Conservative media have continued to accuse the imam leading the initiative to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan of being a “secret radical,” pointing to his remark that “the United States' policies were an accessory” to the 9-11 attacks. In fact, Rauf has condemned terrorism and has been widely described as “moderate,” and his comments on 9-11 are not outside the mainstream.
Conservatives claim imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is not a moderate
NY Times' Douthat: Rauf may be moderate by global standards, but “American standards are different.” In his August 15 New York Times column, Ross Douthat wrote that by “global standards, Rauf may be the model of a 'moderate Muslim.' But global standards and American standards are different.” Douthat wrote:
Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.
By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they'll need leaders who don't describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they'll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.
WSJ's Stephens suggests Rauf is a “professional charlatan and secret radical.” In his August 17 Wall Street Journal column, Bret Stephens argued that the media should “inspect” the credentials of those they label “moderate Muslims,” citing in particular coverage of Anwar Al-Awlaki, who, The New York Times reported in October 2001, “is held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West.” It was later discovered, Stephens noted, that two suspected 9-11 hijackers reportedly frequented Awlaki's mosque, and Awlaki has been linked to suspected Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas Day bomber, and Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber. Stephens then connected this argument to Rauf, writing:
Here, of course, the argument will be made that, unlike Awlaki, Mr. Rauf really is a moderate. And that might well be so -- by the standards of his native Kuwait. But a man who claims to condemn all forms of terrorism yet refuses to call Hamas a terrorist group is not a moderate by American standards, which happen to be the relevant ones when you're trying to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Mr. Rauf still has a perfect legal right to go ahead with his scheme. But his supporters need to choose between defending him on grounds of his alleged moderation (in which case his views are relevant), or on the principle of religious liberty (in which case they're not). They can't have it both ways.
Which brings me to the fundamental problem with too many self-described moderate Muslims. A few years ago, my friend Irshad Manji made the point to me that “moderate Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it.” By contrast, she noted, “reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it.”
That's a distinction worth pondering. It's also a considerable comfort to know that there are Muslims in the U.S. like Irshad who are working, tirelessly but mainly out of view, toward the cause of reform. They could use more support and recognition. As for the professional charlatans and secret radicals who claim to be moderate, it would be well if their cheerleaders in the media could inspect their credentials a little more carefully before lavishing them with praise. Because, when it comes to heralding the arrival of the long-awaited moderates, there's nothing more embarrassing than a case of premature congratulation.
Fox's Bolling: If Rauf is “a moderate Muslim,” why won't he move mosque “two or three blocks away and make everybody happy?” Discussing the controversy surrounding the cultural center and mosque on the August 16 edition of Fox Business Network's Money Rocks, host Eric Bolling asked: “This imam says he's a moderate Muslim, if I'm not mistaken. If he's a moderate Muslim, why wouldn't he propose to move this mosque two or three blocks away and make everybody happy?”
Geller falsely suggests Rauf is promoting “radically intolerant” Sharia in book. On the same edition of Money Rocks, right-wing blogger Pam Geller stated that Rauf “is an imam who advocates for tolerance and yet, in his book, he advocates for the Sharia, which is radically intolerant.”
Goldberg on Rauf's 9-11 comments: “That doesn't sound very moderate to me.” On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Bernie Goldberg also criticized the media for describing the imam as a moderate, saying, “Big media repeatedly described the imam who's behind the mosque as a moderate -- that's their word -- repeatedly. And he is moderate compared to a lot of other Muslims, but let's be honest, that's not saying a whole bunch.” Goldberg then brought up Rauf's 9-11 comments, saying, “Not long after 9-11, this moderate imam tells CBS News that the attacks on 9-11 -- America's policies were accessories to the crime -- his words. That doesn't sound very moderate to me.” Goldberg concluded: “This is a moderate Muslim? What does that tell you about American Muslims?”
