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.
So where right now is Rauf? Still in Malaysia? Sipping tea with who-knows-whom in the Middle East? Jetting between Southeast Asia and the Gulf at U.S. taxpayer expense?
And while he’s on these travels, what’s going on with the web site of his Cordoba Initiative? Last week, after someone in his Malaysia office referred all questions back to his office in New York, the phone number and address of his office in Malaysia quietly vanished from the Cordoba web site. Roughly around the same time, as Anne Bayefsky noticed and explained in a Pajamas Media post this week, Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative web site also erased a photo showing Rauf meeting in Malaysia a while back with an Iranian official, Mohammad Javad Larijani — who, as Bayefsky explained, “was the Iranian official who defended Iran’s abysmal human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in February and June of this year.”
Friday evening, after Obama gave his de facto endorsement to Rauf’s Cordoba/Park 51 Ground Zero mosque and Islamic center project, I took another look at the morphing Cordoba Initiative web site, and discovered it now has a note on the main page saying “Website is currently under construction.” (Grab your screenshots now — parts of this site are already sliding down the Memory Hole).
What’s going on? Why the vanishings of the Malaysian address, the Rauf-Larijani Iranian connection photo, and the elusive Imam Feisal himself? Have either Obama or Bloomberg made even the smallest effort to inquire about what use will be made, or by whom, of these de facto endorsements they are handing out?
[Update: Politico reports that Obama is now saying he did not endorse the Cordoba project near Ground Zero. Hmmm… Obama’s comments sounded to me like a pretty specific endorsement … or are there other folks the rest of us have not yet heard about, who are currently buying private property near the Twin Towers site to build yet more mosques and Islamic centers?]