About Me

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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Thursday, September 30, 2010

AP NewsBreak: Feds want case dropped against Afghan

AP NewsBreak: Feds want case dropped against Afghan


SANTA ANA, Calif. — Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to drop charges against the Afghan-born brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden's bodyguard, saying a key overseas witness was unavailable to testify.

The motion to dismiss was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in the case against Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, who had been accused by prosecutors of lying about his ties to terrorist groups on his citizenship application...

Niazi's case grabbed national attention when he was arrested in February 2009 and a former FBI informant named Craig Monteilh soon went public with his involvement in building the case.

Monteilh has said he infiltrated Niazi's Southern California mosque for the FBI by pretending to be a half-French, half-Syrian Muslim convert.

Once there, he secretly filmed and recorded dozens of worshippers at mosques, including the Islamic Center of Irvine, where Niazi worshipped, according to court papers...

Muslims who followed the case said they were pleased with the government's move to dismiss the case and believed Niazi had been charged because he declined to become an informant for the FBI...

"We welcome this corrective action by the government and the FBI," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in greater Los Angeles.

"At this point the government — and specifically the FBI — owes Mr. Niazi, his family and the Muslim community at large a major apology for ruining his reputation and parading him as some sort of vicious terrorist," Ayloush said...

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The FBI: Foiling its own plots since 2001

Many failed "terrorist" attempts would never have gotten off the ground without aid from the authorities

This originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Tuesday, Jul 6, 2010 18:07 ET
By Stephan Salisbury

Informers have by now become our first line of defense in our battles with the evildoers, the go-to guys in the never-ending domestic war on terror. They regularly do the dirty work -- suggesting and encouraging the plots, laboring as bag men to move the money, fashioning the bombs, and eliciting the flamboyant dialogue, even while following the scripts of their handlers to the letter. They have attended to all the little details that make for the successful and now familiar arrests, criminal complaints, trials, and (for the most part) convictions in the ever-distracting war against... what? Al-Qaeda? Terror? Muslims? The inept? The poor?

The Liberty City Seven, the Fort Dix Six, the Detroit Ummah Conspiracy, the Newburgh Four -- each has had their fear-filled day in the sun. None of these plots ever came close to happening. How could they? All were bogus from the get-go: money to buy missiles or cell phones or shoes and fancy duds -- provided by the authorities; plans for how to use the missiles and bombs and cell phones -- provided by authorities; cars for transport and demolition -- issued by the authorities; facilities for carrying out the transactions -- leased by those same authorities. Played out on landscapes manufactured by federal imagineers, the climax of each drama was foreordained. The failure of the plots would then be touted as the success of the investigations and prosecutions.

A band of virtually homeless and penniless men in Florida, we were told, were planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. They just needed the right combat boots to pull it off, and a little free money.

A cell of New Jersey roofers, handymen, and cab drivers was scheming to use a laminated pizza delivery map to guide them through a devastating attack on Fort Dix, the enormous military base in Burlington County, south of Trenton.

Ex-cons in Detroit, mostly known for patronizing a weekly soup kitchen to stave off hunger, were also planning to set up their own country in Michigan under Islamic law.

And a band of Orange County New York parolees and former drug peddlers placed bombs at two Bronx synagogues and was preparing to launch missile attacks on military cargo planes at Stewart National Guard Air Base in Newburgh.

In the Liberty City Seven case, which revolved around two informants paid in excess of $130,000 for their services, the government tried the hapless defendants three times before finally wresting a conviction from a jury. One defendant was acquitted at the first trial, another in the third, and five were eventually convicted of at least some terrorism-related charges. In the Fort Dix case, jurors were shown horrific films said to be on a computer owned by one of the defendants, who claimed an FBI informant demanded more and more videos for viewing.

Another defendant actually called the Philadelphia police, mid-plot, and said he was being pressured to commit radical acts by what turned out to be an FBI informer. Prosecutors dismissed this as an obvious decoy maneuver. The key informer in that case -- the FBI eventually paid two people to spy on the group -- an Egyptian on probation, received $236,000 for his services.

Most recently, this duplicitous landscape of war-on-terror "success" has been illuminated yet again by the case of four alleged Newburgh, New York, conspirators -- the Newburgh Four -- and in the botched arrest and fatal shooting (a first for federal authorities) of an African American imam in Detroit, leader of the so-called Ummah Conspiracy. As the details have slowly emerged, these two cases offer vivid examples of how government-scripted many of the terror plots "uncovered" in the U.S. in recent years have turned out to be. Each case, in fact, offers a window onto a stark world in which nothing is what it seems to be.

The "Un-Terrorism Case"

In the years following 9/11, when I was reporting my book, "Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland," many defense and immigration attorneys I interviewed insisted that the mere mention of "terrorism" has often been enough to knock down any and all defenses. In the Newburgh conspiracy, however, the federal judge, Colleen McMahon, has shown a more questioning attitude toward what, in a May 28, 2010, pre-trial hearing, she took to calling the "un-terrorism case."

After their May 2009 arrests, the four Newburgh conspirators were portrayed as Jew-hating Muslim converts who intended to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes based at Stewart Airport in Newburgh. "It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder at the time, describing the defendants as "extremely violent."

The men were indeed arrested only after placing bogus bombs (courtesy of the FBI) near two Bronx synagogues. New York Police Chief Raymond Kelly said the plotters believed "it would be alright" to kill Jews. The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement noting that the uncovered plot cooked up by "the jihadist terrorists" showed "that the dangers from such fanaticism have not passed and that American Jews must maintain their vigilance." New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated that vigilance remains a necessity for all concerned.

With their anti-Semitic bona fides established and the men caught in the act, all that seemed left was a perfunctory trial, followed by life in prison for James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen. A decade earlier, Cromitie had been arrested for dealing drugs behind a school. Payen, a Haitian immigrant, is a crack addict and certified paranoid schizophrenic, often found living on the street; his earlier deportation had been on hold due to his mental instability. Onta and David Williams, not related, had pasts pocked by drug busts and spotty work at minimum wage jobs scrounged from Newburgh's depressed economy. All four men were black.

Almost immediately, however, questions about the conspiracy began to arise. For one thing, the FBI informer who broke the case was a Pakistani named Shaheed Hussain, who arrived in Newburgh in the summer of 2008 driving a flashy Mercedes, showing lots of money, and promising jobs to down-and-out African American hangers-on at Masjid al-Ikhlas, Newburgh's main mosque. Convicted in a fraudulent driver's license scheme in 2002, he agreed to work undercover for the FBI shortly afterward to avoid deportation and turned out to have been an informer in a previous terrorism case in Albany in 2004.

The Albany case, in which an imam and a pizza shop owner were convicted of money laundering as part of a phantasmagorical scheme to kill a Pakistani diplomat with a missile, was bitterly contested by defense attorneys. They claimed that the elaborate plan had been concocted by Hussain himself. The jury didn't buy it, convicting both imam and pizza shop owner.

The Newburgh case shares much with the Albany case, especially a fondness for baroque plotting, the flashing of great wads of money in front of needy people, and the aggressive use of an informant by the FBI in a house of worship, in this case Masjid al-Ikhlas. The intricate plotting and the use of an informer made it into the criminal complaint, but all that flashing money didn't. There was no mention of the enticing job offers made by the seemingly well-to-do informer. Nothing about his offer of a $250,000 payment for carrying out the plot. Nothing about the BMW he pushed on Cromitie, who didn't even have a driver's license. Nothing about the $25,000 he was ready to pay anyone willing to act as a "lookout."

Maybe Cromitie wasn't the brightest hustler in town, but he was quite capable of grasping the significance of such sums of money in distressed Newburgh. He assured Hussain that dangling cash would lure participants, no matter what. "They will do it for the money," he said. "They're not even thinking about the cause."

Nor did the complaint mention, as the defense now maintains, that even the anti-Semitic talk was triggered by the informant. He baited the defendants, telling them that Jews were responsible for the U.S. wars in the Middle East and for other acts of violence against Muslims. Cromitie had an unexpected reaction during one of these conversations, according to government transcripts. "I'm not gonna hurt anybody," he said, after being badgered about possible attacks. "The plane thing… is out of the question."

On the streets of Newburgh, relatives and neighbors say that they have never heard the four men even mention Jews or jihad, let alone link the two together in murderous rants. Lord McWilliams, the severely ill brother of David Williams, called such a characterization "crazy." Hussain, he insisted, had promised his brother so much money that he would have been able to pay for the liver transplant that Lord desperately needed.

In fact, more substantial members of the mosque had pegged Shaheed Hussain as an informer almost the moment he arrived, but had no idea what to do about him. "Maybe the mistake we made was that we didn't report him," Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, imam at Masjid al-Ikhlas, told congregants shortly after the May 2009 arrests. "But how are we going to report the government agent to the government?"

