Imagine if a priest, minister or rabbi were to call for Muslims to be annihilated. It would be a scandal and it would spark a nation-wide controversy over Islamophobia, hate speech and incitement to violence. So why is that not the case when an imam calls for the annihilation of Jews?
On July 21, Ammar Shahin, the Egyptian-born imam at the Islamic Center of Davis (ICD) and an instructor at the Zidni Islamic Institute, both in California, preached from his pulpit: “The Prophet Muhammad says that the time will come, the Last Hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them. Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this.”
A video of the sermon was released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that for almost two decades has provided access to primary source materials from the “Muslim world,” translating such materials from Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and other languages.
Stories soon appeared in the Israeli press and right-of-center American news outlets such as Breitbart, The Washington Times, the Washington Free Beacon, The Blaze and the Fox News Channel. Left-of-center outlets, also known as mainstream media, apparently saw nothing to report.
The ICD put out a press release calling MEMRI “an extremist agenda driven organization” and claiming that the Imam Shahin’s sermon had been “mistranslated” and taken “out of context.” The imam told a local television reporter that it was “very sad to hear that people are taking your words and they are twisting it around.”
In response, MEMRI pointed out that it had posted the sermon uncut and unedited. There could be no question about the accuracy of the translation. The prayer had referred specifically to “the Jews” — not Israelis or Zionists. MEMRI also translated a sermon from July 14 in which Imam Shahin “made similar statements.”
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times did run a piece. Its reluctance to do so was apparent from the first line: “A Northern California mosque that was targeted in a vandalism hate crime found itself at the center of controversy this week after an imam delivered a sermon with inflammatory remarks about Jews.” The vandalism — two bicycles destroyed and bacon draped over a door handle — occurred in January. The woman responsible was sentenced to five years’ probation. What this has to do with the imam calling for the killing of Jews was not explained.
The Times went on to report that local “Jewish and Muslim religious leaders spent four hours Thursday looking to hash things out.” And, indeed, on Friday, Mr. Shahin and the ICD changed their tune.
At a press event, the imam said he was “deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused. The last thing I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart, nor does my religion allow it.”
The Washington Post reported on Mr. Shahin’s apology. Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein quoted him telling her: “It’s unfair when I have spoken about nonviolence, and here is some two minutes. My record is very clear, I have always been against violence.” To say that her article was sympathetic toward him would be an understatement.
Imam Shahin also said he regretted letting “my emotions get the best of me and cloud my better judgment.” What roiled his emotions? On July 14, three terrorists killed two Israeli Druze policemen on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, also the location of the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. The Israelis then installed metal detectors to enhance security. That set off riots. The metal detectors have since been removed.
Allow me one paragraph of modern history. The First Arab-Israeli war was fought in 1948. It ended with Jordan occupying east Jerusalem, expelling Jews from the Jewish Quarter and then desecrating and/or destroying Jewish holy sites, synagogues and cemeteries. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Jordan attacked Israel from east Jerusalem. The Israelis counterattacked, forcing the Jordanians to retreat. But hoping to begin a peace process, the Israelis guaranteed Muslims “full freedom of worship” and placed control of Al Aksa and the Temple Mount under the custodianship of a Jordanian-based Islamic authority.
For Islamic supremacists (aka Islamists) that’s insufficient. They want no Jews or other infidels sharing sites to which Muslims lay claim. More broadly, they reject “two states for two peoples” — the basis on which diplomats have attempted for decades to negotiate a “two-state solution” to the conflict with Israel.
At the press event on Friday, Mr. Shahin said he was committed to “defending religious rights in Jerusalem.” That he is keen to do so for Muslims, I have no doubt. But what about Jews and Christians?
He said he favors Muslims, Jews and Christians peacefully coexisting. Does he mean just in America and Europe or also in the Middle East? Jews were forced to flee from Muslim-majority lands after World War II, and currently a genocidal campaign is being waged against Christians, Yazidis and other Middle Eastern minorities. What are his views on that? Does he believe Israel has a right to exist?
And by the way: Why did he come to America? Why has he remained? Has he become an American citizen? If so, what about America does he value?
At Friday’s press event, he took no questions. Perhaps there are mainstream reporters working to get answers. But most, the evidence suggests, are determinedly incurious.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.