By Lloyd Billingsley
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and a former member of the California Democratic Party’s executive board, has been defeated in his first run for public office. An anonymous flier stirred some controversy during the race, but key background on Elkarra failed to emerge.
In late 2006, California Senator Barbara Boxer gave Basim Elkarra a certificate of appreciation “in recognition of his efforts to protect civil liberties and to build bridges among diverse communities in California.”
The senator quickly revoked the award, explaining that her California office had not vetted CAIR sufficiently. In “Senators for Terror,” Joe Kauffman charted CAIR’s connections to Islamic extremism, and cited evidence that, “Elkarra himself is a radical, apart from his connection to CAIR.”
Elkarra had defended Lodi, California, imam Shabbir Ahmed, who urged Pakistanis to wage jihad against Americans. Another local imam, Mohammed Adil Khan, was building a madrassa to recruit children for violent acts against the United States. Elkarra described Khan, who was later deported, as “a pioneer in interfaith work.”
In 2007, Basim Elkarra refused to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. He has also suggested that “Islamophobes” be prosecuted like Holocaust deniers. In April of 2000, as a member of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at UC Berkeley, Elkarra moderated an event featuring Hamas operative Mohammad Salah, labeled a terrorist by President Clinton. Even so, Elkarra had his defenders in northern California.
“I know Elkarra,” wrote Ginger Rutland, then associate editor of the Sacramento Bee. “I don’t believe he supports terrorism.” Rutland described Elkarra as a “personable young University of California, Berkeley, graduate” who had “assumed the helm of the local CAIR chapter at a perilous time for Muslims in this country.” Senator Boxer “must understand what her casual withdrawal of a casually awarded tribute means to a Muslim American at this moment in American history. Shame on her.” But Boxer defended her actions.
“I’m just doing what I think is right,” the California Senator told reporters. Elkarra charged that Boxer had “succumbed to pressure from those who would marginalize American Muslims using smears and guilt by association.”
He also claimed he received death threats after the award’s withdrawal but the FBI told Boxer’s staff that the threat was “not credible” and Elkarra maintained a high profile with CAIR. In 2010 the Muslim organization gave a $250 campaign contribution to Ami Bera, a local Democrat running for Congress against Dan Lungren. When local Republicans questioned whether the money came from a terrorist, Bera duly returned the contribution to Basim Elkarra because of questions about CAIR’s affiliations.
In February 2015, after the death of humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller in captivity of the Islamic State (ISIS), California assemblywoman Mellissa Melendez tweeted: “Gut wrenching news today. American Kayla Mueller murdered by Islamic savages. There MUST be consequences. MM .”
Basim Elkarra branded the hashtag “hateful” and called on the assemblywoman to apologize. Melendez, a Republican, said she did not intend to offend peaceful Muslims. “I’ve had enough of Islamic extremists and terrorists who oppress women and burn people alive in the modern world,” the U.S. Navy veteran said in a statement. “This isn’t about hash tags, it’s about America standing up with our allies and putting an end to the barbaric behavior we are witnessing around the world.”
Elkarra offered no enlightenment on how Kayla Mueller had perished and did not extract an apology from Melendez. At the time he was eyeballing a convenient opening to public office.
In the local Twin Rivers school district, board member Cortez Quinn had resigned. Charter school official Sonja Cameron was appointed to finish his term but local Democratic Party organizations gathered signatures and forced the troubled district to hold a special election.
The Sacramento Bee editorialized that Cameron “knows the district budget inside and out and offers 30-plus years of education experience” and ranked highest among the 13 candidates. Even so, the Bee endorsed Basim Elkarra of CAIR who “has led diversity and leadership training” and “with his life story, energy and connections, he could inspire students to reach higher, to go into high-tech careers they wouldn’t otherwise.” The California Teachers Association also supported the CAIR director.
In April, a mysterious flier asked “Who is Basim Elkarra?” and “Why does Basim Elkarra want to be on a school board?” A photo of Elkarra sitting beside six girls in headscarves was captioned “Basim Elkarra modeling Islamic Leadership.” Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee charged that Elkarra’s “ethnicity” was being used against him and described Elkarra as “a voice for inclusion.” Breton did recall that U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer had rescinded Elkarra’s award.
Local commentator Bruce Maiman suggested the flier could have been the work of the Elkarra campaign, noting that his supporters had conveniently staged a “rally against hate.” For Maiman “the election isn’t about process or race. It’s about power.” For Elkarra it was all about the kids.
“We’re trying to make it a better community and make a better future for these little ones,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t matter if they are Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim. We’re trying to make a better future for our children.”
On May 12, 52 percent of district voters tilted to Sonja Cameron, 69, who plans to run for the board again in 2016. So does Basim Elkarra of CAIR, with full support from the Democratic Party.