The Ummah and the Death of an Imam

Money also played a role in the deadly Detroit case involving 53-year-old Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, born Christopher Thomas, and gunned down during a sting operation run by the FBI in a Dearborn, Michigan, warehouse on October 28th of last year. For at least three years, FBI informants had filed copious reports on the conversations and activities of Abdullah, as he ministered to his largely indigent congregation at Masjid al-Haqq, a mosque so poor it could not even pay property taxes in disintegrating Detroit. Al-Haqq was evicted from its long-time home on Michigan Avenue early in 2009 and moved its operation -- a soup kitchen and religious services regularly attended by several dozen largely African American families, ex-convicts, former addicts and alcoholics, and homeless men and women -- into a house on Clairmount Street on Detroit's west side.

It is from this pathetic building, surrounded by an increasingly vacant and collapsing neighborhood, that the FBI contends Abdullah was plotting rebellion, hiding weapons, and planning efforts to move stolen goods. A 43-page criminal complaint describes Abdullah as "a highly placed leader of a nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group consisting primarily of African Americans" whose "primary mission is to establish a separate, sovereign Islamic state ('The Ummah') within the borders of the United States, governed by Shariah law."

The complaint opens with page after page of over-the-top political trash talk, provided by three informants listening to (and sometimes recording) Abdullah's sermons and conversations, tying the imam to H. Rap Brown, a 1960s radical and a former leader in the Black Panther Party now serving life in prison for the shooting deaths of two Georgia state troopers. According to the complaint, Abdullah was rarely without a gun or knife. He daydreamed about cop killing, engaged in elaborate revolutionary plotting, and enthusiastically told anecdotes about past violent encounters, largely with police. In effect, the complaint conjures up an old-time boogeyman: the angry, gun-toting Black Panther given over to "anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric" -- now dressed up with sympathy for Osama bin Laden.

But in its efforts to be all-inclusive, the complaint also features an extraordinary section that describes an FBI informant offering Abdullah $5,000 "to pay to have someone ‘do something' during the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit." The imam rejected the offer. "Abdullah said he would not be involved in injuring innocent people for no reason," the complaint blandly states. So much for entrapment on the political front.

Despite page after page of braggadocio from Abdullah, following the rebuff over Super Bowl violence, no further effort was apparently mounted to entice him into a terrorist "plot." The complaint outlines no grounds for charges of treason, none for terrorism, and nothing even for a charge of material support for terrorism (that reliable catch-all used to ensnare dozens of American Muslims and institutions and even human-rights groups). Despite the heavy emphasis on descriptions of violent radicalism, the criminal complaint ultimately accuses Abdullah and several congregants of the pettiest of fencing operations -- 54 powertools, 46 TVs, and the like -- involving small amounts of money ($100, $200, $500).

FBI agents worked out a simple but comprehensive sting. Undercover operatives rented a warehouse and offered the imam and his congregants money for help in moving batches of furs and small electronic items. Money, goods, trucks, warehouse, and plans were all supplied by covert federal agents, and all activities were reported, virtually in real time, by informers close to Abdullah and inside the mosque.

Then, as the sting unfolded on October 28th, Abdullah was gunned down by FBI agents as they sought to round up the purported members of the fencing operation. No one else was harmed. The FBI claimed Abdullah fired first, killing a police dog, which was taken by helicopter to a veterinary hospital. After he was shot, the imam was handcuffed behind the back and dragged from the warehouse into a trailer full of TVs and other "stolen" goods. Presumably, at this point he was dead, though no information has been released describing his condition or the circumstances of his removal from the warehouse. Abdullah's body was photographed in the trailer and picked up by the Wayne County medical examiner, who then declined to release autopsy findings. The head of the local FBI office claimed that he was "comfortable with what our agents did" to protect themselves.

This whole murky incident with a still unfolding aftermath has caused deep anxiety and not a little anger in Detroit's African American and Muslim communities. Why was the imam shot in the back? Why was the dog given emergency medical treatment and the imam handcuffed and dragged around? Was he dead when the shooting ended? Did he even have a gun?

Was Abdullah's death an instance of score settling for his unrepentant association with Rap Brown, known as Jamil Abdullah al-Amin since the 1970s? In a conversation I had recently with a black leader in Philadelphia, he said that rumors are spreading on the street of nationwide interrogations of African American Muslims who, in the past, associated with al-Amin. (In Philadelphia, a mosque founded by civic-minded entrepreneur Kenny Gamble, well known for his efforts to assist the black community, has been attacked by anti-Islamic groups for its purported association with "The Ummah.")

Members of Abdullah's congregation and prominent Muslims in Detroit told me that Abdullah was indeed incensed by the poverty and racism he saw all around him and could indeed deliver harsh attacks on the government -- but that hardly distinguished him in a city as ravaged and beaten down as Detroit. Moreover, those who knew Abdullah insist that they never heard him promote any violent separatist effort on behalf of any organization.

National Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Alliance in North America, insist as well that "The Ummah" is nothing more than an association of largely African American mosques. ("Ummah" is an Arabic term that refers to the Muslim community.) The alliance calls the FBI description of the Ummah "an offensive mischaracterization." (Abdullah El-Amin, an imam at the largest African American Detroit mosque, told the New York Times that he had heard Abdullah discuss a separatism that would be "sort of like the Pennsylvania Dutch have their own communities and stuff." There are similar comments from Abdullah in the criminal complaint.)

In any event, the indictment that followed Abdullah's death, naming 11 of his congregants and associates, makes no mention of radical politics or the shadowy "Ummah" or "offensive jihad" -- all highlighted in the earlier criminal complaint. The 11 were indicted as petty criminals, charged with selling and receiving stolen goods, tampering with vehicle identification numbers, and weapons offenses.

Many officials and organizations, including Congressman John Conyers, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the local chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil-rights and advocacy organization, the ACLU, and the NAACP, have called for an investigation of the killing -- calls unanswered so far by the Obama administration. The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is reviewing the case. The state attorney general named a prosecutor to look into the matter after the FBI refused to hand over documents to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office because, the bureau said, the documents were "classified."

In early June, Cyril Wecht, a well-known forensic pathologist asked by CAIR to review the autopsy findings (they were finally released in February), said Abdullah's face was pierced by wounds and lacerations consistent with a dog attack. His jaw was fractured. Wecht also said there were two gunshot wounds in Abdullah's back, not one. This prompted Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt to defend his findings and accuse Wecht of emotionalism, according to a Detroit Free Press report. "We don't always say what others would like us to say," Schmidt commented. "We can only describe what we see."

As the wait for reviews and investigations and answers drags on, the immediate area served by Abdullah's mosque -- blighted, black, and destitute -- frays further, and is in danger of losing a small but critical social and economic resource. Abdullah ran a well-attended soup kitchen for years, worked to rid the neighborhood of gang violence, and sought to provide support for the poor, the homeless, and ex-convicts. His family and his depleted mosque are now struggling to keep the house of worship and soup kitchen going. Mosque attendance has plummeted and contributions, never robust, have evaporated; law-enforcement investigators continue to fan out through the community.

"People are still scared," said Omar Regan, one of Abdullah's 13 children, who makes his living as an actor, comedian, and motivational speaker based in Los Angeles. "They are still interrogating people. The more people push about injustice, the more they harass Muslims in that area [of Detroit]. My father took care of all these people. They leaned on him. He was a reason a lot of them didn't commit suicide. They came for food. For shelter."

Regan is incensed that the FBI provided the money to acquire stolen goods, the actual goods as well, and even the warehouses to store them in, while working out plans for moving the goods through informants and undercover employees clustered around Luqman Abdullah and the Masjid al-Haqq mosque. And now Omar Regan's father is dead.

"It's the FBI setting the whole thing up," he lamented. "How can that be legal?"

It's a question more and more people are asking as the war on terror grinds on, now directed by the Obama administration. If nothing else, the cases of the Newburgh Four and the Detroit Ummah Conspiracy show that street-smart accused conspirator James Cromitie knew what he was talking about when he said that chronically poor people will "do it for the money" and "don't care about the cause."

This simple fact underlies both the Detroit and Newburgh cases. The FBI contends that the Detroit sting was not about terror, but about mundane criminal activity. If that's the case, why was the criminal complaint larded with characterizations of Luqman Abdullah's supposed violent political views? What relevance does H. Rap Brown, now in prison, have to moving stolen goods in Dearborn?

Beyond that, what justification do federal authorities have for characterizing "the Ummah" as a threatening separatist movement? Many Muslim leaders argue that such a characterization is a fantasy akin to tales spun by the FBI's most imaginative informers. Both Newburgh and Detroit are, indeed, instances of "unterrorism," as the Newburgh judge said of the "plot" before her. Yet both are starkly framed by the on-going war on terror, both involve elaborate set-ups arranged by federal informers and covert agents, and both ensnared inept, virtually destitute black people scrambling to get by in post-racial America.

