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.
What’s more, in 2006, Imam Rauf was recorded opining that the U.S. should engage Hamas and support an “Islamic state” since it is supporting the Jewish state of Israel. He repeatedly checked to make sure he was not on the air and that the other person understood his comments were off the record. He said that he did not support a “demographic Islamic state,” meaning a nation consisting of Muslims. Rather, he supports an “Islamic state” where everyone lives together. That sounds an awful lot like Muslims and non-Muslims living under Sharia law.
Taken together, these activities cast serious doubt on Park51’s claim that it simply seeks to improve interfaith relations. If that had been its goal, Park51 would have realized by now that it is undermining its own cause — and backtrack accordingly. After all, this controversy is so damaging to Islam that the top scholars at al-Azhar University in Cairo suspect Park51 is part of a Zionist conspiracy.
Clearheaded opposition continues to build in the U.S. and around the world. Muslims opposing Park51 include Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the first Muslim Miss USA, Mansoor Ijaz, the director of Al-Arabia TV, Hasan Mahmud and Neda Bolourchi. According to Gallup, 14 percent of Muslims want the site moved, 30 percent want it changed into an interfaith center owned by several religious groups, and 43 percent support it as is.
Imam Rauf has made a mistake by bringing attention to himself again. As I told the New York Times, this will “revive the opposition” and give Park51’s opponents more opportunities to raise these facts and questions. This battle isn’t over just yet.