The New York Times’ Grand Deception

Probably not.

For no matter how sincere he may sound, he's on record repeatedly bashing women, blacks, Jews and others.

This brings us to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and a feel-good anti-terrorism video it recently issued featuring nine imams earnestly explaining how religiously-motivated violence is misguided and contrary to the teachings of Islam. The video won praise from a senior member of Congress and unquestioning coverage in the August 1 New York Times.

Even the Attorney General of the United States got snookered. During a news conference Thursday announcing the arrests of 14 people in a fundraising conspiracy on behalf of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, Eric Holder called for greater effort within the Muslim community in combating domestic radicalization:

"Many members of the community have taken proactive steps to stop the recruitment of their youth by terrorist groups. Just recently, a group of prominent American Muslims joined together in a video to repudiate the tactics employed by radicalized militants to recruit young Muslims via the Internet."

The problem is, as even a cursory review of their background demonstrates, nearly all the speakers have a record demonstrating polar opposite ideology, with a selective view of what actions are examples of terrorism.

MPAC co-founder and senior advisor Maher Hathout is the second speaker in the video, "Believers Beware:

Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice." He speaks about media coverage of terrorists who use religion as a recruiting tool. "They have the audacity to quote the Quran as if they know what the Quran is, taking certain verses and twisting the meaning and ignoring what the Arabic language actually indicates, and passing judgments that will make Islam and Muslim a very frightening phenomenon, which is contrary to the reality."

But in an August 2001 interview with a Los Angeles television station, he justified the suicide bombing of a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem, in which 16 people, including children, were killed, and over 100 people were injured. While the attack was "regrettable," he said, "It is the bitter result of the reckless policy of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon. And it is about time that the Israeli public should exert some pressure on their government."

It would be interesting to hear how he reconciles those two messages. But the Times report didn't address it.

In announcing the release, MPAC explained:

"In an unprecedented statement of united opposition to religiously-motivated violence, nine diverse and highly respected Muslim American scholars and religious leaders have lent their voices to a special video message."

In her story, reporter Laurie Goodstein essentially issued a second press release, explaining that "The video is one indication that American Muslim leaders are increasingly engaging the war of ideas being waged within Islam."

California Congresswoman Jane Harman likewise embraced the video's spin and ignored the history of those now posing as the antidote to radicals.

Harman, chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, gushed in a statement that the video was powerful and "will be an important and welcome tool in the effort to win the argument against terror tactics:

"For years, the US government has recognized the need to counter the false narrative of violent extremists – but it is not something our government can do alone. It must also come from within the Muslim community, from people who understand religion and culture, and who want to protect it from debasement by terror groups. Today, nine scholars took up that fight."

But what if those same imams pushed that false narrative over and over again? Which statements reflect their true sentiment?

Beware the Messenger

MPAC has been front and center advancing the narrative for years. As we have previously documented, the organization:

"routinely speaks in defense of designated terrorist organizations, as well as individuals and charities that are supporters of terrorism; opposes U.S. counterterrorism measures as part of a consistent knee-jerk reaction claiming bias and discrimination behind law enforcement efforts; and reflects a blatant and conspiratorial anti-Semitism."

Its national spokeswoman was an editor of a student newspaper at UCLA which, in July 1999, described Osama bin Laden as a "great Mujahid (someone who struggles in Allah's cause)," and as a "freedom fighter and philanthropist." (See it here). This comment came after Al Qaida bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, after it declared war against the United States, and after bin Laden issued a fatwa declaring it to be "an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it" to kill Americans.

But when it comes to the nine "diverse and highly respected Muslim American scholars and religious leaders" marched out for the video, each has a troubling record of making statements hostile toward the West and U.S. law enforcement or, like Hathout, of justifying terrorist acts, or working with groups which act in kind. It's going to take more than a slickly produced video to erase that history.

Among the Islamic leaders featured were:

Suhaib Webb, the educational director for the Muslim American Society, a front for the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. In addition to the organization's ties to the Brotherhood, MAS leaders have praised Palestinians for choosing "the jihad way" to liberate their land and enthusiastically responded to calls for Hamas and Hizballah supporters. Or, as the Times report described MAS, "a grass roots group."

Maher Hathout, a founding member of MPAC who has previously acted as an apologist for extremism and terrorism. In addition to justifying the Sbarro attack, in 1998, he repeatedly likened Hizballah to American revolutionaries. "The whole country keeps condemning Hizballah," he said in a speech at the National Press Club. "I disagree with them on other issues, but on the issue of fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate, this is an American value – freedom and liberty."

Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky and a current or former board member of a number of Muslim Brotherhood-connected groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America. Both groups have roots in the Muslims Brotherhood and both were implicated in a Hamas-support prosecution. The FBI broke off routine communication in 2008 based on evidence in that case, which left open the question "whether there continues to be a connection between" CAIR leadership and Hamas terrorists.

