You are a graduate of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, the foremost religious school in Sunni Islam. You've grown up in Egypt, earned a BA, MA and PhD from the prestigious academy, and have spent your life as a believing and devout Muslim in the heart of the religious establishment. Your religion, and your belief that Islam is a force for good in the world, is something you've built your life around. You believe there is no contradiction between your faith, democracy, and modern standards of human rights, and you dedicate yourself to writing and speaking in support of your beliefs.
And it's for those beliefs that a canonical court expels you from Al-Azhar. You are imprisoned for a short time by the Egyptian Government. Finally a Wahhabist fatwa calling for your assassination forces you to flee the country.
You flee to political asylum in America, where you can, you hope, continue to explore your beliefs and practice your religion without fear for life and limb at the hands of fanatics.
Then one day you visit a local mosque....
In late 2003, after visiting the local Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ahmed Mansour and his wife emerged in what can only be described as a state of shock. Mansour's wife had attended a religious lesson and Mansour himself browsed the literature on display. According to the affidavit of Dennis Hale (PDF), Episcopal Lay Minister, Boston College Professor and founder of Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, Mansour informed him that "both the religious lesson and the Arabic newsletters inside the mosque were full of hateful references against the West and Jews." In particular, he noted that the mosque was touting a fund-raising endorsement for their new mosque project featuring infamous Wahabbi cleric and pitch-man for the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradawi.
Shocked to see that the poison he thought he had left behind, the poison he thought was an ocean away but was following him to America, Mansour spoke out about what he had seen.
As thanks for stepping forward, Mansour has found himself a defendant in a wide-ranging defamation lawsuit, a lawsuit that has involved television and print media outlets, activist organizations, and individuals -- anyone, it seemed, who had dared speak or repeat anything less than complimentary about the Islamic Society of Boston.
What the Wahhabis had failed to do in Egypt, the exploitation of the American legal system threatens to do here -- ruin the life of a moderate Muslim and anyone who stands with him.
A Flawed Founding
The Islamic Society of Boston was founded in 1982 by then university student Abdurahman Alamoudi, who became its first president. Ten years later, according to the Hale document, Alamoudi "appeared in a videotaped rally in Washington, D.C. where he publicly supported Hamas and Hezbollah." In "2003 and 2004, Alamoudi was indicted and pled guilty to a series of terrorist-related charges arising from a fraudulent scheme to assist Libya in raising money to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia." This scheme included, according to a background piece appearing in The New Republic, "providing approximately $1 million to an organization that supports Al Qaeda." Alamoudi "was sentenced to 23 years in prison."
The ISB was organized under the tax exempt umbrella of the Islamic Society of North America, which was itself a spin-off of the Wahhabist Muslim Student Association, and has been called "an influential front for the promotion of the Wahhabi political, ideological and theological infrastructure in the United States and Canada."
"This is how it should be.
Religion must lead the war.
This is the only way we can win."
From humble beginnings came big plans. A 2003 Boston Herald article quotes an ISB attorney as saying their new project had been in the works for a decade. According to the article:
...A project update in the Islamic Society of Boston's May 2000 newsletter reported that in the previous month alone, the group raised $2 million in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.In fact, the Boston Herald, with its two part special report (both articles available here, on the web site of The David Project: Radical Islam: Outspoken cleric, jailed activist tied to new Hub mosque, Under suspicion: Hub mosque leader tied to radical groups) was one of the first major media outlets to pick up on what was soon to become a burning controversy, pulling into the public consciousness something that had up until then been passing well under the radar.
One source familiar with the project who spoke on the condition he not be named said the leaders of the Islamic society have made it clear that virtually all the financing for the cultural center is coming from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Gulf states.
Many mosques and Islamic institutions in the U.S. are funded by wealthy individuals and foundations in Saudi Arabia. Those financiers are almost without exception followers of Wahhabism, a harsh Saudi-based fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, and they make sure the American mosques they bankroll adhere to the sect's anti-Western ideology...
