News Flash: Ground Zero Imam Heading to Saudi Arabia, UAE ...
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?