Mohamad Magid, the Executive Director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling, Virginia and co-founder of the now defunct SAAR Trust. Magid has denigrated the assertion that genocide has been perpetrated in Darfur by his claim that the numbers of those murdered were grossly inflated and by poking fun at this modern day Holocaust.

Zaid Shakir, a teacher at the Zaytuna Institute where he has expressed support for terrorism and jihad, said that western democracy and views on human rights are incompatible with democracy, and accused the United States of genocide.

Jamal Badawi, a member of ISNA's Board of Directors who was individually listed in the Holy Land Foundation trial as an unindicted co-conspirator for his role as a fund raiser for Hamas. He also is listed in a telephone book of U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood members. Badawi also is a member of the Fiqh Council of North America. He has justified suicide bombing attacks as heroic.

Hamza Yusuf, the President and chairman of the Zaytuna institute with a long history of anti-Jewish rabble-rousing and other extremist statements.

Yassir Qadhi, professor at al Maghrib Institute and radical lecturer. Qadhi is major proponent of Holocaust denial and abject anti-Semitism.

On the MPAC video, the imams condemn terrorism and violence, wondering where advocates to the contrary get such crazed ideas. As the following examples show, many come from the very same speakers.

Maher Hathout

As mentioned earlier, Hathout blasts extremists who twist the Quran, "passing judgments that will make Islam and Muslims a very frightening phenomenon, which is contrary to the reality."

But, in addition to casting Hizballah as a legitimate resistance movement, his harshest invective is saved for the Israelis, who are, according to many of these speakers, engaged in the gravest of war crimes. At a 2000 "Jerusalem Day Rally" in Washington, D.C., Maher Hathout whipped up the crowd, saying:

"We did not come here to condemn the condemned atrocities committed by the apartheid state of Israel. Because butchers do what butchers do and because what is expected from a racist apartheid is what is happening now…You [US] have been manipulated. You are financing an apartheid state…They say Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. This is a lie. Israel is not a democracy, Israel is a theocracy, and is an apartheid state, against every fiber of the modern world."

Ihsan Bagby

In the MPAC video, Bagby urged Muslims "to be proactive but not to embrace the nihilism and the anti-Islamic policies of terrorism and unwarranted violence." But he previously has explained why America is incompatible with living a Muslim life. According to Steven Johnson's "Political Activities of Muslims in America," Bagby is on record arguing:

"ultimately we can never be full citizens of this country, because there is no way we can be fully committed to the institutions and ideologies of this country."

At a CAIR fundraiser in October 2002, Bagby defended Jamil Al-Amin (aka former Black Panther radical H. Rap Brown) after Al-Amin was convicted on all charges in connection with the killing of a Fulton County police officer. Despite overwhelming evidence against Al-Amin, Bagby told the audience in northern Virginia that "the Muslim leadership of this country is behind him [al Amin]…The Muslim leadership including CAIR is still behind Imam Jamil, and we hope that you will be also."

Mohamad Magid: In the MPAC video, Magid explains:

"We acknowledge the injustice taking place around the world. But we believe that there's a way to address the injustice, not by taking innocent people life."

As mentioned above, one of those injustices is not the slaughter in Darfur. During a 2004 speech at Georgetown University, he called Darfur a "myth" and accused the United Nations of exaggerating the death toll:

"The United Nations representative in Khartoum said not 50,000 people died. Although I said life matters, even one person is too many for me, they said about 5,000 have died. I think somebody made a mistake and put a zero, they had no problem. But what happened in this issue here, things escalated and people called it genocide. There is a fight, people have been displaced, people lost their homes and they need help but at the same time I want to say there is some kind of exaggeration of the some of the problems."

Invoking the victimization argument so potent in radicalization, he said in an October 15, 2004 Washington Post article that injustice is being done to Muslims in America in the war on terrorism makes it a war against Islam.

"I hear a lot of people saying that today, especially moderate Muslims, people I never thought would have this feeling," Magid said. Echoing other Muslims, Magid said he fears that there is "some element in the [Bush] administration intent on dismantling Muslim organizations and bringing them down. . . It's very disturbing."

Zaid Shakir

Shakir's video appearance sets up a striking contrast in message. He says that "Islam teaches a balance in all of our affairs, so it's not a religion that's amenable to extremism." Yet in a 1993 article entitled "Muslim Involvement in the American Political Process," Shakir explained that Islam presents an "absolutist political agenda:"

"The relevant point for Muslims is that Islam presents an absolutist political agenda, or one which doesn't lend itself to compromise, nor to coalition building. The Islamic world view presents the world as a place where there is a struggle between forces which are diametrically opposed to each other … Truth opposes falsehood. Allah's true din challenges the false beliefs and systems innovated by man. The Qur'an gives no indication that a compromise is possible between these forces."

