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Monthly Archives: August 2010

As the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, continues his State Department-hosted “public diplomacy” visit to the United Arab Emirates, the glimpses of his activities over there get ever more interesting. Back home, Americans are now reading the Bergen Record’s dispatches on Rauf’s history as a New Jersey landlord with a tangled financial trail and angry tenants registering recurring complaints about his premises, listing such items as infestations of cockroaches and rats, piles of unremoved trash and “filthy halls.”  Meanwhile, in the UAE, U.S. State Department officials have been squiring Rauf around on the final leg of his taxpayer-funded $16,000 swing through the Middle East (that tab includes an allowance of $496 per day to keep him comfortable in Abu Dhabi).

And the  U.S. Embassy in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi has now posted on its web site a bulletin dated Aug. 30, making brief mention of some of Rauf’s meetings since he arrived a few days ago — you can find it here, complete with a photo of Rauf at a flower-bedecked banquet table in Abu Dhabi.

Rauf’s UAE pow-wows have included a meeting with “religious officials” at the “General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments.” What, exactly, is this outfit? According to an Abu Dhabi government web site, it’s an “independent legal entity” created under UAE federal law, which engages in activities such as “supervision of mosques” and “investment of the endowment to develop the society.” Among other things, this Islamic Affairs and Endowments authority solicits and directs funds for building and refurbishing mosques. 

But we can rest assured that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, currently in need of $100 million or more for his Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center, is not fund-raising while on his taxpayer-bankrolled, U.S. government-hosted tour. The State Department has assured us he would never do that.

Rauf’s State Department-arranged dance card in the UAE has also included speaking to a roundtable of the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen’s Council, hosted by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  

But we can rest assured that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, currently in need of $100 million or more for his Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center, is not fund-raising while on his taxpayer-bankrolled, U.S. government-hosted tour. The State Department has assured us he would never do that.

 Kudos at least to the U.S. Embassy in the UAE for providing at least minimal information on Rauf’s doings while he travels in comfort on the taxpayers’ tab. The U.S. embassies on his previous taxpayer-funded stops, in Bahrain and Qatar, were rather less forthcoming (here’s the official account of his multi-day stay in Doha). The State Department in Washington has been either remarkably uninformed about the specifics of his travels, or pretty much mute. And Rauf himself, before embarking on this tour, spent weeks in Malaysia, where he has longstanding ties and keeps an office. Whatever he was doing there, he has yet to disclose. It does seem that his State Department “public diplomacy” itinerary included a stop in Saudi Arabia; apparently cancelled by State at the last minute. Did he go there anyway? Let’s assume not. But how would we know? While he’s busy expecting the American public to passively  submit to his preferred version of Islamic “bridge-building” at Ground Zero, would he be willing to share with this same American public the full details of his travels, tickets, and where and when and what exactly he’s been doing during his months abroad? 

But … you know the refrain by now… we can rest assured that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, currently in need of $100 million or more for his Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center, is not fund-raising while on his taxpayer-bankrolled, U.S. government-hosted tour. The State Department has assured us he would never do that.

Yet another news flash on the whereabouts of the self-described “bridge-building” couple behind the Ground Zero mosque:

Last week, Daisy Khan was poised to travel to the Middle East, planning a $12,000 taxpayer-funded jaunt to join her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in the United Arab Emirates, Aug. 29-Sept. 2, courtesy of the State Department.

But she didn’t go. According to a staffer at the Manhattan office shared by Khan and Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative and American Society for Muslim Advancement, Khan is still in New York, though when I called she was unavailable for questions because she was “in a meeting.” The U.S. Embassy in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi now has a statement posted on its web site, dated Aug. 27: “Speaker Program Postponed.” The wording suggests it was Khan herself who called off the trip: “Daisy Khan, who was scheduled to visit the UAE on a speaker program as part of the U.S. Embassy’s 2010 observation of the month of Ramadan, has postponed her visit.”

What’s going on? In the best case, one might hope that even the State Department finally woke up to the perversity of using taxpayer money to send to the Middle East, as a messenger of the American people, a Kashmiri-born emigre who — while availing herself of the many benefits of life in America (including the prerogative to denigrate Americans while cynically arranging to cash in on Ground Zero) – has been busy denouncing Americans en masse as bigots, and on national TV Aug. 22 called America a place “beyond Islamophobia.”

But crediting State for wise decisions on this front is a long shot. There are some good folks buried here and there within the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy — officials who place American national interests ahead of the worship of political correctness –  but I have the strong impression that they make their views known at considerable peril to their careers.

