Politics & Policy

Wrong on Rauf

Sarah Palin did not libel the Ground Zero imam.

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.”

At the Weekly Standard in July 2010, Stephen Schwartz reported that “Rauf’s refusal to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization” had become an issue in the New York gubernatorial election. A few weeks later, on September 1, TWS’s Michael Goldfarb noted not only that Rauf was “unwilling to condemn [Hamas] as a terrorist organization,” but that Rauf’s Park51 organization had turned down Goldfarb’s pointed invitation to reconsider its reticence in the wake of a Hamas attack in which four Israeli civilians, including a pregnant woman, were murdered.

I could go on for the rest of the day. Suffice it to say that Feisal Rauf did not file a libel suit against Sarah Palin or any of the numerous other commentators and publications that discussed his refusal to call Hamas a terrorist organization. Truth, after all, is a complete defense to a defamation claim. The evidence that Rauf recoiled from denouncing Hamas is irrefutable.

In a well-publicized radio interview by Aaron Klein in June 2010, which Payne conveniently elects not to discuss, Rauf was repeatedly pushed on whether he agreed with the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. It’s a straightforward question. Still, Rauf would not answer it: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question. . . . I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder. I do not want to be placed, nor do I accept to be placed in a position of being put in a position where I am the target of one side or another.”

Of course, one needn’t be a politician to concede the obvious: Hamas targets innocents for slaughter in order to further its agenda (destroying Israel) and is therefore a terrorist organization. Rauf, however, couldn’t bring himself to say this. So Klein tried again, pointing out that Hamas targets civilians and asking whether that wasn’t enough to make it a terrorist organization. Rauf replied with characteristic caginess: “The targeting of civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion. Whoever does it, targeting civilians is wrong.” Yeah, a lot of things are wrong, but is Hamas a terrorist organization? Rauf wouldn’t say — insisting that “I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary.”

Well, tender as that may be, sides have been chosen on the matter of Hamas’s terrorism. Most people understand that they don’t get to be above it all on that one. Not Rauf, though. His fury was reserved not for Hamas terrorists but for Klein: “You are killing the messenger,” whined the imam. Klein, though, pointed out yet again that he was simply trying to get an answer out of the messenger, “and yet you refuse to tell me Hamas is a terror organization,” an assertion Rauf did not dispute — for how could he?

It is not enough to say Rauf declined to admit that Hamas is a terrorist organization, just as Palin, NR, and a host of others have claimed. His position was entirely predictable for anyone who has taken the time to study his career.

For example, in another episode Payne omits, Rauf published in Malaysia a book provocatively titled, A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. “Dawa” is Islamic missionary work which, as informed by Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi — admired by Rauf as the world’s most influential Muslim cleric — is jihad by stealth: the infiltration of sharia principles (Islamic law) in Western law, culture, and institutions. It is the means by which Islam will “conquer America” and “conquer Europe,” exclaims Qaradawi — who has issued fatwas approving Hamas’s preferred tactic, suicide bombing, as well as the killing of U.S. soldiers and support personnel in Iraq.

When Rauf decided to distribute his book in the United States, he knew the offensive title would be a problem, so he changed it to What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America (as Warraq observes, it’s now called What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West). Further ignored by Payne are Rauf’s partners in the American distribution of the book. They are the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Both have deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Palestinian branch is . . . Hamas.

Fundamental to the mission of both these Rauf partners is the promotion of Hamas in the United States. Indeed, in the Justice Department’s successful prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) for underwriting Hamas to the tune of millions of dollars, ISNA was proved to have housed HLF in its offices and to have used its bank account to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hamas leaders overseas. Interconnected to ISNA and the Brotherhood through its board members, IIIT is not only a longtime Hamas apologist but a key supporter of Sami al-Arian, the convicted terrorist who helped run the American branch of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another formally designated terrorist organization.

Payne discusses none of this. And what he does discuss is almost as egregious as what he leaves out. He asserts that Rauf is just “[l]ike most American Muslims who have fled the horrors of Mideastern religious intolerance for America’s shores” In point of fact, Rauf was born in Kuwait, the son of Muhammad Abdul Rauf, an Islamist contemporary of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. The elder Rauf had fled Egypt in 1948 — at the very time many Brotherhood operatives were fleeing a brutal crackdown by the Nasser regime (after the Brotherhood had tried to assassinate Nasser). Far from fleeing intolerance, young Feisal Rauf was educated in the U.K. and the U.S. His father, in the interim, established a huge Islamic cultural center cum mosque on Manhattan’s upper East Side which, Salah Choudhury writes, sports a housing complex restricted since 1984 to Muslim residents only.