It remains to be asked: How expansive will the stage become for creative informers and their government directors now working the theater of the Great Recession?

Stephan Salisbury is a cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His most recent book is "Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland" (Nation Books). Catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses how terror cases are created via entrapment and informers by clicking here, or to download to your iPod, click here.

[Note on sources: The criminal complaint for the Detroit Ummah conspiracy can be found in pdf file format by clicking here.]

Copyright 2010 Stephan Salisbury

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Islamophobia, European-Style (The Nation)

Gary Younge | September 23, 2010

Say what you like about George W. Bush; he respected the Muslims he murdered. Even as he wiped them out and tortured them, he professed his respect for their religion. "The Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion," he said. "The exact opposite of the teachings of the Al Qaeda organization." The problem wasn't that he hated Muslims; it was that, through invasion and occupation, he sought to love them to death.

There was no reason to disbelieve these claims. Iraq, in particular, was never a war against Islam. It was primarily a war for oil; Muslims just got in the way. The driving logic behind it had no more to do with religion than slavery had to do with skin pigmentation. When it came to marketing the war, not only was disdain of Islam not necessary; it was actively unhelpful. With the war branded as an act of liberation, there was little to be gained by wantonly disparaging the faith of the very people it was now your task to subdue. And so long as the United States was bombing Muslims abroad, there was no need to bash them at home.

Needless to say, this official sensitivity bore little relation to how Muslims were treated by the state. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, broad sweeps of people from predominantly Muslim countries resulted in the "preventive detention" of 1,200, mostly men; voluntary interviews of 19,000; and a program of special registration for more than 82,000. Not a single terrorism conviction emerged from any of this.

Nor did Bush's tactful words do anything to quell popular Islamophobic attitudes. In 2006, long before the brouhaha over Park51, the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," a Pew survey showed that Muslims were viewed less favorably in the United States than in Russia, Britain or France, while a Gallup poll revealed that 39 percent of Americans supported requiring Muslims in the country, including US citizens, to carry special identification. By the time Obama ran for president, "Muslim" was a slur—an accusation about his faith he felt compelled to deny.

But while these views were prevalent, they did not gain electoral expression or widespread political currency. There was no rush to reprint cartoons of Muhammad or hold vexed national discussions about what Muslim women should or should not wear. Though Islamophobia may have been rife, Islam itself did not appear to provide a rich vein to tap. There were, it seems, precious few votes in it.

That paradox is now unraveling. The fallout over right-wing attacks against Park51, as well as those against several other mosques across the country, suggests that a sizable section of the right believes there is capital to be gained from scapegoating Muslims. From now on, the Koran burnings, mosque torchings and hate crimes directed at Muslims can no longer be understood simply as isolated incidents of bigotry. They will draw their strength and legitimacy from within the establishment and their encouragement from the mainstream media: not acts of individual calumny but insidious calculation.

Just as earlier waves of Islamophobia cannot be understood outside the context of 9/11 and the "war on terror," so this current strain is consistent with two related trends at home and abroad. First, it marks the rise of xenophobic and racist forces within the Republican Party, for whom the election of a black Democratic president with an uncommon name and an African father has produced a perfect storm for divisive, deranged rhetoric. As such, this most recent outburst of Islamophobia marks a plot development in the narrative of the Nixon strategy, which used the dog whistle of racially charged rhetoric to realign the South toward the GOP. Now no dog whistle is needed. The racism is not veiled but naked, the delivery not subtle but brutal. With the Minutemen, the birthers, the Tea Partyers and Fox News on common ground, it was only a matter of time before they turned their pitchforks on Muslims. For while they did not invent Islamophobia, they were well positioned to exploit it. Twenty-eight percent of Americans believe Muslims should not be eligible to sit on the Supreme Court, while fully one-third believe Muslims should be barred from running for president.

Second, the moment also brings the American hard right into line with its European counterparts, which bodes ill for American political culture as a whole. The past decade has seen an alarming rise in anti-immigrant and Islamophobic parties gaining political representation in Europe. In the Netherlands in June the party of Geert Wilders, who calls Muslims "goat fuckers" and wants to ban the Koran, almost tripled its representation, becoming the third-largest party. In "liberal" Sweden in September the hard-right Sweden Democrats entered Parliament for the first time, with 5.7 percent of the vote. With extremist parties regularly getting more than 10 percent, and in some cases sitting in government, European fascism has returned as a mainstream ideology. These movements start off on the fringes, but like arsenic in the water supply, their policies and rhetoric have a tendency to infect the broader discourse. The result, where Muslims are concerned, has been a moral panic. Switzerland voted in a national referendum to ban the construction of minarets—there are just four in the whole country. Belgium has passed a law banning the burqa, a garment estimated to be worn there by a couple of hundred women at most. In Italy a woman was fined 500 euros for wearing a veil on her way to a mosque.

That the American right, so contemptuous of Europeans on almost every level, should follow them on this front is, to say the least, disheartening. Polls show that despite living in the very country whose foreign policy, in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, had done so much to enrage the Islamic world, Muslims felt more at home here than in European countries that opposed the Iraq War. That paradox, too, is unfortunately set to unravel.
Source URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/154978/islamophobia-european-style

Islamophobia and the New York Mosque Controversy - By Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni

A great study and analysis on Islamophobia and the reaction to Park51 Islamic community center.

By M. Cherif Bassiouni
l September 27th, 2010

Cordoba House/Park 51

Referring to the proposed Muslim Community Center in lower Manhattan as the “Ground Zero Mosque” has inflammatory and misleading implications. Calling it the “Terror Mosque” and the “Jihad Mosque” adds a hate-inspiring dimension. Every time avowed or concealed Islamophobes describe the New York Community Center in these, and other terms, they distort the facts.

The project that its promoters call Cordoba House/Park 51 is named for an ancient Spanish city that epitomized the understanding between the three Abrahamic faiths in the twelfth century. It is intended to be a center of enlightenment and inter-faith understanding with praying space for Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims, and a memorial for the victims of 9/11. What could be more harmonious with the memory of that tragic event, or more symbolic of religious tolerance?

Cordoba House is not a mosque, but a community center, which is planned as a $100 million modern nineteen-story building that will replace the presently run-down structure, which is similar to others in that lower Manhattan economically depressed area. The new building will house a swimming pool, basketball court, culinary school, and a multitude of other non-religious uses, with only the two top floors dedicated to a Muslim prayer hall. Nothing would distinguish it from other buildings in the area, aside from whatever inscription will adorn its front entrance. It will also include a memorial commemorating the 9/11 tragedy, irrespective of the religion or belief of any victim, and two praying areas for Jews and Christians.

The present run-down building has been used as a Muslim prayer center, or mosque, for the last two years without raising any questions. But that is seldom mentioned. And, contrary to what the project’s opponents say or imply, there is no view of the proposed Community Center from Ground Zero and vice versa. Besides, in Manhattan, two-and-a-half blocks full of buildings are quite a separation for anyone familiar with that part of New York City. Lastly, the opponents fail to mention that there is also a mosque ten blocks away from Ground Zero, which has been in existence for a decade.

A review of the allegations made by the opponents of the project that received wide dissemination and credence is indicative of the misleading nature of this campaign.

The primary objection that has gained public credence concerns the location. Its proponents contend or imply that the Community Center is a mosque overlooking Ground Zero, which is not the case. Another objection is that, presumably, such a mosque, with all of the distinct Islamic architectural characteristics of a cupola and minaret, would be offensive to the victims’ families and friends because those who orchestrated 9/11 were Muslims. Others add that it would be insulting to all Americans. This too is not the case. These claims, however, ignore the fact that more than 60 Muslims were also killed at Ground Zero and that Muslims are also grieving for Americans.

As far as symbolism goes for the “hallowed grounds” of the heart wrenching hole left by the destruction of the twin towers, the area where the Cordoba House/Park 51 is to be located is run-down, and has several sleazy strip clubs. Yet nothing is said about these establishments near the “hallowed grounds” by the opponents of the project. So it’s not really about location or symbolism.


The wide dissemination of misrepresentations about Islam and Muslims has given the impression of public credence to many falsities about the project. Religious and racial prejudices, political opportunism, and a deliberate campaign of Islamophobia have all contributed to a publicly accepted negative perception of Islam and Muslims. It has reached a level that makes it acceptable to publicly express anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments that would be unacceptable if they were directed against other religious groups in America. Consequently, a double standard has come to exist. A curious face about the sources of this campaign is that no irrefutable academic sources is involved. Why would the media and public accept representations by individual sources that are either obviously or significantly prejudiced? Why does the media not seek verification from authoritative sources, or do its own research? These are among the puzzling, unanswered questions that need to be investigated. Similarly, the funding of sources of this campaign needs to be uncovered.

