Right-wing media attack program Bush admin felt was useful in fighting terrorism

››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER & ERIC SCHROECK

In recent days, right-wing media have attacked Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's upcoming State Department trip to the Middle East to "discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance." However, Rauf began participating in the outreach program during the Bush administration, which considered this kind of outreach as useful "[i]n the struggle against violent extremists."

Right-wing media have attacked Rauf's Middle East trip

Forbes' Claudia Rosett described trip as "a summer swing past fonts of Islamic oil money." In an August 6 Forbes column, Claudia Rosett reported on Rauf's upcoming trip and said, "[I]f Rauf's aim is truly, as he says, to build bridges, reach out and promote harmony in America, then punctuating his Ground Zero project with a summer swing past fonts of Islamic oil money seems an odd way to go about it." Rosett baselessly speculated that Rauf would use the trip to fundraise for Park51 and falsely claimed his trip includes a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Wash. Times calls trip an "ill-considered decision" on the part of the State Dept. In an August 10 editorial, The Washington Times called Rauf's upcoming State Department trip a "fundraising tour for Islamic shrine at Ground Zero" and claimed "important questions are being raised about whether [the Middle East trip] is simply a taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt to underwrite his reviled project, which is moving ahead in Lower Manhattan." The editorial concluded by baselessly claiming:

The State Department is either wittingly or unwittingly using tax money to support Mr. Rauf's efforts to realize his dream of a supersized mosque blocks away from the sacred ground of the former World Trade Center, which was destroyed by Islamic fanaticism. This ill-considered decision will raise the ire of millions of Americans and illustrates the limits of what the denizens of Foggy Bottom know about diplomacy.

Atlas Shrugs: Rauf's trip is "disturbing enough ... but worse still is the fact that the feds are financing his trip." In an August 10 Atlas Shrugs post, Pamela Geller wrote, "Yesterday, we learned that the dishonest Imam Rauf was in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar for Ground Zero mosque money here. He was not accompanied by his waiter. Today we learn that he was traveling on your dime." (emphasis in original) Geller added:

Rauf's trip to Muslim countries that are rife with jihad, jiyza and delusions of a global Islamic state was disturbing enough on its face, but worse still is that fact that the feds are financing his trip. Terror-tied Rauf is comfortably ensconced in the bosom of the Obama State Department.

[...]

This is all part of a much larger plan that subjugates the US to Islamic sharia."

NRO: "There is no good reason for our government to be doing 'Muslim outreach.'" In an August 11 National Review Online blog, Andy McCarthy posted parts of the Times' editorial, and claimed:

There is no good reason for our government to be doing "Muslim outreach." The State Department's chosen emissaries -- folks like Rauf and Abdurrahman Alamoudi (now serving a 23-year prison sentence) -- are not representative of American opinion (there are already plenty of people in the Gulf happy to trash the United States, we don't need to add to their number). If we're looking to cut useless spending, "Muslim outreach" would be an excellent place to start.

Bush admin considered this type of outreach as useful in "the struggle against violent extremists"

Program is geared toward "promoting religious tolerance" and "bring[ing] a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on" being "Muslim in the United States." In an August 10 press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley addressed the program in which Rauf would be participating, noting that its purpose is to promote "religious tolerance" and provide Muslim countries with a "moderate perspective" of being "Muslim in the United States." The State Department describes the program as promoting a "citizen dialogue," in which "Americans, representing all religious backgrounds, travel overseas to share their experience of living in the United States and to highlight the contributions of Islam and other religions to American society."

Crowley: Bush administration sent Rauf to Middle East in 2007. Crowley also stated during the press briefing:

For Imam Feisal, this will be his third trip under this program. In 2007, he visited Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Qatar. And earlier this year in January, he also visited Egypt. So we have a long-term relationship with him. His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States. And our discussions with him about taking this trip preceded the current debate in New York over the center.

