs]. They had a great plan this whole time. So the next election I started registering people to vote, whoever was of age, all the seniors and stuff, I was getting them voter registration cards and stuff, even though I was still 16. And so it was really-- I realized it really-- politics and really the imbalance of power in the world has always been a really emotional thing for me. That's really what gets me excited, that's really something that really bothers me. It's something, even no matter what work I'm doing, no matter how I spend my 9:00 to 5:00, that's something I spend my 5:00 to 9:00 on. And that's something that always really takes a lot of energy from me and gets me worked up. And everything I do, even in--whether it be my music, it's something I'm always trying to stay active, always trying to work and try to educate. But I think what changed was practicing Islam. I think that my first year in college I kind of felt lost in it. In class we would take, we would be studying these movements, and I remember even leading up to Obama's election there was a real, there was a real throwback to the '60s, this real vibe that--even in media we saw parallels to--they were coming out with movies that--I remember Across the Universe, the Beatles, with all the Beatles music, and there's movies about Che, there's movies about all these different, like Weather Underground, there was a 40th anniversary here of that. I remember it was just a really politically active time, but one-- it was like really a movement. Not very radical. But it was a movement, though. And people were really standing up. MJ: Right. Well, the last person I interviewed actually said, “I got so swept up in it that I thought it was a social movement, I forgot that it was a campaign.”  You know, and then there was this-- CM: Yes! Exactly. Exactly. MJ: Kind of the aftermath is like, oh, wait a minute. Yeah, all we did was elect a president. I mean, which is momentous, it's huge, it's enormous-- CM: Well, I think if he didn't get elected, then it would have been a movement. I think if Obama had lost or if he didn't even get the nomination, then it really would have been a movement. Then it would have been a radical, "radical movement." But I think that he captured that attention and then effectively derailed it into--and then normalized all of Bush's policies from before. I mean, better him than McCain, but I really do see that happening. And I think that was a huge let-down. Because Obama was elected and…  It was really just tough. It was really tough to deal with the continuation of these wars. And to see that OK, we did that, but did we really do that, or was that done to us? And so turning that into change, I think turning that energy into change was really--I think when we focus on doing good and we focus on tangible results and we focus on helping people, that leads us in the right direction. When we focus on, like, touching people directly. This is all, I can really only say this in retrospect, because I remember it was one Ramadan. It was maybe my second or third Ramadan. I was fasting. And there was this charity event that Islamic Relief puts on every year and that CAIR actually also helps, they co-sponsor, called the Day of Dignity. And they do it around the country. In every city they'll have like a soup kitchen type of thing, and they'll hand out not just food, but blankets and clothes. Really to send people on their way with a good.. after a good day. And I got an email through the Columbia MSA, I think it was. I didn't really have any friends in the community, I was just kind of practicing Islam by myself and with a couple friends. Really dealing with myself, I didn't really see myself as part of any community here. But I went to this thing and just-- I was alone for the weekend, I was like, let me just, I'll go and do this, it'll be my charity for the day, for the weekend. And I ended up meeting with Faiza Ali, who was the community affairs director over here, at CAIR New York. And she was saying how she was looking for interns, and I never-- I always thought I was too good for internships. I was like, that's slavery. I'm never going to work for free, why would I do that? But for some reason, I'd heard of CAIR and it seemed like important work. It was like, it was really the first idea I had of an Islamic organization that really had some weight and was doing something active. I didn't really have a concept of that. And so I snatched it up. I was like, I'll email you. And we had a meeting, and she ended up--and she accepted me. And I came in and I ended up working not for the community affairs, but for the civil rights department. MJ: That was how long ago? CM: This was just last spring, now. This brings me to last spring. Yeah. MJ: So just about a year ago? CM: Yes. Exactly. Exactly about a year and a couple months. That was really a serious turning point. It was really exciting. It was emotionally, I think it was heavy on my heart, definitely, to deal with some of these issues. To grapple with some of these real serious cases-- MJ: Well, it's been an extremely--of all years to choose, I mean, it's been an extraordinary year. So let's talk about that a little bit. I mean maybe to situate us, for the people who are listening to this, we are sitting in a civil rights office. You are sitting behind a very fat folder of hate mail that this organization has received. CM: Yeah. MJ: There are-- CM: And this is