Bush's Big Blunder
September 18, 2001
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A front-page article in today's New York Times reports on a meeting between President Bush and American Muslims. The Times article says "The president of the Council on American-Islamic relations, Nihad Awad, who attended the session with Mr. Bush, said, 'We thank the president for taking the initiative to reach out to the American Muslim community during this time of national crisis. His supportive remarks will help set a tone of tolerance and inclusion for our society.'"
The Times article refers to "Mr. Bush's twin messages of retaliation abroad and tolerance at home," and it notes that the president, in his appearance with the American Muslims, referred to "the good folks standing with me."
The New York Times, which wasted supertankers full of ink in the immediate aftermath of last week's attack criticizing Mr. Bush for not answering questions publicly, for not publicly explaining his personal security measures, and for not flying immediately to New York, lets Mr. Bush's appearance today go entirely uncriticized. There's not even a hint in the Times coverage that the characters Mr. Bush met with might be anything other than "good people," or that by meeting them with them the president is sending a dangerous message of naive complacency about the real dangers of Islamic radicals in America.
Since the Council on American-Islamic Relations is mentioned in the New York Times article by name, let's look at its record first.
Here's a rundown from Daniel Pipes, a former Reagan administration Middle East aide who now runs the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia and the wonderfully informative Web site DanielPipes.org:
Mr. Pipes says: "CAIR is a particularly worrisome organization because it has succeeded in portraying itself as a public affairs organization promoting 'interest and understanding among the general public with regards to Islam and Muslims in North America.' In fact, this organization is radical to the core; it seeks nothing less than the imposition of Islamist mores on the United States."
Mr. Pipes notes that CAIR's record includes the following: "Apologizing for such killers as Hamas (a group associated with the murder of 7 Americans) and Usama bin Ladin (charged with the Tanzania and Kenya embassy bombings a year ago). . . . Helping promote terrorism: In the words of Steve Pomerantz, a former Chief of Counterterrorism for the FBI, 'CAIR, its leaders, and its activities, effectively give aid to international terrorist groups.' . . . Intimidation of patriotic Muslims who disagree with CAIR's chauvinist agenda: In one case (Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani), the FBI is looking into charges that he received death threats after renouncing the chauvinists. . . Defense of even the most archaic and barbaric of customs associated with Islam: When a prosecutor in Cleveland argued that the bail of two young men being held for an 'honor killing' of their female cousin should be increased, CAIR replied by accusing him of 'ethnic and religious stereotyping' and called for a formal investigation into the prosecutor's actions."
In addition, as anti-terrorism expert Steven Emerson has noted in Congressional testimony, CAIR co-sponsored a May 24, 1998, all-day program in the Walt Whitman Auditorium of Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York. As Mr. Emerson testified, "In Arabic, Wagdi Ghuniem, a militant Islamic cleric from Egypt, mesmerized his audience, with his relentless tirade against the Jews, reminding them of the Jews' 'infidelity,' 'stealth' and 'deceit.' Known for his folksy deliveries and exhortations to commit violence against the Jews, Ghuniem did not disappoint his crowd, several of whom had come just to hear him. The conflict with the Jews, he said, was not over land but one of religion. 'The problem of Palestine is not a problem of beliefÉ suppose the Jews said "Palestine--you [Muslims] can take it." Would it then be ok? What would we tell them? No! The problem is belief, it is not a problem of land.'"
Mr. Emerson continued: "Ghuniem then led his rapt audience, which numbered as many as 500, in a special song, the audience responsively repeating each refrain: 'No to the Jews, Descendants of the Apes.'"
Says Mr. Pipes: "In short, CAIR represents not the great civilization of Islam but a radical utopian movement originating in the Middle East that seeks to impose its ways on the United States. Americans should consider themselves warned: a new danger exists in their midst."
So much for CAIR. But, according to the CAIR Web site, CAIR wasn't the only radical, terrorist-sympathizing American Muslim group that President Bush met with yesterday, less than a week after the worst terrorist attack in American history. In fact, according to the CAIR web site, the meeting yesterday also included "representatives from the American Muslim Alliance" and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council is a group founded and headed by Salam Al-Marayati. He's the man whose views on terrorism were so problematic that, after an outcry, Rep. Richard Gephardt withdrew his support for Mr. Al-Marayiti as a nominee to a federal anti-terrorism commission.