The Islamophobic campaign, like all other forms of group discrimination, starts with an “us” versus “them” mentality. The “them” are identified as a category whose objectification ranges from dehumanization to different levels of violence. Hitler dehumanized Jews as a prelude to his program of extermination. Slave owners and traders dehumanized black-skinned Africans as a way of justifying their enslavement. However, there is no more Jewish, Christian, Hindu, male, black, Republican “they” than there is a Muslim “they.” People adhering to great faiths cover the globe and are from all national origins, skin color, gender and cultures. The 1.4 billion Muslims fall into all of these categories and there is as much commonality among them as there are differences. The Chinese Uyghurs, Afghans, Persians, Iranians, Nigerians and the Bosnians and Saudi Arabians are different even though they are Muslims.

In August, Time Magazine and the New York Times each commissioned polls on public sentiments about Islam, Muslims, and the New York Community Center/Mosque. These two polls lumped together the Community Center/Mosque project with public attitudes about Islam and Muslims. The results are not surprising, considering the intensity and purposefulness of the post 9/11 Islamophobic campaign. According to Time Magazine’s poll, 61% of Americans opposed the project. According to the New York Times, over 50% of New Yorkers oppose the project, while 35% favor it, and 20% of all New Yorkers disclose animosity and suspicion toward Islam. More particularly, 33% disclose that they believe that, compared to other Americans, Muslim Americans were more sympathetic to terrorists and, in general, 60% of those polled have negative feelings about Muslims. Surely, these reactions come out of somewhere other than an objective factual basis.

General polling and reporting on a nationwide level reveal a similar negative attitude towards Muslims. There are some indications as to differences in perceptions among Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and others. It seems that, with the exception of the Evangelical Christian right, Protestants are equally divided and more tolerant of Islam and Muslims than Catholics and Jews, the latter confusing the religion of Islam with their feelings about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But that is all tentative, and for reasons discussed below, not likely to persist.

Public attitudes, particularly at certain times in this country’s history, have frequently been superficial, knee-jerk reactions occasioned by misguided public perceptions, sometimes driven by the worst motivations concealed under a cloak of high purpose. But when governmental leadership asserts itself on a given social issue and acts in an unequivocal manner, things change. The prejudicial public reaction deflates. One example was a survey conducted in the military in 1947 about whether U.S. armed forces should be integrated. Over 80% of the military personnel polled were against integrating African-Americans, then referred to as Negroes or blacks, with whites in the military. Seventy percent were also against integrating Jews within the ranks even though they already were integrated. That year, President Truman ordered the integration of U.S. armed forces; the question has not been raised since and race relations have significantly improved.

This example demonstrates that decisive, principled leadership rectifies the public record and shows the correct path that Americans are most likely to follow. President George W. Bush did this after 9/11 by publicly declaring that the attack upon the U.S. was not a reflection of Islam or a reflection on Muslims, though subsequently his administration abetted Islamophobia. President Obama’s initial reaction to the Community Center/mosque controversy was to support the constitutional right embodied by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion. The next day, he qualified his reaction by raising questions about the wisdom of the location of the center. Then, on Friday, September 10th, in a statement in Washington DC on the anniversary of 9/11, he reiterated his original, principled position and unequivocally condemned Islamophobia. Interestingly, however, he added for the record that he spoke out from his deeply held Christian beliefs as if to respond to those who have accused him of being a “secret Muslim”, as if one should be ashamed of being a Muslim.

Opportunistic Escalation of the Islamophobic Campaign

The nationwide controversy escalated in August when a self-proclaimed minister, who is a committed white-collar criminal, with a congregation of some 50 members in Gainesville, Florida announced that 9/11 should be “Qur’an Burning Day” in the U.S.. The media’s coverage made the announcement into a shot heard around the world. And yet, the Attorney General has taken no action against this form of hate speech. Would any U.S. administration have remained that passive if a group of Muslims announced that they would burn the Torah on May 15th, the day Israel was established in 1948?

Rhetoric and demagoguery has taken these and other false contentions to such levels that no credibility can attach to them, but they have a powerful impact on the American publics’ psyche. This is why some in the Republican Party and the Tea Party have used it, as well as others in the Evangelical Christian right, white supremacists, and Neo-Cons. Many of these lessons have been part of the post-9/11 Islamophobic campaign.

One of these opportunistic politicians is, Newt Gingrich, who recently compared the location of the community center to planting a swastika near the Holocaust museum in DC, or putting a Japanese shrine near the area of Pearl Harbor bombarded by the Japanese in 1941. Leaving aside the differences in the location and the type of structure, the swastika was a symbol of Nazi Germany, which exterminated an estimated 6 million Jews for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews. This was the greatest crime in history. Its symbol was the swastika. Thus, to plant such a symbol near the Holocaust museum, or for that matter to use the swastika anywhere, would be an outrage not only to Jews, but all humankind. As for the example of the Japanese shrine, it was the government of Imperial Japan that decided to attack the U.S. by stealth, causing enormous human harm and damage to the United States and initiating World War II in the Far East. The imperial state of Japan certainly does not represent Japanese Americans. It would indeed be offensive to have anything representing the Japanese imperial state overlooking the harbor, but Japanese-American installations such as a Shinto temple are American installations and are no more and no less offensive than installations by Americans hailing from any other ethnic background.

Guilt by Association

The Islamophobes artfully play on the notion of guilt by association or collective guilt. Their assumption is that if 19 Muslims committed the 9/11 crimes, then all Muslims are tainted by it because they share the same faith as the criminals. This faith is portrayed as violent, aimed at world domination and can only have peace when Muslims have subjected all others in the world. That is why they seek to impose the Shari’a (Islamic law) in the U.S. and elsewhere. Preposterous as it is, many believe this nonsense because it is shouted by well-known persons, and is frequently repeated by the media. Repetition tends to make the message stick, no matter how strange or misleading it may be.

Most responsible media, such as Time Magazine, Newsweek, New York Times, the Christian-Science Monitor, MSNBC, CNN and others have reported on these general distortions as being part of an Islamophobic campaign or trend. But the pervasiveness and extensiveness of the media coverage created a perception that a legitimate controversy exists, even when there is no legitimacy to it.

What distinguishes the many outrageously inappropriate connections of 9/11 to Islam and to all Muslims is that the attacks were individual acts committed by 19 Muslims. They were not supported by any Muslim government, but by an outlaw Osama bin Laden and his loosely connected network called al Qaeda. 9/11 did not have the support of the main religious institutions of Islam anywhere in the world, and it did not have the support of 1.5 billion Muslims living in over 140 countries of the world. Above all, it did not have the support of American Muslims. There is no basis in law or morality to expand the guilt of a few to an entire religion and its adherents, unless, of course, there is a political agenda linking this campaign with the Islamophobic campaign unleashed by some after 9/11.

9/11 was a criminal act committed by a few whose guilt cannot be collectivitized to include all Muslims, and it certainly cannot be ascribed to Islam as a religion. It cannot be ascribed to the estimated 6 million American Muslims, one third of whom are African-Americans whose slave ancestors brought Islam to this country some 300 years ago, nor can it be attributed to the other four million American Muslims who are not African-Americans, an estimated 500,000 of whom are born in the U.S., to immigrant parents or converts. The remaining 3.5 million are of Asian, African, and Arab origin. American-Muslims operate 1,900 mosques, community centers, and schools throughout the U.S.. None have been found to harbor terrorists or support terrorism.

It is surprising that the most vocal proponents of guilt by association, Evangelical white Christians, who take the Bible literally do not abide by such Biblical statements as “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen” or “Love your neighbor as yourself” (English Standard Version, Leviticus 19:18 and 19:9). Instead, they selectively use collective guilt and guilt by association against Muslims when neither are part of the American system, or part of the Abrahamic faiths’ religious values and traditions. Responsibility for wrongdoing is always individual. There was a period when the Catholic Church blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, even though crucifixion was a Roman penalty and not a Jewish one. But that was changed by the Second Vatican Council (28 October 1965, paragraph 4, Decree Nostra Aetate, “on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” Rome), and rightly so. The Jews of the world had for years rejected this concept of guilt by association, which was a contributing factor in their persecution by Christians for the last 2,000 years. This historic lesson should not be lost on Americans when it comes to the Islamophobic campaign that has been launched against Islam and Muslims since 9/11, particularly in light of a new level of dangerousness it has reached since the so-called Mosque controversy.