just the last month. [CM laughs]. MJ: This is just the last month's. CM: Yep. MJ: This is in the wake of this huge controversy over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." And at the early moments of these hearings that Peter King is holding in Congress. So it's truly an extraordinary moment for American Muslims. So do you want to kind of talk about your experience of it? CM: Put it in context? MJ: Yeah, and just-- and how you're seeing it and how you analyze it. CM: Yeah, it's been quite a time to be active. I think that-- you know, it felt like, when we were talking about that visceral fear, it's interesting to think about how after-- I think once the Iraq war kind of settled in, as terrible as that is to imagine, I think Islamophobia kind of went down. I think that there was definitely an image of foreign Muslims as something evil and something inherently bad, but the rhetoric about Islam, especially from our elected officials and from organizations, it wasn't really so pointed. It wasn't really so violent. And it seems that over this last year it's gotten so much worse again. I mean, there was obviously the spike after 9/11, but if it settled in it just went right back up. And I think it's worse than ever. It really does seem it. And I don't know if it's going down. While it is like almost simultaneously we have this intense attention on Islam, it is bringing a lot of people to the religion and is making people look more into it and a lot more people are practicing. It's the fastest growing in the world, not just because of breeding rates [CM laughs], but because of genuine interest. But at the same time, so many other people are getting caught up in the counter culture here, in a very violently anti-Islamic movement. And I don't think it's new. It's the same hate that has been pointed at Jews and pointed at blacks and pointed at Mexicans and foreigners in general. Wave by wave by wave. And it just accumulates in people. But I think upon the election of President Obama, when people saw a black man in the White House, and had an Arabic name, a Muslim name to people. Now that was so foreign to them that people really can't accept that he was born in the United States, that he's an American citizen. People cannot accept this. Despite all physical evidence they're shown, they just refuse to accept it. There's a hump they can't get over. And I think that this has really led to a lot of these other issues. This Park 51 community center, the Ground Zero Mosque-- MJ: Well, it's interesting that you say that, because I went to, not went to, I went to document that huge rally that Pamela Geller led, which was the ugliest place on the planet I've ever been, that afternoon. CM: Yeah. This is on 9/11 last year? MJ: Was it actually 9/11? No. CM: She did have a big one then. It was the day before, maybe. MJ: It could have been. It was huge, though. It was thousands of people. But in, when you looked at who was there and what was written on their signs and the kind of rage that was being vented in the crowd, you just knew that you were looking at a sense of white displacement. CM: Yeah. MJ: And from that day onward I really thought this has everything to do with Obama. There's almost no other way to read this. CM: Yeah. I think people feel like, and they say it openly, that they feel like they're losing their country. I remember that, even when I lived in Pennsylvania, and this is long before Obama, this was 2000 and 2001. This was long before Obama was even heard of. But just immigration policies were making people feel like they were losing their country. Bill Clinton was making people feel like they were losing their country. This was, this has been going on for a while. Maybe this is disillusionment with the '90s or something. I'm not sure, but there is really a real racialized aspect to this fear. And Islam itself now has become a racialized concept, even though it's a pretty raceless religion, and very diverse within it, like most religions. It's like a “colored” other. Like that's the way it is, Islam. And yeah, it's very, it's crazy when you look at, like you said, with the signs that you look at, when you look at the hate mail that we receive. The issues that they seize on, the stereotypes that they pick on, the way that they draw people. Oh my God, you look at the way that they draw our Prophet, and it's amazing to see. It's this, it really dehumanizes people. It's that people from this part of the world are savage, are barbarian. And this is, this has been going on for thousands of years. We always depict the enemy like this. But it's so interesting now to see this, to see Islam chosen. Like you look at the statistics, I know you've seen them all, that 60, 70% of Americans have a negative view of Islam. But that is, 50% out of that 70% say they've never even met a Muslim. But also, that is so strongly correlated with people who have negative views of Jews and blacks and foreigners. I think the hatred is universal for everything that's not themselves, but Islam now unfortunately is the acceptable target for that rage. And you see that from elected officials especially. MJ: Right. Well, so I was wondering how you interpret, so people like Peter King, and then people who aren't elected officials but who have kind of become public figures in this. People like Pamela Geller. I mean are they--how do you understand them? Do they really believe everything that they say or is