Tag Archives: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Beyond the Mosque: Bloomberg and New York’s Muslims

The following article originally appeared in the Gotham Gazette, an online-only publication focusing on New York City government and politics:

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly defended the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero last August even as polls showed most New Yorkers opposed the project, he garnered some favorable media coverage and praise for his stance.

A New York Times editorial called Bloomberg “the leader with the courage to make the case” for the center. Tom Robbins, a Village Voice columnist and frequent critic of the mayor, wrote, “Mike Bloomberg did a brave and good deed for this city” when he spoke out in favor of the project, known as Park 51. Errol Louis called Bloomberg’s speech on Governors Island defending the proposed center “the finest speech of his career.” And the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, praised Bloomberg for “defending the rights of Muslims and other Americans to build houses of worship.”

The mosque, while significant, is just one issue. Beyond that, many Muslim groups, faith leaders and activists who have applauded Bloomberg’s forceful defense of Park 51 say his administration has had a mixed and at times disappointing track record on policies affecting the Muslim community. Among other issues, they cite his failure to speak out on proposals for other mosques around the city, his refusal to provide a school holiday for Muslim holy days and the attitude of the police department toward Muslims in the city.

“We appreciate that Bloomberg came out and took a stand in a very difficult political moment, particularly a backlash against Muslim communities,” said Monami Maulik, the executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a grassroots activist group serving the South Asian community. “On the other hand, we also saw it as window dressing in many ways because the bottom line is that it’s the policies and practices that the administration puts in place that affects the members of our community day to day.”

A Range of Concerns

An estimated 800,000 Muslims live in the city, and their numbers are growing. Not surprisingly, they have an array of concerns — extending far beyond a mosque in lower Manhattan. Interviews with a wide array of Muslim community leaders indicate that the Bloomberg administration and the city’s Muslim community have a complicated and nuanced relationship.

“It is a work in progress,” said Adem Carroll, the former executive director of the Muslim Consultative Network and the former coordinator for the Islamic Circle of North America’s 9/11 relief program. “He has hired some Muslims as commissioners who work very hard at being liaisons. He himself does not visit our community members very much, at least that’s the perception.”

Robina Niaz, the founder and executive director of Turning Point for Women and Families, a non-profit organization that seeks to address domestic violence within the Muslim community, said she has seen a “marked change in the last several months” toward the positive in how Bloomberg is perceived in the Muslim community.

Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, an African-American leader at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, describes the relationship between the Bloomberg administration and the Muslim community as “strained.” But he said, “There has been a demonstration of some political sensitivity on the part of that administration toward some issues of importance to the Muslim community.” For example, ‘Abdur-Rashid said, after a September 2009 fire badly damaged a mosque in the Bronx that served a large West African Muslim community, “the Bloomberg administration was a great help and assistance to them, helping them to find a temporary place to worship.”

However, a consensus exists that the Bloomberg administration needs to reach out more to the Muslim community, especially in a difficult political climate for Muslims.

“Just because he supported Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Park 51, that doesn’t mean every other issue should be taken off the burner,” said Niaz.

In an interview, Fatima Shama, a Palestinian-American Muslim who is the commissioner for immigrant affairs under the Bloomberg administration, forcefully defended the administration’s efforts.

Bloomberg “has engaged with the Muslim community more than any other mayor in this city,” said Shama, noting that she was the first Muslim hired to be commissioner of immigrant affairs. Shama also pointed out that Bloomberg holds an annual Iftar dinner, to mark the fast breaking during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Voice of Reason

With anti-Muslim prejudice seemingly on the rise across the country, many Muslims in New York would like the mayor to go beyond his speech on the mosque and community center near Ground Zero. In particular, they wish he would speak out on the battles over proposed mosques elsewhere in the city. In the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island, the board of a Catholic Church blocked plans for a proposed mosque when, in the face of harsh condemnation, they refused to sell a vacant convent to a Muslim organization. In Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, a proposed mosque and community center has also sparked controversy.

“Bloomberg this time around chose to stand on the right side of history on the Park 51 controversy by making that eloquent speech, but I don’t think that he should stop there. I think he’s positioned uniquely as a mayor, as a national leader, to lead the charge against Islamophobia if he really wants to redeem himself in the eyes of Muslim New Yorkers considering that he’s failed them a few times,” said Debbie Almontaser, the founder and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school.

