Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind Park51, has announced a speaking tour, kicking off in Detroit on January 15. Due to death threats, none of the events will be public, but local media can ask questions. Get ready for it: His allies will frame each event as an example of how the tolerant and open Rauf is being persecuted by intolerant Islamophobes. This will not be a political debate but a civil rights struggle, with the Park51 opponents on the wrong side.
Park51’s slick use of semantics will be employed full force in this PR campaign. Officially, the speaking engagements are not fundraisers, but obviously the goal is to win support and donations. They’ll continue calling the Ground Zero mosque a “community center” because it will include a gym, a performing arts center, and other non-religious components, but large churches have long built the same and if they started calling themselves “community centers” instead of churches, they’d be laughed off.
Park51 has applied for a $5 million federal grant to reconstruct lower Manhattan using this terminology. The taxpayer money can’t go to religious services, so the Park51 folks are saying that their award money would go to “social services” like art exhibits, foreign language classes, and programs for homeless veterans. In other words, we will all pay for the mosque’s community outreach program.
It’s time to bring to light Imam Rauf’s pattern of consistently hiding his intentions. All the way back in 1977, he wrote a letter to a newspaper supporting the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, just as a moderate would. But one of the reasons he supported it was because he felt it would result in Israel’s destruction in the long term. He compared the peace treaty to one Mohammed signed in a moment of weakness, saying “peace turned out to be a most effective weapon against the unbeliever.” On audiotape that has surfaced from 2005, Rauf maintains that he supports a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His mention of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi as a “moderate” should also cause one to doubt Rauf’s ostensible credentials as a moderate.
Cordoba House — as Park51 was originally named — has not declared about $100,000 in donations from the American Society for Muslim Advancement, another one of Rauf’s groups. This is important because the ASMA has the status of a church, so it does not have to declare its donors. The organization, founded by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, earned this designation by claiming it had 500 people attending its services in an apartment building with no room to accommodate such a crowd.
In another misleading act, Rauf’s group has cleansed its website of references to the Sharia Index Project, an effort to rate and encourage every country’s compliance with Sharia law. In this, Park51 was joined by the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and Jamal Barzinji of the radical Dar al-Hijrah mosque, investigated for his ties to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Brotherhood itself. A photo of Imam Rauf meeting with a high-level Iranian government official has also been deleted, which may explain Rauf’s siding with the Iranian regime in the summer of 2009.