Former Bush official Karen Hughes: "In the struggle against violent extremists ... Muslim Americans have far more credibility to debate issues of their faith." In a March 29, 2006, speech at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, Karen Hughes, the former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs during the Bush administration, said that one of her department's "strategic imperative[s] is to isolate and marginalize the violent extremists, confront their ideology of tyranny and hate" and stated: "That's why I've spent so much time reaching out to Muslim Americans I believe they are an important bridge to Muslim communities across our world." She further noted: "In the struggle against violent extremists, for example, the voices of government officials are not always the most credible or powerful -- Muslim Americans have far more credibility to debate issues of their faith than I do as a Christian." From Hughes' speech:

HUGHES: Our second strategic imperative is to isolate and marginalize the violent extremists, confront their ideology of tyranny and hate. We must undermine their efforts to portray the West as in conflict with Islam by empowering mainstream voices and demonstrating respect for Muslim cultures and contributions. That's why I've spent so much time reaching out to Muslim Americans I believe they are an important bridge to Muslim communities across our world. One of our ambassadors, Tom Korologos, recently hosted a small conference in which he invited Muslim Americans to meet with European Muslims in an informal and constructive setting. It was an interesting model we're encouraging others to emulate.

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Recognizing that successful public diplomacy will require the efforts of all of us, not just a few of us, we are working to empower our fellow Americans, the private sector, education leaders, Muslim Americans. In the struggle against violent extremists, for example, the voices of government officials are not always the most credible or powerful Muslim Americans have far more credibility to debate issues of their faith than I do as a Christian.

State Dept. advisory group called for an expansion of the U.S. Speaker and Specialist Program. In an October 1, 2003, State Department presentation by the U.S. Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for Arab and Muslim World, former ambassador to Israel and Syria Edward P. Djerejian noted that (accessed via Nexis):

The solutions that we advocate match these times when we are engaged in a major long-term struggle against the forces of extremism, as I said, whether secular or religious. We call in this report for a dramatic transformation in public diplomacy, in the way the United States communicates its values and policies to enhance our national security. That transformation requires an immediate end to the absurd and dangerous underfunding of public diplomacy in a time of peril -- and we do not use that word with any hyperbole -- when our enemies have succeeded in spreading viciously inaccurate claims about our intentions and our actions.

Djerejian explained the recommendations of the Advisory Group. Among them were "expanding the U.S. Speaker Specialist Program, and professional exchanges and educational programs of shorter duration that reach more diverse segments of the Arab and Muslim world should be expanded." Rauf is currently traveling as a part of the U.S. Speaker Specialist Program.

Bush State Dept. official: Delegation including Muslim-American cleric reported positive effects of similar trip to Middle East. In May 16, 2007, congressional testimony (accessed via Nexis), Jeremy Curtin, coordinator of the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs, said that "[w]e face particularly critical challenges in the Middle East and South Asia, where violent extremists seek to spread an ideology of tyranny and hate." He later stated: "Through the Citizen Dialogue and Strategic Speakers programs we are sending influential American Muslims to speak with audiences in the region. These credible voices have been a forceful corrective to widely held misperceptions of Muslim life in America." From Curtin's testimony:

CURTIN: We face particularly critical challenges in the Middle East and South Asia, where violent extremists seek to spread an ideology of tyranny and hate. We also recognize that many people in the region disapprove of our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while we are present in both countries at the invitation of democratically elected governments, nevertheless, this attitude can make it more difficult to reach audiences with our message.

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Through the Citizen Dialogue and Strategic Speakers programs we are sending influential American Muslims to speak with audiences in the region. These credible voices have been a forceful corrective to widely held misperceptions of Muslim life in America. For example, a Citizen Dialogue Delegation consisting of a Muslim-American cleric, a Bethesda-based business executive, a female Iraqi-American filmmaker, and an undergraduate at the University of Michigan that traveled to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan a few months ago reported conversations in which Saudis, Egyptians, and Jordanians told them they had affected their views about the U.S. for the better by meeting with "their brothers and sisters from America."

