In The News
The History of MPAC
National Review Online, By Andrew C. McCarthy
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda operatives slaughtered nearly 3,000 Americans in an operation that marked the second major attack by violent jihadists against the World Trade Center. There wasn’t much mystery about who had carried out these atrocities — unless you were Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Marayati warned Americans not to conclude that the suicide hijacking attacks were the work of Muslim terrorists. “If we are going to look at suspects,” he told a Los Angeles radio station, “we should look at groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list.”
Having just returned from the beleaguered State of Israel, Mitt Romney, one hopes, will move Marayati’s reckless slander to the front of his mind. MPAC is attempting to inject itself into the controversy over calls by Representative Michele Bachmann and four other House conservatives for an examination of Islamist influence on our government. As the indispensable Patrick Poole reports, Monday’s scheduled MPAC demonstration was a bust: The group tried to agitate outside the Republican National Committee in Washington, in order to pressure Governor Romney, the putative GOP standard-bearer, to condemn Bachmann and her colleagues. But the “rally” fizzled because of lack of interest. Still, MPAC is sure to keep pushing.
Established in 1988 by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and admirers of Hezbollah, MPAC styles itself a “moderate, inclusive and forward-thinking organization with a history of fostering a strong Muslim American identity, and combating terrorism and extremism.” In reality, MPAC is yet another Islamist wolf in the “social justice” clothing of the hard Left. Its founders include Hassan Hathout, the former MPAC president who has described himself as “a close disciple” of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. Hathout’s brother Maher, a senior MPAC adviser, is lavish in his praise of both Hezbollah’s “freedom fighting” and the social-justice pioneering of Hassan al-Turabi, the leader of Sudan’s National Islamic Front — the genocidal junta that gave safe haven to al-Qaeda in the early 1990s while imposing sharia on that war-torn east African nation.
Their Islamist sympathies aside, Marayati & Co. are Democratic-party activists and programmatic leftists, championing Obamacare, condemning post-9/11 national-security measures, and demagoguing conservatives. Daniel Pipes has recounted that Marayati was a member of the Executive Committee of the California Democratic party and served as a Clinton delegate at the 1996 Democratic Convention. As I outlined in The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America, such cross-pollination between Islamists and leftists is commonplace. The anti-Islamist activist M. Zuhdi Jasser, a staunchly pro-American Muslim, aptly describes American Islamist organizations like MPAC as “collectivist groups.” They fall in line with the Muslim Brotherhood’s leftist orientation, seeking to “increase the power of government through entitlement programs, increased taxation, and restricting free markets whenever and wherever possible.”
Marayati first came to public attention in the late Nineties, when the Democrats’ then-leader in the House, Richard Gephardt, nominated him to serve on the National Commission on Terrorism — a nomination that Gephardt later withdrew when it emerged that Marayati had spoken sympathetically of violent jihad. In 1993, for example, Marayati had proclaimed, “When Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ that statement epitomized jihad.” Equally absurdly, he later analogized Islamic terrorists to “American freedom fighters hundreds of years ago [who] were also regarded as terrorists by the British.” Obviously, as Pipes observed, Marayati’s intent was “to render jihad and terrorism acceptable to Americans.”
While Democrats had hoped to raise Marayati’s profile, the exposition of his track record raised too many questions about his judgment. That problem intensified as the record became better known. In 1996, for instance, a Palestinian terrorist named Muhammad Hamida plowed his car into a crowded Jerusalem bus stop, killing one Israeli and injuring 23 others as he screamed “Allahu Akbar!” He was shot on the scene, before he could do any more harm. Immediately afterwards, while mum on the jihadist’s atrocity, Marayati demanded that the shooters of the jihadist be extradited to the United States to face trial on “terrorism charges” for this “provocative act.”
Meanwhile, in a 1999 PBS interview, Marayati portrayed Hezbollah attacks as “legitimate resistance” — a position that dovetailed perfectly with the sentiments of MPAC’s founders. In fact, in a position paper published around the same time, MPAC minimized Hezbollah’s murder of 241 U.S. military personnel in the 1983 terrorist suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon: “This attack, for all the pain it caused, was not in a strict sense a terrorist operation. It was a military operation, producing no civilian casualties — exactly the kind of attack that Americans might have lauded had it been directed against Washington’s enemies.”