In a December 2004 speech in Toronto, Shakir seemed to warn America that it must change or face God's wrath:

"Allah doesn't love oppressors. And less so here, but here it's relevant, but more so in my country in the United States. We have a responsibility to warn those in power. And that's Jihad. If you talk about jihad [Arabic] – the best jihad is a word of truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler. That if you don't stop this oppression, if you don't stop murdering people unnecessarily, if you don't stop erasing cities like Fallujah off the face of the earth, if you don't stop contaminating lands for the rest of possible life on this earth, with depleted uranium. This is a sinister, backdoor use of atomic weapons … And if these wrongs and many others aren't corrected you don't have to worry about al Qaeda … You have to worry about Allah."

Despite evidence that a cell of Muslim radicals carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, killing six people, Shakir argues that the accused conspirators were set up: "Considering the available information, it is the view of some observers, that the WTC bombing was undertaken by Zionist forces to give proof to their allegations concerning the magnitude of 'Islamic fundamentalist' terrorism, and as a pretext to intensify their anti-Islamic propaganda campaign in the US media.

"The recent bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC), has produced anti-Islamic elements in this country and an opportunity to launch a vicious propaganda campaign against Islam and Muslims. This campaign has been so calculating that one immediately suspects it could not have arisen accidentally."

This theory appeared in the June/July 1993 issue of Inquiry, a magazine published by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative Sami Al-Arian. The magazine frequently featured reports about the PIJ and other radicals.

During a 2005 sermon, "Jihad: Just War or Unjust Violence," Shakir argued that Hizballah's 1983 truck bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon as part of a peacekeeping force was not an act of terrorism:

"On the other hand, the bombing of Hizballah, Hizballah's bombing of the marine barracks in 1984 (sic) is viewed as one of the greatest acts of terrorism directed against Americans, until Oklahoma City, in history. But if we step back, who was targeted? Civilians? No, military personnel in a military installation in a war zone. And it's interesting to ask a question: If Hizballah owned a bomber, which they don't, and flew overhead and bombed the barracks, would it be described as terrorism."

Shakir invokes the Quran to criticize America's secular political system. In an article about Muslim involvement in the political process, Shakir cited Quranic verses (Al-Qur'an 5:44 and 5:47) to the effect that, "Whoever Rules (Judges) by Other than What Allah has Revealed They are Nonbelievers…Oppressors… Transgressors," specifically regarding Christians and Jews:

"As the Christians and Jews of this country have rejected the divine law and created their own secular system of rule, the legal and political system of America is sinful and constitutes open rebellion against Allah. For a Muslim to join with the Jews and Christians in this system is to join them in their rebellion against Allah. Allah explicitly orders against this."

Jamal Badawi

Speaking for the Fiqh Council, Badawi tells viewers of the MPAC video that he is there to convey the "repeated and perpetual position in condemning any incitement of hatred, senseless random acts of violence or acts of terror committed by any party against any party of any other party, be it an individual, an organization or a state and irrespective of perceived legitimacy of grievances."

Again, it would help to know how that position comports with a past statement. In a 2006 Islamonline question and answer session on the topic, "Martyrdom in Islam: Let's Discuss It," Badawi tried to distinguish between a martyr and a suicide bomber. It depends on the legitimacy of the grievance:

"It should be made clear that defense against unprovoked aggression and resistance to reduce oppression are legitimate causes for combative jihad provided that all other conditions, qualifiers and ethics of war are strictly observed. It should also be noted that in all nations and according to the UN charter and international law, the Islamic causes are basically the same. Also, it should also be noted that all nations and peoples have lots of praises for those who not only put their lives on the line but also sacrifice their lives for what they consider as defense for their country or people."

Building upon that theme, in a February 2009 speech titled, "Understanding Jihad & Martyrdom," Badawi went so far as to argue that:

"In fact people who die for their causes as they consider them and we're not evaluating them, Allah knows, they are regarded as heroes. They are praised. But when Muslims are doing the same for their own cause that they believe is true – no, they are terrorists, they are fanatics."

Hamza Yusuf

Interpreting God's will is a skill Yusuf employs, too. In the MPAC video, he advises that Islam requires a sense of humility:

"This religion is not our property. This religion we have no right to detract, to pollute, to sully the good name of Islam and the good name of our prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam. We are obliged to honor that name. If you go by the name Muslim, that is a very exalted status, to be one who submits to the will of God. And it's important to not arrogate to oneself the idea that somehow you know what the will of God is."

Contrast that assertion with what Yusuf had to say at ISNA's 1993 annual convention:

"But Allah is calling us to Jihad. And I, in all honesty, have to say that if Islam is not a threat to this society then I am in the wrong religion. I don't believe that. I believe that Islam is in fact it is a threat to this society. It is not a threat in that we are going to blow up ourselves. This is my disclaimer. We're not going to blow up ourselves. You can rest assured people of Kansas or wherever we are. We are not going to blow up ourselves but we are keeping a Jihad. And Jihad is struggling in the way of Allah to bring down the warriors of injustice humanity from realizing their true potential which is to be slaves to Allah."

