Connecticut Tigers owner won't meet with Muslim group

Norwich — Connecticut Tigers’ owner E. Miles Prentice will not meet with a Connecticut Muslim group, saying in a statement that it would be “legitimating” organizations trying to silence the conservative Center for Security Policy — which Prentice chairs — “or are associated with terrorist organizations like Hamas.”

Leaders of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations spoke Wednesday to the Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority and asked to meet with Prentice to discuss his chairmanship of the Center for Security Policy, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-Muslim hate group.

CAIR CT Executive Director Tark Richard Aouadi and Norwich resident and business owner Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Sikh community leader, said Wednesday they wanted to ensure that the Connecticut Tigers were welcoming to people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths at the city-owned Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium. Singh offered to provide cultural competency training to Tigers’ staff and to donate one of the “Welcome” signs, now posted throughout the city, displaying the greeting in 24 languages.

In his statement posted Thursday on the Center for Security Policy’s website, Prentice defended the organization's work over the past 30 years to “identify real and growing dangers arising from those inside and outside this nation who seek to undermine the security and/or freedom of the American people.” He said those groups now are attacking him as board chairman.

He included the “leftist” Southern Poverty Law Center and the Muslim Brotherhood among them but did not refer to CAIR directly.

“My colleagues and I at the Center for Security Policy are more than willing to debate the content of our research and advocacy on behalf of freedom and the practice of peace through strength with Americans of differing views,” Prentice wrote, “but who are also committed to freedom and our Constitution. We see no utility, however, to meeting with, or otherwise legitimating, those who seek to silence us or are associated with terrorist organizations like Hamas.”

Aouadi said Thursday he was disappointed but not surprised at Prentice’s position. He said CAIR CT represents Muslims living in Norwich and elsewhere in the state, and the group has no such alleged affiliation with subversive groups.

“We have done nothing wrong to gain the ire of those comments,” Aouadi said Thursday. “What’s being alleged there is not true. We’re not the front for any organization.”

He said noted civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have been dubbed communist or subversive while doing critical work to advance civil rights in America. “We’re doing the good work,” Aouadi said.

CAIR CT also issued a written statement in response to Prentice’s statement, and said the group was hoping the team owner would be willing to meet with local Muslim residents, who are U.S. citizens, military veterans, business owners, workers and taxpayers.

“We said nothing about debating,” the statement said. “We want the local Muslim residents of Norwich to talk with their elected officials and the team management and truly resolve this matter for the good of all Norwich residents.”

Khalsa said he, too, was disappointed with the statement but hopes the local Tigers’ management does not share the views of the team owner, who does not participate in daily team management.

“It’s very unfortunate from what I know of CAIR,” Khalsa said. “They are in very good will and want to work things out and did not want to put any negativity on our city.”

Khalsa said Prentice’s statement “makes things worse” and puts the city in a tough position. Norwich has gained a reputation as a welcoming community for all ethnic and faith groups, Khalsa said.

“This doesn’t really represent what Norwich is all about," he said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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