Monday, April 12, 2004

Smear artists

The depths to which the Moonie-owned Washington Times will reach to attack non-conservatives is no longer a surprise, of course. After all, this is a newspaper that sabotaged America's best chance to take out Osama bin Laden before 9/11 just so it could spite Bill Clinton.

Now it is descending to scummy Little Green Footballs-like depths in attempting to attack John Kerry -- trading in outright falsehoods while playing on xenophobic stereotypes about Muslims.

In a recent editorial titled "Inept or Ignorant?", the paper described Kerry as "a man who either doesn't understand the struggle against radical Islam or blindly went trolling for votes from a radical Islamic organization."
In December, when John Kerry was badly trailing Howard Dean, the Massachusetts senator spoke at the annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an anti-Semitic organization that has defended infamous terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Addressing the Long Beach, Calif., audience by phone, Mr. Kerry told the crowd that he "really want to earn support of Muslim leaders across the United States." Mr. Kerry appealed to the crowd by strongly implying that the Bush administration is not protecting the First Amendment rights of Muslims. "I believe this administration is moving our country in a radically wrong direction and is cynically exploiting people in the country and has forgotten some of the heart of the Constitution of the United States of America," he said during his speech.

Mr. Kerry's words, though not justified by facts or any reasonable interpretation of reality, are not the primary problem. His willingness to address the group in the first place is. No presidential candidate should lend legitimacy to a group with MPAC's track record.

Well, what is MPAC's real track record? Here is its own reply to the smear job:
The Washington Times ... editorial falsely charges MPAC with being both anti-Semitic and a supporter of, or at best apologist for, terrorism. Both of these charges are baseless, and we categorically reject them as instruments of political exploitation. In fact, an honest and responsible analysis of our record demonstrates the opposite about our organization.

The irony is that in the organized American Muslim community, MPAC is perhaps the most vocal critic of terrorism, Wahhabism, and extremism. We have been at times criticized in our own community for being "divisive" when we have stood up for our principles. We produced a Counterterrorism paper last year numbering over 100 pages that gave detailed policy suggestions on how the United States can better fight and win the War on Terrorism. That paper was favorably reviewed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA Graham Fuller, among others.

When it was politically incorrect in our own community to do so, MPAC condemned the Taliban for its treatment of women and its destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. MPAC took a firm stance against the Taliban even when the U.S. business establishment had ties to them. Our organization never hesitates to stand up for the rights of minorities in the Muslim world, dedicating an entire panel of our recent convention to the subject. When Salman Rushdie was given a death sentence, MPAC defended his right to free speech and condemned the sentence. The list of such principled positions goes on and on.

Our sense of principle also applies to the terrible violence in the Middle East. If the Washington Times had called MPAC or so much as visited our website, it would have found the above paper and our policy brief on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in which we clearly call for a two-state solution and condemn terrorism against Israelis and Palestinians. You would have noticed that we endorsed Oslo, the Road Map, the Geneva Accords, and we in fact favor any reasonable and viable peace deal as being not just in Muslim interest, but in America's interest. The Times should have cited our extensive work with Jewish organizations over 16 years and our on-going Muslim-Jewish dialogue, the longest in the country. You would have seen from our track record (a bibliography of our statements spanning over 60 pages that is easily available by a simple request), that we have condemned terrorism conducted by Hamas and Hizbullah by name, not once, but several times, including on national television.

What is truly bizarre about this type of pseudo-journalism is the unyielding and irrational determination to contort MPAC into an extremist group, even when such a hatchet job requires completely misrepresenting the facts. To take just one of several examples of this unethical behavior, the Times alleged that Salam Al-Marayati downplayed Hamas’ "quote unquote military operations". In reality, Al-Marayati said "quote unquote" because he does not believe that operations carried out by Hamas that kill civilians are "military operations": he believes they are terrorism.

On the day of the September 11th attacks, in response to a caller that placed Islam on the suspect list, Salam Al-Marayati responded that Israel should be put on the list of suspects for the bombing. At that early stage of the tragedy, when no culprits were identified, Al-Marayati made that comment as a rhetorical rejoinder: if we are to blame the tragedy on a religion, what is to stop others from wildly pointing fingers in other directions? Furthermore, Al-Marayati published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times clarifying his position and regretting any misunderstanding. He made personal phone calls to Jewish leaders and attended several meetings. These exchanges are also a matter of public record the Times chose to ignore. To paint MPAC as an "anti-Semitic group" because of this exchange is nonsense and an entirely inappropriate and irresponsible use of the serious charge of anti-Semitism.

As for John Kerry, not only did he speak at MPAC's convention, but so did Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Senator Tom Harkin, and representatives from the Bush Administration itself. In fact, the MPAC leadership has met with all levels of this administration several times, including the President himself. Our helpfulness on counterterrorism issues has been lauded by FBI Director Robert Mueller, leaders at the Office of Homeland Security, and countless local law-enforcement officials, with whom we have held numerous meetings and brainstorming sessions to help America remain safe. Perhaps your next editorial can clarify whether you consider the White House "Inept or Ignorant".

In the end, we continue to shake our heads and wonder why a paper like the Washington Times wants to waste its time attacking Muslims who are moderate, responsible, anti-terrorist and who want to help America in an informed and in-depth manner. We think your actions are un-American and a gross breach of journalistic ethics, which would at least have demanded that you speak to us directly before smearing us.

The Washington Times might be both inept and ignorant, but in this case, it's being neither. It's simply lying -- at the expense of responsible Muslims -- in a crude attempt to harm John Kerry.

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