this, are they opportunists who are just taking this moment to try to--I mean, I just, because I could read it either way and I don't know-- CM: I think there's a mix. I think you're right. I think a lot of them you could read either way and some of them we'll never know. I think it is a mix, though. I think there are-- I think of that extreme minority who are promoting the Islamophobia, not just accepting, because I think there's a vast majority in the middle who just don't know better. But of that fringe that's really promoting this--and actively, people have made careers, huge well paying careers off of Islamophobia and spreading it--but I think there's a mix. I think that maybe there are some people who fundamentally believe it. I don't know why that is. Maybe they see, they see it as a clash of civilizations. I think that there are people who maybe based on the information that they've received, on what they were taught, maybe it was generational, maybe it was early life experiences, they just have this image of Islam as something foreign and something that's coming for us. But then on the other side I think there are people who are opportunists. I think there are people who should know better. I think when you look at the Peter King hearings, a perfect example. A very telling character of this whole drama is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser the--and I say Dr. Jasser because he's a physician. He's no doctor, he's no scholar, he's not an expert on anything, yet he was the star witness in this thing. He said he's practiced Islam his whole life, yet he's made a career off of demonizing the rest of American Muslims. And not just American Muslims but all of American Muslim leadership and organizations that are fighting for Muslim rights. Specifically CAIR. And people like him, I have to think that he's an opportunist. Because even if he thinks that he's doing something good for his faith, if he really believed that, he wouldn't be--because we can look at terrorism and we can look at radicalization, we could look at violent extremism-- Radicalization is a tough word for me because legally you're perfectly allowed to be a radical, you're just not allowed to be a violent one. And so when we criminalize free speech and free expression, that's a very dangerous slippery slope. But if we're looking at violent extremism, and specifically terrorism and violent crime, these are threats. And these are threats with no lines along ethnicity or religion or anything like this. But for him to do so, for a Muslim to do so and say that, yes, there's a large strain within Islam, that's fundamentally Islamic, that is causing this. I have to think that you're an opportunist or a crazy person. MJ: Right. And there's an audience that is so ready to hear that. CM: And the reason it's so perfect, when you look at guys like Zuhdi Jasser or-- and there's a ton of them, the escaped Muslim card they pull-- like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomani, Majid-- like some of these people. And not to, especially some of the women, not to take anything away from experiences that they've held, but when you turn that on Islam, it's so perfect for this right-wing bigotry. Because now they can have you read the script, but when it comes out of someone's mouth who has an Arabic name and who comes from a Muslim country, it doesn't sound racist. It doesn't sound bigoted. When Zuhdi Jasser says the things that he says in the Peter King hearing, it doesn't sound like it's coming from Peter King's mouth, even though it is. MJ: Right. It is. CM: They're getting paid by the same people. MJ: It gives King cover. CM: Absolutely. MJ: I mean, the same way for an administration and more, people like Condoleezza Rice gave the Bush administration cover. CM: Right. Colin Powell. Absolutely. Absolutely. That's actually a connection that I hadn't really even thought of yet. But I think that there are, we have to look at the financial incentive. Because there's always hate, there's always--and hate comes from ignorance. Hate comes from fear, and fear comes from ignorance. But the acting on them, I think we can really, we can look for that financial incentive, and there's a huge one. There is, I don't think it's an accident. Because Peter King wasn't always like this. Peter King was one of the first Congressmen to stand up for Bosnia, in support of action there. He was never-- and he had great relationships with the Muslim community in Long Island. I know people, heads of Muslim organizations in Long Island, who still fund raise for him. Who thought, they say oh, he's a great Congressman, just not on Muslim issues. And it's fascinating to me, I wouldn't give the man a penny, but this is how people think. Muslims aren't even just obsessed with our own issues, they see him as a holistic politician. But they just say, oh, this is really a bad time he's going through. It's so funny to me. [laughs]  But it helps to put it into context, because he-- it really was after 9/11 first, it was really after 9/11 that he broke with Ireland and with the IRA in particular, because they didn't want to come to Iraq with America. But I think it was after he hosted the Republican National Convention here, I think that he got the, the neo-cons got his ear. I think that they--he saw the financial incentives, he saw the huge amount of money that was being poured into to national security and into counterterrorism, specifically. And