In 2007, many Muslims and other New Yorkers believe, Almotaser fell victim of that prejudice when a right-wing campaign targeted the school and Almontaser. Following an article in the New York Post that claimed she “downplayed the significance” of T-shirts bearing the word “intifada,” she was “forced to resign following a directive from Bloomberg, according to Almontaser. Earlier this year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the Department of Education discriminated against Almontaser and “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school intended to dispel.”

Almontaser’s resignation remains on the mind of many community leaders.

Perceptions of the mayor’s actions don’t stop at New York’s borders. While Bloomberg does not have a role in formulating foreign policy, many Muslim activists disapprovingly cited his staunch support for Israel, and specifically his January 2009 visit to Israel while the country waged an assault on the Gaza Strip in Palestine.

“His relationship with Israel, supporting Israel with no limits, hurts us,” said Zein Rimawi, a member of the New York City-based Arab Muslim American Federation. “Don’t forget: We are Arabs, we are Muslims, and the people in Gaza are Arabs and Muslims and we support them.”

Under Suspicion

In addition, Muslim leaders have concern about New York Police Department counter-terrorism practices in the Bloomberg era. Civil rights organizations like CAIR-NY and DRUM have of police harassment of Muslims in New York.

Arguably the biggest irritant came when the police department released a 2007 report, titled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat. The report detailed the process by which it saw some American Muslims as being “radicalized” into terrorists and said that, while Americans Muslims are “more resistant to radicalization than their European counterparts, they are not immune.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations promptly criticized the report, saying, “Its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community.” In the wake of the report, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition formed and critiqued the report for presenting “a distorted and misleading depiction of Islam and its adherents.”

Following meetings with Muslim organizations, the police department quietly issued a two-page clarification that stressed that the “NYPD’s focus on al Qaeda inspired terrorism should not be mistaken for any implicit or explicit justification for racial, religious or ethnic profiling.”

While Muslim organizations welcomed the clarification, criticism of the report remains.

“It’s not clear what the NYPD really thinks, because it’s leaving the bulk of its assertions and its conclusions in place,” said Faiza Patel, who works with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Project. The clarification “didn’t address all of [the Muslim community’s] concerns. The way it was done — really kind of hidden there — makes it seem as if the police department is talking out of two sides of its mouth.”

The police did not respond to requests for comment. But Shama defended the department, saying it has many Muslims in the police force and also has a Muslim Officers Society whose mission includes promoting “a mutual understanding between the NYPD and the Muslim community.”

“I don’t think there are any broad brushes or generalizations in the report,” said Shama, when asked about Muslim community leaders’ criticism of the document. “But we do have a policy that if you see something, say something. … It’s a new day in a new country,” she said, referring to the post-9/11 world.

No Days Off

Bloomberg’s opposition to closing public schools on two Muslim holidays — Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha — disappointed many in the Muslim community — particularly after the City Council approved the change in the school calendar. In July 2009, the New York City Council passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the inclusion of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha, two Muslim holidays, into the school calendar. Underscoring the issue, parent-teacher conferences this year are being held today, which is also Eid Ul-Adha.

The administration opposed the measure, saying that the school system can’t celebrate every holiday. “One of the problems you have with a diverse city is that if you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school,” Bloomberg has said.

Shama said the Bloomberg administration “absolutely listened to all the requests and concerns of the school holidays coalition” before taking its position. Despite that, ‘Abdur-Rashid said, the administration stand “left a very bad taste in the mouths of many Muslims.”

Faiza Ali, the director of community affairs for CAIR-NY, said her organization is still pursuing the issue. “We’re looking to the leadership of the mayor and chancellor…[to] re-tool the school calendar to fit the needs of the community,” she said.

The Media’s Construction of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’: How Islamophobic blogs manufactured a controversy

This article, by Steve Rendall of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and myself, originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of FAIR’s Extra! magazine.

How did a local story about a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan turn into a national controversy about whether a “Ground Zero Mosque” would be a slap in the face to 9/11 victims?