The Record

In the last nine years there have been two actual terrorist incidents committed by American Muslims. One was by Major Nidal Hasan, a mentally deranged man who killed twelve persons at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, and the other was by Faisal Shahzad, who parked an explosive-laden car in Times Square on May 1, 2009. Statistically, two incidents in a six million-person community over a period of nine years is probably the lowest crime rate in America of any community. Conversely, white supremacists, who call themselves Christians, mostly in the South, kill and injure a substantial number of African-Americans and homosexuals annually, with relatively little said about these crimes in the national media. They have however been reported by other sources including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps an up-to-date newsfeed on hate crimes. The worst of these white supremacist hate crimes is the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and injured 680 on April 19, 1995. The perpetrators were white Christians who opposed the present system of government. All of these acts have been treated as individual crimes and no one has sought to collectivize the responsibility of white Evangelical Christians and white supremacists.

During the month of August, two Muslims were physically attacked and injured in New York and Florida, mosques in Florida have been firebombed and vandalized, and an open campaign against Mosques is raging in such varied states as Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, California, and Wisconsin. President Obama is accused of being a Muslim as if that were something to be ashamed of. So it is not surprising that the August 2010 Time Magazine poll also found 46% of Americans to think that Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence.

Willful Ignorance

Racial, religious, ideological motivation and political opportunism coming mainly from the political right and Christian and Jewish extremists are behind the Islamophobic campaign in America. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration, spurred by some in the evangelical right and Neo-Cons, unleashed a campaign against Muslims in the U.S.. This was accompanied by a nationwide PR campaign raising fear about Muslim terrorism in the U.S.. Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzalez, issued numerous reports of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of Muslim terrorists in America. These cases were given catchy names like the “Lackawanna Seven” and “Operation Backfire.” In all, some 500 federal cases were put together. That they were fabricated is evidenced by the fact that various federal courts across the country outright dismissed 250 cases. This is the highest percentage of dismissed cases of any category of violent federal crimes, which averages 15% across the board. For 50% of the cases brought against Muslims in the U.S. to be dismissed means that these charges were either without a legal basis or unsupported by probable cause, meaning that there was insufficient evidence to convince an ordinary, reasonable person that there is a basis to remand the accused to trial. This is far from the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard needed to convict. Thus, for over half of the cases not to have risen to this low threshold, particularly in light of the national percentage in federal cases, is quite telling.

The other cases, with the exception of a dozen or so, were ended by guilty pleas for offenses, which had nothing to do with the original charge. This means that less than 10% of the charges brought had any potential linkage to terrorism. Considering that the nationwide rate of federal convictions for violent crimes exceeds 47%, this too is an indicator of the degree of invalidity of the some 500 criminal charges brought against Muslims in America.

These cases were brought more for political than valid legal purposes. This explains why in none of the 250 cases dismissed for lack of probable cause did the Attorneys General in function issue a statement or press release as they did when indictments were returned. The record was never corrected, but the political objectives were achieved when the public was falsely induced to believe that American Muslims were a public danger and Islam was a violent religion.

The Department of Justice’s campaign under the Bush administration extended also to attacking Muslim charities. The IRS, FBI, and U.S. attorneys across the country conducted investigations into local charities and mosques on the proposition that these organizations were funding terrorism. The real goal was to deter Muslims from contributing to local charities and thus to weaken the Muslim community as a whole in the United States. Obviously, a weak and threatened community is less likely to have any political weight and therefore less likely to express views that may be inamicable to certain political interests in this country.

The following case stands out for how the law was abused in order to achieve the political results mentioned above. The federal case was brought in Texas again the Muslim charitable fund the United Holy Fund, which contributed money to qualified religious and charitable institutions in Palestine, including hospitals. The case was not based on the proposition that the money did not go to legitimate charitable organizations; instead, the government argued, probably for the first time in the history of the U.S., that when these funds went to these religious and charitable organizations, it freed Hamas from having to reallocate its resources to engage in terrorism against Israel. Preposterous as the proposition may be, it also ignores that only a small portion of the Hamas organization engages in armed resistance against Israel, and that Hamas has never engaged in acts of violence against the United States. The first trial ended in a mistrial on October 22, 2007, after the jury found the defendants not guilty of most of the 108 charges brought against them, but was hung on a dozen technical charges that were complex and thus not easy to understand. On a Thursday, word leaked of this situation and surprisingly on that day, the judge announced that rather than having the jury return the verdict on Friday, that he was going to take that day off for a long weekend. This left the jury in a vacuum for over three days while the Department of Justice prepared itself for the outcome of the mistrial. This too showed that the trial was politicized. The prosecutor’s goal was to develop a strategy of how to bring a new trial on all 108 charges and thus to have a second bite at the apple. So much for the constitutional right against double jeopardy. On November 24, 2008, the second trial returned convictions on all 108 charges, which included conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, providing material support to a foreign terrorist, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. It must be noted that no facts directly support the charges or conviction. The proposition on which the government prevailed was that by providing resources to legitimate religious and charitable organizations, the donor organizations indirectly supported Hamas, which was listed by the Department of State as a terrorist organization, and that was enough for all of these legal consequences to flow.

What was more outrageous in that case was that the Department of Justice listed 189 Muslims and Muslim organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators”. This guilt by association without any proof of guilt is an anomaly of the U.S. criminal justice system. It has been used in organized and white-collar crimes, but never before in a purported charitable conspiracy. The unindicted co-conspirators, without proof of any wrongdoing on their part, included some of the most mainstream and respected American-Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America, and the North American Islamic Trust, as well as many individually listed respected Muslim clerics. The reason for that historically unprecedented action was to raise the implication that these organizations and individuals supported terrorism. More importantly, it opened the way for pro-Israel individuals and groups in the U.S. who have standing to bring civil cases against these individuals and organizations to claim damages for terrorism by means of this very indirect alleged connection to terrorism. In other words, this is a technique to destroy the American-Muslim religious organizational structure, and thus to deprive American-Muslims of a voice in their country.

The post-9/11 Islamophobic campaign abetted by the Bush administration is the most blatant abuse of the law and manipulation of public opinion that took place in the history of the United States since the end of World War II. It ranks with the campaign against Japanese American citizens, which led to the internment of close to 100,000 Japanese Americans starting in February 1942, the anti-Chinese sentiment and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the slavery and racial discrimination laws that lasted until the 1950s, and prior to that, the laws and practices that permitted the destruction of Native Americans and the seizure of their lands. Just as there is no monolithic Muslim group because they come from so many diverse cultures, ethnicities and traditions, there is no monolithic American-Muslim. They come from this same wide-ranging diversity. In addition, an estimated half of American-Muslims are African-Americans, whose affiliation to Islam goes back to the time when they came to this land as slaves, and Americans born in this land to immigrant parents. This number does not include American converts who have been born in the U.S. and whose ancestry goes back several generations. The insidious notion that there is a monolithic worldwide group called Muslims and that they are represented in the U.S. by a corresponding monolithic group persists and it is fundamental to the campaign of “they” who are a threat to “us.”

The Moral Courage Honor Roll

Against this backdrop of what some benignly call “craziness,” certain positive outcomes developed. The shining example of moral courage is New York Mayor Bloomberg who supported the Community Center/mosque project. He was joined by many victims’ families of 9/11 who supported the right of the project’s proponents to complete it in its planned location, as did a number of civic and religious organizations in New York and elsewhere. Of particular note is that many supporters are Jewish, including Mayor Bloomberg and Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. They should be commended for the example that they and others have given America and the world. Another such person who belongs to the roster of profiles in courage and human integrity is Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, who not only wrote against Islamophobia and the opponents of the Community Center/Mosque, but who returned to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League a journalistic award that he received. The reason was that Abe Foxman, the League’s Executive Director, joined the Islamophobes in their opposition to the project. Why the League’s board did not censure Foxman for this and other anti-Islam stances, which have nothing to do with the League’s laudable purposes, is puzzling. Recently, Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican senator, had the courage and integrity to break away from his party’s Islamophobes by upholding the constitutional right of Muslims to build a mosque on private property in lower Manhattan. More power to him. The ranks of the righteous increases daily; it now includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington D.C., Rev. Richard Cizik and many Christian and Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, the New York Union of Reform Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly. On September 10th, The New York Times carried a whole page (A17) ad stating, “Burning the Qur’an does not illuminate the Bible.” It listed thirty leaders of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Similar statements were made by interfaith groups throughout the country, such as the Cardinal Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago, representing a large number of Christian and Muslim organizations engaged in inter-faith dialogue.

Those described above and many others who are among the righteous represent America at its best. God bless them for their courage and integrity. They show the world what kind of society America really is. The others are a blot on the dignity of this great nation, and they should be called to the carpet. The rhetoric and demagoguery of the Mosque controversy is obviously Islamophobic, but it is also politically motivated. It started after 9/11 with leaders of the religious right like Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and Pat Robertson, and goes on today with the work of Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer, and the Jihadwatch.com and Campus Watch websites and related activities. It also includes other anti-Islam conspiracy theories and blatant, racist Islamophobia that receives funding from extremist, pro-Zionist organizations and individuals, as described by Kenneth P. Vogel and Giovanni Russonello of Politico in Latest mosque issue: The money trail, posted on LoonWatch.com on September 8th. The article particularly points to Aubrey and Joyce Chernick, who are reported as “ardent supporters of Zionist causes and major funders of pro-Israel groups across the country.” Other individuals and funders of hundreds of thousands of dollars are mentioned. This reminds us of the story about the funding of the Tea Party by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch in Jane Mayer’s August 30th expose, ‘Covert Operations’ in the New Yorker.

