What does Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf believe? Is he a moderate, peace-loving cleric? Is he an insidious, smooth-talking, sharia-law-bringing fraud? Clearly believing the former is the New York Times, which recently published a piece that highlighted Rauf’s moderate statements and added context to some of his more notorious remarks (“Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A,” that the US was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11). The Wall Street Journal remains more skeptical: their editorial board looked at two letters Rauf sent to (surprise, surprise) The New York Times in the late 70’s and found cause for concern. From the editorial:
In a letter published on November 27, 1977, Mr. Rauf commented on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Israel and encouraged his fellow Muslims to “give peace a chance.” That John Lennon lyric sounds good. But he added: “For my fellow Arabs I have the following special message: Learn from the example of the Prophet Mohammed, your greatest historical personality. 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.”
He’s referring to a treaty in the year 628 that established a 10-year truce between the Prophet Muhammad and Meccan leaders and was viewed by Muslims at the time as a defeat. But Muhammad used that period to consolidate his ranks and re-arm, eventually leading to his conquest of Mecca. Imam Rauf seems to be saying that Muslims should understand Sadat’s olive branch in the same way, as a short-term respite leading to ultimate conquest.
To drive that point home, he added in the same letter that “In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure. . . . In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.“
When the Journal contacted Rauf, he gave them this response:
“It is amusing that journalists are combing through letters-to-the-editor that I wrote more than 30 years ago, when I was a young man, for clues to my evolution. As I re-read those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel, and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published.”
Well, Israel as an Arab country with a Jewish minority might allow for a “peaceful” Middle East solution, but it’s hardly the kind of peace hoped for by the Israelis. And that “humane understanding” of Iran seems to include more sympathy toward figures such as Holocaust-denying, election-stealing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than to people like Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman shot and killed while participating in a protest against the fraudulent election. Check out Rauf’s op-ed in the Huffington Post (written not in his youth, but a mere year ago):
As protests mounted in Iran after the election, Obama rightly backed away from inserting the United States into the dispute. He said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence and said the right to peaceably dissent was a universal value.
As the protests continued, violence abated.
Many Iranians who were so hopeful and so engaged in the election now fear their votes did not count, Obama said. “And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.”
Khamenei indicated that the voices have been heard and respected.
All that set the right tone.
Friday, Khameini reaffirmed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner. And he made clear that this election was not a referendum on the foundations of the Islamic Republic. All of the candidates support it.
But he also said that opponents who did not believe the election results should challenge them through legal means.
This provides a chance for Obama to show Iranians that he understands their Islamic Republic and how it developed — and to lay the groundwork for negotiations once the election dispute is resolved.
The whole op-ed has an Alice-in-Wonderland surreal quality to it. Where is the condemnation of the thug election tactics used by Iranian leaders? Where is the outrage that Iran banned journalists from covering the riots? Where is the indignation that the country blocked its own citizens from accessing Facebook or Twitter or even text messages during the riots? To seemingly approve telling citizens to use “legal means” to contest an election that has already been manipulated by those in power is absurd. This was not Florida in 2000; it was the desperate uprising of a tyrannized people, some of whom were willing to die in the effort to overthrow the dictatorial government.
Those who point to Rauf’s statements condemning terrorism — which are laudable — as proof that he is moderate assume that the only critical difference between the US and extreme Islamic regimes is whether terrorism is condemned or not. That’s not true. There are many important differences, ranging from our view of individual rights to religious freedom to the role of women in society. Rauf’s youthful letters and recent op-ed, along with his other statements throughout the years, suggest that he holds a different view of political rights and priorities than do most Americans.