After summering in Malaysia and assorted petro-capitals of the Arabian Gulf, the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is back in America — though not for long. His Cordoba Initiative web site now features a newsletter which mentions that this month Rauf will be off again, this time to Australia … apparently there is now some urgent “bridge-building” to be done in Perth.
But while transiting New York, site of his proposed $100 million-plus Cordoba House, Rauf has taken time to publish an op-ed in the New York Times. The op-ed itself, “Building on Faith,” is such a feat of unmitigated self-puffery that it really belongs in the paid ad section. But let’s not focus here on the eccentricities of the Times. Keep your eye on the elusive imam.
Because what he’s doing here is trying to hijack the meaning and commemoration of Sept. 11th — Rauf being now the righteous and self-appointed arbiter of how Americans should remember that day. If you strip away his New-Age-cum-United-Nations jargon, his message is that unless you join a collective group hug to exalt what he, Feisal Abdul Rauf, happens to want, you must be some sort of low-life insensitive rube — one of the legion of bigots whom his wife recently described on national television as putting America “beyond Islamophobia.” And what Rauf wants is a 15-story mosque-plus-amenities Islamic center, right up the road from where the Twin Towers were destroyed in the name of Islam.
In his op-ed, speaking apparently from a great height — a height so great that it excuses him from answering a single question about such nitty-gritty as his sources of money, or “extremist” affiliations — Rauf includes the pronouncement that “we are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House.” (Rauf seems not to have noticed that while he was traveling, the other two-thirds of this “we” — his wife and business partner, Daisy Khan, along with their partner and developer, Sharif El-Gamal — changed the name of the project from Cordoba House to Park51. That came after a number of commentators began pointing out that “Cordoba” connotes not a flower-power era of harmony, but a triumphalist caliphate).
Rauf’s article is so jammed with flim-flam that it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s take just a few samples of what he’s just dished out from his op-ed pulpit:
“Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad.” Really? And why, with such controversy going on in the U.S. over his project, was it such a high priority for Rauf to spend the entire summer abroad, much of that incommunicado in Malaysia; and such a low priority — as in nonexistent — for Rauf to answer questions from Americans back home?
“My life’s work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups and never has that been as important as it is now.” Come again? While Rauf was out of town and disdaining all questions about such venal matters as money, New Jersey’s Bergen Record was digging up some fascinating material on the Lexus-driving Armani-clad imam’s alternate career as a proprietor of roach-infested, filth-plagued, poorly maintained, taxpayer-subsidized low-income housing in New Jersey — including some of the related financial tangles. And Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism was uncovering oddities pertaining to the tax-exempt “church” status of Rauf and Khan’s American Society for Muslim Advancement, or ASMA, which shares an office with the Cordoba Initiative, and is involved in its finances. As for building bridges… what does that mean? It’s a metaphor drawn from the same stack of baloney that the Islamic Republic of Iran served up when it proposed the U.N.’s 2001 project for a “Dialogue of Civilizations” (out of which came the UN’s current Alliance of Civilizations, now partnering with Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative). In planting one end of his bridge at Ground Zero, with all the attendant jarred nerves and publicity value, where exactly will Rauf be planting the other end? Who will be traversing this bridge? Which way? Who will be paying for it? And why?
“Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.” Glad he brought this up. So, while he was observing from a great distance the raw feelings he’d stirred up in the U.S., who were these people he was meeting with abroad? We know Rauf dallied with the United Arab Emirates General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments, as well as sundry other UAE moneyed types. But his 15-day, $16,000 taxpayer-funded, State Department-sponsored tour was just the tail end of more than two months he spent abroad, most of that shrouded in mystery. Why the secrets? Who else was he meeting? And while we’re on the subject, why won’t he or his wife answer any questions about the financing of the Cordoba Initiative’s Malaysian office? Why has material on their Malaysian operation, including the address, and a photo showing Rauf meeting in Malaysia with an Iranian official, Mohammad Javad Larijani, disappeared in recent weeks from the Cordoba Initiative web site?
“I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers.” There’s been interest for months in their financial backers, going back to the 1990s, and extending to places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. We’re still waiting for answers. Or hasn’t he noticed?
“How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?” And what impulse would that be? The impulse to anoint the self-exalting Feisal Abdul Rauf and the America-denouncing Daisy Khan as the Triborough Bridge Toll Collectors of religion in America? It’s quite possible by now that the greatest service Rauf could do his fellow Muslims would be — as some Muslims have said — to stop posturing as their mouthpiece, and drop the stunt of enlisting the site of the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks as the stage set for his self-aggrandizing projects. For Rauf, that would be a dandy way to commemorate Sept. 11. And for the rest of us — all those many Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Agnostics, Atheists and other ordinary Americans whose views he appears to disdain — I suspect that Rauf bowing out of the Sept. 11 commemoration business would come as a blessed relief.