The articles noted the involvement and history of terror-connected Abdurahman Alamoudi in the ISB, as well as, and just as disturbingly, the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual adviser, Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is quoted as supporting terrorist attacks against Israelis and Americans. He has boycotted interfaith efforts where Israelis were invited. He has justified the stoning of homosexuals. He has called for a "Day of Rage" following the Danish Cartoon Crisis. He has said the following:
..."They fight us with Judaism, so we should fight them with Islam. They fight us with the Torah, so we should fight them with the Koran. If they say 'the Temple,' we should say 'the Al-Aqsa Mosque.' If they say: 'We glorify the Sabbath,' we should say: 'We glorify the Friday.' This is how it should be. Religion must lead the war. This is the only way we can win."...
..."Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [Judgment Day]; at that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: 'Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there's a Jew behind me, come and kill him.' They will point to the Jews...
On and on like that goes Qaradawi's record. He is regularly referred to, without intentional irony, as a "moderate" in his Middle Eastern milieu.
Qaradawi, according to the Herald, was listed as an ISB board member for at least three years, and was, and still is, a proposed trustee on the real estate trust as well. In a widely circulated response to the series, including in a comment on my blog, the ISB stated that his inclusion had been in effect an "administrative oversight," and that Qaradawi does not accept such positions in any case. The point, it seems to me, is that they wanted him. He was, according to the statement, invited due to his "popularity within the Muslim community."
The ISB maintains a page in response to the articles on their own web site. They claim no significant connections to either Alamoudi or Qaradawi. In fact, they claim no contact with Alamoudi since he left Boston in 1984, though discovery brought about by the ISB's lawsuit (more on that later) has uncovered a check on behalf of the ISB to pay Alamoudi's expenses for a speaking engagement in late 2000, and ISB Trustee Osama Kandil (himself targeted in the Herald series with accusations denied by the ISB) signed the "Free Abdurahman Alamoudi" petition -- a petition that calls the terror-supporting Alamoudi "our community leader" -- sometime in '03 or '04.
"Connections to radicals
have plagued the Mosque."
Following the ISB's denial of a Qaradawi connection, the Herald uncovered the fact that the Sheik's endorsement was used in an Arabic-only fundraising brochure in 2003 which the paper obtained and had independently translated.
Other apparent connections to radicals have plagued the Mosque. For instance, the group has invited the Muslim Brotherhood connected Dr. Salah Soltan as a speaker. Soltan is an advocate for suicide bombing, and has praised terrorist Sheik Al-Zindani among other things. Another society guest has been Imam Siraj Wahaj, a character witness for the "blind sheik" Omar Rahman, and a man who "calls for replacing the American government with a caliphate."
But perhaps the most embarrassing series of episodes involved Saudi Arabia-based ISB trustee, Dr. Walid Fitaihi. After an initial charm offensive targeted at Boston's Jewish Community which had prominent Rabbis singing Fitaihi's praises, disturbing facts soon came to light which had the community humming a different sort of tune.
It emerged that Fitaihi, in more comfortable surroundings back home, had been more candid about his feelings. The Middle East Media Research Institute had found some of Fitaihi's writings. Shortly after September 11, Fitaihi had written:
"Despite the attacks of distortion coordinated by the Zionist lobby, to which it has recruited many of the influential media, there are initial signs that the intensive campaign of education about Islam has begun to bear fruit...Jewish institutions have begun to contact Muslim institutions and have called on us to hold dialogues with them and cooperate [with them]. They are afraid of the outcome of the Islamic-Christian dialogue through the churches, the mosques, and the universities..."
"Thus, the Muslim community in the U.S. in general, and in Boston in particular, has begun to trouble the Zionist lobby. The words of the Koran [3:113] on this matter are true: 'They will be humiliated wherever they are found, unless they are protected under a covenant with Allah, or a covenant with another people. They have incurred Allah's wrath and they have been afflicted with misery. That is because they continuously rejected the Signs of Allah and were after slaying the Prophets without just cause, and this resulted from their disobedience and their habit of transgression.'"
"The great Allah spoke words of truth. Their covenant with America is the strongest possible in the U.S., but it is weaker than they think, and one day their covenant with the [American] people will be cut off."