It started with a small group of anti-Muslim activists who suggested the proposal was a scheme by anti-American Muslims to “conquer” the hallowed site of the September 11 attacks (Big Government, 5/18/10). Some even suggested that the Imam behind the proposal was an Al-Qaeda supporter (Fox News, 5/13/10). The project was named “Cordoba House,” opponents argued, in honor of the Islamic conquest of Spain, where Muslim victors built a mosque on the ruins of a sacked church (Newt.org, 6/21/10). How could anyone miss the parallels?

Created on small anti-Muslim blogs, the “Ground Zero Mosque” framing was eventually adopted by bigger right-wing outlets before making extensive inroads into broader corporate media.

Every key point in the opponents’ storyline was false. The location of the proposed 13-story community center and mosque, at 51 Park Place (known as Park51), is not part of Ground Zero, and isn’t even visible from the former site of the World Trade Center. The three-block radius around the WTC site that would need to be drawn to make Park51 part of some “hallowed ground” includes strip clubs, porn shops and liquor stores (Daily News, 8/16/10). The key figure behind the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an American Muslim who works in fields of interfaith outreach and tolerance, with an emphasis on improved relations between the Arab/Muslim world and the West. Cordoba House is a project of Rauf’s organization, the Cordoba Initiative, whose name honors the tolerance among Muslims, Christians and Jews that flourished in the Spanish city a thousand years ago (New York Times, 7/14/10).

But the facts didn’t seem to matter. The people who ought to have been on the defensive for misrepresenting facts and fomenting religious bigotry continued to be on the offensive, driving the coverage with their dubious claims, while their progressive Muslim targets remained on the defensive, smeared and chided for “intolerantly” pushing forward with their proposal.

A useful timeline produced by Salon (8/16/10) traced the controversy’s birth to posts by Pamela Geller on her Atlas Shrugs blog (e.g., 12/8/09), a key outlet for anti-Muslim bigotry. Geller (12/21/09) charged that the Muslim community center was about “Islamic domination and expansionism…. Clearly a more appropriate ‘Islamic center’ would be one devoted to expunging the Quran of its violent texts.” In April 2010, Geller joined with Robert Spencer of the “notoriously Islamophobic” Jihad Watch website (Guardian, 2/7/06) to form a group called Stop Islamization of America, which began to organize against the proposed center.

Another of Geller and Spencer’s anti–Cordoba House groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, is represented by attorney David Yerushalmi, who has written that Islam is an “evil religion,” “blacks are the most murderous of peoples (at least in New York City)” and “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote” (Little Green Footballs, 8/10/10).

Beginning in May, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post picked up the story; columnist Andrea Peyser (5/13/10) propagated the falsehood that the center would open on September 11, 2011, and the Post repeatedly used the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” (5/16/10, 5/20/10). It quickly exploded in right-wing media, which is no stranger to anti-Muslim sentiment (nor to late-summer, pre-election wedge issues.)

The usual suspects got on the case with their usual disregard for the facts. Fox News’ Sean Hannity (5/20/10) claimed that Imam Rauf “may be much more radical than most Americans know,” despite the fact that Rauf worked extensively with the Bush administration on improving America’s standing in the Muslim world (Talking Points Memo, 8/12/10). Fox pundit Newt Gingrich (Yglesias, 7/22/10) made the bizarre proposal that “there should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” and later (Fox News, 8/16/10) compared the building of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero to Nazis putting “up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

As Talking Points Memo pointed out (5/18/10), Tea Party leader and radio host Mark Williams wrote on his blog (5/14/10) that “the animals of Allah…are drooling over the positive response that they are getting from New York City officials over a proposal to build a 13-story monument to the 9/11 Muslim hijackers.” Houston-based radio host Michael Berry called for the “mosque” to be “blown up” (Think Progress, 5/28/10).

The story soon migrated to the establishment press. While challenging some of the “facts” that opponents put forward and refraining from calling for a ban on the community center, the more centrist corporate media entertained the lies and bigotry of anti-Muslim forces to an alarming degree.

CNN featured virulent Islamophobes on a number of occasions. Geller—who has called for the destruction of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and whose website depicted Muhammad with the face of a pig (FAIR Blog, 8/18/10)—appeared on the network twice (5/26/10, 8/17/10) to talk about her opposition to the project.

