- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

Several American Muslim leaders whom President Bush courted after the September 11 terrorist attacks say he is ignoring them now. Some of them blame conservative Christians and Israeli lobbyists.
Islamic support, these U.S. Muslim leaders say, seemed crucial as the nation embarked on its war on terrorism, but other concerns are receiving priority attention now.
"There were special-interest groups involved immediately after those meetings last fall in trying to dissuade the administration from acting with us," says Salaam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "There's sort of a right wing whether Christian fundamentalists or pro-Israel groups that tries to drive wedges between us and decisionmakers."
Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby group, calls the charge "ridiculous."
Lezlee Westine, director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, says the administration has taken pains to consider the Muslim view and notes that Muslim leaders have been meeting with Cabinet members and have been included in briefings on foreign policy, civil rights and other issues.
"There has been a consistent outreach to the community," says Miss Westine, whose office oversees outreach programs to Muslims and other constituents. "We're including them in all of our activities."
Muslim leaders complain they have not met with Mr. Bush since last year, when he visited a Washington-area mosque, proclaiming Islam a religion of peace, and entertained several Muslim activists at the White House.
The White House spokesmen noted that it has marked Muslim holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, and that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill have met with Muslim leaders. The administration changed the name of the military campaign in Afghanistan from Operation Just Cause, after Muslims complained that it offended Allah. But Muslim leaders say guests at White House functions have been children and ambassadors from Muslim countries. Muslim advocates, they say, must deal more often with lower-level representatives of government agencies than with Cabinet members.
Muslim leaders say they have been further disappointed that Mr. Bush the first presidential candidate they collectively endorsed has failed to more strongly condemn attacks on Islam by Christian conservatives, a strong source of the president's support.
One pastor, addressing the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, called the Prophet Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile,"citing the prophet's marriage to a child. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist, called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion" in the wake of September 11 and said Muslim clerics and other leaders should have forcefully criticized their Islamist colleagues for invoking Islam as a justification for terror. Mr. Bush greeted the Southern Baptist delegates via satellite from the White House, calling them "faithful followers of God and good citizens of America." He later said through a spokesman he disagreed with the pastor's characterization of Muhammad.
That was not enough for many Muslims. "The president's insistence that there was zero tolerance for any backlash was commendable and saved lives and set the right tone, but I think there was a lot of political posturing the president was engaged in," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, a Washington advocacy group.

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