Tillerson declines to host Ramadan event at State Dept. (for now)

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has declined a request to host an event to mark Ramadan. Reuters cites two U.S. officials.

The State Department has been hosting such dinners for two decades. The practice began in 1998 under Madeleine Albright.

Tillerson issued a statement on Friday to mark the start of Ramadan. He called it “a month of reverence, generosity, and self-reflection.” “Most importantly,” he added, “it is a cherished time for family and friends to gather and give charity to those who are less fortunate.”

One might think that this statement pays sufficient tribute to the holiday. However, former U.S. diplomat Farah Pandith, who helped plan Ramadan events at the White House and State Department under past administrations, complained that if Tillerson declines to host a Ramadan shindig, it might send a message “that it is not as important to this administration to engage with Muslims.”

Or, assuming that the State Department doesn’t host events to celebrate the holidays of other major religions, it might send a message that the administration is neutral as among religions like Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

In point of fact, the administration just engaged extensively with Muslims. The first and most publicized part of President Trump’s trip abroad was all about this.

But there’s engagement and there’s engagement. The Obama administration was too engaged with certain Muslims. It farmed out a chunk of the war on domestic terrorism to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an outfit that reportedly raises money for Hamas and that the government named it an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terrorism case. The Obama administration “engaged” with CAIR, in part, through the “Countering Violent Extremism” program (CVE). I discussed this program here.

Under Obama, CAIR wielded tremendous power and managed to bully law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level to alter counterterrorism training materials deemed by the group to discriminate against Muslims. Judicial Watch described that power here. For example, the FBI was required to purge anti-terrorism training curricula of material determined to be “offensive” to Muslims. (Robert Mueller was the director who acceded to this demand). I’ve heard FBI agents complain that the purge hurt the agencies ability to identify terrorists and combat terrorism.

If the Trump administration reverses this course, the State Department can host as many Ramadan events as CAIR wants, as far as I’m concerned.

I fear, though, that the Obama-era obsequiousness to CAIR will survive, albeit less starkly, the Trump administration. Indeed, there are signs that the State Department may hold a Ramadan event this year, after all.

A spokesperson told Reuters: “We are still exploring possible options for observance of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan.” According to this source, Eid al-Fitr commemorates of the date in 624 when Muslim armies defeated “infidel” forces on the field of battle in the Battle of Badr. Supposedly, Muslim forces were greatly outnumbered, but heavenly angels came down to earth to help them defeat a non-Muslim Arab force in this important battle. The battle is said to mark a turning point for Islam — its shift from preaching to fighting as the most effective way to spread the religion, i.e, the end of its time as a religion of peace.

Tillerson will have taken a step backwards if the State Department celebrates Eid al-Fitr.