- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

“We’ve got a mission to engage in dialogue to promote the interests of the United States,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told us last week. That mission justifiably involves outreach to groups that take different policy positions from the U.S. government and even those that associate with extremists. Such organizations need to be engaged and listened to — and then told in no uncertain terms where they go wrong. This last part, unsurprisingly, is the hardest and least attempted element of successful “public diplomacy.”

The State Department frequently punts on this, as it did last week at the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s annual convention in Long Beach, Calif. MPAC is one of several influential Muslim groups that can appear to outsiders to be reasonable “progressive” organizations. But in fact it has a record of complacency, and, in some cases, apologetics for terrorism. None of this was pointed out by the State Department attendee at last week’s conference.

Alina Romanowski, deputy assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, initially gave a strong message that democracy and freedom are the U.S. government’s imperatives for the Middle East. The rise of democracy in the region “shifts the terrain” from under violent extremists, she said. Governments and leaders who ignore the universal imperative of freedom do so at their peril. And Muslim leaders must emphasize that “no injustice, no wrong, can ever justify the killing of innocent people,” she added.

But Mrs. Romanowski failed to compare these principles with MPAC’s own record. There is plenty that compares unfavorably. There are justifications for bombings: As the New York Sun reported last week, MPAC excused the 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem as “the expected bitter result” of Israeli policies. There are justifications for Hezbollah: One of the group’s founders, Salaam al-Marayati, once asked on PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” whether he supports Hezbollah, replied that “If the Lebanese people are resisting Israeli intransigence on Lebanese soil, then that is the right of resistance … That is not terrorism. That is a legitimate resistance.”

In 2000, MPAC hosted as a rally speaker Aburahman Alamoudi, who pled guilty last year to plotting the murder of a Saudi prince. Asked by the Sun about Alamoudi, MPAC responded that it is not responsible for Alamoudi’s remarks.

Before the conference, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, predicted to the Sun that U.S. government representatives to MPAC would be “bland government officials” who “won’t confront someone” on terrorism. He was right. As if to confirm that, Mrs. Romanowski spent the second half of her MPAC presentation discussing how to get federal dollars for nonprofit and intercultural activities.

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