Adding Fuel to the Fire

Nothing could give more comfort or support to Osama bin Laden’s followers, other violent Muslim fundamentalists, and the Taliban than the Islmaphobic campaign that has been going on since 9/11. The Community Center/mosque controversy adds more credence to the belief in Muslim countries and in many other countries that America is at war with Islam.

Our troops are in Muslim countries fighting alongside Muslims against violent radical Muslims. The Islamophobic campaign increases dangers for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for Americans abroad and undermines U.S. efforts in confronting terrorism worldwide. What is taking place in the U.S. undermines these efforts and places our troops in greater harm’s way. Moreover, Islamophobes support the message of Bin-Laden and other extremists who claim that there is a war waged by the U.S. against Islam and Muslims. Helping the enemies of the U.S. is surely not the way to be patriotic. And no U.S. political gains can justify such a campaign.

Coming at this problem from what I would call a normal, sane, or reasonable approach makes it very difficult to understand why people would preach hate and fabricate false stories, create misleading innuendos and engage in all sorts of pernicious techniques to pit human beings against one another for the ultimate goal of seeing the destruction or subjugation of one group by another. But there it is. Memories of similar situations are all too often forgotten. But for those of a certain generation, the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels during the Nazi regime cannot be forgotten. The anti-Jewish hate-mongering of that time, which had been nursed for a good decade before tangible action commenced, led to the Holocaust. It is something the world should never forget.

The Kernel of Truth Used by the Islamophobes

The misuse of jihad as a way of giving credence to the underlying proposition that Islam is a violent religion and that Muslims are violent and dangerous people, except for the ones that Islamophobes deem as “moderates.” A recently published book entitled Jihad and Its Challenges to International and Domestic Law, co-edited by myself and Amna Guellali, published by Hague Academic Press) also contains my article, “Evolving Approaches to Jihad: From Self-Defense to Revolutionary and Regime-Change Political Violence” address the history and evolution of jihad. In it, I describe how radical Muslim fundamentalists who justify the use of force, including harming innocent civilians as an acceptable practice, have hijacked jihad. I categorically denounce their positions and reveal the falsity of such theological claims.

Jihad has become a revolutionary political doctrine that Muslim radical groups have used either against certain domestic regimes or against the West, the United States in particular. The ideology and its rhetoric is no different from that which we heard from Maximilien Robespierre in 1794 during the French Revolution, in the 1920’s by Trotsky and his followers in the camps of Marxist revolutionists; it is echoed in the revolutionary teachings of Mao Zedong as of 1948, spread in Latin America by Che Guevara in the 1960’s and tragically practiced by the Khmer Rouge revolutionists between 1975-1985. All of these revolutionaries have caused enormous harm to their societies and others. The fact that they have relied on higher principles and causes does not in any way mitigate the horrible crimes that have been perpetrated in the name of these ideologies against so many, for so long. Violent jihad is no different. That is what Osama bin Laden and Ayman el-Zawarhy preach.

In all of these situations however, there is a common thread. It is the existence of a basic injustice committed by some, against others that the victim group is unable to redress, and having reached despair, they resort to violence. That does not justify what has been done throughout history in the name of revolutionary ideology, nor is it to say, in any way, that people should not resist certain injustices, sometimes by force. Indeed, this country was born out of such a resistance, as have many colonized countries. But there are, of course, ideological and physical distinctions, both as to the legitimacy of the cause, and the validity of the means. No legitimate cause permits harm to innocent civilians.

Islam is the first religious/political system to have clearly enunciated the dual conditions for the use of force, namely the legitimacy of self-defense (with exceptions which are too complex to discuss herein, but which are addressed in my article mentioned above) and the limitations on the use of force. The Prophet Muhammad made the first of these pronouncements before Muslim troops entered Mecca in 630 B.C.E. The second was an edict from the Prophet’s first successor, Islam’s first khalifa, Abu-Bakr, who ordered, in 637 B.C.E., the Muslim forces going to fight the Romans in what is now Syria and Lebanon, not to kill innocent civilians, particularly the elderly, woman, children, clergymen, to respect the Jewish and Christian places of worship, not to destroy crops and trees and not to pillage or engage in wanton destruction. The edict of Abu-Bakr was echoed in the contemporary international law of armed conflict (the Geneva Convention). His successor, Umar ibn al-Khattab, issued his edict in 638 B.C.E. before entering Jerusalem, guaranteeing freedom of religion for all Christians and Jews. That edict has been carried out to date. Because of it, Jews were able to return to Jerusalem since their exclusion by the Romans in 70 A.D. Salah el-Din, who defeated the crusaders in 1187, allowed the Christians to surrender and leave without harm, something the early crusaders did not do with Jews and Muslims who were slaughtered or taken as slaves. Islam in its fourteenth century history never had a forced conversion of Jews or Christians as the Christians did with the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition of 1478-1884. None of that is ever mentioned. But more importantly, does all this ancient history matter today? Is not our globalized world much different than these ancient times? No people should be judged by the past, and no person carries the sins of his or her father or mother.

The Dual Standard

A common characteristic of the conflicts involving the west and Muslims are the dual standard practices by those who are more powerful in respect of those who are less. Thus, the killing by American forces of Afghan Taliban is considered legitimate while the latter, who are fighting against a foreign occupier of their country, are deemed terrorists. Another classic example is that whenever Israel uses force against Palestine, it is deemed justifiable self-defense and when Palestine reacts with much lesser violence, it is always considered terrorism. This duality of standard enhances the use of violence by the weaker side, particularly in these situations, which reflect an asymmetry of forces.

An example of the above is when Israel engaged in Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, killing over 1,300 civilians, of whom 300 were children under 12, and 100 were women and over 6,000 persons were injured. Beyond human harm, over 20,000 structures were destroyed, including water filtration plants and other infrastructure, in what Israel billed as legitimate self-defense. These infrastructures were crucial to the survival of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, whom Israel had already kept under siege for five years. Many of these acts are unquestionably war crimes as the United Nations Goldstone Commission report established. Recently, Israel even admitted to some of these crimes. The trigger for the Operation was that the military wing of Hamas, with an estimated 5,000 fighters, had fired over a span of four years between 4,000-6,000 rockets and mortars into areas inhabited by Israeli settlers, resulting in the killing of 4 Israeli military persons and 9 civilians. These attacks were roundly denounced by Israel, the U.S., and the world as being acts of terrorism, while the five-year siege of Gaza and the following Operation by Israel were deemed legitimate. Anyone with any degree of objectivity would come to the conclusion that this is representing a dual standard. Moreover, it is inevitable that the asymmetry of military power that exists between Israel and the few Hamas fighters is such that one can hardly expect Hamas to fight back in ways that would be acceptable under the international law of armed conflict. But in the end, while Hamas unlawfully killed nine Israeli civilians and that is a crime, the Israelis unlawfully killed 1,300 or more and injured 6,000 or more innocent civilians, and that is an even greater crime.

President John Kennedy, meeting with North and South American heads of state in 1961, said, “Those who make peaceful evolution impossible, make violence revolution inevitable.” There are no more eloquent words to describe the unfortunate, tragic period of history that we live in, where so much injustice prevails and so little is done to redress it. Suffice it to consider that since World War II, 313 conflicts have taken place in the world, resulting in 92 million casualties, with most of the perpetrators benefiting from impunity, as highlighted in my two volumes, The Pursuit of International Criminal Justice: A World Study on Conflicts, Victimization, and Post-Conflict Justice (Intersentia, Brussels Belgium, 2010). Of these causalities, only an estimate of three million occurred in Muslim states. That represents less than 3% of the world’s causalities. 97% of these victims were killed in Europe, Africa and Asia by non-Muslims. So much for the Muslims propensity towards violence.

Are we witnessing the making of a new Crusade? Is the clash of civilization that was predicted by Samuel P. Huntington in the making? Is the Christian Right ready to push forward the Biblical scenario of Armageddon in order to hasten the return of Jesus to Earth? If so, the plan becomes obvious. The Jews in Israel and elsewhere must first fight the Palestinians, remove them from the “Promised Land,” remove any Muslim traces on the Mount in Jerusalem, rebuild the Second Temple and then Jesus can come back, urge humankind to follow him and those who refused will be killed. If anyone disbelieves this Biblical scenario, please rest assured that millions of Christians and Jews believe it, though with a different outcome for Jews. It is estimated that at least one hundred million Christians in the U.S. believe in this outcome while almost all orthodox Jews have a belief in their repossession of the “Promised Land” and the rebuilding of the Second Temple before the arrival of the Messiah (who is, of course, not Jesus). But until then, the extremists in these groups have a common enemy, mainly Muslims.