Another possibility is that Khan has her hands so full right now with damage control that she’s run out of time for travel. News continues to emerge — thanks in big part to the reporting efforts of the NY Post (most other major newspapers seem unwilling to dirty their hands with real reporting) — about the past dealings of the public troika behind the Ground Zero mosque project: Khan, Rauf and their real-estate partner, Sharif El-Gamal. There is by now a welter of information concerning not only disturbing comments blaming America for Sept. 11 and refusing to condemn the terrorists of Hamas, but also a growing list of nitty-gritty items involving alleged unpaid back taxes, unhappy tenants of the Lexus-loving imam and his wife, misreported fund-raising and so on. Is it possible that spinning non-responses, or at least diverting the media with accusations of “Islamophobia,” has cut into the time Khan had allocated for her “bridge-building” State Department junket to the UAE?

Or is there some later trip now in the works? Khan herself told me in a brief phone interview last month that her husband’s State Department tour originally included Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. When I then asked the State Department for confirmation, State took days to answer anything on the record, and when an answer finally came, the Saudi leg had disappeared — but according to both Khan and an internal State Department memo, it had not been scrapped entirely. It was merely postponed. Now Khan’s trip to the UAE has been “postponed.” Is this a diplomatically polite way of saying it won’t happen? Or should we brace for news that State is arranging yet more taxpayer-funded “outreach” trips for this Cordoba couple, as they proceed with fund-raising for the $100 million Cordoba House, a.k.a. Park51?

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Yes, fresh from denouncing America on national television as a place rife with “hate of Muslims,” a place so Islamophobic that “it’s beyond Islamophobia,” Daisy Khan, co-planner of the Ground Zero mosque project, will soon be hopping a plane at taxpayer expense, courtesy of the State Department, to jet from New York to the United Arab Emirates and deliver to the Emiratis her views about Muslim life in America.

This is what the State Department calls “public diplomacy” — a program that enlists about 1,200 Americans each year to fly with plenty of leg room to foreign lands and tell folks over there what it’s like to live in America. You might think a lot of these junkets would by now be redundant, in a world so interconnected that the Fort Hood shooter took cues from an imam in Yemen. But then, the web just doesn’t have the zing of international business class and $496 per diems.

For Daisy Khan’s circle, State’s public diplomacy program is a boom industry. (So are a lot of things for Khan & partners right now, subject of my latest column, Cashing In On Ground Zero). Khan’s husband and “bridge-building” partner, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Feisal Adbul Rauf, is already on a more extensive State Department tour. After stops in Bahrain, where he has just been, and Qatar, where he will be this week, Rauf will meet up with Khan in the UAE, from Aug. 29-Sept.2. His trip will cost U.S. taxpayers $16,000. Hers will  cost $12,000.

(Hmmm. I flew out to the UAE this spring, spent more time there than they plan to, spent another two weeks in Turkey, stayed in some very pleasant hotels, hired cars, ate well, and somehow it all came to significantly less than Khan’s trip alone… next time, I’ve got to get this right. Or maybe someone ought to take a closer look at the State Department budget?)

If you want slightly more detail about the Rauf-Khan trip to the UAE, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi has posted an announcement on its web site . But don’t get your hopes up that you’ll learn anything there about who Rauf and Khan will actually be seeing, as they build their “people to people” ties. Most details of these public outreach trips are kept secret from the American public.

Anyway, there you have it — for all those American taxpayers who caught Daisy Khan’s Sunday rant on ABC TV’s “This Week,” don’t bother looking for her on the U.S. talk shows next Sunday. She’ll be checking into an Abu Dhabi hotel, on your dime, to share her views with a Middle Eastern audience.

Thank you, New York Post. We have a report Saturday that “[a]ppearing in public for the first time in weeks,” the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has surfaced – speaking at a mosque in Bahrain. This is part of the State Department-hosted “public diplomacy” tour in which U.S. taxpayers are footing a $16,000 tab so Rauf from Aug. 19-Sept. 2 can travel to Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. With this jaunt, Rauf is rounding out a summer in which he has already found time to disappear for weeks in Malaysia. But he has evidently had no time — zero, as in, none at all  – to answer any tough questions from the American media and public about his money, and his plans for a $100 million 15-story Islamic center topped with a mosque near the site of the crater that was once the World Trade Center (destroyed, as we all know, by “extremists” who in 2001 perpetrated a particularly large “man-caused disaster”).

