One of the hardiest perennials in the Washington political scene is the spectacle of conservatives publicly disagreeing with one another. The vicious personal attacks launched against me last week by Grover Norquist, however, went way beyond the kind of dispute that so often enlivens policy discourse, usually to the delight and advantage of liberals who agree with neither camp.
So why would Mr. Norquist, a colleague well-known and widely admired for his work on tax reduction and conservative activism with whom I have often worked collaboratively over the years, publish a letter and take to the airwaves to accuse me of “racism,” “bigotry” and “lying”?
The reason given in a letter Mr. Norquist circulated last Wednesday, that was subsequently quoted at length in articles in Friday’s editions of The Washington Times and The Washington Post, was comments I made at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on January 31. During a panel discussion about the balance to be struck in time of war between preserving our civil liberties and safeguarding our country and lives, I mentioned several factors that are compelling the Bush administration, properly in my view, to infringe in relatively minor ways on traditional American freedoms to save the country from terrorist destruction.
Preeminent among these is the threat posed by “Islamists” adherents to radical, violent Muslim sects like the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia not only in remote places like Indonesia, Pakistan and Bosnia but in the United States, itself. I made an express distinction between such Islamists and what is, I believe, the majority of Muslims in this country whom the former are determined to recruit, intimidate and dominate through a variety of techniques.
Wahhabi-Saudi funding appears to have been instrumental in creating and sustaining a large number of organizations involved in such troubling activities as: prison recruitment of American felons, indoctrination of U.S. military personnel, proselytizing on more than 500 college campuses across the United States, charitable fund-raising for terrorists and, of course, underwriting and, therefore, controlling as many as 70-80 percent of the nation’s mosques.
Given the politically attuned nature of the CPAC audience, I expressed particular concern about one of the most insidious of the Wahhabis’ activities a concerted attempt to penetrate and otherwise influence political circles in Washington. I noted that among the several groups engaged in such activities, the American Muslim Council (AMC), had issued a press release gloating about a recent success: their invitation to participate in a January 16 White House “dialogue” with Muslim and Arab-American organizations opposed to the Bush administration’s registration of aliens from terrorist-sponsoring and -harboring nations.
The AMC press release made a point of commending Ali Tulbah, an associate director of the White House’s Office of Cabinet Affairs, for including their representatives (notably, executive director Eric Erfan Vickers) in the meeting. Mr. Tulbah similarly admitted another highly controversial organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in this meeting. There appear to have been at least nine other meetings that these groups have attended with the White House and senior administration officials since September 2001, some at the invitation of a predecessor of Mr. Tulbah in the role of gatekeeper for the administration’s Muslim “outreach” efforts, Suhail khan.
The inclusion of such organizations is remarkable on its face. It is, after all, a matter of public record that they actively oppose President Bush on: the need forcibly to liberate Iraq; increasing surveillance of potentially dangerous aliens in this country and the places where they congregate (including mosques); and giving law enforcement tools to counter terror. They have also repeatedly expressed sympathy for, excused or otherwise supported groups identified by the Bush administration as terrorists. Last June, for example, CAIR’s executive director Nihad Awad declared “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” And in a television debate last June with me, the AMC’s Mr. Vickers declined repeatedly to denounce either Hamas, Hezbollah or even al Qaeda, finally describing the last as a “resistance movement.”
At CPAC, I expressed grave concern that allowing these sorts of organizations to meet with the president and his senior subordinates is a very bad idea in two respects. First, it could enable radical opponents of the administration a chance to exercise undesirable influence over policy (for example, watering down immigration, law enforcement and intelligence procedures they find objectionable.) And second, it confers (witness the AMC press release) a legitimacy and stature that can only help their bid to establish the Islamists’ dominance over the rest of the nation’s Islamic community.
It may be that the family ties both Messrs. Tulbah and Khan have to Wahhabi religious organizations colors their judgment about the inadvisability of favoring the likes of CAIR and the AMC. Observing that this connection exists and that, in any event, their judgment is flawed, is neither racist nor bigoted. Such judgments are, rather, the sort of things that those who care about this president and the national security must ensure are properly addressed.
Grover Norquist’s intemperate attack on me says much less about my behavior and character than it does about his own relationship to this Wahhabi political influence operation and the role of the Islamic Institute he formerly chaired in facilitating its access to the Bush team.
Let us hope that his own conduct has not caused irreparable damage to either this president or the conservative movement.