US Council of Muslim Organizations Armenian Genocide Statement Controversy
by Sheila Musaji
I published a lengthy article that has been updated over the years titled How Hard Is It To Establish a Real Muslim Umbrella Organization?. This article outlines the long saga of the many such organizations that have come and gone since the early 1990’s. The last update was on March 12, 2014 when a press release was issued announcing the formation of a new umbrella organization called the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO).
USCMO has not been particularly active in their first year, and their membership has not grown to be any more inclusive. The USCMO member organizations listed in their first press release were:
The Mosque Cares (Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed), Muslim American Society (MAS), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North American (ICNA), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), American Muslim Alliance (AMA), The Mosque Foundation (Chicago).
. However, the list of signatories to this statement published on the ICNA site includes a slightly smaller list:
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), The Mosque Cares (Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed).
On April 20, 2015, the USCMO issued a “STATEMENT ON 1915 TURKISH-ARMENIAN EVENTS”.
Here is their statement in full:
The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) the largest umbrella group of mainstream Muslim American organizations is aware of the painful history of over 30 nations fighting for over 4 years and the loss of over 37 million lives in World War I, including those of the Armenians.
As April 24 comes near, we share the pain suffered by Armenians during this period. We also believe that any acknowledgment by religious or political leaders of the tragedy that befell Armenians should be balanced, constructive and must also recognize Turkish and Muslim suffering.
In this respect, characterizing the events of 1915 as genocide without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.
As Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, Turkey, through one-sided declarations that political and religious leaders have made on this subject. The events of 100 years ago should be based on a consensus among historians and academicians with access to archives and documents from that era.
As the only Muslim-majority member of NATO and current President of the G-20 Summit, Turkey has taken on a unique regional and global leadership role in ensuring peace and prosperity for all. Our government has been closely cooperating with the Turkish government on defeating ISIS while also alleviating the suffering of Syrian refugees.
While Muslim Americans sympathize deeply with the loss of Armenian lives in 1915, we also believe that reconciliation must take into honest account the broader human tragedy of World War I. Muslim Americans expect our leaders to act accordingly to ensure that American-Turkish strategic relations are not damaged by a one-sided interpretation of the 1915 events.
The USCMO seems to have joined those American Jewish organizations that have refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. And, they will face the same questioning from Muslim community members as those Jewish organizations have faced from Jewish community members. (See Jewish Organizations Must Stop Denying the Armenian Genocide, Andrew Tarsy).
This USCMO statement, released on the day before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, created an immediate firestorm of controversy on social media.
A petition was published SIGN: Armenian, Turkish, Middle Eastern and Muslim-Americans Condemn USCMO Statement on the Armenian Genocide.
One of the USCMO member organizations has issued its own statement saying that their organization had not given approval for their inclusion in the USCMO statement. MLFA Response to USCMO Statement on Armenian Genocide:
Representatives from Muslim Legal Fund of America are clarifying their organization’s position on a statement released today by United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Khalil Meek, Executive Director of MLFA, said the organization he represents does not take positions on or make public statements about international issues. As a domestic-only organization, Meek emphasized that 100 percent of MLFA’s focus and efforts remains within the borders of the United States of America.
“It is not MLFA’s place nor is it part of its mission to question the Armenian genocide,” said Meek. “I apologize if the inclusion of MLFA’s name in this statement caused any confusion to our donors, supporters or anyone else.”
Meek said that he believes it is important for Muslim organizations to work together on issues of common concern. However, he said he will make it clear to concerned parties that MLFA’s name should not be included on any international statements made by any organization.
“We need to remain focused on securing justice for Muslims in American courtrooms,” said Meek. “We support everyone’s right to free speech, but we also must take care that statements made in the organization’s name remain within the boundaries of its mission to defend the U.S. Constitution.”
Sami Sulaiman published The moral hypocrisy of American Muslims for Palestine on the Armenian Genocide expressing his dismay that a Palestinian organization is included in the signatories. He reports that “AMP responded to this backlash and released a terribly unsatisfying statement stating that it takes “into serious consideration — without denial or alteration — charges of genocide.” Oddly enough, the statement was only released on the private Facebook account of an AMP employee and is not viewable on the AMP website ...” He includes a screenshot of the full AMP response.
