As the debate over the Ground Zero "Islamic cultural center" rages, ameliorative press coverage of its "spiritual" promoter, Feisal Abdul Rauf, continues to emphasize his alleged benevolence, while more dismaying facts about him also emerge. The Islamic environment in which he has circulated for many years has included nurturing by fanatical Jew-haters like the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, with whom Rauf continues to cooperate in the so-called Perdana Global Peace Organization, a significant contributor to the sea raid by Turkish-led radicals on the Israeli blockade at Gaza, at the end of May this year. This parallels Rauf's involvements with functionaries of and propaganda for the Iranian clerical dictatorship.
The Abdul Rauf family has long benefited from the support of Mahathir. Most Americans today may never have heard of Mahathir, and many Jews may have forgotten him – he last held power in Malaysia in 2003. But his venomous Jew-baiting has not diminished. Indonesia's Jakarta Globe reported, on January 21, 2010, Mahathir's view that "there was 'strong evidence' the U.S. faked the September 11 terror attacks as an excuse to go to war against Muslims." He said, "There is strong evidence that the attacks were staged. If they can make Avatar, they can make anything." He continued by opining that Jews "had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole governments to ransom… Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world."
Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust of the Jews but Malaysian politician and ideologue Mahathir celebrates it. And Mahathir remains the patron of Feisal Abdul Rauf and the latter's works.
A profile of Feisal Abdul Rauf and his antecedents in The New York Times Saturday (August 21, 2010) described his father, Imam Muhammad Abdul Rauf, as a "pioneer of interfaith dialogue" when the parent was associated with foundation of the East 96th Street Islamic Cultural Center in New York City in the 1960s. But it also notes that the father asked his wife not to drive an automobile, an extremely primitive attitude assumed only by the most reactionary Saudi Wahhabis and similar radicals. The Times further omitted mention of the anti-Jewish outbursts heard at the 96th Street mosque in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, when its later imam, Mohammed Gamei'a, told an Egyptian website "The Jews were behind these ugly acts, while we, the Arabs, were innocent. . . . If it became known to the American people, they would have done to the Jews what Hitler did!" Gamei'a then departed for Egypt, but his successor, Imam Abu-Namous, declared that "he considered the evidence against Osama bin Laden insufficient, and said he could 'not rule out' any possible perpetrators, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish."
The 96th Street mosque was financed and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations, and in 1979, when the Shah fell in Iran, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, Feisal's father moved to another mosque built by diplomats, the opulent Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. The Massachusetts Avenue mosque had been directed by Iran's then-ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi. Just as administration of the Massachusetts Avenue mosque was taken over by Muhammad Abdul Rauf, the congregation came under the domination of Khomeinists. The New York Times yesterday claimed that earlier, in 1977, Muhammad Abdul Rauf was serving in the Washington mosque when he was kidnapped by Islamist gunman, but that his wife tongue-lashed the aggressors into retreat. It failed to note the much more interesting fact that while Muhammad Abdul Rauf headed the Massachusetts Avenue mosque the facility was used by the supporters of the Teheran clerical regime to plan the first Islamist political assassination on American soil. That crime was the murder of Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabai at his home in Bethesda, on July 22, 1980. The killer, David Belfield, who had embraced Islam and taken the names Hassan Abdul Rahman and Dawud Salahuddin, fled to Iran where he is believed to have became a movie actor, appearing in the 2001 Iranian feature film Kandahar.
Imam Muhammad Abdul Rauf soon left the Massachusetts Avenue mosque, with no suspicion that he knew of the Tabatabai murder plot, and went back to Malaysia, where he had previously lived. There Muhammad Abdul Rauf was presented by Mahathir with the rectorship of the International Islamic University of Malaysia. Feisal Abdul Rauf was also not implicated in the Tabatabai crime. Nevertheless, the use of the Washington mosque for coordination of the Tabatabai assassination was an early warning, largely ignored, of the ideologically-toxic environment in many leading American mosques, including those built by diplomats. Islamic authorities agree that as the imam of the Massachusetts Avenue mosque Muhammad Abdul Rauf should have paid closer attention to the extremist clique that had come to dominate his jamaat, or congregation, and that carried out the Tabatabai murder. And in the time since then, as reported here, the Massachusetts Avenue Islamic Center has undergone legal turmoil, with a firm commitment to Saudi Wahhabi radicalism, and a Saudi-engineered court case against one of its former and anti-extremist employees, Farzad Darui, has just been dropped by the Department of Justice.
Feisal Abdul Rauf has projected himself as a bridge-builder between Muslims and non-Muslims but his background and persona fit more with that of one bent on accumulating friends on all sides, and accommodating all aspects of Islam today, without a necessary distinction being drawn between real moderates and radicals. Yet he has more critics than friends among Muslims. As a Sufi, or spiritual Muslim, he is increasingly described as "New Agey" – an insult to mystics in Muslim countries who expect a Sufi to be a serious religious scholar rather than a seeker after crowds. Feisal Abdul Rauf's ego is large. One of his nonprofits was launched as the American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA), but in 2005 changed its name, but not its acronym, to the more ambitious and expansive American Society for Muslim Advancement. In the property office run by Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the "Cordoba House" turned "Park51" project, Rauf's ego has been so aggravated as to make El-Gamal consider dumping him.
Commonsense should have told the "Ground Zero" project's backers that the concept would provoke conflict, rather than conciliation. But Rauf's ego and El-Gamal's enabling of it have landed them, and the opponents of the mosque, in an increasingly unproductive conflict that never should have taken place.