The Chosen One

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"The important thing is, we don't have any ceilings for women in the organization," says Madhi Bray, the national director of MAS' Freedom Foundation.

Abboud, as well as her close friend and fellow convert Aneesah Nadir, a professor of social work at Arizona State University's West campus, say that while women are increasingly becoming part of Muslim leadership, white, American converts are not.

"I can think of a few" white American women in leadership positions, Nadir, a black convert of just more than three years, says. She mentions only one -- Ingrid Mattson, the vice president of the Islamic Society of North America -- when asked to name the few. "But as the Muslim population grows, the opportunities for women who are Muslim converts are growing.

"I think the reason for that is that we are seen as bridge-builders," Nadir says. "We can bridge the communication gap and the cultural divide because we live in both worlds."

CAIR is most widely recognized as an organization that cries foul whenever a late-night comic makes a joke about Islam, or if a cop in some rural community harasses a dark-skinned man in a turban.

"CAIR is almost solely about defending Muslims," Abboud says. And to excess, some, like local adversary Zuhdi Jasser (more on him later), would say. The organization sends out close to 50 e-mails a week to national media condemning everything from the FBI's allegedly harassing Muslim students on college campuses to supposed hate crimes directed at Muslims around the country.

Jasser is among those who claim that CAIR clamors too much about the victimization of Muslims, and reserves its harshest condemnations for ranting Islamaphobes rather than those who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Allah.

But put a face like Deedra Abboud's out front, and it's more likely to generate sympathy for Muslims than fear.

And Abboud has been known to play that race card at least once herself.

On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Daniel Pipes, a self-proclaimed Middle East scholar who advocates racial profiling of Arabs and once was quoted as saying that 15 percent of all Muslims were "potential killers," delivered a lecture at ASU's main campus in Tempe.

Pipes, a Jew, runs his nonprofit think tank, the Middle East Forum, out of Philadelphia, and is in his final year as the director of the federally funded Institute of Peace, having been appointed by President Bush to the position back in 2003.

Before the lecture at ASU, which was attended by dozens of Muslim students as well as Abboud, Pipes, tall and lanky with a finely trimmed beard, had identified CAIR, among other organizations, as representatives of "militant Islam."

At the outset of Pipes' Q&A session, Abboud stood up and asked Pipes why he identified her, specifically, as being representative of extremists. Of course, she didn't mention her support for Palestinians, that she believes "Israel has it better," or her opposition to the war in Iraq.

"How can a Southern girl like me be a supporter of militant Islam?" Abboud asked, rhetorically, grinning bashfully.

She might as well have painted a target on her headscarf.

"They come in all forms," Pipes replied. "Even Southern girls."

Abboud remained seated throughout the rest of the program, without a peep.

Before Deedra Abboud can even ask, the white waitress in the short skirt at central Phoenix's Coronado Café tells her that "there's no pork" in the potato and chicken soup.

"Sometimes, it's not that efficient, but for the most part," Abboud says, "the servers these days know what Muslims can and can't eat."

As she waits for lunch to be served on a recent Thursday afternoon, she answers questions about growing up Southern Baptist, the life of an activist, and the tenets of Islam while she waits to be interviewed by phone for a radio program in Colorado.

Abboud's current bosses in Washington, D.C., where the Muslim American Society (MAS) is based, hand-picked Abboud -- as opposed to the folks who run the Colorado chapter of MAS -- to handle the radio guys, who want answers about the Danish cartoon controversy.

"The MAS chapter in Colorado just isn't very established yet," Abboud says.

That may be true, but Abboud, nevertheless, is being modest.

Before she defected from the Arizona chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations a little more than a year ago as its director, she was asked by chapters in Houston, Dallas, and CAIR's largest chapter in Southern California to consider various positions and stay with the organization.

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Joe Watson