In communicating with Hassan Shibly, it’s hard to see why this frequent guest speaker at schools in New York would be embroiled in a controversy. He’s easy to converse with and kind. He passionately condemns terrorism (including the 9/11 attacks) and sings the praises of America. But shortly after January 10, when he gave nine presentations during his fourth visit to Clarence High School, he became part of a controversy when a mother of a student that listened to Shibly reported that he blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. foreign policy, specifically support for Israel. The mother later found out that he doesn’t consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist group. School officials defended Shibly in emails to the mother and he defends his position by saying it is backed by top political scientists.
Shibly says he has spoken to over 40 high school classes in New York. He claims that he only focuses on the basics of Islam and avoids discussion of political issues unless asked during the Q&A session. Shibly engaged in a back-and-forth with Nonie Darwish over what he was alleged to have said (it can be read here). He attributes the criticism of him by the mother and Darwish to an anti-Islam agenda. The mother says her 14-year old son lacks the political awareness to make up the statements he said Shibly made, and indeed, background research on Shibly does show that he has controversial beliefs that parents should be aware of.
Shibly is not shy about stating that “Hezbollah is absolutely not a terrorist organization.” Rather, he says the group is a “resistance movement” and “any war against them is illegitimate.” On his Facebook page, he posted an interview where Norman Finkelstein praises the group. In his extensive communication with me, he has refused to condemn Hamas as a whole or refer to them as a “terrorist” group, saying such labels are too simplistic and would write off the group as a peace partner that could be negotiated with. He instead condemned violence against innocent civilians by both Israel and Hamas, and said that he would not describe Israel as a “terrorist state” for the same reasons.
He compliments the late Syrian Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, the former grand mufti of Syria, for “speak[ing] out for the oppressed.” He links to Kuftaro’s website, and Shibly’s father has organized trips to the sheikh’s center in Syria. Although Shibly did not have a personal relationship with Kuftaro, that isn’t the case with his father. In 2002, Kuftaro had neo-Nazi William Baker as a speaker at his mosque, as well as Louis Farrakhan. In 2004, Kuftaro called on the world’s Muslims to “use all means possible to thwart the aggression, including martyr operations against the belligerent American, British and Zionist invaders,” and specifically mentioned Iraq as a place where Muslims should fight. He also held a meeting with Hamas leaders where he said all Muslims were required “to do jihad upon the Zionists.”
Shibly also praises Sheikh Rajab Deeb, a top disciple of Kuftaro’s. Deeb has called on Syria to obtain nuclear weapons and rails against the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Deeb holds a position in the Syrian regime, which is listed by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism. In May 2005, Deeb gave a sermon where he accused Jews of trying to “eradicate every race except their race.” Shibly said he was unaware of these statements and does not support them.
Shibly has received some attention for his lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, which has been dismissed. In 2004, he and others were detained at the Canadian border as they tried to re-enter the country from the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto. He felt their detainment was based on the sole fact that they are Muslims, but the government said it “had credible intelligence that conferences similar to the one from which these individuals were leaving were being used by terrorist organizations to fundraise and to hide the travel of terrorists themselves.”
The mother of the student accuses Shibly of saying that the perpetrators of 9/11 were not Muslims, but he says this was taken out of context. He meant they were not acting as true Muslims and were motivated by politics, not religion or ideology. When questioned by me about who carried out the attacks, he said that al-Qaeda was “probably” behind them but he was unsure.
He cited three stories about how the U.S. supposedly lied to get involved in Vietnam, British operatives disguised as terrorists were arrested in Iraq after a clash with police, and Israeli agents were allegedly videotaping the attacks on the World Trade Center and cheering and were subsequently deported. Shibly also appears to court the idea that the U.S. is behind terrorism in Iraq to justify its presence. On July 16, 2009, he wrote on his Facebook page that “America does not (at least publicly) support Iraqi Suiccide [sic] Bombers.” He wrote in a December 9, 2007, note that “there is evidence that U.S. and UK are involved in instigating sectarian violence.”
On Shibly’s Facebook page, he also posted a link to a 9/11 conspiracy article with a comment from him calling the “9/11 Commission all lies [sic].” He defended himself by saying he doesn’t necessarily endorse the links he posts but is just trying to stir up discussion. He also lists himself as a “fan” of Khalid Yasin, a radical Muslim cleric who says the U.S. military invented AIDS, doesn’t believe al-Qaeda was involved in 9/11, and has been accused of engaging in fraud by an Australian newspaper. He also has various other ties to extremism. Shibly also linked to various lectures by Yasin, but says he was unaware of these other statements, which he disagrees with, and appreciated being informed of them. He is also a member of a Facebook group calling for the release of Sami al-Arian.
His Facebook and MySpace profiles act almost as a catalogue of complaints about U.S. and Israeli human rights abuses. He regularly condemns Israeli “state terrorism” and describes the country as an apartheid state. He told me that he wants each person in Israel to have one vote — a change that he surely knows would lead to the destruction of Israel. He posted an article by Alison Weir, of the virulently anti-Israel group “If Americans Knew,” accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and a litany of other heinous crimes while defending Helen Thomas in lieu of her recent controversy.