Bush administration initiative "featured videotaped testimonials from American Muslims about their positive experiences in the United States." A March 4, 2003, Boston Globe article (accessed via Nexis) reported that Charlotte Beers, a former head of U.S. public diplomacy under Bush, implemented a "public relations campaign, called Shared Values, that featured videotaped testimonials from American Muslims about their positive experiences in the United States" that was intended for "Muslim audiences overseas." While the Globe reported that the effort was criticized, it noted that, after Beers announced her resignation, former Secretary of State Colin Powell "praised her work and promised to continue it once she is gone." From the Globe article:

Beers was also frustrated by repeated criticism of her approach, which focused almost exclusively on trying to explain life in American communities rather than Bush administration policies. Some critics have said flatly the effort failed.

Among her most controversial ideas was a public relations campaign, called Shared Values, that featured videotaped testimonials from American Muslims about their positive experiences in the United States. Designed for Muslim audiences overseas, the tape was aired during Ramadan last year in four countries, and reached 288 million people, Beers said.

But critics said it did not spread far enough around the world and they took Beers to task for trying to adapt flashy Madison Avenue techniques to the subtle art of diplomacy.

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Beers's departure comes at a critical juncture, as Bush officials prepare for a war in Iraq and attempt to convey a positive image to win support from Muslim countries. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell praised her work and promised to continue it once she is gone.

State Department: Rauf aware that fundraising activities are prohibited on the trip

Assistant Sec. of State Crowley: Rauf is aware of the "prohibition against fundraising while on a speaking tour." In an August 10 press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley addressed allegations that Rauf will use the trip to raise funds for Park 51, specifically noting that there is a "prohibition against fundraising while on a speaking tour," a policy of which they have informed Rauf. Moreover, in a conversation with Media Matters, Paul Denig, the Director of the Office of U.S. Speaker and Specialist Programs, explained that the International Information Program sponsors about 1,200 programs per year. Denig further explained that the program sponsors citizens "who represent a broad range of responsible and informed opinions." Denig also confirmed that "all fundraising and business activities" are prohibited during trips.

Rauf widely described as "moderate"

Time: Rauf a "moderate" who "openly condemn[s] the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents." An August 3 Time article reported: "Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, are actually the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents."

Abraham Foxman: Rauf "a moderate imam" who "certainly has spoken out against some of the extremism in the Islamic world." On the August 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, which opposes the planned Islamic center, stated that Rauf "wrote a book about moderation and tolerance" and that "as far as we're concerned, he is what he is: a moderate imam. He certainly has spoken out against some of the extremism in the Islamic world."

Jeffery Goldberg: Rauf is "a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country." In an August 3 post, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg wrote: "I know Feisal Abdul Rauf; I've spoken with him at a public discussion at the 96th street mosque in New York about interfaith cooperation. He represents what Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country."

Colleagues have reportedly described Rauf "as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding." A December 8, 2009, New York Times article stated: "Those who have worked with him say if anyone could pull off what many regard to be a delicate project, it would be Imam Feisal, whom they described as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding." The Times quoted Rabbi Arthur Schneier, leader of New York City's Park East Synagogue, as saying, ''He subscribes to my credo: 'Live and let live.' '' The Times also reported that Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ U.S.A., is "a supporter" of Rauf.

Rauf worked with FBI agents to present a "view of Islam that avoids stereotypes." The Daily News reported on March 11, 2003, (accessed via Nexis) that Rauf spoke to FBI agents "as part of an FBI effort to present agents who are the ground troops in the war against terrorism with a view of Islam that avoids stereotypes." From the Daily News article:

In an office in lower Manhattan yesterday blocks from Ground Zero, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf talked about his Muslim beliefs to an unusual audience -- a roomful of FBI agents.

"Islamic extremism for the majority of Muslims is an oxymoron," he explained to the agents. "It is a fundamental contradiction in terms."

Rauf -- imam of the Masjid al-Farah mosque of Tribeca -- was speaking as part of an FBI effort to present agents who are the ground troops in the war against terrorism with a view of Islam that avoids stereotypes.

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Rauf made clear Islam's image has been distorted by radical fundamentalists who insist on strict adherence to their interpretation of the Koran and impose a fascistic order on certain countries.

"It can happen under any religion," he noted.

He insisted Islam has a historic kinship with both Judaism and Christianity, a relationship of which not only Americans but many Muslims are unaware.

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