I think that's what these hearings are all about. From the beginning to the end these are about money. These are about bringing money to not just New York--and the NYPD is, I think, fully in support of these hearings. And they staff Peter King, they've been advisers for these hearings, which is also troubling. But also the private, these consultants and the outsourcing of national security money, this goes back to Peter King. MJ: So how much is it part of your job to stay on top of everything that's going on in these hearings? CM: It definitely affects us a lot because not just has he, not just because he's targeted CAIR so vehemently, but because he's a New York Congressman. Because he's from our neck of the woods. We have great relationships and coalitions with people from Long Island and throughout the state, and he's targeted New Yorkers specifically. Like in his language, he says, he comes--the only law enforcement expert that I saw on that panel in his hearings was called by the Democrats. Sheriff Lee Baca who said about, talked about how, what a great relationship he has with the Muslim community in LA. But still he keeps making unsubstantiated statements about how he hears from FBI and from law enforcement that Muslims, and he said, in New York City, I hear from law enforcement that Muslims don't cooperate. Yet he won't bring them to the table. He won't bring-- there's no evidence know any of these things.  Every, all the evidence and all the testimony points-- MJ: The other way. CM: Against him. Yeah- points the other way. Going the other way. In fact, disproves what he says. He continues making these things, and so it's an important issue to us. It's an important issue to the organization, because he really tried to, if he wasn't a Congressman, this would be a slander lawsuit, the things that he says about CAIR. If anyone else were called a terrorist, I would expect them to be put in court, and let them defend themselves against their evidence. But that's not what this operation was. This was an effort to discredit the Muslim American community's primary defenders and, I think, remove that shield from the community, so that they can continue their assault on civil liberties. Not just Muslims' but all minority religious and ethnic minority communities here. MJ: He's been compared to McCarthy, for obvious reasons, I suppose. CM: Yeah. MJ: But I wonder from your point of view are there any distinctions that are worth noting? I mean, is there anything that distances him from McCarthy in terms of his tactics, in terms of his political style, in terms of the project that's represented by these hearings. Is there any way that we should be--I mean, is that too simple, I guess is what I'm asking. CM: Oh, I see. I mean, some things I think stick out as very strong, some things, yeah, some things maybe less so. But this is almost more dangerous, I would say. Because back then, I mean it was bad enough that McCarthy was targeting a political affiliation, a political expression, an ideology. An ideology, which, it was an absolute stretch, but he managed to accuse of being anti-American, un-American. Yet now King has taken a religious ideology, and you hear this in the rhetoric of so many of these other, mostly Republican, elected officials, that-- they say that Islam is not a religion, Islam is a political cult. Islam is a political ideology, is a political movement. It's Islam means, all Muslims want to install Sharia law. Now they're taking the religion itself, and making that criminal, and criminalizing that now. Like when you look at the--and this is all kind of the same movement. The project that you mentioned that's represented by these hearings is obviously much bigger than the hearings, and has been going on since 9/11, I believe, if not before. You look at the radicalization report, there was a, the NYPD in 2007 published a report on what they saw as the homegrown threat. And it covered for their agents how do you monitor people, how do you keep track of people who are radicalizing? How do you know if someone is going to be more likely to commit an act of terrorism in this country? And things that they came up with were: practices Islam, grows a beard, hangs around coffee shops, hangs around bookstores, talks a lot about the greater good, stops drinking and smoking cigarettes. These were their signs of radicalization. I can't, I haven't heard one thing that sounded bad to me. And maybe that's because I'm a radical [MJ laughs], but these sound like pretty good qualities in people. Having the beard is your own choice, but the rest of these sounded pretty good. Right? Hang around bookstores? I wish more people would. But this is what, the best they could come up with and what they did, really, is just short of criminalize perfectly normal behavior. Yeah, proactive behavior. And tying it specifically to an Islamic threat. That's the most dangerous thing, is that not only are we monitoring now just political expression, but political expression from a specific group. And even, not just, religious expression from that entire group, no matter what they politically believe. MJ: Right. Or any expression. CM: Any expression whatsoever. Just by being you you're a target. MJ: Because meanwhile we have these white militias in Idaho and Florida and Arkansas who are armed to the teeth-- CM: Seriously. Seriously. MJ: But they aren't growing beards and going to