He wrote “I love these people” in reference to the Neturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish group that seeks to end the state of Israel and supports Hamas and Ahmadinejad. Shibly has an article in a Facebook note titled “The grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors from World War II Are Doing to the Palestinians Exactly What Was Done to Them by Nazi Germany.” He also promotes anti-Israeli propaganda, linking to a music video that depicts the Israeli military as recklessly destroying a Palestinian town and posting a cartoon of an evil-looking Israeli soldier and helicopter massacring civilians.
Shibly told me that he feels that “people who are oppressed and occupied have the right to defend themselves so long as they too do not oppress.” When I asked him if this meant he supported attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, considering he believes they are occupiers, he said he did not support violence unless it is in “self-defense,” such as when someone is being raped or attacked.
His disdain for America’s foreign policy rivals his disdain for Israel. He gave a speech where he described the U.S. as acting as an imperialist, conquering other countries for their oil. He has linked to an article calling for the prosecution of President Bush as a war criminal. He has twice linked to a speech where a former soldier speaks out against “American terrorism,” saying it is being done at the behest of war profiteers and that racism in the military is used for imperialism. “We were told we were fighting terrorists. The real terrorist was me and the real terrorism was the occupation,” the speaker says. Shibly titles the link “Former American Terrorist Denounces American Terrorism.”
Shibly is to be commended for posting a note aimed at combating propaganda against U.S. soldiers, containing pictures of them playing with Iraqi children and other good acts showing the true nature of America. This was much later followed by a video of marines abusing a dog and later the posting of a segment promoting the incredibly biased WikiLeaks video depicting an alleged U.S. massacre of civilians in Iraq and a story about NATO killing pregnant women in Afghanistan.
“I do not believe the U.S. is in a war against Islam nor do I believe the U.S. is oppressive to Muslims domestically,” he assured me. On the other hand, he accused the FBI of “playing dirty” in reaction to this report and accused them of using informants in mosques to spread extremism based on this article. A video hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations portraying the death of Imam Abdullah as a murder based on an autopsy is also promoted, along with an article doubting the allegations against him. A video claiming that an innocent Muslim convert that is a pilot is now on the terrorist watch list was posted. It had the following sub-heading: “How Americans are making Muslims life [sic] as miserable as can be.” In another Facebook update, he posted a video reporting that American soldiers in Afghanistan were encouraged to talk about their religious beliefs, along with a comment about how it proves that the U.S. government “is engaged in a religious war.”
Shibly’s Facebook page says he “likes” the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where he previously interned. This organization is a Muslim Brotherhood front with ties to Hamas. It was labeled by the federal government as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, which was found to be a front for Hamas. Shortly after the release of Muslim Mafia, a book meticulously documenting CAIR’s corruption and extremism, he linked to a Rachel Maddow segment mocking the reaction of members of Congress who were concerned about the organization’s attempts to place interns in government offices. Shibly also has linked to the website of the Islamic Relief Worldwide, which Israel accuses of being tied to Hamas.
When I spoke to him about his beliefs about democracy, he firmly said that he believed the U.S. should remain a secular democracy, but that he supported the establishment of sharia law for countries where Muslims are the majority. He warned me that true sharia law does not oppress minorities and doesn’t look like the tyrannical form we see today. On his Facebook page, he says that Islam mandates that women wear the niqab.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, the founder of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy and a devout Muslim, expressed concern over Clarence High School’s use of Shibly as a guest speaker in a letter to the board of Clarence Central School District dated May 10, 2010.
“I frankly have very deep problems with [his support for Hezbollah] as a Muslim and as an American,” Jasser wrote. He also pointed out that he is of Syrian origin and is “dismayed” at Shibly’s support for Sheikh Kuftaro.
“Mr. Shibly seems at times to support or work with Islamists who are leading advocates for political Islam. But when they become violent, he tries to distance himself with no corroborating public record to demonstrate a genuine ideological battle,” he wrote.
Dr. Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University also expressed concern about exposing students to Shibly, describing his ideas as “retrogressive,” particularly about not shaking hands with females.
“Those are not values that should be taught as part of Islam, and any person who purveys this sort of garbage in the name of ANY religion does a disservice to his religious community, but more so to the school district that has him speak,” Mohammed said.
According to an editorial in the Clarence Bee, which defends Shibly, the controversy has led to changes in the Clarence School District’s guest speaker policies. A 30-day advance notice will be given ahead of speakers deemed to be controversial and presentations will be recorded. In response to criticism about only hosting a Muslim speaker without alternate viewpoints or religions being represented, the school will consider having a panel instead.
Hassan Shibly staunchly denies accusations that he is soft on fighting extremism and terrorism, and the school’s officials staunchly defended him in their emails to the mother of the 14-year-old student. As a speaker, Shibly is put in a position of respect and credibility in front of impressionable students who can be influenced by his beliefs during the Q&A even if his main presentation is non-political. The community of Clarence, New York, needs to be aware of the man their school system is allowing to be presented as a representative of Muslims.