Islamic studies experts are disputing inflammatory claims made on Fox News by a self-proclaimed “former terrorist,” who has repeatedly appeared on the network to paint Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi leader spearheading the Islamic community center set to be built near Ground Zero, as a stealth radical Muslim.
On August 18, Fox News hosted Walid Shoebat, a born-again Christian who dubiously claims to be a former PLO militant, to comment on the controversy over the Islamic center. It is was not the first or last time that Fox put Shoebat on national television to discuss issues related to Islam, even though Shoebat has reportedly called Islam “the devil” and has said, “if Islam is not playing the major role in Antichrist spirit, why do you think the devil wants to appoint somebody connected to Islam in the White House?” Previously, Fox defended Franklin Graham, the evangelist who called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.”
During his August 18 appearance on Fox & Friends, Shoebat launched a series of serious accusations against Rauf, claiming that Rauf expresses support for terrorism when he speaks to Arabic media:
SHOEBAT: His support of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic jihad movement has been expressed by him in the Arabic language. His manifesto ha s been expressed by - in Al-Ghad newspaper, and hadielislam.com, in several news media. In fact, Americans should listen to this. He says that the trend toward Islamic law and justice begins by religious movements like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic resistance. This is a straight support for terrorism.
Fox News didn't fact check Shoebat's inflammatory accusation that Rauf preaches peace in the United States while announcing his “support for terrorism” in the Arabic press. But they apparently liked what they heard because Shoebat was invited to return to Fox & Friends to attack Rauf again on August 23. A few days later he was back on Fox, this time on The O'Reilly Factor, saying, “Americans don't see what this guy says in the Arabic language.”
We asked Ahmad Moussalli, a widely quoted expert on Islamic movements and professor of Political Science and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut, to read the Arabic sources Shoebat cited on August 18 (they can be found here and here) and to evaluate his claim that they show “a straight support for terrorism” and for “Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic jihad movement.” Moussalli responded that Shoebat's remarks are a “blatant misrepresentation of the denotation and connotation of Mr. Rauf's statements in Hadielislam and Al-Ghad newspaper. Rauf never expressed his support for the three organizations.”
Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina and expert on Sufism, also reviewed the Arabic articles and concluded that “they do not show any support for terrorism.” Safi added that “the accusation of 'Muslim double-speak' is one of the common accusations used by Islamaphobes like Shoebat” and said: “I would simply suggest dismissing what comes out of his mouth as much as I would dismiss anything David Duke would have to say about the essential nature of Judaism.”
It's deeply unfortunate that Fox News presents Walid Shoebat, who hates Islam, as a credible authority on Islam, but it is downright reckless and irresponsible to provide a national platform for Shoebat's claim that Rauf endorsed terrorism in Arabic -- an accusation that aside from being false, fuels distrust and perpetuates anti-Muslim platitudes. In doing so, Fox has again shown that informing its viewers is not the networks' priority, and that it is more than willing to play dangerously close to bigotry.