bookstores. CM: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. They might be growing beards, but yeah, they can't read a book. And yeah, these guys are very vocally anti-government, who, these are the guys who put on their web sites, come and get me, they're talking about they have nightmares about these government helicopters, and nobody even cares that they're out there. Like, no, they're just letting them be. Like the week before the hearings, before Peter King's hearings, there was, these five guys were arrested in Alaska. They were planning to murder, was it National Guardsmen or something? Something crazy, like these guys are serious, and they are organized, and they have connections across the country. They are everything that they're afraid Muslims are. [laughs]  And Muslims aren't anywhere close. There's not even-- It's just so amazing. It's like they're fighting the shadow of the real threat. And putting a different name on it. It's pretty terrifying. MJ: When was the first time you ever heard the charge that Muslims want to impose Sharia law on the entire world? CM: It was within the last couple years. It's a pretty new thing. MJ: Yeah. It's a new thing, right? It kind of came out of the blue to me. But I didn't understand. CM: I thought so, too. And I wonder why. And I think it's part of this project, which you see represented by web sites that, not to advertise for them, but I think one of them is called like WikiIslam or something like this. These websites oppose the academic websites and encyclopedic web sites and present misinformation about Islam to people. They'll say--and I think in some way it must be supported by either former Muslims or maybe just Arabs who aren't Muslim, but they'll present, they'll take verses from the Koran, not only out of context, but mistranslated, and then they'll--or they'll take Hadith, they'll take traditions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and then these aren't even authentic traditions. Because a huge Islamic science is authenticating our sources and making sure that they're actually true. And so they don't, they have no regard for that, in fact they'll present the most violent things that they could find and put them on these web sites in a form that people see and they're like, oh, see, I knew it. And context is very important, not just for Islam but for any religious book, first of all, to interpret and to really take the holistic message. And especially in the Koran where we know when all these verses were revealed. We know exactly in what situation all these verses were revealed. We know that there's a verse that talks about war and talks about not surrendering, but we know that this was revealed when they were in the middle of a battle, they were on a battlefield. So it's not so weird, it's not like they're talking about, oh, go get them while they're sleeping. No, this is in a battle. Like come on. And just a little bit, you know, maybe five minutes of extra research would have fixed that. But that's not what they're interested in. The interest is in misinformation, not in informing people. And I understand that. And I think maybe it's from this project that this whole Sharia law thing has come. Because in a way they had to find something, because jihad just wasn't doing it for them, I think. I think that they saw that they needed to pick on a concept that was universal to Islam. And Sharia law is like our--it's such a silly thing. It's like our, it's just a very basic morality and Sharia law tells people to obey the law of the land that they live in, even if it-- MJ: Oh my God. CM: Terrifying, right? MJ: How terrifying, yeah [MJ laughs]. CM: And yet these states, like 13 to 15 states across the country now are trying to ban Sharia law. Which would not only illegalize washing your hands before you pray, but marriage in general. Like these people are so ignorant and the laws that they try to pass, like the, in Oklahoma, the first one that went through, they put it on the ballot because they know that no legislator would ever pass such a thing. They know that it would be laughed out of town. They know they'd be losing their careers on this. So these guys put it on the ballot, because in Oklahoma of course 70% of people are going to be afraid of Sharia law. They don't know what it is. And then I think it was CAIR Oklahoma, the executive director out there filed this lawsuit about it saying it's unconstitutional. And the Supreme Court judge, he must have laughed. Are you guys serious? You guys are about to illegalize marriage. Not just Muslim marriage, but like marriage. Are you serious? This is what you're--this is your number one threat, this is the number one threat to America is ethics? This is like, really, let's really think about it. So I don't know, I think it's because they wanted to take a word that Muslims all agree on, I mean, maybe people have different interpretations of it, but they wanted to pick something new that sounded scary, but that sounded subversive. Because jihad was too, you know that was too easy for them. MJ: Imposing Sharia law. CM: Imposing and creeping Sharia-- MJ: If you don't know a single thing, that could sound scary. CM: Yeah, I watched a video on, last-- I don't know why I do this to myself, it's like my way of raising my heart rate. I was on YouTube last night. MJ: I watch the news to do that [MJ laughs]. CM: Yeah. Exactly. I can't even watch Fox news uncut. Like, I need to have like