According to an article in the August 22, 1998, Los Angeles Times, the Muslim Public Affairs Council called America's 1998 missile strikes on Osama Bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan "illegal" and "immoral."
Again, Daniel Pipes, in an article posted on DanielPipes.org, is instructive. Mr. Pipes writes of Mr. Al-Marayati: "Here are three elements of his radicalism: First, he wraps the American flag around some of the least attractive features of Middle Eastern life. In 1993, he memorably asserted that 'When Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death," that statement epitomized jihad [Islamic holy war].' In 1996, he made the silly and inaccurate observation that 'American freedom fighters hundreds of years ago were also regarded as terrorists by the British.' Mr. Al-Marayati's intent here is obvious: to render jihad and terrorism acceptable to Americans."
Mr. Pipes continued: "Second, Mr. Al-Marayati apologizes for the most ghastly Middle Eastern regimes and draws moral equivalencies between them and America. In his view, Iraq is no better or worse than America: 'Saddam Hussein's behavior in and around Iraq has been characterized as reckless. The same can be said about U.S. policy as a result of its reactionary mode.' . . .Third, Mr. Al-Marayati turns a blind eye to terrorism if it is of a fundamentalist Muslim persuasion (not a great credential for someone hoping to serve on a counterterrorism commission). Take the February 1996 incident when a Palestinian named Muhammad Hamida shouted the fundamentalist war cry, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great), as he drove his car intentionally into a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem, killing one Israeli and injuring 23 others. Before he could escape or hurt anyone else, Hamida was shot dead. Commenting on the affair, Mr. Al-Marayati said not a word about Hamida's murderous rampage but instead focused on Hamida's death, which he called 'a provocative act,' and demanded the extradition of his executors to America 'to be tried in a U.S. court' on terrorism charges."
Then there is the American Muslim Alliance, another group that CAIR reports had a representative at the Bush event yesterday. That's the group so extreme that even Hillary Rodham Clinton, no anti-Muslim extremist, decided to return $50,000 it had raised for her senate campaign. The American Muslim Alliance was also a sponsor of the "No to the Jews, Descendants of the Apes" rally at Brooklyn College. And, as Steven Emerson has reported on OpinionJournal.com, "AMA's head, Agha Saeed, has openly sanctioned the use of 'armed resistance' against Israel and declared that the 'Zionist occupiers of Palestine can be beaten back.' At its 1997 annual convention, the AMA distributed an article by S.A. Ahsani, head of the AMA's Texas chapter, denying the existence of 'Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek.' At AMA national conferences in 1997, 1998 and 2000, numerous speakers numerous speakers condemned the 'Jewish and Zionist' lobbies and their 'control' of the United States."
Mr. Bush may have had a good reason for luring these folks to a meeting with him. He could, for instance, have wanted to give the FBI a way to get their faces in the database. But there are also less sympathetic possible explanations. Mr. Bush's staff could have blundered in trying to achieve the worthwhile goal of distinguishing between fanatic Muslim terrorists and patriotic American Muslims who genuinely condemn terrorism (yes, there are indeed some). Or, even worse, it is possible that Mr. Bush's actions are being driven in this critical hour not by his national security team but by his political aides with a misguided eye on the 2004 vote in Michigan and other swing states with large Arab and Muslim populations.
Regardless of the reason, though, describing the CAIR, MPAC and AMA gang as "good folks" is so inappropriate that the Times would have been wise to at least probe further into what exactly Mr. Bush was doing at this event. Inappropriate, too, is the message of "retaliation abroad and tolerance at home." Tolerance at home is one of the things that got America into the trouble it got into last Tuesday morning. Some of the terrorists had been tolerated for years while living in apartments in Florida and getting flight training. It's as if during the height of the Cold War, an American president had shown up at a convention of the Communist Party, USA, declared that the American communists were "good folks," and called for containment abroad but tolerance at home. That's not to defend the excesses or First Amendment violations of McCarthyism, but neither is it to be complacent or naive about the genuine threat that was posed by Soviet spies in America. Tolerance is one thing; a presidential appearance and endorsement of enemy sympathizers during wartime is quite another.
Note: Smartertimes.com is in Massachusetts today and operating off the New York Times on the Web.
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