Payne also misleadingly faults Palin for saying it would be “intolerable” to permit Rauf’s GZM dream to be built on “such hallowed ground” as the site of the felled Twin Towers. Rauf, Payne writes, “has had a mosque on this ‘hallowed ground’” for 27 years. But as Payne well knows, the lower Manhattan mosque Rauf has long operated is not the “hallowed ground” Palin was talking about. It is several blocks north of the World Trade Center complex. By contrast, the former Burlington Coat Factory proposed for the GZM was actually struck by the wreckage of a hijacked plane on 9/11 and lies within the perimeter where remains of those killed are still being recovered.

Payne absurdly adds that “Rauf is passionate about our liberties, our Founding Fathers, and heroes of freedom like Ronald Reagan.” Actually, Rauf’s life’s work is a Sharia Index project that aims to pressure countries into compliance with Muslim law. Sharia, it may interest you to know, rejects core American liberties — to take just a few examples, the right of free people to make law for themselves irrespective of any religious code; freedom of conscience (apostasy from Islam is a capital offense); equal protection of the law (sharia favors men over women and Muslims over non-Muslims); privacy (sharia makes homosexuality a capital offense, and severely punishes other social behavior regarded as none of the state’s business in the West); and freedom of speech (sharia forbids any criticism of Islam and its prophet).

Rauf is nothing if not clever. Realizing bad PR from his refusal to acknowledge Hamas’s terrorism was compromising his sharia mission, he is now conceding it. But observe how easily Payne is taken in by the imam. Payne writes that Rauf’s website states: “Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic.”

As we have seen, Imam Feisal has not consistently condemned terrorism or Hamas — he has often rationalized terrorism as the fault of its victims and he has squirmed to avoid attaching the label “terror” to Hamas. But apart from that, note that when Rauf says Hamas is “both a political movement and a terrorist organization,” he is careful to say (at long last) that only its “acts of terror” should be condemned. Here’s the thing: Insofar as Hamas is a “political movement” (and let’s indulge for argument’s sake the claim that its aims and its methods are severable), the brazenly stated goals of this “movement” are the destruction of Israel and the furtherance of the global Muslim Brotherhood campaign to Islamicize societies. Rauf — the “moderate” — has no problem with this “political” campaign; he just wishes (or at least now says he wishes) that Hamas would stop blowing people up to achieve it.

No need to worry, though. Payne assures us of Rauf’s claim to be “a supporter of Israel.” Again he is taken in by the seductive words he wants to hear, but the rest of us need not be as resolutely uncurious. As I’ve previously recounted on the Corner, in the same appearance at which he claimed the United States has more innocent blood on its hands than al-Qaeda, Rauf announced that he favors a “one-state solution” for this Israel that he so supports. It so happens that this is the same solution favored by the Muslim Brotherhood, and is not materially different from Hamas’s endgame. In the one-state solution, Muslims achieve the elimination of Israel’s character as a Jewish state by democratic means. That is, fortified by Israel’s already swelling Arab population and the “right of return” for millions of Palestinians that Muslims demand as the price of a peace settlement, Muslims would vote to end Israel’s character as a Jewish state. Israel becomes “Palestine” and the Israeli Jews living there become like any other Jewish minority living in a Muslim country. As the Jews fleeing Iraq will tell you, good luck with that.

To anyone not as foolishly determined as Payne to cast Rauf as a “tea partier,” this also adds necessary context to Rauf’s sudden infatuation with democracy. In his father’s native Egypt, real popular elections would likely vault the Muslim Brotherhood into power — just as it has served to empower Hamas in the Palestinian territories, to make Hezbollah (and its backers in Iran and Syria) the power center of Lebanon, and to put Shiite Islamists in charge in Iraq.

In 1977, before he had useful idiots around to carry his water, Feisal Rauf wrote a letter to the New York Times urging Muslims to give the new peace treaty between Israel and Egypt a chance. “Learn from the example of the Prophet Mohammed, your greatest historical personality,” he counseled, adding: “After a state of war with the Meccan unbelievers that lasted for many years, he acceded, in the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, to demands that his closest companions considered utterly humiliating. Yet peace turned out to be a most effective weapon against the unbelievers.”

It was effective, alas, because by camouflaging himself as a man of peace, Muhammad was able to portray his detractors as extremists and enemies of peace. That bought him the time he needed to rearm and prepare his followers for battle. When they were ready, they broke the treaty and returned to conquer the unbelievers, the start of decisive campaigns in which Islam was spread by intimidation and the sword.

Imam Rauf is not hard to figure out. You just have to listen to what he says rather than pretend that he didn’t say it. National Review is the last place where Henry Payne should have gotten away with pretending he didn’t say it — and with accusing someone who refuses to pretend of libel.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.


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