Bryan Fischer of the right-wing American Family Association called for “no more mosques” in the United States in a August 10 blog post (Talking Points Memo, 8/11/10); the next week, Anderson Cooper 360 (8/16/10) gave Fischer a platform to claim that Islam is a “totalitarian ideology that is anti-Christian [and] anti-Semitic,” and seeks “the extermination of Western civilization.” Another 360 segment (8/11/10) featured Flip Benham of the pro-life, anti-Islam group Operation Save America, where Benham called Islam “a lie from the pit of hell.”

Other outlets adopted the false framing the Islamophobic right was pushing. In big, bold letters, Newsweek’s August 16 cover asked, “A Mosque at Ground Zero?” NPR also adopted the “Ground Zero mosque” language (8/3/10, 8/18/10).

A front-page New York Times (8/10/10) report seemed to blame the victims of the bigotry, as reporter Anne Barnard described the “combustible debate” as coming about through “a combination of arguable naïveté, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy.” Missing from her list was the organized campaign of misinformation and bigotry that launched and fed the controversy.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (8/13/10) raised an absurd hypothetical to justify his opposition to the Islamic community center: “Who is to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Aulaqi—spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber, and onetime imam at the Virginia mosque attended by two of the 9/11 terrorists?” And who’s to say that Krauthammer won’t decide to become a cannibal, like fellow psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter?

Krauthammer also questioned the “goodwill” of Imam Rauf for saying, on CBS’s 60 Minutes (9/30/01), in reference to September 11: “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” As the Daily Show pointed out (8/16/10), Glenn Beck has made a similar point (Fox News, 4/15/10), saying: “When people said they hate us, well, did we deserve 9/11? No. But were we minding our business? No. Were we in bed with dictators that abandoned our values and principles? Yes. That causes problems.” Nobody questioned whether Beck sympathized with terrorism then, though.

Philadelphia Inquirer culture writer Stephan Salisbury (Tom Dispatch, 8/10/10) placed this story in the context of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment in the country since September 11, and the coinciding Islamo-phobic activism, which includes anti-mosque movements in Tennessee, California, Connecticut and elsewhere, as well as in New York. Calling the opposition to Cordoba House part of a larger movement that seeks to ban Islam in the U.S., Salisbury told Extra! he blamed media for failing to adequately confront the New York project’s opponents: “The role of journalists is to challenge narratives, not sit on the sidelines. This is especially true when a bigoted narrative like this one comes along.”

If some journalists challenged the anti-Muslim smears and defended Rauf and his associates (e.g., Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, 8/6/10; New York Times editorial, 8/16/10), the coverage never fully reversed direction to frame the saga for what it was: a story of monumental lying and bigotry.

While much opposition to Park51 can be attributed to Islamophobia and a media culture that is often receptive to it, there’s also a partisan political aspect to the story that hasn’t been sufficiently examined. In December 2009, when the proposal was first unveiled, it generated little controversy (New York Times, 12/9/09) outside of the small number of anti-Muslim websites. But moving into the summer, it was seized upon by prominent conservative pundits and politicians like Newt Gingrich, who showed up on Fox’s Hannity (8/5/10) denouncing “elite politicians” for “turning a blind eye” to the views of most Americans. (After weeks of distortion, some produced by Gingrich himself, polls showed U.S. public opinion had turned against the center.)

Hannity’s response to Gingrich provided an even clearer look into how the right viewed the story as a handy political wedge in advance of November’s congressional elections:

Isn’t that where we are, though, in terms of American society? The American people support Arizona’s immigration law, but it doesn’t matter to liberal Democrats. The American people don’t want this mosque built. It doesn’t matter to liberal Democrats.

Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into the entire cynical campaign was provided by right-wing radio firebrand Laura Ingraham. Guest hosting Fox’s O’Reilly Factor (12/21/09) last year, Ingraham told Daisy Kahn, one of the center’s developers and Imam Rauf’s wife, “I like what you’re trying to do,” referring to the project’s spirit of tolerance and outreach. By August, however, Ingraham had changed her tune. Again substituting for O’Reilly (8/25/10), she denounced the center, demanding: “So why is Barack Obama letting this go on? Why is the president of the United States at his already low approval numbers, why is he letting this continue as it is?”

