A coalition of far-left American Muslim groups are waging a coordinated media campaign to smear Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent Muslim interfaith leader with moderate views and a pro-democracy outlook.
Jasser, the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a pro-Muslim, pro-American advocacy group, was recently appointed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an advisory body that aims to increase religious freedom.
Soon after Jasser's March appointment to USCIRF, controversial Muslim groups—such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council—launched a crusade to tarnish Jasser's reputation within the Muslim community.
A petition decrying Jasser's appointment on the grounds that the devout Muslim is Islamophobic was circulated by MPAC.
Meanwhile, various figures such as reporter Omar Sacirbey of Religion News Service pushed behind-the-scenes for newspaper articles that painted Jasser as a far-right bigot.
"They want to publicly tar and feather me so if our Commission has any interactions with foreign governments where they've been working with Islamists and other groups I've criticized … they can publicly say, 'He doesn't represent us,'" Jasser told the Washington Free Beacon. "They're trying to marginalize the relationships we could have with their allies abroad."
"It's a scorched earth campaign," he said. "Even family members not aware of my work are calling saying, 'What's going on?'"
Sources on Capitol Hill familiar with Jasser's appointment told the Free Beacon that groups like MPAC and CAIR are concerned that Jasser's moderate viewpoints will gain traction among American Muslims.
Jasser, they said, poses a threat to those who promulgate radical, anti-American views of Islam.
Jasser himself believes that CAIR and MPAC want to convince the American Muslim community and others that he is out of the mainstream—despite statistics that suggest otherwise.
"Sacirbey, like many reporters, conflates CAIR and MPAC as the true voice of American Muslims when in fact, according to Gallup, they only represent at best a mere 12 percent of the American Muslim population," Jasser said.
The articles and petition circulated by Jasser's opponents allege that he "supports the curbing of Muslim civil and religious liberties at home" and that he cannot "be trusted as a 'commissioner' to review and analyze violations of religious freedoms abroad."
One widely circulated article by Sacirbey described Jasser as "a prominent critic of U.S. Muslims" and quoted some of his most vociferous critics, one of whom claimed that Jasser "breeds fear and hate."
Sacirbey, however, omits both the fact that Jasser is a Muslim and the involvement of CAIR and MPAC, creating the false impression that the campaign against Jasser has evolved organically.
MPAC hosts an article claiming that Jasser "does not fully support religious freedom right here in America." A CAIR spokesperson publicly chastised Jasser in a recent Blaze article.
"It would have been better to appoint someone who has some measure of credibility with Muslim Americans," CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told The Blaze. "He has long been viewed by American Muslims and the colleagues in the civil liberties community as a mere sock puppet for Islam haters and an enabler of Islamophobia."
Sacirbey also avoided quoting Jasser at length in his article, although Jasser submitted to the reporter more than two typed pages of explanation, according to a copy of the correspondence obtained by the Free Beacon.
James Zogby's American Arab Institute also has joined the fight, urging its supporters to rally against Jasser.
"In what could be the funniest prank the U.S. government has ever played on the Arab American and American Muslim communities, Zuhdi Jasser (America's favorite Muslim Muslim-basher) has been appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)," the group wrote in a recent email blast. "Oh, it's not a joke?"
Jasser has a long history of advocating on behalf of American Muslims and has been vocal in his opposition to extremism and political Islam, a philosophy that advocates for convergence of the government and Islamic law.
Jasser also has helped facilitate the building of mosques in his home state of Arizona. He sits on the board of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, which helps to bridge cultural gaps between the faiths. (He vocally opposed the building of a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, attracting scorn from certain corners of the Muslim community.)
"There's nothing to justify" these attacks, Jasser said. "I'm prolific. I've been writing on this issue for years," yet the reports omit this context. "I'm not critical of Muslims, I'm critical of Islamist groups."
The coordinated attacks on Jasser seem to be having an effect.
Critics have questioned his religious devotion on Twitter and a debate he was scheduled to participate in at Arizona State University was mysteriously cancelled. In terminating the event, organizers claimed that it would "cause too much disruption."
Jasser believes that he has been targeted based on his moderate beliefs.
"These guys work behind the scenes to snuff out reformers," he said. "It demonstrates these guys don't want to deal with the ideas because they will have to take sides on the issue of the Islamic state."