USCMO may speak for a segment of the American Muslim community, but it is a segment that is out of touch and on the wrong side of history.
Haroon Moghul has just published a must read response An American Muslim responds to Muslim organizations questioning Armenian Genocide. Here is the opening statement of that article:
Yesterday I read an astonishing and upsetting press release. The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) released what I cannot in good conscience call anything but a cowardly prevarication in the face of moral tragedy. It is not only a forfeiture of what we, as Muslims, are called to—stand up for truth, the Qur’an says, ‘if even against yourselves’—but it makes the work we ourselves are most passionate about even harder to accomplish.
And since this release is released by USCMO, an ‘umbrella group of mainstream Muslim American Organizations,’ which includes the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and others, I am concerned that they might appear to speak in my name.
Rather than accept, as American Muslims, what happened to our fellow Americans of Armenian origin, this organization chooses to (1) challenge the historicity of the Armenian genocide; (2) pander to the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government; and (3) tell Armenians that, in effect, we cannot recognize your pain because someone else won’t recognize ours. ...
I believe that this article by Haroon Moghul more accurately reflects the opinion of the majority of American Muslims than does the shameful USCMO statement.
This particular controversy will need to be added to another regularly updated TAM article American Muslim Organizations’ Mistakes Can Be Opportunities for Growth. How these organizations respond to this controversy will determine whether it will be included as a “missed opportunity”, or as an “opportunity siezed”. Their response may also decide whether or not USCMO will be simply another failed attempt at creating a genuine umbrella organization.
CAIR Los Angeles has released its own statement: CAIR Solidarity Statement with the Armenian People:
In a statement marking the April 24, 2015, 100th anniversary of the mass slaughter of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said: “On the 100th anniversary of these tragic events, in which some 1.5 million people died as a result of intentional killings, systematic abuse, forced migration, or starvation, we express our solidarity with the Armenian people whose family members and loved ones suffered such horrific atrocities and injustices at the hands of the military coup government of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.
“We also call for a process of reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian people — two honorable nations — that would truthfully address historic injustices against the Armenian population in the Ottoman state and serve as a model for all those who struggle today for freedom, justice and human rights.”
The Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley have also released a Statement on the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide:
On the centennial anniversary of the brutal massacre of Armenian people, one of the grossest atrocities committed in human history, Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley stand strong in solidarity with the Armenian Student Association, Armenian Youth Federation and the Armenian people in recognition and condemnation of the Armenian genocide in 1915. We acknowledge the orchestration of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire. We strongly condemn Turkey for their continual denial of Armenian history, erasure of Armenian culture, normalization, and persecution of brave Turkish citizens who stand against a denialist regime and continue to call for justice.
Our organization supports justice and self-determination for all those facing oppression. As students who fight for the rights of Palestinians as an indigenous people, we recognize the parallels that the Palestinian narrative shares with that of the Armenian people. Just as the Palestinian people have had their history falsely interpreted by Israel and the expulsion from their land masked as a celebration of Israeli independence, the Armenian people too have had their history of genocide denied and veiled by Turkey.
The word genocide was in fact coined by Raphael Lemkin following his intense focus on attempts to prosecute individuals responsible for the Ottoman Empire’s systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians. The term genocide was later used by Lemkin in addressing the killing of 6 million European Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley direct our outrage and condemnation toward those who continue to deny the Armenian genocide. Justice delayed is justice denied. We call for the genocide to be recognized without qualification or hesitation by the United States and all governments complicit in state sponsored genocide. We also would like to express our shock and dismay in reaction to the recently published statement issued by the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), which includes otherwise pro-justice groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), that denies the reality of the Armenian genocide. The cowardly and overtly political move by these groups calls into question their commitment to the struggles for justice and self-determination that they claim to champion. We call upon these groups to remember the verse in the Qur’an that reads,
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 135]
We stand in firm solidarity with UC Berkeley’s Armenian Students’ Association, their divestment efforts from the State of Turkey, and their Genocide Awareness Week.