Islamophobia in New York, Redux: We Should Have Seen the Ground Zero Furor Coming


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

When the Islamophobic furor against the proposed Muslim community center two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero began to peak in mid-late July, some people wondered why it was occurring now, nine years after the 9/11 attacks.  As the New York Times recently noted, an article published in the paper “last December about the project drew little negative comment.”  Daisy Khan, the wife of the imam who is spearheading the Cordoba House, told the Times that the possibility of their project being controversial “never occurred” to them.

But there is no reason to be surprised at the anger over the community center.  While others have pointed to the economy, or to the recent surge in thwarted homegrown “terror” plots, to explain the anger over the community center, one can read what’s being played out as simply a continuation–albeit a much more intense strain–of the virulent anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that began after the September 11 attacks.  Specifically, the concocted controversy over the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) in 2007 should have set off alarm bells about the power of Islamophobic activists whose aim is to shut Muslims and Arabs out of American public life.  The Brooklyn academy, the nation’s first dual-language Arabic public school, barely survived an onslaught of racist right-wing attacks against the school.  Unfortunately, the founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, was not spared, and fell victim to an orchestrated smear campaign not unlike the one now targeting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

There are many parallels between the controversies around the Cordoba House and KGIA: both of the project’s leaders–Rauf and Almontaser–are well-known and respected interfaith leaders in New York City; both campaigns were begun by right-wing, Islamophobic blogs and leaders and were only later picked up by mainstream media; and both campaigns smeared Islam and demonstrated a profound ignorance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Debbie Almontaser

Imam Rauf is currently being tarred as a “radical Muslim” who supports al-Qaeda and wants to build the Muslim community center to celebrate “Islamic triumphalism.” Almontaser, too, was painted as a Muslim radical and a “9/11 denier” whose school would secretly indoctrinate students to hate America and Israel and support sharia law.  The hysteria about Rauf and Almontaser misses basic, sobering facts about the two leaders: both of them have demonstrated a profound commitment to interfaith understanding between Muslims and other groups in the U.S. after 9/11 and have sought to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes.  Rauf is a Sufi Muslim leader in New York who, as Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek put it, “speaks of the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religions…emphasizes the commonalities among all faiths…advocates equal rights for women, and argues against laws that in any way punish non-Muslims…His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.”  Almontaser was described as “the city’s most visible Arab-American woman” in an excellent profile of her written by the New York Times’ Andrea Elliott:

After 9/11, Education Department officials had enlisted Ms. Almontaser to hold workshops on cultural sensitivity for schoolchildren. She spread the message that Islam was a peaceful religion. She told of how her own son had served as a National Guardsman in the clearing effort at ground zero. She was soon attending interfaith seminars, befriending rabbis and priests. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg honored her publicly.

But none of these facts seem to matter to the bigots who are trying to take down Rauf and the proposed community center, or who successfully forced Almontaser to resign as head of KGIA.

The current drive against the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan was started by, as Salon‘s Justin Elliott has shown, “third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs site,” and quickly moved to the New York Post, as well as other mainstream media outlets.  Republican politicians have now taken up the cause, and it’s impossible to turn on cable news and not see a racist rant directed against Muslims in the U.S.  The anti-Cordoba House movement has now reached a fever pitch, but it has not yet invented the “smoking gun” that would mean the downfall of the initiative, as they did in the case of Almontaser.

There was a similar trajectory in the case of Almontaser and KGIA.   As soon as plans for the school were announced in February 2007, Pamela Geller and friends begun a campaign to shut what they called a “madrassa in New York’s public school system” down.  Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative author who has made a career out of stoking fears of Muslims and Arabs in the Western world, and the so-called “Stop the Madrassa” coalition, were instrumental in the targeting of KGIA.  Soon after the school was announced, assisted by columns by Pipes that mis-characterized and lied about the school, the story migrated to the New York Sun and eventually the New York Post. Almontaser’s downfall came after the Post labeled her the “‘intifada'” principal, as I reported for the Indypendent in September 2008:

The intense media focus on KGIA peaked when the New York Post picked up the story. The DOE pressured Almontaser to agree to an interview with the Post. In an Aug. 6, 2007, article, the Post declared that Almontaser “defended” the use of the word “intifada” on a t-shirt made by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media (AWAAM), a group whose only connection to Almontaser was that she was on the board of a Yemeni-American organization that at times shared office space with AWAAM.