When confronted with this information, Fitaihi's response was to claim he was a victim of a false, "insulting," translation. The Herald, ever on the case, commissioned their own translation, and found MEMRI's interpretation of Fitaihi's writing to be correct.
"Jews will be 'scourged' because
of their 'oppression, murder,
and rape of the worshipers of Allah.'"
Fitaihi and the ISB retreated into embarrassed silence.
Seven months later, the ADL got involved, sending a letter to the ISB with their concerns, calling upon them to "seize the opportunity to condemn and disassociate expressions of anti-Semitism," and noting that, "In the absence of such a clarification, other allegations against the ISB are gaining greater resonance, and there remains a contradiction between your values statement and your actions." The Boston Globe also noted that the ADL had a further translation of Fitaihi's writing, stating that he "wrote that Jews will be 'scourged' because of their 'oppression, murder, and rape of the worshipers of Allah.'"
The ISB finally responded with a clarification that still appears on their web site today, dated September 2004 (it's not clear why this pre-dates the ADL's October statement): "...the articles were intended to condemn particular individuals whom he believes were working to destroy one of Islam's holiest sites, killing innocent children, and thereby blocking the possibility of peace in the Middle East; the articles were not meant to incite hatred of an entire faith or people." In other words, "He wasn't talking about you GOOD Jews, he was talking about those BAD Jews."
No better was ISB Board Chairman, Dr. Yousef Abou-Allabans response in a conversation with the Boston Phoenix about the incident:
Judging from Abou-Allaban's comments, its a stretch to say any repudiation actually took place..."So how about Fitaihi's comments in the original Arabic? 'We are against the statement as it was quoted in the paper,' he replied with a chuckle."Ha ha.
"The overlap between the Muslim American Society
and ISB is so great that it's difficult to unravel
where one group ends and the other begins."
One more apparent connection between the ISB and radicals is worth noting at this point. The overlap between the Muslim American Society and ISB is so great that it's difficult to unravel where one group ends and the other begins. Until very recently, the ISB shared space with the local chapter of the Muslim American Society, the ISB's email list is now hosted and run by the MAS, and commentators have noted what a considerable amount overlap there is among the leadership of local Muslim groups overall.
The Muslim American Society is widely believed to represent the face of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, though MAS leaders have denied the connection. In fact, missives showing the MAS's radical face began appearing with such frequency on the MAS/ISB email list that I inaugurated a new feature on my blog -- MAS Watch. Emails urging support for jailed Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian, welcomes to the PLO Ambassador, petitions urging support for Hamas, invitations to events proclaiming "Israeli Apartheid," and emails containing veiled threats against those who cooperate with the authorities, among other items have ensured that I am rarely at a loss for material. In one embarrassing incident, then Public Affairs Coordinator for the Boston Chapter of the MAS, Hamza Pelletier, appeared on a local radio show and made statements to the effect that he did not believe Hamas was a terrorist organization, prompting a quick official retraction/clarification from Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the MAS Freedom Foundation.
Mahdi Bray has been one of the principal actors in the staging of the "Flying Imams" drama, in which, as Act 2, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has threatened to sue the "John Doe" passengers who spoke out about the threat they perceived on the flight that day.
In 2000, the City of Boston agreed in principal to convey a lot of land at Tremont and Malcolm X Boulevard in the City's Roxbury neighborhood to the ISB for $175,000 cash. Both the ISB and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the authority tasked with managing the city's land development whose employees are appointed by the Mayor) agreed the real value of the land was closer to $400,000, but fundraising was difficult at the time for the ISB, so the city and the group came to an agreement where the project would be completed in stages and the ISB would perform other ways to make up for the short cash payment by performing services such as maintaining a park, helping with fund-raising, performing lectures on Islam and setting up an Islamic Law library at Roxbury Community College.
The idea that the City might be subsidizing Islamic proselytizing (Dawa) of itself did not go unnoticed in the greater community.
In November of 2002, a very public groundbreaking took place for the ISB's massive new $20 million+ Mosque and Islamic Center project. Mayor Thomas M. Menino was proudly on hand, though a few years later, with the ISB mired in controversy, he imitated Sergeant Schultz in an appearance on a local talk radio show as he denied he was even Mayor at the time the land deal had gone down. He had actually been mayor for almost a decade at the time of the groundbreaking.
