Another press perplexity: So who speaks for Muslims in the United States?

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is an awkwardly but accurately named alliance formed in 1955 to give the nation’s variegated Jews a united voice on key matters. Reportedly the Eisenhower White House either originated or promoted the idea of an umbrella group to make life simpler for everybody. The New York City-based conference encompasses 55 groups, communal, political and religious, and pretty much includes all sectors of Jewish life except the stricter forms of Orthodoxy, Hasidism and the anti-Zionist sects.

With less media notice than it deserves, a similar U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations was established in Washington, D.C., in 2014 with a constituency of 19 religious and communal groups.

At the moment, USCMO is no place for busy reporters to do their one-stop shopping to obtain quick, representative quotes and handy background info. However, if it can consolidate support this is certainly an organization to watch. USCMO says its purposes are “to build an active, integrated American Muslim community,” to “speak with one clear, communal voice” and to “support a national agenda for the entire Muslim community.”

These are tall orders given the numerous ethnicities and fiefdoms.

Founders include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim American Society and The Mosque Cares, led by W. Deen Mohammed II, who is USCMO’s treasurer. Absent are factions seen as heterodox like the Ahmadiyyas, Moorish Science and Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which embraces the black nationalism of Mohammed’s grandfather. The prominent Islamic Society of North America is not affiliated but has joined USCMO events. The list looks to be stronger on Sunni than Shi’a and Sufi representation.

USCMO called an “emergency” leadership summit Dec. 20 in response to the San Bernardino attacks and aggressive remarks by Republican candidates. There it announced hopes to register 1 million new Muslim voters in 2016, an April 18 “National Muslim Advocacy Day” to lobby the U.S. Congress and “One America” and “Open Mosque Day” events to increase understanding of the faith.

The council also plans a numerical census of U.S. Muslims and interfaith meetings co-sponsored with the National Council of Churches. As I stated the other day, reporters know that there is an urgent need for better statistics about Muslims in America.

The founding vision statement sidesteps the central  problem afflicting Islam in the United States and globally, the rising faction that is terrorizing non-Muslims and Muslims who resist its bloodthirsty designs. However -- contra talk-show claims that Muslims never criticize terrorists -- USCMO and others have repeatedly denounced deeds of the Islamic State caliphate, Boko Haram and others as repellent and opposed to the moral teachings of the faith. USCMO also has stated alarm over extremists’ success in gaining young U.S. Muslim recruits and hopes to somehow counter that.

USCMO is led by Secretary General Oussama Jammal, who has been chairman of the Muslim American Society, which was created in 1993 by immigrants with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Today the society declares itself totally independent of that controversial Mideast movement.

Zuhdi Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and non-Muslim hardliners, accuse USCMO of links with suspicious or dangerous “Islamist” activism.  USCMO members include  American Muslims for Palestine, which the Anti-Defamation League accuses of “extreme anti-Israel views” and sometimes providing “a platform for anti-Semitism.”

Such issues have been endlessly litigated, and journalists will continue to carefully sift all the claims, counter-claims and entanglements. Still this is a must source in every journalist's online source file.

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