Monday, December 2, 2013

Hussam Ayloush Presentation on Syria in Riverside

On November 20, the Southern California director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hussam Ayloush, spoke at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Riverside, California on the topic of the Syrian war. The event, entitled, "A Most Uncivil War-Syria-A Human Rights Emergency", was attended by some 50 to 60 persons, mostly in their 60s or 70s. It was sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of the church and the Riverside County Progressive PAC .The above church is a progressive and activist church which welcomes people of different spiritual persuasions. Their bywords are "peace" and "love". You might say it's the Church of Peter, Paul and Mary. I attended the event and videotaped it. It was, as expected, an exercise in Ayloush-type propaganda. My question to Ayloush comes at the 2:50 mark in the 4th segment.


Prior to the start of the event, a group of older people sitting behind me were discussing what to do about the recent criticism  of President Obama. A lady asked the others, "What are we going to do about these people who are criticizing Mr. Obama? They must be punished." (The suggestions revolved around writing letters etc.)

Ayloush, in his presentation, showed a film ("Not Anymore-A Story About Revolution", directed by Matthew VanDyke) centered around a Syrian-American college student who had interrupted her studies to go to Syria and document the resistance to Bashar Assad. Most, if not all of the scenes were filmed in Aleppo and showed the death and destruction caused to Syrians at the hands of Assad's army.  It failed to show any of the actions of the rebel forces. Nor did it address the persecution of Syrian Christians.

In his speech, Ayloush gave a historical backdrop to Syria beginning with the end of World War I and brought it up to the resistance to Assad.  He took a strong anti-Assad stance and advocated for American intervention. Though he stood for peace, Ayloush maintained that pacifism was wrong in this instance (I am paraphrasing.) Significantly, Ayloush did not discuss the atrocities being committed by rebel forces, their links to Al Qaeda, or the attacks on Syrian Christians though he did refer to "extremists" who had come to fight in Syria. Keep in mind he was speaking in what is reputedly a Christian church.

In other noteworthy comments, Ayloush told the audience that George W. Bush had used 9-11 to take America to war in Afghanistan and Iraq under false pretenses. He also made what I suspect was a slip of the tongue when he stated that some of the rebel fighters who had come to Syria had their own agenda of Jihad. He then quickly added that jihad had a different meaning. He also said at one point (referring to foreign rebel fighters) that you could not expect the Syrian people to reject help from outside as long as people were coming to help them. (Again, I am paraphrasing.) Furthermore, he stated that the Assad regime was telling Christians and other minorities that if they (the government) fell, the other side would kill them.

Initially, the question and answer session was to be conducted by written questions, which were collected and sent up.  For some reason, the gentleman handling the microphone decided to just take it to questioners who raised their hands. In my question, I indicated my disappointment that Ayloush had not said more about the plight of the Syrian Christians who were fleeing for their lives and being murdered by Muslims. I also brought up the fact that the previous week, CAIR had held its annual convention in Anaheim and had featured as a speaker Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a man who called America, " a filthy garbage can", had advocated for an Islamic takeover of America, and had testified as a defense witness in the New York terror trial of the "Blind Sheikh", Omar Abdel Rahman. If CAIR was a moderate organization, how did that square with inviting a speaker like Wahhaj?

In his response, Ayloush said that Christians were also taking part in the resistance to Assad like all ethnic and religious groups in Syria. He added that one of the leaders of the resistance was a Christian.

As for Wahhaj, Ayloush called him, "one of the most prominent and respected religious leaders in America". He added that in that same talk in which he referred to America as "a garbage can", Wahhaj had insisted that people should not be bitter, but love America. As to his testimony, Ayloush said that Wahhaj was called to testify rather than by choice and had the legal duty to tell the truth.  He did not address the part about Wahhaj calling for an Islamic takeover of America. He concluded by calling me bigoted and Islamophobic as the audience applauded.

To sum up, Ayloush painted a partial picture of the Syrian situation while neglecting the terrorist actions of the rebel fighters and  the persecution of Christians. When confronted with critical questions, he did what he generally does; he retreated behind the charge of Islamophobia. The audience, of course, loved it. This was supposedly a Christian church, but nobody seemed to care if Muslims were killing Christians in Syria.

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