CAIR is the Council for American-Islamic Relations, a US-based "Islamic civil liberties group" as they call themselves. They are a Muslim
civil rights group, the largest in the US. Their headquarters are in Washington DC
, and they have 25 regional offices, with lots of smaller chapters throughout the US, and many in Canada
Unlike MAS; the Muslim American Society, ICNA; the Islamic Circle of North America, ISNA; the Islamic Society of North America, or MPAC; the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR focuses more on political and society issues. Also, unlike the ADC; the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, CAIR focuses on all Muslims, whether they are Arab, South Asian, African, or otherwise.
CAIR is a non-profit organization. They began in June 1994, when two men opened a office in Wahington DC. They were established to promote an accurate image of Islam and Muslims in America and work in the interest of civil and political rights for Muslims in the US. Some call them a Muslim NAACP.
One of the first things they did was to organize protests of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies, which CAIR said was insulting to Muslims. After that, they demonstrated outside card stores over a hallmark card using the word "Shiite" in a derogatory way, which was later taken off the shelves. CAIR later received national recognition in the press when it protested a Nike sneaker that featured a logo that resembled the Arabic word "Allah."
As things in the US are, there are lots of issues that concern Muslims. Let me give you a sense of the situation, because up until recently the average American didn't pay attention to Muslims. Despite the 6-7 Million Muslims in the US, regular Americans didnt know much about the people. CAIR used to put out advertisements and hold discussions with American leaders to show the concerns of Muslim constituents. In many ways they were a political group, urging Muslims to vote and be represented.
Since the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oaklahoma City, which many people initially attributed incorrectly to Arab terrorists, CAIR began to track the number of reported cases of discrimination or violence against American Muslims. After the terrorist attacks in 2001, hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and Middle-Eastern looking people jumped over 1000%, spiking again during the War on Iraq 2003. Mosques were burned down, women had their headscarves pulled off, men and women with obvious Muslim names or features were fired and many more detained by the US government. Despite a universal condemnation of the attacks, many accused Islam and the Muslims living in and outside the US. CAIR's been sort of overloaded since, taking on civil rights issues, protesting the thousands of detentions of Muslims by the FBI in late 2001, the mass deportations, the hate crimes, the right for women to cover their hair at work, the right of Muslims to take time off from work for religious holidays, and a variety of other issues.
There is still a lot of hate speech against Muslims and Islam. Perhaps the only time they appear on mainstream news is to provide a counterpoint for some of the biased things I have heard on the news. When US general Jerry Boykin, in charge of capturing Osama Bin Laden, said in uniform that Muslims worshipped an "idol," CAIR publicly protested, condemning the remarks, and coordinated a campaign to write to members of Congress and George W. Bush to condemn the remarks as well as reassign him. When Franklin Graham called Islam an "evil religion," and Pat Robertson followed up by bashing Islam repeatedly on his television channel, and Jerry Falwell delivered a coup d'grace by calling Islam's Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, a "Terrorist" on CBS, CAIR started a letter writing campaign to condemn the remarks, and pressured Bush to repudiate the remarks, which he soon did. One of CAIR's directors, Ibrahim Hooper, appeared on 24-hour news shows to argue against the critics, and has been on almost every major News channel that I can think of.
In addition, CAIR has organized voting drives, urging people to vote. CAIR doesn't endorse any specific candidate, only the issue that Muslims should voice their opinions and express the desire to shape the country by voting. As of now, there are no Muslims in Congress, despite being a sizeable minority in the US (larger than the Methodists). They are also involved in local activism, with email alerts asking people to get involved, one example was when a company refused to do business with a man because his name was "Muhammad." Recently, the group repeatedly warned anyone who would listen of the dangers of invading Iraq and the reaction the Muslim world would have. It seems like CAIR's job, as their name implies, involves improving the relations between the two. As a civil rights group, they've also lobbied against the Patriot Act and the Federal Secret evidence and anti-immigration laws. As an interesting aside, CAIR reports that the majority of Muslims backed George W. Bush in the 2000 election because of his campaign promise to get rid of the "secret evidence" laws; a promise which he not only broke, he extended.
Lest anyone accuse CAIR of being silent, they have condemned; the FBI profiling Muslims and counting mosques, Congressmen and women who walked out of a prayer led by an Imam, mosque bombings overseas, many domestic hate crimes, suicide bombings in Israel, Israeli attacks on Syria, and attacks on Americans overseas.
They're a long way from being done. So far in 2004, a Republican Congressman called Muslims "an enemy among us" while claiming that at least 80% of mosques in the US are extremist, and a popular radio host when asked about Muslims remarked "I think we should kill them." Unfortunately, a lot of bigotry against Muslims in the US is still open.
CAIR also has made many civil rights reports, all in PDF form on their website, and compiles statistics on Muslim Americans. They've also published an "Islam in America" ad campaign, sponsored a drive to send more accurate books about Islam to libraries nationwide, and published mosque safety kits. They've also held seminars to help people deal with immigration issues, and in 2001 gave tips as what to do if a person was interviewed by the FBI or felt discriminated in the workplace.
CAIR's mailing list sends email alerts, describing any issue that is of interest to Muslims in the US, condensed into a news bulletin form.
Their national website is at http://www.cair-net.org