Wrong on Rauf
Sarah Palin did not libel the Ground Zero imam.


Andrew C. McCarthy

Imam Feisal Rauf, the cleric behind the provocative Ground Zero Mosque (GZM) project, as one critic put it, “is no moderate. He presents himself as a peacemaking Islamic Gandhi, but he is in fact an apologist for the terrorist outfit Hamas, which he refuses even to identify as a terrorist organization.”

You might be forgiven for thinking that came from Sarah Palin. If you’ve been reading NRO lately, you saw published here on Monday “Palin Libels Rauf,” an essay by Henry Payne. Payne accuses the former Alaska governor of “libel” — his word — because she described Imam Rauf as a Hamas apologist who refused to identify that terrorist organization as a terrorist organization. But the quoted words were written by the editors of National Review. On August 4, 2010, as controversy raged over the GZM, NRO published an editorial describing Rauf as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Based on a number of disturbing facts that have not to this day been refuted, the editorial (“Not at Ground Zero”) portrayed the imam as a faux moderate collaborating with Muslim Brotherhood front groups to build a huge mosque and Islamic center on what the editors described as “the gravesite of 3,000 Americans who died at the hands of Islamic radicals” — a prospect the editors quite rightly called “unseemly.”

Now, I’m all for a good debate. That’s what NRO is here for. But a debate is a discussion in which adversaries actually address their points of disagreement. Payne doesn’t address any of the troubling matters that have been raised about Rauf, not only by NR’s editors and Sarah Palin, but by many, many others. Allowed to exploit NR’s megaphone, he treats our readers to a mendacious puff piece, leveling the weighty charge of libel while whitewashing the rich underlying basis for regarding Rauf as an apologist for Islamist terrorists in general, and for Hamas in particular.

According to Mr. Payne, Governor Palin “has spread libel herself about the Ground Zero Mosque imam, Feisal Rauf,” by claiming that “Rauf refuses to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of our ally, Israel.”

Libel, of course, is a legally actionable defamation, entitling the wronged party to sue for money damages against the alleged slanderer. That’s serious business. In fact, to conclude that a public figure like Rauf has been libeled is to maintain that the purported slanderer made her baseless accusation either knowing it was untrue or in reckless disregard of its falsity.

Why does Payne claim Palin is guilty of libel? Because recently — as recently, in fact, as a radio appearance in Detroit last week — Rauf has taken to asserting that “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have committed terrorist acts.” So one might ask Mr. Payne, “You mean to tell me Rauf didn’t refuse to call Hamas a terrorist organization? Are you saying that Palin knew Rauf had called Hamas a terrorist organization yet publicly claimed that he refused to do so?”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Payne’s answers. They’re sure not in his essay, which is just as cavalier about flinging libel accusations as he baselessly accuses Palin of being when it comes to Rauf. Not to mince words, the essay is an embarrassment. Its speciousness is betrayed in the first few lines. There, he acknowledges that Palin’s remarks were made “on her Facebook page last year” — that is, many months before Rauf repackaged himself as the scourge (sort of) of Hamas.

Was Payne just singling out the controversial former governor and potential presidential candidate in order to draw attention to himself? Was she alone in taking Rauf to task over Hamas? Judge for yourself. Here is what NR’s editors said last year about why they considered Rauf “in fact an apologist for the terrorist outfit Hamas, which he refuses even to identify as a terrorist organization”:

Nor is Rauf exactly full-throated in his rejection of terrorism, offering only this: “The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” While he cannot quite bring himself to blame the terrorists for being terrorists, he finds it easy to blame the United States for being a victim of terrorism: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”

In my NRO columns, Corner posts, and public statements during the summer of 2010 — including an August 28 column called “Why They Can’t Condemn Hamas” — I several times recounted that Rauf could not bring himself to admit that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and that he had contended the United States was more guilty of wanton murder than al-Qaeda.

Moreover, in a widely cited Corner post on August 9, 2010, NR associate editor Robert VerBruggen reported that “NRO has obtained yet another interview in which Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leading figure behind the Cordoba House (the ‘Ground Zero mosque’), explains away terrorism. ‘They feel the need to conflagrate,’ he says of Muslims who feel they’ve been ‘humiliated’ and ‘ignored.’” VerBruggen concluded that as the GZM “project’s supporters press on in the face of overwhelming public outcry, and as Rauf’s beliefs come increasingly into the light, arguments that the community center and mosque are meant as anything but a finger in the eye of America become less believable.” Not leaving it at that, NR later published a lengthy study, “The Two Faces of Feisal Rauf,” by Ibn Warraq, who analyzed Rauf’s “reluctance to call Hamas a terrorist organization,” as well as Rauf’s work with Hamas sympathizers, from the perspective of a renowned scholar of Islam who had read actually Rauf’s scholarship.

We at NR were far from alone. Here, from his weekly column on August 17, 2010, is the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens on Imam Rauf: “[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.”