Stephen Colbert punctuating it. There was some video, of course I'm watching a video about, I was listening to the Koran, actually, on YouTube, and so the sponsored video, on the top, is by the YouTube channel, No 9/11 Mosque, No 9/11 Mosque, is the name of the channel. And this video is about three things about Islam, and I'm like, oh, no. So I click on it. I had to. The curiosity was just too much for me, and so I went onto it, and one of these three things, I can't, it was a long, drawn out, rambling video. But one of these things was creeping Sharia law, and how all Muslims were here to do that. It didn't even pretend to be just about radical Islam. It was about Muslims. [Phone rings] If you don't mind, let me just... […] MJ:  Well, I wonder about this moment that we are in as a society and that, in some ways, you are more in it than anybody. Both as a Muslim, CM: Elbow deep, yeah [CM laughs]. MJ: But as the civil rights director over here. I guess, well, first of all, this huge bundle, which is one of many bundles of hate mail. Could you tell me a little bit about kind of how you understand what it represents? I mean, who do you think it's from? I don't know if you want to describe it or not, but just kind of the kind of world that it represents to you. And then also what is your strategy, or the strategy of this office, in how you combat this stuff. CM: I think-- Yeah. For the first part of that, I think that it is very interesting. Usually these are waiting for me when I come in in the morning. They come on the fax machine. In face, most of these are faxes. And it's very interesting. First of all, when they don't come, I almost miss it. I wonder what they're doing. I wonder what these people are doing instead of sending me hateful faxes. And I hope then, and usually I hope, I pray that they're not doing something worse. It's interesting that most of them, and maybe it's just the people that have our number, it comes from a, almost a religiously anti-Muslim perspective. Like a lot of them talk about Jesus being the son of God and that that's our mistake. That we're going to hell because we are worshipping an anti-Christ. You see huge misconceptions about what Allah is to us, as if Allah is some god different than the god that they worship. And usually, so most of them, I think our biggest fan is someone who sends us Bible verses, and then in the middle of the Bible verses, the typing will cut off and they'll go into a rant. And they go into a rant telling us about how evil we are and what will happen to us in hell. Usually graphically. Sometimes there are animations to go with it. And I wonder, it's a really extreme, very narrow, I hate to even call it religious, view. MJ: But it's kind of a pseudo-theological view? CM: Yeah. But it kind of has, yeah, kind of comes from that theological perspective, as if-- That we are wrong for the religion that we believe in. The other thing is, I think the other side of it is, there's a side that's very just shock and awe. I think it's just like offend Muslims however you can. And that usually doesn't come from a Christian perspective. Usually that comes from a, it's kind of a, like it reminds me of this show Jackass. Just like very, I just imagine like a young guy with nothing to do, he's got no job and he's sitting in his mom's living room, and he's like how can I piss some people off? Oh, I'm going to put some strips of bacon on the Koran and take a picture of it. And it just doesn't really offend me. First of all, it's the English translation. Like, you know, come on bro. And I think guys like Terry Jones are perfect examples of this. Like the pastor from Florida, who--I hate to give him any more press than he needs-- but he, this is a guy who-- and this is, actually I would love it if you made this public. First, this whole show trial that he had last week over the Koran. You heard about this, right? That he actually did it finally. So he holds this show trial for the Koran. He has this imam come from a local mosque, and he stands as the defense lawyer, and Terry Jones is ranting about the Koran, how it's a violent book, and they bring up evidence. Meanwhile, of course, the Koran is soaking in kerosene for an hour, while this is going on, as if there was any fairness to this trial. And then they burn it. Burning the Koran is one of two, the only two acceptable ways to dispose of a Koran. So I hope that someone tells Terry Jones' followers that he is enforcing sharia law by burning the Koran. I think that would be, I think that would cause some great internal rifts. It's kind of that shock and awe factor is another angle from which these people kind of hate us. They just curse as much as they can. They make as many references to pork as possible. I saw a web site today that they were marketing a pig fat gun to American soldiers, as if this would scare away the Muslims much more. It's a very, there's this one email, in this one maybe ten sentence email, if you can even call these sentences, there has to be at least twelve references to pork and pork products and pigs. It's like it's our kryptonite or something. I just don't know how they envision us. The attachments to this, one was an American flag made out of bacon. There's another one of a Koran with strips of bacon on it. I was like, this guy, first of all he's a real pork enthusiast, but also he's just really childish, is the other thing. And I think the third angle is informed by