Forum: All faiths must face their demons

Three militant neoconservative pundits spoke vehemently against the Bush administration’s gesture to include American Muslim leaders in discussions on how to deal with the rising tide of anti-Americanism and restore the trust and support the United States enjoyed prior to the missteps by the administration at the neocons’ urging.

Frank Gaffney demanded Karen Hughes, the new undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, not attend the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention (The Washington Times, Commentary section, Aug. 30, Page A14). Ignoring his false alarm, Mrs. Hughes met with Muslim leaders and discussed her ideas for bridging the deepening divide between the U.S. and Muslim countries.

Mr. Gaffney warned Mrs. Hughes: “Don’t go there.” Joel Mowbray gave her the benefit of the doubt, allowing her to make one mistake for one time: “Given that it is highly unlikely Hughes knew exactly what she was walking into, she deserves the benefit of the doubt — this time.” (The Washington Times, Sept. 1, Op-Ed, Page A23).

Mr. Gaffney belongs to a small but vocal group of militant pundits, bent on maligning Muslim leaders and organizations in a bid to marginalize and isolate mainstream American Muslims. He joined two other well-known Muslim-bashers, Daniel Pipes and Mr. Mowbray, in demonizing ISNA and national Muslim organizations’ leaders who met Mrs. Hughes.

The three leveled serious charges against mainstream Muslim organizations, of supporting terrorism and promoting radicalism. Using quotes out of context, guilt by association, errors of fact, and innuendo, they have fed lies to the public and incited government officials and law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations and use them as a basis for further maligning of law-abiding and patriotic American Muslims.

Last year, Mr. Pipes accused the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) of being “part of the militant Islamist lobby,” and said it was “well-disguised, and has brought in all the Islamist trends, giving them a patent of respectability.”

After a thorough investigation of Mr. Pipes’ accusations, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) issued a statement that brought out the irresponsible nature of Mr. Pipes’ attacks. “The Institute was aware of and took seriously the accusations made against CSID and some of the speakers at the event,” wrote Kay King, USIP director of Congressional and Public Affairs. “These allegations were investigated carefully with credible private individuals and U.S. government agencies and found to be without merit,” she added. “The public criticism of CSID and the speakers was found to be based on quotes taken out of context, guilt by association, errors of fact, and innuendo.”

Mr. Gaffney, likewise, used misinformation and errors of fact to justify his demands the Bush administration isolate the most inclusive and mainstream Muslim convention.

He contended the Senate Finance Committee “listed ISNA as one of 25 American Muslim organizations that ‘finance terrorism and perpetuate violence.’ ” He, however, failed to disclose the Finance Committee never found ISNA guilty of such charges and that his reference relates to a letter sent by the committee chairman and the ranking member on Dec. 22, 2003, asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Muslim charities for possible links to terrorist financing. Eighteen months have passed since Feb. 20, 2004, the deadline set for the investigation, with no action or even a Finance Committee hearing on the matter.

Mr. Mowbray, using the same tactic of half-truths, quotes out of context and innuendo, cited a Freedom House study that found Saudi publications in 12 mosques — out of 3,500 throughout the country — that made bigoted references to followers of other religions. Mr. Mowbray omits mentioning that the Freedom House, responding to complaints by American Muslim leaders about the misleading title of the report, stressed its study was intended to uncover the bigotry of the Saudi publications and was never intended to implicate U.S. mosques. The Freedom House went a step further and invited two ISNA leaders to consult on its report and explore the question of religious extremism.

These shameless attempts by Mr. Gaffney, Mr. Mowbray and Mr. Pipes to malign mainstream Muslim organizations and leaders are not driven by rational and objective considerations, but by paranoia, prejudice, and irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. Such irrational and emotional anti-Muslim postures can only confuse the public and confound the fight on terrorism with the fight on Islam, and hence plays into the hands of anti-American pundits who thrive on the missteps, and counterproductive actions and postures urged by Mr. Gaffney and his ilk.

Mainstream American Muslims have already taken a principled and firm position against the senseless killings of unarmed and defenseless civilians. But they can dry up the swamp of extremism that feeds terrorist attacks only if the Jewish and Christian communities confront their bigots and extremists, and dry the ponds of bigotry in their midst.

It is heartening to realize most Americans can see through the militant pundits’ paranoia and bigotry, as Karen Hughes amply demonstrated in ignoring their false alarm by meeting with Muslim leaders during the ISNA convention.

LOUAY M. SAFI

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