Telling half the story

Muslims Celebrate Eid al-Fitr To Mark End Of Ramadan

I was reading this Washington Post story about how “some” Muslims don’t want to fill out U.S. Census forms for fear of how the federal government will use that information.

The story isn’t terribly well sourced and doesn’t really quantify how widespread this concern is among Muslims (beyond, again, “some” and, later, “many”) and I thought it might be confusing religious issues with immigration or residency concerns. But what I found most interesting about the story, which brought up past problems with the federal government violating civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism, was that it repeatedly mentioned the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., without mentioning some of the mosque’s ties to terrorists.

It’s a very popular mosque in the area but it’s also known for having once had an imam by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki. Yes, that Anwar al-Awlaki. Two of the 9/11 hijackers attended services there and a German planner of the 9/11 attacks had the number for the mosque in his apartment. Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan also attended there years ago. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was convicted of conspiracy to assassinate President George W. Bush and of providing support to Al Qaeda, worshiped and taught Islamic studies there. A former member of the mosque’s executive committee was convicted of obstruction of justice for refusing to testify about Hamas. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that mosque leaders have been political (he quotes from one 1998 sermon: “Allah will give us the victory over our tyrannical enemies in our country. Allah, the infidel Americans and British are fighting against you. Allah, the curse of Allah will become true on the infidel Jews and on the tyrannical Americans.”). And the Post has reported that the mosque is affiliated with the Muslim American Society, which has links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Dar Al Hijrah hosted a fundraiser last month for Sabri Benkahla, who members believe was wrongly convicted of terrorism-related charges.

Now, I certainly don’t think you need to mention any or all of this every time you write about the mosque. But if you’re writing about terrorism and you’re writing about the mosque? Then you probably should. Not all mosques are like the Dar Al Hijrah mosque. And if reporters obscure those distinctions, I think it might have the effect of making all Muslims seem more radical as a group.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write anything about this larger topic of how to handle Dar Al Hijrah’s controversial ties but then I saw this brief Washington Post Virginia Politics blog post by Anita Kumar. It explains that hundreds of people are asking the House of Delegates there to revoke an invitation to a Falls Church imam. We’re told they accuse him of condoning violence. The delegate who invited him defends him as “a great guy.” We get almost no specifics.

I know it’s just a blog post but what, precisely, are the things Abdul-Malik is accused of? I know that some people aren’t happy about that fundraiser for the guy who was convicted of terrorism-related charges. But I also know that much of the other stuff I mentioned above predated Abdul-Malik’s tenure at the controversial mosque.

So the Post has a follow-up story, a great opportunity to clarify some of these mysteries. Here’s how it begins:

Hundreds of people are urging legislators to boycott the House of Delegates’ floor session on Thursday, when a Falls Church imam whom they accuse of condoning violence and defending terrorism is set to deliver the opening prayer.

The imam, Johari Abdul-Malik, and many other leaders in the Muslim and interfaith communities say the accusations are false.

It goes on to include one sentence about how 9/11 hijackers worshiped there and Al Awlaki was the imam there. It doesn’t mention much of what the Post itself has reported over the years about ties to accused and convicted terrorists. And then it transitions:

But Abdul-Malik was not affiliated with the mosque in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. In recent years, he has made statements following the arrest of Muslims on terrorism charges, arguing for due process, civil rights and fair sentencing.

“To try to cast me as someone who’s a terrorist and closed-minded — they picked the wrong guy,” he said.

Evidence also supplied in Abdul-Malik’s favor include that he was featured in ads denouncing terrorism and has condemned Osama bin Laden on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Note, above, the use of the word “but.” Now note how the next paragraph begins:

Still, letters and calls have poured into legislative offices since Friday, when a handful of concerned delegates let community activists know that Abdul-Malik was coming to Richmond.

“He’s an apologist for people who commit criminal acts,” said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force. The group, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Act for America, will hold a rally outside the state Capitol on Thursday morning.

Unbelievably, though, we never get to hear the specific allegations made by critics of Abdul-Malik and the Dar Al Hijrah moseque. I mean, you can easily find them on the internet — but you can’t find them in this story. Again, I know the fundraiser they hosted last month really bothered some people. But it’s not mentioned in the story. Are there other things that critics are upset about? If so, we don’t learn about them from the Post article.

Completely apart from the merits of either side’s case, this story goes out of its way to find supporters and defenders of Abdul-Malik. That’s fine and good but because we never hear the specifics of critics’ complaints, it’s just a very one-sided story. It’s even worse than not giving the specifics. The reporters actually tell us that the terrorist connections at the mosque predate the current imam. But at least some of the (apparently-too-hot-for-the-Post) complaints they have about the mosque and its imam are quite recent.

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  • Peter

    Given the track record of Lou Sheldon and the Laffertys, I wonder if the problem is the opponents weren’t able to articulate specifics for their complaints when talking to reporters or in emails to Richmond. Is it a reporters obligation to fish around on anti-Islam websites to explain vague allegations or non-specifics?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Peter:

    Straw man argument. Saying they have no specific complaints is not the same thing as investigating the charges they made and the evidence they cited for their arguments.