A few hours after the ceremony, festivities and further fundraising were conducted at Boston's Sheraton Hotel -- a function at which Sheik Qaradawi, "barred from entering the U.S., delivered a videotaped message to the attendees encouraging them to support the project."
In early 2003, with the paperwork returned from Saudi Arabia where it was signed by ISB trustees resident there, the land transfer became official.
Lawsuits for Everyone
In September 2004, Boston resident James Policastro filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that it had violated the separation of Church and State by providing a subsidy to the ISB in exchange for what the suit claims amounts to religious services to be rendered. As part of the discovery process -- a process which the BRA vigorously fought, refusing by turns to either turn over documents or make them available, and refusing to answer questions from the press or even the City Council -- it emerged that one internal document had even valued the land at over $2 million [PDF], making the city's "contribution" even greater than previously known.
A large number of disclosures have involved the ISB's ultimate insider, Muhammad Ali-Salaam. Ali-Salaam was simultaneously involved with the ISB as its principal Middle East fundraiser and a confidential adviser to the ISB board, while also serving as Deputy Director for Planning with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and working on the ISB deal as part of his official duties. While in the BRA he shepherded the ISB's efforts, traveled to the Middle East on fundraising junkets, advised the ISB on the proper way to deal with the city in order to get the best deal possible, and attempted to arrange a trip to Saudi Arabia for Mayor Menino and some of the Mayor's supporters (the trip never came off).
The first of what were to be several other shoes dropped in February of 2005, when, according to the Boston Globe, ISB board chairman, Dr. Yousef Abou-Allaban, sued WFXT-TV (Channel 25), Fox Television Stations Inc., reporter Michael Beaudet, and producer Jonathan Wells for a story they had done claiming that Abou-Allaban was a member of the infamous Muslim Brotherhood.
It was only the beginning. At the time, FOX-25 was, along with the Boston Herald, one of the few mainstream media outlets taking the issues surrounding the Mosque seriously (see this page where the top video clip still shows one of Beaudet's stories). In May, the ISB expanded their lawsuit to include the Herald. In October, they expanded it yet again, this time, massively. In fact, by the time of its last revision, the list of individuals and entities the ISB's leadership was suing encompassed:
- Boston Herald, Inc.
- Jonathan Wells (Herald reporter)
- Jack Meyers (Herald reporter
- Thomas Mashberg (Herald reporter)
- Maggie Mulvihill (Herald reporter)
- Kevin Wisniewski (Herald reporter, also Fox News)
- Fox Television Stations, Inc, dba WFXT-TV
- Michael Beaudet (Fox News)
- The Investigative Project, Inc.
- Steven Emerson (Investigative Project)
- William R. Sapers
- The David Project
- Anna Kolodner (The David Project)
- Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, Inc.
- Steven A. Cohen
- Dennis Hale
- Ahmed Mansour
They allege, among other things, that "the Defendants publicly portrayed the ISB and its then-current leadership as Muslims who supported radical Islamic terrorism, and who were themselves active members of terrorist organizations..." that the defendants had "substantially delayed the completion of the ISB's project," and that "donations to the ISB have decreased..."
To prove all this, subpoenas for private communications, including private emails and notes have gone out far and wide. The list of recipients has included:
- Tamar Morad
- The Anti-Defamation League (twice)
- Hillel Stavis
- Josh Katzen
- Boston College
- Simon & Schuster
- Anna Kolodner's cell phone provider
- Anna Kolodner, Steven Cohen and William Sapers' banks
- Jack Fainberg
- Avi Goldwasser
- Gloria Greenfield
- Shulamit Reinharz
Radio host Michael Graham received a subpoena demanding his "personal phone records, show notes and other materials related to... on air conversations" after he had the temerity to discuss the issue on the air.