Rauf has repeatedly condemned terrorism, “Muslim militants,” and violence committed in name of religion
Rauf: “We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it.” A May 21 New York Daily News article quoted Rauf stating: “We condemn terrorists. We recognize it exists in our faith, but we are committed to eradicate it.” He also stated: “We want to rebuild this community. ... This is about moderate Muslims who intend to be and want to be part of the solution.”
Slate: Rauf has “denounced church burnings in Muslim countries ... proposed to reclaim Islam from violent radicals.” An August 2 Slate.com article reported that Rauf “has denounced church burnings in Muslim countries, rejected Islamic triumphalism over Christians and Jews, and proposed to reclaim Islam from violent radicals such as Osama Bin Laden."
NY Times: Rauf “condemns suicide bombings and all violence carried out in the name of religion.” A June 23, 2004, New York Times article reported that Rauf “condemns suicide bombings and all violence carried out in the name of religion.” The Times further reported that Rauf “meets regularly with Christian and Jewish leaders, not only to forge a common front but also to explain his belief that Islamic terrorists do not come from another moral universe -- that they arise from oppressive societies that he feels Washington had a hand in creating.”
After 9-11, Rauf “categorically condemned suicide bombers.” A June 8, 2004, Newsday article (accessed via Nexis) reported: “Rauf has done little else since the terrorist attacks that pulled him from his mahogany pulpit in the shadow of Ground Zero. At the outset, he categorically condemned suicide bombers and, in fact, any violence committed in the name of religion.” The article further reported: “He also said that American policies 'were an accessory to the crime that happened' since they had armed a generation of jihadists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan,” and quoted him saying, “Explaining is not justifying. ... I want people to understand the things that have fueled terrorism, because if we address them, that's how we eliminate terror.”
Rauf: “I can confidently assert that I am closer to my Jewish and Christian brothers here ... than the Muslim militants carrying a narrow view.” According to a September 8, 2002, Denver Post article (from Nexis), Rauf told congregants at his Manhattan mosque: “I can confidently assert that I am closer to my Jewish and Christian brothers here a [sic] than the Muslim militants carrying a narrow view.”
Daily News: Rauf “has a long history of opposing radical teachings.” A May 21 Daily News editorial stated that Rauf “has a long history of opposing radical teachings and reaching out across religious lines to Christians and Jews. He leads a mosque in Tribeca, several of whose members were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.”
Rauf's 9-11 comments are not outside mainstream
Former chairman and vice chairman of 9/11 Commission: “We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed.” In a September 9, 2007, Washington Post op-ed headlined “Are we safer today?” Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission respectively, wrote: “We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed. The enduring threat is not Osama bin Laden but young Muslims with no jobs and no hope, who are angry with their own governments and increasingly see the United States as an enemy of Islam.”
Former vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council: U.S. policies and Muslim perceptions of them can lead to terrorism. In an August 24, 1998, Los Angeles Times op-ed, Graham E. Fuller, former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, wrote:
There is no monolithic Muslim bloc, but a few deeply held attitudes among the public are quite evident. Broadly speaking, most Muslims feel helpless, weak and resentful in the face of external power at work in their region: The Middle East -- the center of world civilization for several milleniums -- is now beset with masses of poor citizens (apart from the oil states), bad social services, poor education, absence of democracy, constant abuse of human rights, widespread corruption, police states, often brutal rulers, no voice over their own fates; they are victims of truly bad governance in most states of the region.
And what do they perceive? U.S. support for almost any ruler willing to protect U.S. interests -- routinely identified in Washington as oil and Israel. They see a Washington unwilling to act evenhandedly in the Arab-Israeli peace process and infinitely tolerant of a hard-line government in Israel that denies Palestinians land, dignity and statehood. They perceive double standards that allow Israel to violate U.N. resolutions, but not Iraq; that Israeli nukes are OK, but not nukes in Muslim hands. They see routine use of U.S. unilateral military power against Muslim targets that is unparalleled elsewhere in the world. They see themselves routinely humbled by use of overwhelming Israeli military power. They see U.S. military forces in the Gulf as being there to protect ruling families and not populations -- the essence of Osama bin Laden's charge.