Nevertheless, Marayati and his wife, Laila al-Marayati (founder of the “Muslim Women’s League”), remained Clinton favorites. Mrs. Marayati served on the Clinton State Department’s advisory committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and was tapped by Hillary Clinton to join the then–first lady’s delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women. The Marayatis, moreover, helped Mrs. Clinton organize the original White House Iftaar dinner in 1996. The event, marking the end of Ramadan, has since become an annual gala to which invitations are coveted by bipartisan Beltway luminaries. In 2009, at the first Iftaar dinner held by the Obama White House, which is more unabashedly Leftist than its Clintonian predecessor, Salam al-Marayati was called on to close the program. “Ramadan,” he told the revelers, “is a time of preparation to work for social justice.”
Marayati, of course, showed no hesitation in accusing Israel of complicity in 9/11, the worst war crime ever committed on American soil, despite the absence of a shred of evidence. Yet MPAC is reliably found screaming “McCarthyism,” in harmony with the radical Left, over our government’s counterterrorism measures. It has been this one-trick pony’s script for a quarter-century.
Typical is former MPAC “political director” Mahdi Bray’s speech at the leftist ANSWER Coalition’s “Pro-Palestinian Rally” in 2002: “They are using the guise of terrorism as a front to extort money from our coffers, to increase the military buildup . . . and they’re going around and they’re actually pimping the tragedy of 9/11.” It should come as no surprise, then, that MPAC now allies with the likes of Congressman Keith Ellison, a hard-left ideologue popular among Islamic supremacists, in pooh-poohing well-documented concerns about Islamist influence on government officials — concerns raised at a time when the Obama administration is palpably tying U.S. policy to the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, notwithstanding the Brotherhood’s unabashed hostility to America and the West.
MPAC manages the dual roles of “leading Islamist” and “government’s favorite Muslims” because it has mastered the Brotherhood’s Janus face: It condemns “terrorism” before non-Muslim audiences, but neglects to explain that it does not consider “resistance” against those who “persecute Muslims” to be “terrorism.” It also works feverishly to defend actual terrorists and their financiers, ensuring that discerning Islamists know exactly where MPAC stands.
For example, while Marayati was out defending Hezbollah and pointing the accusatory 9/11 finger at Israel, MPAC hired Edina Lekovic to be its “communications director.” For years, Ms. Lekovic had been affiliated with al-Talib (“the Student”), a Muslim Students Association newspaper at UCLA. As I’ve noted before, the Muslim Students Association is the first building block in Muslim Brotherhood’s American infrastructure. During Lekovic’s affiliation, al-Talib published, to take just one example, a “Spirit of the Jihad” issue in July 1999 — less than a year after al-Qaeda bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In it, al-Talib exhorted Muslims to “defend our brother” Osama bin Laden, who was praised as a “great Mujahid” and “a freedom fighter who has forsaken wealth and power to fight in Allah’s cause and speak out against oppressors.”
In characteristic MPAC style, when called by terrorism researcher Steven Emerson on her work for al-Talib, Ms. Lekovic first totally denied having any association with the publication and accused Emerson of mudslinging. Soon, though, she grudgingly conceded that she might have “briefly worked” at al-Talib, but insisted that Emerson had distorted her views and associated her with “sentiments that I in no way support, and that are antithetical to the work I do day in and day out in the service of my community and my country.”
So Emerson’s organization, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, undertook to scrutinize her claims. IPT found that Lekovic’s “brief” affiliation with al-Talib had actually spanned nearly five years, from late 1997 through mid-2002. In fact, during much of that time, she had been al-Talib’s managing editor — a position she proudly listed in her bio in late 2001 for the program distributed at an MPAC conference, “The Rising Voice of Moderate Muslims.” The IPT’s examination further showed that she had been listed as an editor in al-Talib editions that featured articles suggesting that the horror of the Holocaust had been exaggerated and that Omar Abdel Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) had been tortured in federal prison, where he was serving a life sentence because, according to al-Talib, he had been “falsely accused” of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
In October 2000, MPAC hosted a rally in Washington’s Lafayette Park at which Abdurahman Alamoudi — then regarded in Washington as another “moderate” Muslim leader — was featured as a speaker. To often raucous applause, Alamoudi asserted, “I have been labeled by the media in New York to be a supporter of Hamas. Anybody supports Hamas here? [Crowd cheers responsively] . . . Hear that, Bill Clinton? We are ALL supporters of Hamas. Allahu Akhbar! I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah!”