some idea that Muslims are like not just criminals, but like sex criminals. And that like all of our women and children are just abused and molested from an early age. And this is, there's many references to this. There's so many references to like the wife of the Prophet, Aisha, who was married into the family at a young age, but was not --They have this idea that they were like having sex. It's just really creepy, the things that they think about this. Even in some of the religiously minded faxes that we get, they'll talk about sex crimes, and molesting children, and just really weird things. And it's this idea that Muslim men are predatorial animals, like savages. And people are really violently terrified of Muslim men coming to their country and being a part of it. Even Bill Maher on what is it? What's the show called again? Politically Incorrect or something like that. MJ: Right, right, right. And you're talking about the episode where actually it was Tavis Smiley who had to take him down a notch... which was kind of an amazing thing to see. CM: Yeah, and it was like, talking about how everyone I know who dated an Arab man is like, a bad experience. And this is a guy who, I think he's someone, he might just be an opportunist or someone who just likes pissing everyone off equally. That may be the case. The way that they go about it is just very interesting. Not to mention when he told Keith Ellison that he thought the Koran was a hate-filled holy book. The fact that any Congressman, if any other Congressman had to deal with that assault on their religion it would have been over, but you know the Muslim one did. But it's just very interesting, the angles from which they come from. But what this shows to me, overall, on the positive note, what this stack of papers shows me is that hatred for Islam comes from ignorance and fear, rather than any type of political consciousness. I think-- MJ: Or observation-- CM: Or observation. MJ: Or any kind of reality-based-- CM: Or any clear thought. Exactly. Exactly. Because I know that there are people in very high levels of society that profit from hatred of Muslims. And I don't think it's an accident that Muslims are being demonized in America at the same time that they are trying to justify two wars in Muslim countries. I don't think that's an accident. There is a very clear-- I think it justifies two wars, and also support for Israel. It helps to keep people afraid of Muslims and Arabs, who are not even mostly Muslims. But I think at this level among, dare I say, common people, I think that it's a real fringe of people that are really hateful. Most people are just ignorant. And most people don't know. And the fact that such high numbers of people who don't like Islam and who don't like Muslims, the fact that so many of them don't know a Muslim, actually that gives me more hope than concern. Because what that means is that there is something that we can do. It means that by being Muslim, by being here, by being Americans, and by being a part of society. By getting into the media, really important, by getting into politics, really important. By just being out there, by being Muslim and being proud of who we are, that builds a connection with people. That humanizes us automatically to people. So when I go out I usually I'll wear a kufi. I'll wear a hat. Like a prayer hat. And I notice sometimes, sometimes first I'll hear, I'll see, I'll get that look. I'll get that glare, maybe from some older lady, or from some young, like firefighter-type guy, and then maybe I'll just be joking around with my friends, just laughing, just doing something human, something that shows some emotion. And I see people smile too. Looking directly at me. And I know, and I really do believe that it's connected to the fact that we just need to be human. That people need to see, when they think of Islam, unfortunately--For the last 30 years probably the most famous Muslim was Muhammad Ali. That was a great example. That's a perfect example for people think of. I hope everyone thinks of Muhammad Ali when they think of Muslims. Unfortunately for the last 9, 10 years it has probably been Osama bin Laden. Which is great PR for him, but not for Muslims. And so we need to fight that. And the way we fight that, and the way that CAIR fights that, specifically, is not just defense of civil rights, which is extremely important, but that's very reactive. On the proactive side, we need to make sure that we're in interfaith dialogues. That we're building good relationships with our partners across all communities. Making sure that we're some of the people, we're just normal people we're just here. The same things are important to us. We want to have families. We want to raise them in safe places. We don't want anything here blowing up. This is where we live and work. This is where we want to make our-- And most people came here--first of all, not to mention that over 35% of Muslims who were born and raised here, and have been here from the African American community here for hundreds of years. But also so many of the immigrant communities here, we came here for freedom, for religious freedom. Because we like pluralism, because we like the freedoms that it brings. I know my mother is one of them. And I know that many others-- The idea that people are here to somehow subvert this country and its principles, is pretty absurd, and I think that people can be brought to realize that. Through