On Aug. 9, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, following what Almontaser says was a directive from Mayor Bloomberg, forced Almontaser to resign as KGIA principal, saying that either she or the academy had to go.

“That was the most horrendous and devastating 24 hours of my life,” Almontaser says. “To experience working with people who admired me and respected me and who believed in me, and then just to see a complete shift, basically saying that ‘you’re the problem’ … was absolutely devastating.”

The quote used by the Post to claim that Almontaser “defended” the use of the word “intifada” on a shirt was found later to have been “inaccurately reported by The Post and then misconstrued by the press,” according to a federal appeals court.  In March 2010 of this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that New York City’s Department of Education “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and asmall segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”

The conflating of Islam with terrorism and a demonstrated ignorance about the religion is another common feature of the furor over KGIA and the Cordoba House.  The opposition to the Islamic community center can only be justified by asserting collective Muslim guilt for the attacks of September 11, despite the fact that many Muslims died during the attack and the fact that al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims that any other religious group in the world.  Furthermore–and this is not to say that other sects of Islam aren’t also peaceful– Sufi Islam, which Imam Rauf is an adherent to, “couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. [Rauf’s] videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation,” as William Dalrymple writes today in the Times.

In the case of KGIA, Pipes claimed that “Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands.”  According to Pipes, any teaching of Arabic is bound to promote Islamism–which, in Pipes’ world, is all one and the same, an ideology that promotes terrorism and al-Qaeda.

Lastly, let’s turn to the Israel-Palestine angle.  Imam Rauf has been pilloried for not condemning the Palestinian Hamas movement as a “terrorist organization,” as they are labeled by the U.S. State Department.  Rauf said, “Look, I’m not a politician.  The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.”  And he’s exactly right.  The State Dept. list of “terrorist groups” is a highly politicized grouping.  “Terrorism,” in mainstream parlance, has no real meaning besides armed struggle against the West and Israel.  If you support the U.S. or Israel, you’re not a terrorist.

To simply call Hamas a “terrorist” group is a disservice to understanding what Hamas, an Islamist movement, is.  Hamas has committed terrorist acts; but by the same token, so has the U.S. and Israel, but on a far larger scale.  Hamas is resisting a brutal occupation, whereas Israel is focused on continuing their colonization of Palestinian lands.

Almontaser attempted to explain the origin of the word “intifada,” which appeared on t-shirts made by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media.  The Post, in the article that led to Almontaser’s forced resignation, spun her explanation as “downplaying” the significance of the t-shirts and the word intifada.  The Post reported that the  “inflammatory tees boldly declare ‘Intifada NYC’ – apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.”  Further down in the story, they quote Pamela Hall, who fought against KGIA, as saying, “Intifada is a war. Isn’t that what Arafat had?”  Intifada, as Almontaser tried to explain in that Post article, “basically means ‘shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic.”  The first Palestinian intifada was largely nonviolent.  And the second intifada, as Neve Gordon pointed out in his book Israel’s Occupation, began as a nonviolent popular uprising, but only turned violent after Israel brutally suppressed the uprising, firing 1.3 million bullets into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israeli security forces were directed to “fan the flames”, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar reported in 2004.

These misunderstandings and distortions about the situation in occupied Palestine have added fuel to the Islamophobic fire.

The lesson of the KGIA controversy should have been that Islamophobes hold a disturbing amount of power in the United States and that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment needs to be combated.  So it’s no surprise that Islamophobia continues to be a potent political weapon.  Perhaps we should take this opportunity to double-down on our efforts to combat Islamophobia, so when the next furor over Islam in the U.S. comes–and it will–education and activism can successfully tamp down these dangerous games being played.  If we didn’t learn that lesson after KGIA, we better learn it now.