A few weeks later, MPAC co-sponsored another anti-Israel rally, organized by its then–political director, Mahdi Bray. As detailed in an IPT profile of MPAC, the rally’s master of ceremonies led protesters in an Arabic chant: “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad saya’ud!” — meaning, “Oh Jews, remember Khaybar; the army of Mohammed is returning!” Especially popular with Hamas supporters, this chant alludes to a seventh-century massacre and expulsion by Muslims of a Jewish tribe in Khaybar, a town in what today is Saudi Arabia.
As the rally proceeded, Bray played the tambourine as one of the speakers sang with the crowd, “al-Aqsa [mosque, in Jerusalem] is calling us, ‘Let’s all go into jihad, and throw stones in the face of the Jews!’” A prominent Hamas operative, Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar, took the podium to argue that Muslims had “exclusive rights over Jersualem” that were “not subject to negotiation.” Ashqar was later sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment for obstructing a grand-jury investigation of Hamas. Mohammed al-Asi, an open Hezbollah supporter who also spoke at the rally, urged that speakers “should be concentrating on militarizing the Muslim public. . . . Rhetoric is not going to liberate al-Quds [Jerusalem] and al-Aqsa [mosque]. Only carrying arms will do this task!” Posters calling for “Death to Israel” and equating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika were openly displayed at the rally, and the crowd burned the Israeli flag while marching from the White House to the State Department.
Besides campaigning for the government to de-list Hezbollah and Hamas from the list of formally designated terrorist organizations, MPAC regularly gets its pom-poms out for individual terrorists. That is, while winking about how much it abhors “terrorism,” MPAC tirelessly insists that the government’s efforts to prevent and punish terrorism are a scam — camouflage for a neo-McCarthyite, “Islamophobic” persecution of Muslims.
For example, in 2002, when Bray was MPAC’s national director, he appeared on a panel with Sami al-Arian, who was then under investigation for his labors on behalf of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “Don’t fall for it, brothers and sisters,” Bray cautioned. “You have to realize this whole thing about terrorism is a paper tiger. It’s just an excuse. They’ve used it before. Before terrorism it was Communism. They’ve used it before. So don’t fall for the ‘terrorism.’” In 2003, al-Arian was arrested on terrorism charges. MPAC aggressively defended him throughout, portraying his prosecution as a bigoted smear of Muslims. But al-Arian eventually pled guilty to a terrorism conspiracy charge. In imposing the maximum sentence, a federal judge described him as a “master manipulator” who had been proved “a leader of the PIJ,” and who, contrary to his pretensions, did not defend Palestinian widows and orphans but created them by supporting suicide terrorism.
MPAC’s energetic support of al-Arian is typical. As the IPT profile demonstrates, it has consistently lambasted investigations of individuals and organizations involved in violent jihad and terrorist financing. It publicly sympathized, for example, with (a) Alamoudi, who was eventually convicted for his complicity in a Libyan plot to murder a Saudi royal (after which it emerged that he was a major fundraiser not only for the Hamas terrorist organization but for al-Qaeda); (b) the Holy Land Foundation, five of whose officers were later convicted in the Justice Department’s most significant terrorism-financing prosecution ever for transferring millions of dollars to Hamas; (c) Infocom and members of the Elashi family, who were eventually convicted for trading with enemy nations and, in the case of the Elashis, for supporting Hamas; (d) the Benevolence International Foundation, which was designated as a terrorism financier by the Treasury Department (its leader, Enaam Arnaout, ultimately pled guilty to racketeering charges, conceding that BIF had diverted charitable contributions to violent jihad); and (e) Rafil Dhafir, whose prosecution Marayati called a “sham,” but who was later convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison for transferring funds to Iraq. On it goes.
So now MPAC is leading its longtime confederates among the Obama Left as they browbeat Romney. They are, of course, emboldened by the GOP establishment, whose loudest voices — rather than rallying behind conservative critics of Obama’s dalliance with the Muslim Brotherhood — have slammed Bachmann & Co. Yes, how dare they suggest that there might be a problem with giving important policy positions at the State Department and elsewhere to people with extensive Islamist ties?
By the way, did I mention that the Obama State Department uses Salam al-Marayati as an emissary? Yeah, in 2010, Secretary of State Clinton’s minions invited him to lecture diplomats in Paris and Geneva on religious liberty, free speech, and “Islamophobia.” The Bush State Department, too — they invited Marayati to Foggy Bottom in 2002, where he championed Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood party. What lunatics these House conservatives are to intimate that we might have the wrong people shaping government policy.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.