Ultimately the American people will redress this wrongful situation. Sometimes it takes longer than expected, as evidenced by the time it took to abolish slavery and to confront racism, and how we have yet to come to grips with the extermination of the Native Americans. But the history of this nation reveals that frequently after certain abuses, excesses, and digressions from the correct constitutional, social, and human path, America finds its way back to the right path. This controversy’s silver lining may well be that it will bring us back to the right path in matters of religious freedom, equality, and respect for all as our constitution ordains it. This is the America that we call God’s blessing upon. But let there be no mistake about it, the Islamophobic campaign must be opposed, and its supporters and funders exposed. America, all its people, must shout loud and clear “shame, shame, shame” on those who engage in such pernicious, hateful, and divisive propagandistic endeavors.

There is no more room in America for Islamophobes than there is for anti-Semites, racists, or those who harbor prejudices on the basis of gender, national origin, color of skin, sexual preference, or whatever else their nefarious minds may invent. Such hatred and divisiveness is always dangerous, and always wrong. This country’s foundation was based on the elimination of some of these prejudices, namely those based on religion and national origin.

What greater words can one recall than those in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


M. Cherif Bassiouni is a distinguished research professor of law emeritus at DePaul University College of Law and president emeritus of the law school’s International Human Rights Law Institute. He also is president of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences in Siracusa, Italy, and honorary president of the International Association of Penal Law in Paris, France. He has held multiple posts with the UN and was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.

Is Islam a religion of the "sword"?

Additional useful material:

Dark Passages: How the Quran and the Bible can be mis-read
Letter to Editor: Bible, Quran easily quoted out of context

Is Islam a religion of the "sword"?

By: Kabir Helminski and Hesham Hessaboula

There are a number of verses in the Qur’an that appear to call for Muslims to kill non-Muslims, and these verses have been too often quoted out of context with what appears to be a willful disregard of the context in which they occur. Among these—and perhaps the most often cited—is the infamous “Verse of the Sword”: “Kill the mushrikeen[1] (those Meccans who had declared war against Muhammad and his community) wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout…”(9:5). On the surface, this verse would seem to bolster the claim that Islam advocates violence against non-Muslims. There is much more to this story, however. This verse, and the others like it in the Qur’an, have a linguistic, historical, and textual context. Understanding that context is essential in understanding the message of the verse. Careful and unbiased study of these verses, in their proper context, will reveal that the exhortations to fight “idolators” and “unbelievers” are specific in nature and are not general injunctions for the murder of all those who refuse to accept Islam as their way of life. We must remember the challenging historical circumstances of these Qur’anic verses. As is known from the Prophet’s biography, the Meccan oligarchy fought against the Prophet’s message from the very beginning. It resorted to violent repression and torture of the Prophet and his followers when they realized that the flow of converts to Islam was increasing. The Prophet himself survived several assassination attempts, and it became so dangerous for the Muslims in Mecca that the Prophet sent some of his companions to take asylum in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. After thirteen years of violence, Muhammad was compelled to take refuge in the city of Medina, and even then the Meccans did not relent in their hostilities. Later, furthermore, various hostile Arab tribes joined in the fight against the Muslims, culminating in the Battle of the Trench, when 10,000 soldiers from many Arab tribes gathered to wipe out the Muslim community once and for all. As we know, the Muslims survived these challenges and eventually went on to establish a vast civilization.

At the time Verse 9:5 was revealed, Mecca had been conquered, the Meccans themselves had become Muslims, and many of the surrounding pagan Arab tribes had also accepted Islam and sent delegations to the Prophet pledging their allegiance to him. Those that did not become Muslim were the bitterest of enemies, and it was against these remaining hostile forces that the verse commands the Prophet to fight. It was in this violent context that the “Verse of the Sword” was revealed. This verse is part of a long chapter entitled “Repentance,” and it was revealed nine years after the Prophet immigrated to Medina.

Yet, verse 9:5 must never be quoted out of context. The verses immediately before and after it explain why verse 9:5 exhorts the believers to “kill idolaters wherever you find them.” The first verses state: “There is immunity from God and the messenger of God for those polytheists (mushrikeen) with whom you have made treaties; So travel the earth for four months, and know that you cannot elude God, and that it is God who brings disgrace upon all who refuse to acknowledge the truth” (9:1-2). The polytheists in these verses are those pagan Arabs who have deliberately broken the treaties they forged with the Prophet. How do we know this? Verse 4 continues: “Except those polytheists with whom you have made a treaty and who have not failed you in anything and have not helped anyone against you; fulfill your treaties with them to the end of their term, for God loves the conscientious.” Had we only quoted only 9:1-2, without the qualifying verse 9:4, it would seem that the Qur’an invalidates all non-aggression treaties made with the non-Muslims so that they can be “slaughtered” according to 9:5. That is clearly not the case. Those who want to malign Islam quote only 9:1-2 and neglect to mention 9:4.

Now, in its proper context, verse 9:5 can be properly understood. Most who quote 9:5 do so incompletely. The full verse reads: “But when the sacred months are past, then kill idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout. But if they repent and practice prayer and give alms, then let them go their way; for God is most forgiving, most merciful.” This was a specific command to the Prophet at that specific time to fight those idolaters who were fighting the Muslims; those idolaters who, as 9:4 mentioned, failed in their treaty obligations and helped others fight against the Muslims. It is not a general command to attack all non-Muslims, and it has never signified this to the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout history. Had it been so, then every year, after the “forbidden months are past,” history would have witnessed Muslims attacking every non-Muslim in sight. The “forbidden months” are four months out of the year during which fighting is not allowed. Three of them occur in a row: the eleventh, twelfth, and first month of the Islamic calendar. This yearly slaughter never occurred. In addition, if one reads on in the ninth chapter, the Qur’an further explains why 9:5 commands the Prophet to “kill idolaters wherever you find them”: “How, when if they get the better of you they do not respect either blood relations or treaty with you? They satisfy you with their words, but their hearts are averse, and most of them are dissolute” (9:8). Further along the Qur’an declares: “Will you not fight people who broke their oaths and planned to exile the messenger, and they took the initiative the first time? Do you fear them? God is more worthy of your fear, if you are believers” (9:13). These pagan tribes, as the Qur’an clearly states, would not hesitate in the least to attack and kill the Muslims at their first chance, and thus they must be fought against. Furthermore, if 9:5 was a general exhortation to kill all non-Muslims, then verse 9:6 would make no sense: “And if one of the polytheists asks you for protection, then protect him, until he hears the word of God: then deliver him to a place safe for him. That is because they are people who do not know.” Yet, verse 9:6 does make sense because the command to “kill idolaters wherever you find them” refers solely to those who are in active hostility to the Muslims. Had verse 9:5 been an open invitation to kill all non-Muslims, it would have been more convenient for the verse to be revealed as soon as the Prophet arrived as leader in Medina, with an army of believers ready to fight to the death for him. Yet, as I previously mentioned, the verse was revealed nine years after the Prophet came to Medina.

Another set of verses seemingly declares that all non-believers are to be attacked and killed: “And let them not think—those who are bent on denying the truth [i.e., unbelievers]—that they shall escape [God]: behold, they can never frustrate [His purpose]. Hence, make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you are able to muster, so that you might deter thereby the enemies of God, who are your enemies as well, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, but of whom God is aware; and whatever you may expend in God’s cause shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged” (8:59-60). Once again, the textual context must be examined. These two verses refer to those who are in active hostility against the Muslim community. An examination of the verses that come before these elucidates this point: “As for those with whom you have made a covenant, and who thereupon break their covenant on every occasion, not being conscious of God—if you find them at war [with you], make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, so that they might take it to heart; or, if you have reason to fear treachery from people [with whom you hast made a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner: for, verily, God does not love the treacherous!” (8:56-59). When read together, it is clear that 8:59-60 speak of those unbelievers who actively fight against the Muslims and break their covenants “every time.” Again, there is no general exhortation to fight and kill all non-Muslims.