pretty normal activism. Through pretty just very simple things. Just by being in culturally visible positions, I think Muslims make a difference. MJ:  How easy has it been to find those kinds of spaces to just get that word out? Or even to be kind of visibly, to be conspicuously normal? CM: Conspicuously Muslim? [Laughing] MJ: No, [laughing] conspicuously normal, you know what I mean? CM: Yeah. A little bit of both, I think. I think that there is an interesting paradox there, because on one side often we have to force ourselves in, being normal. I mean, it's very obvious, when you look at the news, the vast majority of stories about Muslims are negative. And specifically the more times that you hear the word Islam or Muslim is in some relation to terrorism or extremism or something like this. Whether it's here or abroad. And this sells newspapers. Things like this, this sells newspapers and so I think that most of entertainment, which is what it is, is geared towards kind of smearing Muslims in that way. So its very difficult for the Muslims who are doing good things to get out there and to be seen that way. But at the same time, it's an interesting phenomenon, and I think part of it really started from the controversy over Park 51, over the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Which hopefully is the last time I ever say that. But I think the media kind of seized upon that intense focus on Islam, because that's when-- I think that was the real turning point, when it changed from being about Muslim extremism to Muslims. I think that was when it became acceptable to talk about Muslims as though all of us are evil. And then the media started saying, well, you know, the media started humanizing us a little bit. I realized, I'm a musician, and I started doing it. I think between-- since last July, I've probably done over 15 to 20 profile pieces of people. Just, wow, Muslims do other things. MJ: They listen to music. They play music. CM: Muslims, listen, they play music. Wow, Muslims do activism. Muslims eating ice cream. These things are like huge to people. [MJ and CM laughing] They're like, wow, what a diverse community! They don't eat their children! It's amazing! So there was, I think that there was like a novelty aspect to it, also. And I think that's, right now, that's kind of what we need to capitalize on. We can't just be complacent with being the Muslim eating ice cream, we need to be the Muslim doing good work. And to extend the analogy, to give ice cream to the homeless. And to be out there doing good things and to to show that. And I hate the idea of proving ourselves to people. I hate thinking about it that way. But I think the important way to think about it, is that as long as we're out there doing real genuine good things, with the purpose in mind--because this is part of our religion, service, activism, engagement, doing good and thinking of the greater good--I hope [Commissioner of the New York Police Department] Ray Kelly didn't tap me on that one-- but thinking about the greater good is part of our religion. We're a societal religion, we're a community-based religion, it is not really an individualistic religion. It's one that is always conscious of what is the best result for society? And part of that is self-sacrifice. So when we have that space, when we have that light, that spotlight. Which we do. Right now, we really do. We have quite a spotlight on us and it's like a glaring beam. But we need to use that as an opportunity and I think that's working. I think that's working. I remember I got, I did a piece for CNN International and they did a nice little, it's a nice little three minute profile piece on Cyrus. And I got emails back from people in the military. I got, on Facebook, I remember a message showed up like the day after, and I saw a guy in like camouflage and with a machine gun. I was like, oh, no. I was like, here it starts. I was just ready for it. Here it comes. And I opened it up, he was like, keep doing you-- keep showing people that not everyone has to be the same. This is a white guy, and he looked like he was in the desert. I was like, this guy is fresh back from killing Iraqis. And, no. He was absolutely supportive. I was like, you know what? This is a good thing. At first I was a little bit worried about the novelty aspect. I didn't want to just be like the token anything. Or to just be someplace because I'm Muslim. But I say, you know what? I think that minds can be changed. And this is the best way to do it. If we're not in politics, if we're not in journalism, if Muslims aren't raising their voices, then everyone else controls the dialogue about us. And as we can see from the last 10 years, that can be a very dangerous lack. MJ: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your generosity-- CM: Yeah, it was an absolute pleasure. MJ: --with your time and your story and your ideas. Is there anything that we didn't talk about that you wish we had? CM: I don't know. I hope you didn't cut yourself short. Don't be concerned about my time. It's absolutely fine, so. MJ: No, I just feel like that was kind of a-- CM: But as long as you got what you needed. I'm trying to think. We did kind of cover some topics there. And as it goes on, too, if you want to meet again-- MJ: I'd love to. CM: --or if you have other questions, I'd be absolutely happy to. MJ: OK. Well, thank you.

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