Discovery is a double-edged sword of course, and interesting disclosures have come fast and furious, several of which I've already noted. For instance, it emerged that just three months before filing its lawsuit alleging monetary damages (donations had "slowed to a trickle", Mosque representatives have claimed), an internal ISB email called fundraising "robust" -- not exactly the type of thing you'd like made public when alleging you've been damaged. Particularly embarrassing considering the quote came from the very same ISB attorney who also filed the lawsuit.
It has also emerged, and I am publicizing this for the first time here, that in early 2003, fully eight months before the Boston Herald wrote their series of articles, BRA/ISB official Muhammad Ali-Salaam, wrote to the FBI in Washington, D.C. to request help in setting up a "Know Your Donor Program" to help ensure the project remained clear of taking money from those with known terrorist ties. Ali-Salaam admits in his letter that he has concerns with people both outside and inside the ISB:
While I believe that neither the religion of Islam, nor the collective loyalties of the sponsors of the Cultural Center to the Constitution of the United States are being called into question, I must acknowledge the existence of individuals [both internal and external] who may be determined to undermine the public's confidence in the Project.So this was before any supposedly slanderous media reports, before any supposed conspiracy...the ISB insider was noting, in writing, that there were individuals that might well run afoul of an anti-terror program. Yet to date Ali-Salaam remains off the list of defendants. [Ali-Salaam's letter to the FBI is available here: Page 1, Page 2]
Further, and this is also being made available for the first time here, liberal Congressman Michael E. Capuano, immediately after the publication of the Herald series (the facts of which have never been in question), sent letters to ISB board chairman Abou-Allaban, and to Juan Carlos Zarate, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Exec. Office of the Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime of the US Department of the Treasury. He asks the Treasury Department to open an investigation into the allegations, and he advises Abou-Allaban to cooperate with the investigation and "respond publicly to each and every one of these allegations."
Capuano is clearly alarmed by the charges, as any reasonable person would be, and starts demanding answers. Capuano remains off the defendant list, yet ordinary citizens who share the same concerns have not been so lucky.
ISB spokespeople have been out on the stump trying to get groups and individuals to sign on to an amicus brief in support of the suit. Particularly of interest have been well-meaning Jewish groups who may want to be seen as good neighbors to the Muslim members of their community. Good news came for the ISB in February of this year when a judge dismissed the Policastro suit on a technicality. An appeal has been promised, but the short-term victory prompted excited emails from ISB spokesperson Jessica Masse, one of which noted the numerous organizations that had signed on to the amicus. As I noted at the time, a closer look showed that the list was the usual collection of "Islamists, Arabists, [and] FAR-Leftists" -- groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild, United for Justice and Peace, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
More recently Masse sent out a lengthy email continuing the ISB as victim line, and distributing a series of emails [PDF] obtained from some of the lawsuit's defendants purporting to support the conspiracy accusation. In fact, what the emails show is that there were discussions among these people whose "interest[,in the words of one of the emails] is based on the premise that some of the senior people in the ISB are supporters of terrorism and sworn enemies of America and Jews, and that the construction of the mosque may be funded by Wahhabis...If we are going to convince others to support our cause, especially in the media, we will need reasonably well-supported allegations." In other words, what's been "exposed" is indistinguishable from the private discussions of a group of people who recognize a threat and begin to discuss among themselves what to do about it -- something the ISB's lawsuit is attempting to criminalize. Some conspiracy of defamation.
The latest act in the drama to date came in early April, in the form of a cameo walk-on by ISB trustee Walid Fitaihi. The Fitaihi statements had never quite been put to bed, and had continued to haunt claims of ISB moderation, hanging around the necks of ISB spokespeople like a stinking albatross.
So, in early April, Fitaihi parachuted into town from Saudi Arabia, and, before a hand-picked invitation-only interfaith audience at the headquarters of left-wing Jewish group, Workmen's Circle, issued an "apology." The press was not allowed in. We do not have a transcript nor do we have video of the statement, nor do we know what, if any, questions were asked of him. Workmen's Circle officials were impressed, but Workmen's Circle has been one of the primary Jewish groups pressing the defendants in the suit to agree to accept mediation, so it is unlikely that their standards for sincerity were particularly exacting. As I asked at the time, what is the meaning of an apology given in front of a bunch of people who weren't looking for one in the first place? In fact, as Islamic history scholar Andrew Bostom points out, it would have been difficult for the Saudi Fitaihi to issue a sincere apology when much of what he said was sanctioned by the Koran.