    MZ’s points are crucial. The Post’s own background material is not mentioned. The accusations made by critics are not quoted. There is no debate. This is one of those cases where we literally do not know what one side of the story SAID. There is only silence and the word “claimed.”

  • Evanston2

    Thanks Mollie, for “drilling down” to the issues in a serious story.

  • Peter

    Did they cite evidence or did they just make accusations? That was my point in terms of the TVC-led efforts.

    And what is the statute of limitations on the former Imam allegedly tied to terrorism? If this was a Catholic parish with a former pedophile priest, for instance, should that be mentioned a decade after the priest left everytime the parish was mentioned? Should every mention of Operation Rescue include mention of the ties to abortion doctor killers? When does the statute of limitations end?

  • Denise

    I was at the press conference on Thursday at the Bell Tower before the court convened. Both Jim Lafferty and I explained our concerns about the good imam in answer to extensive questioning by the reporters present. Unfortunately they didn’t bother to include 99% of what we said.

    Another curious occurrence was Anita Kumar’s updated article where she says I was holding a sign that said “Mr. Ebbin, why are you haboring a jihadist supporter?”. Too bad that’s not what my sign said. The actual message on the sign read “Mr. Ebbin, why are you honoring a jihadist supporter?”. I suppose from Anita’s misspelled word she meant to say harboring, but “harboring” is a far cry from “honoring”. It changes the meaning of the sentence completely and implies that I am accusing Mr. Abdul Malik of being a criminal. More curious is the report from Ashley McLeod of The Gainesville Times who repeated what Anita Kumar said but managed to spell the word harboring correctly. Are all the reporters on this story incapable of reading a clearly stated word correctly or are do they have their own agenda?

    So much for accuracy in the media. Next time I won’t speaking with them. They can make up and print whatever they like.

    Denise Lee
    ACT! for America

  • Denise

    Peter, we included some of the imam’s more interesting statements, like:

    “Alhamdullilah [Praise to Allah] and we will live, will see the day when Islam, by the grace of Allah, will become the dominant way of life… I’m telling you don’t take it for granted because Allah is increasing this din [religion] in your lifetime. Alhamdullilah [Praise to Allah] that soon, soon… before Allah closes our eyes for the last time, you will see Islam move from being the second largest religion in America – that’s where we are now – to being the first religion in America.”

    He also said this at a 2001 conference hosted by the Islamic Association of Palestine, a now defunct propaganda branch of the Specially Designated Terrorist organization Hamas:

    “I am gonna teach you now. You can blow up bridges, but you cannot kill people who are innocent on their way to work. You can blow up power supplies… the water supply, you can do all forms of sabotage and let the world know that we are doing it like this because they have a respect for the lives of innocent people.”

    Imam Johari has made excuses for Anwar Al Awlaki, the former Dar Al-Hijra imam who was emailing Maj. Nidal Hasan who shot up our soldiers at Ft. Hood and who praised Hasan after he did it.

    The current imam at Dar Al-Hijra, Shaker El-Sayed, has a record of support for radical ideologies. He has written admiringly of Hasan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who stated:

    “Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim and cannot be ignored nor evaded. Allah has ascribed great importance to jihad and has made the reward of the martyrs and the fighters in His way a splendid one. Only those who have acted similarly and who have modeled themselves upon the martyrs in their performance of jihad can join them in this reward.”

    It would be hard to believe that Imam Johari is unaware of his co-imam’s statements. Like Mollie says, we’re only getting half of the story.

  • Jerry

    allegations made by critics … I mean, you can easily find them on the internet

    I hardly think this is anything worth noting. You can find anything and everything on the Internet from truth to baseless lies.

    I think, just like you want regular stories to give all the details, it would be helpful when you cite some site on the internet to provide a pointer to not only those who say that the site is useful but also to the critics. In this case, I found the wikipedia article informative http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Emerson#The_Investigative_Project

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    If I’d done more than link (which never indicates endorsement!!), I would have. Here’s how I wrote up Emerson in a previous post about his criticism of another area mosque with ties to the terrorists recently arrested in Pakistan:

    Emerson won an award for his PBS documentary “Jihad in America” but he’s not well liked by the Muslim groups he criticizes and these claims are from many years ago.

    Speaking personally, I have always found Emerson’s investigative project very well sourced. He doesn’t just allege, he cites chapter and verse of where he found various information (e.g., in a sermon, in a Washington Post interview, etc.).

    My point about referencing what you can find on the internet is that the Post darn well should have put easily accessible information IN THE STORY. You shouldn’t make readers have to go looking to find out the basics of the complaint.

    I mean, I have access to past Post stories so I knew what they’d written about the mosque. Don’t the reporters themselves have access to their own archive?

    It’s just bizarre . . .

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Should every mention of Operation Rescue include mention of the ties to abortion doctor killers?

    What “ties” do you refer to? “Liberals” still refuse to acknowledge any “ties” between their version of the “peace movement” and the “peacenik” thugs who beat me up.

    (Sorry, go ahead and delete, but I am sick and bloody tired of this double standard.)


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