Okay, good news first: Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and professor at Hartford Seminary, among other things, will be among those offering prayers at the National Prayer Service this Wednesday of (soon-to-be) President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Dr. Mattson will be part of a multi-faith group of prayer leaders of various Christian denominations, as well as from Jewish, Hindu and other faith traditions.
I was impressed to see the number of female speakers listed, and especially excited to see that the Muslim representative was a woman. Dr. Mattson has done a lot of awesome work (see some of her writing here – I highly encourage checking it out if you’re not familiar with her), and she is obviously highly respected as a leader by many Muslims. Plus, after all the Islamophobia that arose during the election campaign, part of me is just glad to see that the people organising the prayer service didn’t find some kind of strategic excuse to exclude Muslims from it (as you can tell, my expectations are so low that it doesn’t take much to surpass them.) Of course, there are probably questions to be asked about Dr. Mattson (as a white woman with an English-sounding name) potentially being seen as less “threatening” than a whole lot of other Muslims, and that’s another discussion, but overall I think she’s a good person for the task and I was happy to see her name on the list of speakers.
So that was the good news. The bad (and just plain ridiculous) news is that very shortly after Dr. Mattson’s participation in the prayer service was announced, articles started coming out with headlines like “Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas.” Or this one, which has an identical headline to the first one, but leaves out the “US” bit, so it just reads that the group is “linked to Hamas” (because if the U.S. has linked the group to Hamas, it must be true, right?) The basic gist of both of the articles is that ISNA has been accused by federal prosecutors in the United States of supporting the Holy Land Foundation, which in turn has been convicted of sending money to Hamas. However, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out (several months ago), ISNA was never formally charged, and nor was an official investigation ever opened into its alleged involvement with the Foundation; despite this, the naming of the organisation in the investigation has created a huge level of suspicion, regardless of the total lack of evidence (according to the ACLU). ISNA’s so-called “links” to Hamas are links alleged by government officials, and no such actual links have been proven.
Moreover, both of these articles also mention that Dr. Mattson has previously met with with other high-up U.S. government members, including officials from the Bush administration. If ISNA truly was involved with Hamas, then following the logic of those accusing Dr. Mattson, does this also mean that the U.S. government has been consorting with (cue dramatic music) terrorists??? She can be used when it’s convenient, but when people are looking for a news story, all of a sudden she’s the enemy?
These headlines seem like such a blatant example of discrediting prominent Muslims by publicly linking them with the terrorist flavour of the month. If this was a couple years ago, I bet it would have been Hizbollah instead; before that, probably al-Qaida. For that matter, twenty years ago, I’m sure they would have found a way to expose her hidden Communist sympathies. And so on.
Here’s hoping that the prayers offered on all sides at Wednesday’s service call people to higher standards of justice and responsibility than have been observed in recent times, insha’Allah.