The "apology" was issued on a Friday. By that Sunday, Fitaihi was on a jet back to Saudi Arabia.
But not before he had resigned from the ISB Board of Trustees.
Yes, in addition to his closed-door appearance, Fitaihi had some other, perhaps more pressing business to attend to. You see, a few weeks before, the judge in the defamation case had, for technical reasons, ordered that the plaintiffs had 30 days to amend their complaint and include the trustees as individual plaintiffs. The deadline for changes to the board was April 11.
Fitaihi's resignation was officially filed on April 10 (as was the resignation of Egyptian trustee Ali Yusuf Tobah), one day before the deadline, and one day before Fitaihi would have been locked in as a trustee, a party to the lawsuit, and subject to deposition and the discovery process, all of which was ably explained at the time by blogger Miss Kelly.
Fitaihi had been involved with the ISB for over a decade, since the trust's founding in 1993, yet according to an ISB broadcast email, his obligations at home had suddenly become so pressing he had had to resign.
Worry not, however, for according to the same email, Fitaihi "remains a key leader of our community" and "will soon assume a new position with the ISB..."
And that is where things stand at the time of this writing.
If you've read this far, you've gotten a fairly good primer on the various twists and turns that brought us here.
It should be obvious by this point that there is and was enough known about the financing and characters involved at the highest levels of the Islamic Society of Boston that a reasonable man acting prudently would be compelled to look closer at this group, their connections, and their financing.
And that's just what was done. And when those reasonable people found themselves disturbed by what they had found and began speaking out about it, they found themselves silenced by a lawsuit, their personal lives violated by subpoenas and their private emails exposed to the world.
"The intolerant export-version
of Wahhabi Islam, driven by petrodollars,
has made itself a scourge the world over."
Neither the Boston Herald nor FOX-25 have done a hard-hitting report on the issue since the lawsuit was filed, and I have been told by more than one person, in the media and out, that they were reluctant to speak about the issue publicly in any way for fear of either being drawn into the suit or affecting the outcome. Involvement with the court system is a burdensome, unpleasant, expensive affair that most people avoid if at all possible. (This begs the question of who is paying the bills for this wide-ranging suit.)
It's possible that there are what we would recognize as moderate Muslims somewhere in Saudi Arabia, but that is not the type of Islam that is being exported and financed world-wide from the Kingdom. On the contrary, the intolerant export-version of Wahhabi Islam, driven by petrodollars, has made itself a scourge the world over -- in the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa, and Asia...Saudi Wahhabism has made sure it is the Islam people find when newcomers look to discover Islam, and when nominal Muslims seek to rediscover their religion.
One need only look at the Kingdom itself to see where its image of Islam leads -- misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamic supremacism, contempt and the most extreme intolerance for non-Muslims...Jihad. It's not hard to understand why anyone would be urging a loud NO to any institution with funding from Saudi Arabia, or even significant funding from anywhere else in the Middle East.
Moderate and reformist Muslims do exist, and we do them and ourselves no favors by remaining silent for convenience's sake and to avoid ruffling a few feathers.
If a truly moderate, reformed version of Islam is to emerge in the West, it won't come through funding from the Near East, and it will happen because ordinary Americans insist that emerging institutions and organizations are compatible on a deep level with American values, not simply using the trappings of the Enlightenment West -- our tolerance, our courts, our freedom of speech and association -- to subvert those very things that make us great.
And it won't happen if ordinary Americans are afraid to speak for fear of financial and personal ruin at the hands of malicious court filings.
Maybe that's the idea.
Martin Solomon is a Boston area blogger and small business owner. Solomon writes on a variety of topics on his blog, Solomonia, as well as having covered the Lamont/Lieberman race for Pajamas Media."
The ISB has a page of responses, here.
Local blogger Miss Kelly has also followed matters closely.
[Daniel Pipes has maintained a collection of links since the controversy hit the press, here.