President Bush is only paying lip service to Muslim concerns and his occasional meetings with Muslim leaders are little better than “photo ops,” a group of American Islamic leaders said yesterday.
“We feel this administration has not dealt with the Muslim community in the right way,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. “This administration has primarily engaged the American Muslim community in photo opportunities and ceremonial opportunities; a lot of fluff and no stuff.”
At issue was last night’s “iftaar” dinner at the White House celebrating Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims that began Monday. Participants fast during daylight hours of Ramadan, breaking their fast each day with an “iftaar” meal — beginning with dates and water— at sundown.
Although the guest list included 92 persons, several Muslim organizations who differ vastly with the White House on political and religious issues complained they were left off the list.
Passed over, Mr. Bray said, was the Muslim Students Association, American Muslims for Jerusalem, the Islamic Society of North America, Project Islamic Hope, the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Washington and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan defended the list as including “a broad range of individuals.”
Most of the guests were ambassadors from Muslim countries. Also invited were a few Muslim college professors, businessmen and representatives from Islamic organizations such as Karimah, a human rights group for female Muslim lawyers; the American Task Force on Palestine; the American Muslim Council; the Islamic Supreme Council of America; the Council of American Muslim Understanding; the Islamic Free Market Institute; and the Islamic Center in the District.
Mr. Bray and other uninvited leaders protested the White House event by staging their own “iftaar” with dates and water across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We are not taking shots at those who intend to go,” Mr. Bray said. “But we don’t want to give the president a photo op to the Muslim world saying all is right with Muslims in America. All is not right. Our community is not on sale for dinners or anything else.”
He and other speakers said they get no chance to discuss substantive issues with the president, such as the U.S. Justice Department’s freezing of the assets of Muslim charities, violations of civil liberties and the massive detentions of Muslims after the September 11 attacks.
“Of the 6,000 arrests based on terrorism, the average sentence was two to four months,” Mr. Bray said. “In reality, what they were, were low-level immigration violations. They are being reported to the American people as terrorism, creating and exacerbating the fear of their Muslim neighbors. That’s what this administration is doing.”
Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR said substantive Muslim organizations were shunned and only individuals or ambassadors from Muslim countries were invited
“Which is very significant,” he said, “in that the administration doesn’t feel there are any legitimate Muslim groups out there.
“While efforts like the iftaar are good, they should be accompanied by meetings on real issues, where the Muslim leadership talk on what’s impacting the Muslim community and how the Muslim community can help by being a bridge to the Muslim world.”