Many in the mainstream press are still lauding Ground Zero mosque Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as a “moderate” Muslim, despite the growing number of reports that bring into question his ties to extremists, the funding sources for his proposed mosque and his building plans.
“[The mosque] is the brainchild of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a well-meaning American cleric who has spent years trying to promote interfaith understanding, not an apostle of religious war like Osama bin Laden,” reported the Economist on Aug. 7.
The network news stations have also ignored legitimate criticism of the Feisal, with only one program – CBS “Evening News” on Aug. 3 – reporting on these concerns.
Rauf has not been definitively linked to terrorism. However, he has acted as an apologist for terrorists in the past.
“I wouldn't say that the United States deserved [the Sept. 11 attacks], but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” said Feisal on CBS 60 Minutes on Sept. 30, 2001. “[W]e have been an accessory to a lot of – of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it – in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”
Politicians like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have opposed the Islamic center at Ground Zero and called for an investigation into the mosque's funding.
And in recent days, information has come to light that raises more questions about Rauf's mosque project. For example, the group behind the Islamic center – the Cordoba Initiative – does not own one of the buildings on the proposed site of the Islamic center, a fact that the organization did not disclose, according to the New York Post.
Also, Fox News' Geraldo Rivera reported that the development company that purchased the property for the mosque has a strange financial history. Sharif El-Gamal, the real estate developer who put down the $4.8 million to buy the property in 2006, worked as a waiter at a New York restaurant in 2002, just four years before.
Rivera expressed concern over El-Gamal's past, saying, “Uh oh. I'm getting the heebie-jeebies here.”
In addition, Rauf is “a prominent member of a group that helped sponsor the pro-Palestinian activists” flotilla that initiated a deadly clash with Israeli forces in May, according to the New York Post.
“Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a key figure in Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, according to its [w]ebsite,” reported The New York Post on June 5. “Perdana is the single biggest donor ($366,000) so far to the Free Gaza Movement, a key organizer of the six-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip Monday.”
Some critics of the mosque are concerned the money may come from foreign leaders or terror groups who seek the destruction of the United States. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has demanded to know the legality of the funding behind the mosque.
Rauf has also made remarks that some have called inflammatory and put his claims that he is a “moderate” Muslim into question.
In 2001, Rauf told CBS's '60 Minutes' that the U.S. was partially responsible for the September 11th attacks.
“I wouldn`t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States` policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” Rauf said.
But these revelations have not dampened the media's eagerness to portray Feisal as a “moderate” Muslim whose intentions are above reproach.
“Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, are actually the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents,” wrote Bobby Gnosh in a Time magazine article titled “The Moderate Imam Behind the 'Ground Zero Mosque.'”
Gnosh even found a way to excuse Rauf's refusal to denounce Hamas, writing that “Rauf finds himself being excoriated for some perceived reluctance to condemn Hamas and accused of being an extremist himself.”
CNN host Fareed Zakaria has been one of the most strident media defenders of Rauf in recent weeks, even publicly returning an award that he received by the Anti-Defamation League, in protest of the group's opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a Newsweek article, Zakaria called Rauf a “moderate Muslim clergyman.”
“The man behind it, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has spent years trying to offer a liberal interpretation of Islam. His most recent book, 'What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America,' argues that America is actually what an ideal Islamic society would look like because it is peaceful, tolerant, and pluralistic,” said Zakaria on Aug. 8 on his CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” “His vision for Islam, in other words, is Osama bin Laden's nightmare – we should be encouraging such an Islamic center, not demonizing it.”
And several newspapers, including The Forward and The Boston Globe, have come out with recent editorials defending Rauf as a “moderate” and glossing over any unpleasant questions raised about the mosque.
The Forward even went as far as to condemn anyone who inquired into Feisal's background as a “character assassin.”
“[T]he character assassination now undertaken by those purporting to represent the Jewish community is distressing and unacceptable. In one breath, the ADL's Abraham Foxman said he'd stand up for Rauf, while in the next breath, he hints of ties with terrorism,” read the Forward's editorial this week. “And while their positions on the placement of the center are more reasonable, the American Jewish Committee and New York's Jewish Community Relations Council have also stooped to slander-by-innuendo.”
And in an Aug. 4 editorial, The Boston Globe wrote that, “The simple fact is there's nothing threatening about the proposed Islamic center, which is being spearheaded by Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the most respected moderate Muslim leaders in the country.”
But even Muslim authors and activists have argued that the mosque at Ground Zero is deliberately provocative and that Feisal may have sinister motives.
“[W]e Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel,” wrote Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, both members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, in the Ottawa Citizen on Aug. 9. “The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as 'Fitna,' meaning 'mischief-making' that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.”
A Muslim woman whose mother was killed aboard one of the hijacked planes on Sept. 11 also called on Feisal and his supporters to build the mosque elsewhere.
“To the supporters of this new Islamic cultural center, I must ask: Build your ideological monument somewhere else, far from my mother's grave, and let her rest,” wrote Neda Bolourchi in an August 8 Washington Post column.