Transparency by the imam is needed

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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My first position on the controversy over the planned mosque and Muslim community center planned to be constructed within two blocks of Ground Zero was to applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s courage in not blaming all Muslims for the murderous actions of extremist, inhuman, suicidal thugs who happen to be of the Muslim faith. Indeed, I saw a positive advantage in the war against terror — just as President Bush did — by making it clear that this is a war against terrorists, not a war against Islam and it is Al Qaeda’s nightmare if there is a substantial force of moderate, humane Muslims ready to denounce Al Qaeda and other extremist fundamentalist Muslims who celebrate death and the killing of innocent civilians.  And we should be encouraging — it is in the interest of anyone who wishes to defeat these terrorist monsters — the humane voices of Islam to join us in the war against terror — and not to broad-brush all Muslims as responsible for 9/11.

That was my first instinct.  I hope I was right.

But my second instinct in recent days has been to question my first instinct and to worry — worry that for some reason Imam Rauf, the sponsor of the NYC mosque project, has stayed silent and virtually hidden.  I have read good things about their inter-religious and ecumenical work.  And I have seen quotes — which I was glad to see — that Imam Rauf immediately denounced 9/11 and terrorism.  But then I have read other quotes that trouble me.  For example, in a June 12, 2009, Huffington Post article, Imam Rauf praised the Iranian Revolution.  For example, he wrote: “After the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took the Shiite concept of the Rightly Guided Imam and created the idea of Vilayet-i-faquih, which means the rule of the jurisprudent. This institutionalizes the Islamic rule of law. The council of Guardians serves to ensure these principles.”

Say what? This is clearly an endorsement of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic dictatorship that, everyone now knows, trampled on women’s rights, the dignity of women, and indeed, subscribed to the suppression of women’s ability to play an equal role in Iranian society. Does Imam Rauf really endorse Sharia law and its various degrading and obscene inflictions of punishment, including stoning to death, as occurred recently under the supervision of the Taliban in Afghanistan against a young couple who chose to marry because they were in love, rather than follow the dictates of their family to marry others?

I also noticed that Imam Rauf has refused to repudiate Hamas as a terrorist organization — even though they have, in fact, intentionally aimed and shot over 8,000 missiles at Israeli civilians and endorse the destruction of Israel.  Why?

Is it justified to deprive someone of the right to build a religious center — whether Muslim, Jewish, or Christian — based on his or her political views, however extreme? Probably not, as a general rule.  But there should be an exception for something as traumatic and horrifying as the attack on 9/11 and the loss of more than 3,000 innocent lives — just as there should have been an exception for Pearl Harbor had Japanese nationalists decided to build a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor, and we discovered that the sponsors of the cultural center refused to denounce the Japanese military that led the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Emperor and government of Japan that approved it.  On the other hand, if a group of Japanese Americans had denounced Japan and the military responsible for Pearl Harbor and signed up with the U.S. armed forces to fight Japan, Americans might not have minded those anti-Japanese Japanese Americans, sharing our values to build a cultural center.

So what we need from the Imam is transparency: Availability to answer all questions, such as: What is your position on the Iranian theocracy? On Iran’s treatment of demonstrators? On Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and call for the destruction of Israel? On Hamas’s rockets intentionally aimed at killing innocent civilians? On Hamas’s position calling for the destruction of Israel? On Sharia law’s endorsement of stoning to death those who wish personal liberty in marriage and private relationships? On the separation of church and state? On endorsing intentional and calculated killing of innocent civilians for any purpose — political, religious, or otherwise? On suicide bombers who intentionally kill civilians — including Muslims in Iraqi and Afghan marketplaces?

And what about financing?  Who is the Imam getting his money from?  Who is he willing to go to get money? Suppose he were being financed by Islamic extremists who have ties to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah?

These are relevant questions, at least to me — just as would be similar questions about the sponsors and financiers of any Japanese-built memorial at Pearl Harbor just a few years after December 7, 1941.

So in principle, if Imam Rauf is truly transparent and answers all questions, and the result is to demonstrate that he is a Muslim who believes that terrorism is abhorrent, including Hamas terrorism as well as Al Qaeda terrorism, I am all in favor of helping him build his mosque and continue to denounce the monsters of Al Qaeda, the monsters who motivate children to commit suicide in order to kill other children.  But if he holds positions that are sympathetic to terrorists and terrorist organizations, and/or financed by those linked to the same, then I think the mosque should not be built.

So what are the answers? I think Mayor Bloomberg and NYC leaders who have approved the mosque have an obligation at least to get the answers and publish them — and then let’s see whether it is appropriate for the mosque to be built within two blocks of Ground Zero or, depending on the answers, anywhere else.

This piece appears today, August 26, 2010, in Mr. Davis’s regular weekly column in The Hill “Purple Nation” and in The Daily Caller, an online political website.

Mr. Davis, with his own Washington firm, Lanny J. Davis & Associates PLLC, served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996-98 and was a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2006-07. He is the author of Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics Is Destroying America (Palgrave MacMillan 2006).