But let’s not be too hard on Rauf. As he has told his public, he is a peace-making outreaching “bridge-builder,” a healer, a bringer of harmony. As he told the New York Times last December, he’s a guy who (unlike most of us clods out there) realized the Burlington Coat Factory building near Ground Zero is the perfect site for an Islamic hub and mosque, because during the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks, it was “where a piece of the wreckage fell.” If you see a problem with Rauf’s plan, you are probably an anti-bridge-builder bigot, full of antiquated ideas that your rights as an American include freedom of thought, and possibly even freedom of speech. No healing for you!

A visionary like Rauf doesn’t have time to explain himself, let alone open his financial books, or give any weight to the views of all those Americans back home who have been so insensitive as to form their own opinions about what constitutes harmony. He’s too busy planning his bridge. In some ways, Rauf’s plans for his Cordoba House mosque and Islamic center have come to resemble Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s approach to the health-care bill jammed down America’s throat earlier this year: we are adjured to let him build it to find out what’s in it.

But I digress. From Bahrain, Rauf for the first time in weeks has actually spoken, in person, to the media. Along with speaking at a Bahrain mosque, he gave a brief interview to the Associated Press Television News, as reported by the New York Post — in which he “dodged questions about the uproar over his planned mosque and community center.”

According to Rauf himself, he is on a trip right now of “great importance.” (That follows the “important meeting” in Malaysia which, when I surprised him with a phone call there last month, prevented him from answering any questions). Rauf told the AP TV News that in his travels he is discussing ”extremism” and working on a way to “Americanize Islam.”

Really? And what exactly is Rauf’s version of an Americanized Islam? Rauf does not speak for all American Muslims, some of whom have been voicing their disagreement with his plans. But as far as Rauf himself is an example of this “Americanized Islam” he seeks to spread, it seems to entail dismissing the views of a majority of Americans, causing great anguish to some of the families of the thousands murdered on Sept. 11, and refusing to answer any real questions — all while working on his own plans to Islamize Ground Zero.

It’s now almost a month since the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque project answered any questions from the U.S. media (or any other media, as far as I’m aware), or even bestirred himself to fill in the American public on his exact whereabouts. All it’s been possible to discern is that after spending weeks in Malaysia (and elsewhere?), Rauf is moving on to the Middle East — with the State Department, after two weeks of hemming and hawing, finally confirming on Wednesday the bare-bones dates of his taxpayer-funded travels to Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

But I can report a recent sighting, of sorts. Not a sighting of Rauf himself, mind you. Nor the sound of his voice. But late Wednesday night, New York time — Thursday morning in the Middle East — I phoned the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, the first stop on Rauf’s ”public diplomacy” tour.

Asked if the imam had arrived in Bahrain, an embassy official told me: “Yes, that’s correct.”

And that, folks, is the sum total right now of the information available to the American public about the taxpayer-funded public outreach activities these next few days of  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in Bahrain. I had more questions. But Imam Feisal evidently moves in circles in which inquiries about whom he’s meeting overseas, what he’s telling them, or where he plans to get $100 million for his mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero are seen by both Rauf and his hosts as an extraordinary intrusion on his public outreach and bridge-building endeavors. The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain would offer nothing further on the record about Ambassador Adam Ereli’s controversial guest. There is so far no reply to queries I emailed to the U.S. embassies in Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. Visitors to the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain are of course welcome to read President Barack Obama’s remarks at last Friday’s Iftar dinner at the White House, in which Obama effectively endorsed Rauf’s mosque and Islamic center project near Ground Zero, referring to the right of Muslims “to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.”

The web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain does not feature any of the vigorously dissenting articles or comments by Americans to the effect that the uproar over plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero, on a site hit by debris from one of the hijacked planes, is not a matter of Rauf’s rights, but of his judgment — and whether it is a jab in the eye, rather than a bridge-building move, to plant a mosque and Islamic center so close to a former community hub — the World Trade Center — where more than 2,700 Americans were murdered in the name of Islam.

As Rauf now goes about his apparently covert public outreach program in Bahrain, he is supposed to be telling his audience about life in America. That is why the State Department is shelling out $16,000 for his Middle East Swing — which may sound like peanuts to the public-outreachers at the State Department, but is more than most Americans could possibly afford right now for a summer jaunt abroad. For Rauf, the State Department tour includes per diems of $396 to keep him comfortable in Bahrain, $341 when he moves on to Qatar, and $496 when he gets to the United Arab Emirates.

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Where exactly is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the $100 million Ground Zero mosque project? I keep asking because weeks after he stopped answering any questions about his “Cordoba House” plans, there is still no answer.

