VIRGINIA BEACH — Terror or teaching. Which does the Council on American-Islamic Relations promote?
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said Monday from the group’s national headquarters in Washington that CAIR has 25 chapters across North America. And CAIR is celebrating its 10th anniversary as an educational organization devoted to promoting a positive image for American Muslims, he said.
But Virginia Beach resident Andrew Whitehead considers CAIR a terrorist organization and says so every day on a Web page called Anti-CAIR.
Those Internet comments convinced CAIR to sue Whitehead last week in Virginia Beach Circuit Court .
The organization wants $1.35 million from Whitehead for what CAIR considers libelous statements that have injured the group’s “good name, and have held and will hold CAIR up to public scandal and ridicule,” according to the lawsuit.
Whitehead, a retired Navy enlisted man and college student who lives in the Beach neighborhood of Pecan Garden off Holland Road , admits that the goal of his group is to shut down CAIR.
“We want to see them go away,” he said last week.
But he warns that if CAIR wants money it better look elsewhere.
“I haven’t got any,” Whitehead said during an interview last week.
That won’t stop the legal action, said Virginia Beach attorney Jeremiah A. Denton III, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of CAIR.
“CAIR’s objective is to protect its reputation,” Denton said. “If they have no money, we won’t drop the lawsuit, I’ll tell you that.”
In the lawsuit, Denton lists six statements published during 2003 that he says defame CAIR.
The statements allege that CAIR was started by the radical terror group Hamas with the goals of making “radical Islam the dominant religion in the United States and to convert our country into an Islamic theocracy along the lines of Iran.”
Denton said he warned Whitehead by letter in January to stop making the Internet comments. When that had no effect, Denton filed the lawsuit.
Whitehead’s Web page says that Anti-CAIR is a “group of concerned Americans dedicated to eliminating the Islamist terrorist threat to the United States Constitution. We believe that the Council on American Islamic Relations, CAIR, is a clear and present danger to our Constitution and our way of life.”
The Web page claims some important allies.
It publishes alleged quotes by U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Richard Durbin that link CAIR to terrorism.
But the group itself is more modest.
Whitehead, 46, said Anti-CAIR has about five members, at least two of whom were members of another anti-terror group called Anti-Jihad International before joining Anti-CAIR.
Hooper said Whitehead is exaggerating the size of Anti-CAIR five-fold.
“It’s just one guy,” he said.
Hooper said CAIR has had its hands full defending the civil rights of American Muslims since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 .
Whenever a group takes a civil-rights stand in the United States, Hooper said, people “will find any way they can to oppose it. That’s just life in the big city.”
CAIR, he said, offers a Muslim perspective on its Web page, including the latest news about the occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces.
On Monday, the CAIR Web page condemned the murder and mutilation of American civilian contractors last week in Iraq, but also called for a probe into a photograph that shows a U.S. soldier mocking an Iraqi youth.
Hooper said that Whitehead is not alone in his efforts to defame CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil-rights organization. “But he is one of the most egregious,” Hooper said.
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