These perceptions obviously do not fully reflect reality, and counterarguments can be made in many cases. But perceptions matter mightily since they form the increasingly poisonous psychological backdrop against which distraught and angry Muslims end up championing those who overcome their impotence, stand up to the West and assert Muslim dignity.
Beck made similar comments to Rauf. Although Glenn Beck has attacked Rauf for his comments about 9-11, Beck himself said that while the U.S. did not “deserve 9-11,” the United States was “in bed with dictators” and “that causes problems.” Talking about “why do you think they hate us in the Middle East,” Beck said: “When people said they hate us, well, did we deserve 9-11? No. But were we minding our business? No. Were we in bed with dictators and abandoned our values and principles? Yes. That causes problems.”
O'Reilly noted Rauf's comments are similar to the views of many. On The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly struck down Goldberg's claims that Rauf's comments were somehow radical, noting that Rauf was “pointing to the U.S.' support of Israel and its so-called occupation of places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait -- where we have troops stationed -- which has been around. That theory has been around.” O'Reilly added: “So it was couched in the -- America's foreign policy ignited this Al Qaeda phenomenon, which led to this death.”
Rauf is widely viewed as “moderate”
Huffington Post: Descriptions of imam as radical “are frighteningly ... unhinged from reality.” In an August 17 article noting that Rauf worked with the FBI to “provide agents with 'a clear picture' ” of Islam, The Huffington Post reported that "[f]or those who actually know or have worked with the imam, the descriptions are frighteningly -- indeed, depressingly -- unhinged from reality." The article further noted that Rauf has served to “promote a more positive integration of Muslims into American society” and reported that "[h]is efforts and profile rose dramatically after the [9-11] attacks when, in need of a calm voice to explain why greater Islam was not a force bent on terrorism, he became a go-to quote for journalists on the beat." The article continued:
Along the way, he rubbed elbows with or was embraced by a host of mainstream political figures, including several in the Republican Party. John Bennett, the man who preceded Isaacson as president of the Aspen Institute, was impressed enough by the imam's message that he became a co-founder of his Cordoba Initiative, which seeks to promote cross-cultural engagement through a variety of initiatives including, most recently, the center in downtown Manhattan.
In November 2004, Feisal Abdul Rauf participated in a lengthy discussion on religion and government with, among others, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In May 2006, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright placed the imam among a host of luminaries who inspired her book, “The Mighty and the Almighty.”
Albright eventually collaborated with Feisal Abdul Rauf and others on more substantive political projects. In September 2008, the two, along with a number of other foreign policy heavyweights (including Richard Armitage and Dennis Ross) signed a report claiming that the war on terror had been inadequate in actually improving U.S. security. No less a figure than Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, embraced the findings.
The article went on to note that Rauf worked with the Bush administration, being sent on speaking tours by the State Department “on multiple occasions to help promote tolerance and religious diversity in the Arab and Muslim world” :
Feisal Abdul Rauf was dispatched on speaking tours by the past State Department on multiple occasions to help promote tolerance and religious diversity in the Arab and Muslim world. In 2007, he went to Morocco, the UAE, Qatar and Egypt on such missions, a State Department official confirmed to the Huffington Post.
In February 2006, meanwhile, he took part in a U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar with Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a close adviser to President Bush. Months later, Feisal Abdul Rauf wrote favorably about his meeting with Hughes, noting that he wanted to further the discussion with other members of the administration.
Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson: Rauf “has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam.” In its article, The Huffington Post quoted Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson saying, “Imam Feisal has participated at the Aspen Institute in Muslim-Christian-Jewish working groups looking at ways to promote greater religious tolerance. ... He has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam. Some of this work was done under the auspices of his own group, the Cordoba Initiative. I liked his book, and I participated in some of the meetings in 2004 or so. This is why I find it a shame that his good work is being undermined by this inflamed dispute. He is the type of leader we should be celebrating in America, not undermining.”
ADL's 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.”
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.