By now, there is information in Rauf’s silence. He launched his Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center project in the name of “dialogue,” “outreach” and “bridge-building” in lower Manhattan. In doing so, he trampled on raw feelings, and set off a divisive debate. Rauf’s apparent dismissal of public questions as not worth his time, while he travels to the Middle East on U.S. taxpayer money, suggests enormous contempt for the American public.

Rauf dropped out of sight weeks ago, and as far as I can discover, he hasn’t answered any questions from the press since Reuters spoke to him by phone on July 22nd. (When I surprised him at his office in Malaysia on July 30th, Malaysian time, after his New York office said he was traveling and unreachable, he got right back off the phone to return to an “important meeting,” and then referred all further questions back to his office in New York.)

So, as far as I can discover, it’s now almost four weeks since Rauf last took any questions from the U.S. media or public. All we really know at this point is that after spending time in Malaysia (Did he go anywhere else? Who knows?), Rauf is due right around now to be meeting and greeting in some of the petro-dollar capitals of the Middle East — as part of a multi-week Ramadan “public diplomacy” tour hosted by the State Department, courtesy of the U.S. embassies in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

If Rauf is there for “public diplomacy,” or “bridge-building,” or “outreach,” or whatever we’re calling such junkets these days, then what is his day-to-day schedule? Who is he meeting with? Where is he right now? Why should both Rauf and the State Department be treating the details of his “public diplomacy” tour as something to be kept secret from the American public?

Apart from confirming the destinations to which his taxpayer-bankrolled tickets will take him, and where taxpayer money will cover his hotels and his per diems, the State Department in Washington has refused to provide any details. Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain told me that Rauf is expected there Aug. 19, and will stay for “a couple of days.” But none of the other embassies he’s visiting were willing to say anything on the record, and I have yet to find a jot of information about his current trip on any of their web sites.

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If you look past the rhetoric, the realities — or should I say the morphing unrealities? — of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center project grow ever more curious. Polls show that a majority of Americans, including New Yorkers, do not question the legal right of Rauf and his partners to go ahead with their plans. But a majority of Americans do find the choice of location an affront, a potentially in-your-face, abrasive, triumphalist statement, rather than an exercise in harmony and “bridge-building.” Amid the controversy, President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — while grandstanding about the need for government to steer clear of religious matters — have now both effectively endorsed the project. Obama, at a White House Ramadan dinner Friday night, went beyond enthusing about religious freedom, to zero in , quite specifically, on the right ”to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan.”

That sure sounds like the project of developer Sharif El-Gamal, and the Cordoba Initiative’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan (whose last name on their nonprofit Cordoba Initiative’s federal tax returns of recent years is spelled not “Khan,” which she is now using, but “Kahn.”)

Meanwhile, where in the world right now IS the imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who — as he prepares to raise $100 million for his Cordoba mosque and Islamic center — is now gathering these upmarket endorsements from Gracie Mansion and the White House? Do Bloomberg or Obama have any idea? Have they bothered to inquire?

Because as I write this, on Saturday afternoon, all but the most generic details of Rauf’s location and travels are still a mystery, and have been for weeks. From Rauf, who left the U.S. weeks ago, and whom I last located very briefly by surprising him in late July with a phone call to his office in Malaysia (he got right back off the phone to resume an “important meeting”), there has been no direct word whatsoever.

After something of an internal kerfuffle, Hillary Clinton’s State Department finally confirmed on Monday that Rauf will be spending Ramadan on a taxpayer-funded outreach tour of the Middle East, with stops hosted by the U.S. embassies in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (all these countries are bastions of Middle Eastern oil wealth). But as I write, I can find no listing of his schedule on the State Department site (as of Aug. 11, a spokesman was saying no further details are yet available), or on the sites on any of these embassies — not in Qatar, not in the UAE, nor in Bahrain. When I phoned all these embassies, plus the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, last Monday (their time), asking for information about his visits, the only embassy where any U.S. official was even willing to speak on the record about Rauf’s travels was the Mission in Bahrain, where a spokesperson said he is expected on Aug. 19, but either could not or would not provide any further detail.

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The Imam Feisal Vanishing Act

August 11th, 2010 - 9:01 pm

In the Ground Zero mosque saga now playing out under the grim shadow of the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks,  one of the weirdest motifs is the summer vanishing act of the imam who peddled this project, Feisal Abdul Rauf. His name is all over the project, and much-mentioned in the fierce debate. Yet Rauf himself has disappeared from New York, and left the country for the summer. Apparently he’s not even talking to the New York Times — which, in a long piece Wednesday included what in recent weeks has become a refrain: “Imam Feisal is in Malaysia and could not be reached for comment.”