In yet another set of verses, the Qur’an tells the believers to kill non-believers not once, but twice: “…seize them and slay them wherever you may find them” (4:89) and “…seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them: for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war]” (4:91). We deliberately quoted these two verses out of context to illustrate how deceitful and misleading such a practice is. Again, once the verses are understood in context, it is quite clear that theses verses tell the Muslims to fight only those who fight them. First of all, theses verses are part of a slightly longer passage that begins thusly: “How, then, could you be of two minds about the hypocrites, seeing that God has disowned them because of their guilt? Do you, perchance, seek to guide those whom God has let go astray—when for him whom God lets go astray you can never find any way?” (4:88) The verse speaks of the “hypocrites,” which begs the question of who these “hypocrites” are. They are those Muslims who feigned outward acceptance of Islam, but secretly worked for the destruction of the Muslims. They constantly acted as a fifth column within the Muslim community in Medina. Chief among them, as we discussed earlier, was Abdullah ibn Ubay. This man worked continually to harm the Muslims. For example, on the way to the mountain of Uhud, where the second battle against the pagans in Mecca took place, Abdullah ibn Ubay told his followers to go back home because he did not think a battle was going to be waged. His followers, and some true believing Muslims, obeyed him, and the Muslim army was cut by two-thirds, from 1000 men to approximately 300. During this battle, the Prophet was severely wounded and was nearly killed by the Meccans.

Yet, despite their treachery, verses 4:89 and 4:91 do not call on the Prophet to “kill them all,” but only those who are in open hostility to him: “They [the hypocrites] would love to see you deny the truth even as they have denied it, so that you should be like them. Do not, therefore, take them for your allies until they forsake the domain of evil for the sake of God; and if they revert to open enmity, seize them and slay them wherever you may find them. And do not take any of them for your ally or giver of succor” (4:89) [emphasis added]. Furthermore, 4:90 explains that if these hypocrites do not fight the Muslims, they are not to be harmed: “Unless it be those that have ties with people to whom you yourselves are bound by a covenant, or such as come to you because their hearts shrink from [the thought of] making war either on you or on their own folk… Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them.”

The same is true for the following verse 4:91: “You will find others who would like to be safe from you as well as from their own folk, but who, whenever they are faced anew with temptation to evil, plunge into it headlong. Hence, if they do not let you be, and do not offer you peace, and do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them: for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you.” [emphasis added] Yet again, the Qur’an says to fight only those who fight against the Muslims.

It should be quite obvious by now that there is a recurring theme in the above verses: fighting is only in self defense, and it is only against those who fight against the Muslims. Indeed, Islam is a religion that seeks to maximize peace and reconciliation. Yet, Islam is not a pacifist religion; it does accept the premise that, from time to time and as a last resort, arms must be taken up in a just war. If Muslims are fought against, Islam demands that they fight back. Hence, one will find very belligerent verses in the Qur’an, such as the ones I quoted above. But, as we mentioned, these verses exist in a context and are specific in their scope. They are not general exhortations to violence. The Qur’an is quite clear about this. The verses concerning fighting that were revealed soon after the Prophet arrived in Medina are self-defensive in nature: “Victims of aggression are given license [to fight] because they have been done injustice; and God is well able to help them” (22:39). Why was this permission granted? The Qur’an continues: “[They are] those evicted from their homes without reason except that they say, ‘Our Sustainer is God’…” (22:40).

Furthermore, when Muslims do fight in war, all is not “fair,” as it has been said. Islamic Law has always recognized principles of just war. Muslims are strictly forbidden to commit aggression: “And fight for the sake of God those who fight you; but do not be brutal or commit aggression, for God does not love brutal aggression” (2:190). The next verse also says, “slay them wherever you may come upon them,” but if the entire verse is read, it is clear that the “slaying” is in also self-defense: “And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away—for oppression is even worse than killing. And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship [Ka’abah] unless they fight against you there first; but if they fight against you, slay them: such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth” (2:191). If the enemy inclines toward peace, however, Muslims must follow suit: “But if they stop, God is most forgiving, most merciful” (2:192). Also read: “Now if they incline toward peace, then incline to it, and place your trust in God, for God is the all-hearing, the all-knowing” (8:61). Moreover, God insists that the Muslims should incline towards peace if their enemies do the same, even though the possibility might exist that the enemy is deceiving them: “And if they mean to deceive you, surely you can count on God, the one who strengthened you with Divine aid and with the believers” (8:62).

Even if those who fight against the believers are other believers, the Qur’an says that they should be fought against: “If two parties of believers contend with each other, make peace between them. Then if one of the two acts unjustly to the other, fight the side that transgresses until it goes back to the order of God…” (49:9) [emphasis added]. Again, fighting is only allowed against those who transgress, those who fight against the believers. Indeed, the Qur’an explains why fighting and warfare is even allowed in God’s Plan. An important reason is to prevent oppression on the earth, in keeping with the Qur’an’s strong insistence that justice be upheld: “Why would you not fight in the cause of God, and oppressed men, women, and children, who say, ‘Our Lord, get us out of this town, whose people are oppressors. And provide us a protector from You, and provide us a helper from You’” (4:75). Yet, an equally important reason—and one that may come as a surprise to the reader—is to protect the free and unfettered worship of God:

“For if God did not parry people by means of one another, then monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques—wherein the name of God is much recited—would surely be demolished. And God will surely defend those who defend God—for God is powerful, almighty” (22:40).

This is truly remarkable. The Qur’an endorses armed conflict, as a last resort, in order to protect Christian, Jewish, and Muslim houses of worship. So much for Islam’s intolerance. This principle is further outlined in this verse: “Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression (lit., fitnah), and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [willfully] do wrong” (2:193). The verse states that Muslims should fight them on until there is no more fitnah. In verse 2:191 above, again it says that “oppression (lit., fitnah) is even worse than killing.” What is this fitnah?

The word fitnah appears at least 28 times in the Qur’an, and its use and meaning varies depending on the verse in question. Some classical commentators, particularly Ibn Kathir, have written that fitnah, especially in verse 2:193, denotes idolatry. As a result, those who wish to smear Islam use the opinion of Ibn Kathir to speak for the text and claim that the Qur’an says: “Become Muslim or die.” Yet, despite the scholar’s opinion, the text of the Qur’an itself, and how it uses the word fitnah, does not agree with this scholar’s interpretation. For example, in quite a few verses, fitnah means “trial or tribulation”: “And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial (lit., fitnah), and that there is a higher reward in the presence of God” (8:28). Also read: “Every living being tastes death: and We try you with ill and good as a test (lit., fitnah); and you will be returned to Us” (21:35). Yet another verse says: “All the emissaries We sent before you did eat food and walked along the streets. And We made some of you a trial (lit., fitnah) for others; will you be forbearing? For your Lord is all-seeing” (25:20). In other verses, fitnah means corruption and discord (9:47-48) Now, in verse 33:14, fitnah does indeed mean apostasy: “But if they were invaded from the sides, then asked to dissent and join in civil war, they would do so with but little delay” (33:14). The verse literally says “…and they were asked for fitnah, they would do so with but little delay.” The “they” in this verse refers to the Hypocrites, about whom we discussed earlier. The use of the word fitnah here, however, can not be generalized to every other verse in the Qur’an.

Verse 2:193, which exhorts the believers to “fight against them until there is no more fitnah, and all worship is devoted to God alone” must be understood in context. This verse comes after verse 2:190, which commands the believers to fight those who fight them, i.e., the hostile Arabs who stopped at nothing to be the first to draw Muslim blood. In addition, these people, especially the Meccan oligarchy, violently persecuted any new converts to Islam and prevented the free worship of God by these Muslims. It is to this religious persecution, I believe, that the word fitnah in 2:193 refers. This definition of fitnah is supported by another verse, which responded to the Meccans’ claim that the Prophet does not honor the sanctity of the Sacred Months. Recall that the Muslims mistakenly killed a Meccan during one of the Sacred Months, when fighting between enemies is strictly forbidden. The verse reads: “They ask you [O Muhammad] about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting then is an offense; but more offensive to God is blocking the way to the path of God, denying God, preventing access to the sacred mosque, and driving out its people. And persecution (lit., fitnah) is worse than killing…” (2:217). Again, here the fitnah about which the verse is speaking is the prevention of access to the path of God and His Sacred Mosque, driving out the believers from Mecca, and even denying God Himself. All this is the violent repression of religious freedom, and this must be prevented, even if it means armed conflict. Again, this whole discussion about fighting until there is no more fitnah follows the same theme of fighting only in self-defense. A more careful analysis of the Qur’an—in its proper historical, linguistic, and textual context—clearly shows that it does not give a general, time-honored exhortation to kill all non-Muslims. That Islam calls for a “war on unbelievers” is sheer fallacy and utter fantasy.

[1] Literally, “those who “partnerize” God,” i.e. those who place their trust in imaginary gods, i.e. who worship the idols of their own superstition or self-interest.

Copyright Baraka Institute 2010

Nice songs about our beloved Prophet Muhammad

Lebanese singer Wael Jassar presents a nice set of songs about the Prophet, his wife Khadija, and his companions. Songs are in Arabic (Egyptian accent).  My apologies for not including English translation.

Enjoy the songs and join me in praying that Allah's peace and blessings be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad, all prophets before him and their true followers.

Muhammad and his mercy to mankind

Khadija, the Prophet's wife

The Year of Sadness

The Prophet on his deathbed

Abu Bakr

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