Obama’s Iftar guest list omits controversial attendees

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House’s published guest list for this year’s Ramadan Iftar dinner was much shorter than previous years’ roster. It excluded the names of several controversial advocates who have attended the event in the past, including some who The Daily Caller can confirm did attend on Wednesday night.

“It was a squeaky clean list,” said Durriya Badani, director of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, an annual event organized by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center and the Qatari government. The guests on the published list are “not controversial at all,” said Badani, whose name is on the list the White House provided to reporters.

“It was a lot more low-key … It was a more intimate event this year,” said Haris Tarin, the Washington director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, whose invitation was kept off the published list. “I have no idea why they didn’t publish [MPAC’s invite] … I’m going to learn about that a little bit more,” he told The Daily Caller.

Mohamed Magid also attended but did not appear on the White House’s publish list. Magid is imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Northern Virginia and the current president of the Islamic Society of North America. Along with MPAC, Magid’s two organizations have drawn criticism from a loose network of online critics who claim they are sympathetic to Islamist groups.

Whether intentional or not, the shorter list limited the risk of a political embarrassment for the White House because it downplayed the attendance of several ideological Islamist groups, including MPAC, said Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a pro-Western Muslim group. But the White House also failed to invite any of the 25 pro-liberty American Muslim groups and individuals in Jasser’s American Islamic Leadership Coalition, he said.

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the month of Ramadan.

At last year’s event, President Obama publicly endorsed the planned construction of a mosque at the Ground Zero site in New York City. But Obama avoided controversial topics in his short speech Wednesday night. (RELATED: Obama gives Small Business Admin. the coal shoulder)

The president lauded American Muslims who reacted to the 9/11 attack. “How do we honor these patriots, those who died and those who served? … The answer is the same as it was ten Septembers ago. We must be the America they lived for, … An America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity.”

The public guest list did include ambassadors from Muslim-majority democratic countries, such as Iraq and Bangladesh, as well as the ambassador of Israel, roughly 20 percent of whose population is Muslim. Also included were numerous ambassadors from Islamic countries that do not accept democracy or welcome non-Islamic religions. These included Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and both Yemen and Bahrain, whose governments have violently suppressed public demonstrations this year.

Obama, Jasser complained, “has not been clear on what America stands for, on the freedom agenda in the Middle East, [so] he ends up at an Iftar dinner that panders to ambassadors” who oppose American’s vision of freedom, Jasser said.

The list also excluded a few controversial attendees, such as Tarin from MPAC and Mohamed Magid, who is the imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Northern Virginia and the current president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Critics of Tarin’s and Magid’s organizations  — including the Investigative Project on Terrorism — use the Internet to publish court records, translate Arab-language media reports, and record information released by Muslim advocacy groups in the United States and overseas. For example, court records now available online show that the federal government designated ISNA an unindicted co-conspirator during the 2008 trial of Texas Muslims who smuggled money to the Hamas terror group.

Hamas is the branch of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood, and has stated that its goal is to violently destroy the Jewish state of Israel. Tarin denies any ties to the Islamist groups and the brotherhood. “We’re critical of the Muslim Brotherhood ourselves,” he told TheDC.

Asked about MPAC’s welcome for the 2010 U.S. tour of Tariq Ramadan, who is one of Europe’s foremost Muslim Brotherhood advocates, Tarin said MPAC supports “robust discourse and discussion.”

Tarin says the White House’s omission of his name from the Iftar invitation list remains unexplained. He told TheDC that he received a personal phone call from Obama several weeks ago. That would not have happened, he added, “if they wanted to stay away politically, and avoid criticism.”

While White House officials excluded MPAC’s leader from its published invitation list, Jasser believes the Obama administration continues to engage with the group in its political outreach because “they don’t have the political will to hold MPAC accountable for their ideology.”

According to a recent Gallup study of American voters, just 3.5 percent of U.S. Muslims said the MPAC most represented their interests. Almost half, or 48.5 percent, of Muslim respondents declined to name a Muslim advocacy group that most represented their interests.

White House officials, Jasser offered, should reach out to the Muslim groups in his coalition and invite them to the 2012 Iftar. With this approach, he said, the White House would “empower the liberty-minded, Western-minded anti-Islamists.”

This year’s White House Iftar was more sparsely attended than last’s year’s. Officials working for President George W. Bush also pruned their invite list following several embarrassing episodes, including a September 2001 appearance that placed Bush alongside Abdul Alamoudi and Nihad Awad.

Alamoudi founded the American Muslim Council, was a prominent Islamist advocate in D.C., and raised funds for both Democrats and Republicans until 2004. That’s when he pled guilty to several terror offenses and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Awad is the founding director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR and ISNA were both named as unindicted co-conspirators in the 2008 Hamas trial.

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, Badani said, White House officials “need to be very careful.”