“You can’t believe everything you read, especially if it’s scrawled across a restaurant receipt.”
That was the conclusion of at least one major media outlet after a Texas steakhouse waiter posted an image of a fake handwritten note on Facebook to convince Americans that racism “still exists.” But if you can’t trust everything you read on social media, how should readers respond when the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group nurtures the same unsubstantiated fiction?
With chapters in more than a dozen states, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) works to “promote a positive image of Islam” while defending Muslims “who have experienced religious discrimination, defamation or hate crimes.” Therefore, when 20-year-old Khalil Cavil claimed to receive a “No tip for terrorist” message from a customer in lieu of gratuity, CAIR’s activists and paid attorneys didn’t hesitate to publicize the encounter, promoting Cavil’s specious verdict that “this racism, and this hatred still exists.”
Although the United Arab Emirates designated CAIR as a terrorist entity in 2014, and the FBI has banned outreach with the group because of its suspected ties to terrorism, newspaper editors and broadcast journalists continue to seek out CAIR officials for public comment in the aftermath of both real and perceived anti-Muslim incidents.
Oldest Trick in the Book
CAIR had every reason to approach Cavil’s allegations with skepticism and restraint, especially given the historical susceptibility these complaints are to forgery.
Consider the case of a Tennessee Red Lobster employee who posted a receipt online in 2013 showing that she was tipped “none” followed by a written racial slur; or the gay server working at a New Jersey restaurant who accused a couple of refusing to tip him and writing, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle” on a receipt. Cavill’s spoof was remarkably similar to a 2017 case where a Virginia waitress presented a receipt which stated, “don’t tip Black people.” In each instance, follow-on investigations proved that the so-called victims were, in fact, defrauding the public.
While dozens of media outlets across the country were faithfully publishing virtual carbon copies of CAIR’s story of racial and religious intolerance in Texas, the Saltgrass Steak House was busy conducting an internal investigation of their own. Terry Turney, chief operating officer of Saltgrass, eventually concluded that “our employee fabricated the entire story.” Turney remarked that while “Racism of any form is intolerable… Falsely accusing someone of racism is equaling [sic] disturbing.”
Turney is right to so forcefully denounce these deceptive acts. When the media grants column inches to these fantasists, they only succeed in distracting from and diminishing efforts to combat genuine instances of bigotry.
Once CAIR becomes invested in a hate crime hoax, its representatives have trouble disengaging from the false narrative they so fervently defended.
After Cavil’s delusional story began unraveling around him and his lies were exposed as a sham, CAIR refused to take down their supporting story. The article still appears under its original, condemnatory title, although a tiny disclaimer reads: “Waiter admits making up story about customer who called him a terrorist and didn’t tip.”
Refusing to adequately correct the record regarding falsified hate crimes has become an ugly tradition at CAIR. In December 2017, long after the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office ruled out religious animus and determined that a Muslim teen was beaten by three of her classmates in a fight “over a boy,” CAIR-Florida Communications Director Wilfredo Ruiz said that he was “worried how in-depth the investigation was made.”
In the same manner, CAIR’s New York chapter refused to correct or unpublish an article supporting the discredited story of an 18-year-old Muslim woman who, in December 2016, alleged that three Donald Trump supporters tried to remove her hijab and called her a terrorist. The falsified report remains on CAIR’s webpages and social media accounts, even after the offender pleaded guilty and was sentenced for falsely reporting an incident and disorderly conduct.
Ibrahim Hooper, the CAIR communications director responsible for posting Cavil’s canard, has counterintuitively suggested that the Muslim community “is under great psychological stress and tension right now, and that that in itself can cause mental health issues that lead to these types of incidents.”
CAIR-DFW reinforced this narrative when, just days after reporting a hoax in their own backyard, they shared an article on Facebook detailing a University of California-San Francisco study which defined Islamophobia as a public health crisis causing “psychological distress,” a poor diet, and other detrimental symptoms. Unfortunately for the Dallas branch, they inadvertently linked to an article that was highly critical of the study and disputed its conclusions.
As a member of the “Islamophobia lobby,” CAIR’s net function is to aggressively search for and punctuate any discernible act of discrimination against Muslims. Despite their controversial past, CAIR’s representatives can preserve a modicum of legitimacy by orchestrating a comprehensively overblown Islamophobia crisis and convincing lawmakers that CAIR is uniquely empowered to expose and respond to this anti-Muslim bigotry.
Though CAIR’s Islamists may have a complicated relationship with the truth, journalists should be held to a higher standard. By injudiciously promoting CAIR’s worldview and accepting their Islamophobia narrative at face value, the establishment press does real and lasting damage to national unity and social cohesion in America.
Benjamin Baird is a writer with Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.