And he's far less hesitant about not knowing the will of God when it applies to the U.S. or to Jews. "The Jews would have us believe that God had this bias to this little small tribe in the middle of the Sinai desert and all the rest of humanity is just rubbish," he said in a 1995 video, the "Concept of Iman & Ihsam." "I mean that is the basic doctrine of the Jewish religion and that's why it is a most racist religion, it really is."

During a benefit dinner for convicted cop-killer Jamil al-Amin held September 9, 2001 at UC Irvine, Yusuf pointed to World Wars I and II and said Europe had been condemned "after conquering Muslim lands." Now, he said, America stands condemned:

"This country {America} unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too to illiterate to read the writing on the wall."

Two years later, during an interview with the BBC, he blamed the U.S. for terrorism:

"I think that the idea of a war on an abstract noun is unacceptable. I really believe that carpet-bombing, bombing civilian populations is a form of terror – it's state terror as opposed to vigilante terrorism. Obviously state terror – the state has a power to justify it. But at the end of the day innocent people killed anywhere – when I see Iraqi children in a state of terror because of bombs I consider that a form of terrorism. So I think the war on terror has to be a war on modern warfare – period."

Yasser Qadhi

He preaches in the video for the need to "respond to tyranny and fight it in a proper manner. There is no denying that we as Muslims have to stand up for truth and for justice."

In a sermon previously available online, he argued that Muslims will always be hated by "the Kafir [disbeliever]."

Echoing the terrorist narrative that non believers are at war with Islam, Qadhi preached:

"The Jews and the Christians and the Hindus and every single non-Muslim – He might allow every other religious minority or any other religion inside of his society or culture, but when it comes to Islam, because it is the religion of truth, he will find it inside of him to hate it. You cannot be neutral when it comes to Islam, you are either a Muslim or a Kaffir that hates Islam."

In other statements, Qadhi has made it clear he is not a fan of the Jews. In a 2001 lecture, he denied the Holocaust and said Jews "want to destroy us:"

"You go to America, you find 95% of the Islamic Studies professors are Jews. You know that? 95% of Islamic Studies are Jews. And 0% of Judaic Studies professors are Muslims. I am not advising any Muslim to waste his time studying Judaism. But I am saying, why are Jews studying Islam? There is a reason. Not that they want to help us, they want to destroy us."

To our knowledge, none of these quotes has ever been recanted by any of the speakers presented in the MPAC video. Were they to do so, this video might carry more credibility.

Trust, Don't Verify

There is no mention of the radical background of the men seen on the tape or the more than two decades of radical statements – of which the above is only a sampling – from either Harman or the Times. The closest reporter Laurie Goodstein comes to recognizing this pre-existing militancy was admitting that "some of the scholars in the video were politically controversial." Goodstein previously featured Shakir in a 2006 article, "U.S. Muslim Clerics Seek a Modern Middle Ground." In it, Shakir expressed his hope that the U.S. would eventually be ruled by Islamic law, through "persuasion" rather than violent means. He also said that he wished America would become a Muslim country:

"Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country."

Why leave this out? Readers should be given a complete picture of the people presented in the MPAC video as moderates. What about the frequent statements that Islam and Western democracy are incompatible? Or the arguments that U.S. counterterrorism policy are part of a broader war on Islam—a message which, by the way, dovetails nicely with the public statement of al Qaida leaders such as Anwar al-Awlaki? Or the justification of terrorism?

Rather than conduct a search to determine whether the men were actually moderates or simply wolves in sheep's clothing, the Times piece essentially parroted the talking points of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

A Grand Deception?

It would be easy to see this event and the reporting of it as MPAC trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Americans and the Congresswoman and the Times following along, either because they were too lazy or unwilling to put in the necessary work. But maybe it's part of a bigger issue. Maybe it's all part of a grand deception.

In a 1991 memorandum uncovered by U.S. law enforcement agents, the Muslim Brotherhood explained that its members:

"must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah's religion is made victorious over all other religions."

This video plays right into that message. Take men with clearly radical pasts and pass them off as moderates who can be integral to "fighting radicalization."

The truth is that the United States has a serious messaging problem and could use the American Muslim community's assistance. But let us not kid ourselves into thinking that MPAC or its "moderates" are reliable partners in that fight.

The IPT accepts no funding from outside the United States, or from any governmental agency or political or religious institutions. Your support of The Investigative Project on Terrorism is critical in winning a battle we cannot afford to lose. All donations are tax-deductible. Click here to donate online. The Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation is a recognized 501(c)3 organization. IPT News – August 5, 2010

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