The new commission members have raised questions concerning their relations with anti-Islamist groups. Zuhdi Jasser, an American of Syrian descent, was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Jasser, popular among American neoconservatives, was once defined by Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spokesman Ibrahim Hooper as “a mere sock puppet for Islam haters and an enabler of Islamophobia.” Jasser argues that the majority of Muslim-American institutions are controlled by political and radical Islamists.
Robert George is the other new commissioner, appointed by Speaker of the House John Boehner. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, is also a member of the board of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Center for American Progress (CPA) says in a report titled “Fear Inc.” that the foundation provided millions of dollars of funding between 2001 and 2009 to “the Islamophobia network.” The New York Times describes George as the most influential conservative Christian thinker in the US.
The commission recently came to the attention of the Turkish public after it listed Turkey among the world's worst violators of religious freedoms. Turkey lashed out at the report, released last week, saying it considers the document “null and void.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that the report, prepared by the USCIRF, fails to acknowledge steps that Turkey has taken in recent years to protect religious freedoms and minority rights. The report grouped Turkey among 15 other nations in its “countries of particular concern” category for “systematic and egregious limitations” of religious freedoms. The ranking was a sharp downgrade from Turkey's less-severe status as a watch-listed country in years past. The ministry also criticized the USCIRF for failing to examine growing Islamophobia in Europe.
The report also listed Tajikistan, Myanmar, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam in its “countries of particular concern” category.
The report caused controversy after five members of the nine-member commission announced that the document had been published despite their objections to its release. Five members of the USCIRF initially agreed to group Turkey among “countries of particular concern,” but one of the commissioners, Don Argue, later changed his mind. Even though this changed the balance of votes, Argue's changed position is not reflected in the document.