After days of hemming and hawing, the State Department finally confirmed this week that Rauf will round out August with a taxpayer-funded swing through some of the oil-rich capitals of the Middle East. He’ll be going to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has dropped off Rauf’s State-sponsored itinerary. (Will he go there anyway? Who knows?). Though, piecing together information from Rauf’s wife and partner in Islamic nonprofits, Daisy Khan, it looks like a Saudi stop on Rauf’s taxpayer-funded tour might have been quietly scrubbed within the past week — and according to both Khan and a State Department press guidance memo, State has merely postponed Rauf’s taxpayer-funded travel to Saudi Arabia, not scrapped the prospect entirely. For more on all this, plus Rauf’s vanishing Malaysia office coordinates, the two spellings of Daisy Kahn/Khan’s last name, and the lone date this summer on which I have been able discover where, exactly, Rauf on that day might be located, here’s a link to my latest column:  Mysteries of the Absent Imam Feisal.

Basically, what on earth is going on here? In New York, emotions are rubbed raw. The questions keep multiplying. Instead of showing up to answer them, the imam who wants a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, so he can reach out to New Yorkers, isn’t even taking calls from the U.S. press.

Next stops for Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of the plan for a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department, Rauf — a.k.a. Imam Feisal – is scheduled to spend the rest of the summer on a swing through the petro-dollar palaces of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, and Qatar.

For more details, here’s the column in which yesterday evening I broke this bit of news (I have not found it reported anywhere else so far — which leaves me wondering why, amid the emoting and editorializing splashed all over the MSM by defenders and commenders of Rauf, no one seems to be asking where he’s actually disappeared to): “Further Travels of Imam Feisal.”

Rauf’s summer itinerary suggests odd priorities for a man who, in the name of harmony and bridge-building, has stirred up a furious debate in the U.S. — and then quietly left the country last month, leaving many questions unanswered about such matters as where and how he plans to raise the $100 million he’ll need to realize his dream of a high-rise Islamic hub right up the street from where the Twin Towers stood.

Neither Rauf nor the State Department seems eager to publicize his summer trip to Saudi Arabia and points nearby, though his tour appears imminent — as in, he’ll probably be touching down in the Middle East this coming week, and he’s not due back till early September. My source for this information is the New York office of his Cordoba Initiative foundation, and his wife and co-director at the Cordoba Initiative, Daisy Khan. But they didn’t exactly volunteer the information unbidden. Rauf himself came briefly to the phone last week, at his Cordoba Initiative office in Malaysia, when I tracked him down there on a hunch — after his New York office said he was traveling, not feeling well, and could not be reached. As soon as I asked about funding, he said he was in an “important meeting,” and got off the phone.

Since then, Rauf has been “unavailable” at his Cordoba Initiative office in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. When I phoned there and asked for him earlier this week, one of his assistants told me: “All media requests have to go through his office in New York.”  At the New York office, I was told they were giving no more interviews, and for questions about the Malaysian office, I was referred back in a circle to the Cordoba Initiative in Malaysia. Finally, uninvited and with no appointment, I called the mobile phone of his wife and work partner, Daisy Khan. In answer to my specific questions, she said that Rauf was about to visit Saudi Arabia, etc., on a trip hosted by the State Department. In response to further questions, she allowed as how the State Department was sending her, as well, on a trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi later this month. She said there would be no fund-raising on these trips. But no one at the Cordoba Initiative seems ready to rule out the possibility of taking large sums of money from these places, should it at some point happen to be offered.

As for the State Department: After three days of my repeated questions and phone calls, State by Friday’s close of business had yet to provide any response to my request for confirmation of Rauf’s trip, Khan’s trip, or details about their State-sponsored summer outreach excursions to the Middle East. Apparently, it takes quite a while at State to get “clearance” for disclosure to the American public of such basic details as who, exactly, is engaging in public outreach at our expense and on our behalf.

Anyway, in the quest to discover Where in the World is Imam Feisal? — it looks like after his sojourn in Malaysia he’ll be turning up soon in Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama, and Riyadh. Whom he or his wife will meet with on their State-sponsored bridge-building tours, how their expenses will be handled, whether they will be paid any fees or honoraria, and what other arrangements have been made on their behalf are all matters that State apparently finds it a bridge too far to disclose. Why? New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg may find all this to be of absolutely no interest — see Bill Kristol’s terrific editorial, “Shut Up, He Explained.” But there are a lot of Americans, most of them not billionaires a-la-Bloomberg, who think that sometimes money, and its origins, does matter. When is Feisal Abdul Rauf planning to fill us in on the real sources of all funds flowing toward the coffers of his projects near Ground Zero?