Friday, February 12, 2010

DMN's Smear Article Against Me & ISNA

Refutation of DMN article on ISNA

Refutation of DMN article on ISNA Source: ISNA & Invaider Blog

(Plainfield, IN – February 11, 2010) The Dallas Morning News (DMN) published on Sunday, February 7, 2010, an article by Brooks Egerton under the title “U.S. torn over whether some Muslims pose threat or offer insight.” The article painted the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Dr. Louay Safi, the Director of Communications and Leadership Development, in a negative light, and presented a distorted picture of ISNA that belies its actual work and contribution to society.

The article was written in a disparaging and condescending manner, using pejorative terms, such as “Islamist” and “Jihadi”, and rehashing smears that one usually finds in the rants of Islamophobic bloggers intent on undermining mainstream Muslim organizations. It is disturbing to see the DMN resort to innuendo, half-truths, and guilt by association to smear the largest Muslim American organization. It did not matter to Mr. Egerton that ISNA works to develop a robust interfaith dialogue and cooperation, to educate the community to ensure that mosques are not exploited by violent extremism, and to provide opportunities for consultation and cooperation between the Muslim community leadership and government agencies. It seems that Mr. Egerton was intent on utilizing some allegations and incidental associations for establishing presumption of guilt.

We are disappointed that the DMN did not heed the wise words of Rabbi Marc Schneier to ensure a meaningful and fair-minded presentation of ISNA. In his response to Mr. Egerton’s effort to brush ISNA with the anti-Semitic label on the basis of a statement by one out of some 200 speakers in its 2009 convention, Rabbi Schneier told him that ISNA “should be remembered for its extensive outreach to Jews, not Umar’s ‘repulsive’ remarks.” Rabbi Schneier tried to teach his questioner another principle about fair reporting. “That’s not the ISNA I see today,” the Rabbi responded to questions aimed at spouting doubts through issues that took place in a different time governed by a different reality, and then added: “Institutions evolve.”

On the Unindicted Coconspirator Designation

ISNA has been designated as unindicted coconspirator (UCC). ISNA continues to pursue all legal avenues to remove the stigma that was placed on it unfairly, and which has been badly exploited by Muslim bashers and has been continuously used every time they reference ISNA with the hope that this cheap and abusive tactic would frighten the public and intimidate those who interact with ISNA. ACLU has summed up the predicament facing law-abiding individuals and institutions who are branded with this designation. “By publicly branding these groups as criminals without providing a forum for them to defend themselves or clear their names,” an ACLU statement reads, “the government has acted with blatant disregard for their constitutional rights.”

The government conceded, through exchange with ACLU lawyers, that it had absolutely no evidence proving that either ISNA, or its service organizations, had engaged in a criminal conspiracy. The U.S Attorney told ISNA’s legal counsel “that ISNA was not subjects or targets in the HLF prosecution or in any other pending investigation.” The U.S. attorney also acknowledged that the public labeling was simply a “legal tactic” intended to allow the government to introduce hearsay evidence against HLF later at trial.

The DOJ Attorneys’ Manual instructs U.S. Attorneys not to name unindicted co-conspirators in indictments and directs them to avoid publicly naming unindicted co-conspirators. The public naming of ISNA is a clear violation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines and established court rules.

ISNA’s many interfaith partners expressed dismay when ISNA was slammed with the UCC designation. The Union of Reform Judaism echoed the concerns expressed by the ACLU, stating that “Because ISNA is one of the nation’s largest Muslim umbrella organizations, the charge is also damaging, and has a chilling effect on the entire American Muslim community…It is our sincere hope that the damage that ISNA has had to endure…can and will be properly reversed, so that together we can all work to fulfill God’s vision of a world at peace with ourselves and with one another.”

Similarly, Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches (NCC) expressed solidarity with ISNA on this issue. “As an ally and friend of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)…the label of ‘co-conspirator’ is damaging to the excellent reputation of ISNA and those who collaborate with them to build a better America.” He added “In my experience working with ISNA, their leaders have offered the United States a strong and consistent Muslim voice of peace.”
Robert Edgar, Former Congressman and President and CEO, Common Cause, echoed the same sentiment.  “As a former United States Congressman…I am personally offended by the United States Justice Department’s apparent designation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the Holy Land Foundation case. This reminds me of the so-called ‘witch hunts’ of the 1950s,” he stressed. “As a United Methodist pastor and former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches…I urge that this harmful designation be ‘expunged’ immediately,” he asserted.

On the Anti-Semitism Allegation

The DMN article makes reference to a 15-year-old conversation that reportedly was part of an FBI eavesdropping on Sami Al-Arian. Mr. Egerton used a brief exchange that was incidental to a telephone conversation that took place in 1995. He concludes after citing two lines of a conversation that Dr. Safi agreed that “Jews controlled the U.S. government.” There is a deliberate attempt to build on a couple of sentences translated from Arabic and taken out of context to insinuate that Dr. Safi harbors anti-Semitic prejudice. There was no reference to Jews in the exchange, and Dr. Al-Arian expressed a tired conspiracy theory expression about Zionism and Dr. Safi responded with a bland statement to move on to the main subject.   Anyone aware of Dr. Safi’s statements in condemning anti-Semitism or his involvement in interfaith dialogue with Jews and Christians knows that the picture DMN depicts is completely false and misleading.
Dr. Safi expressed in a press release he issued on behalf of ISNA in late 2009 in response to a pejorative statement about the Jews “complete rejection of all prejudicial views and bigoted stances toward the Jewish community and any other community of faith.” 

On the Fort Hood Attacks

The report insinuated that Ron Taylor, the president of AUSA Fort Hood chapter, was confused about ISNA’s intention to provide $100,000 on top of the first check of $10,000 Dr. Safi presented during his visit to Fort Hood. “Taylor admitted to wondering what was going on,” the report states. The article goes on to state that “Mr. Taylor recalled how Safi described Hasan to him – not as a religiously motivated extremist who planned to kill soldiers but as “someone who just lost it that particular day and did some bad things.”

This is again a complete mischaracterization of Dr. Safi’s and ISNA’s position on the Fort Hood attacks. Not only did ISNA condemn the killing of the unsuspecting soldiers and call the action a crime and betrayal, it went on to establish a fund for the attack victims.  Dr. Safi was part of the team that worked on raising the fund.  Following in the footsteps of Muslim bashers, the DMN shamelessly turned a positive act into a negative coverage.

The inaccuracies are not limited, though, to the above facts, but include a host of claims based on sloppy reporting. These include the fact that Dr. Safi is not a subcontractor of the military; his presentations on Islam were made in response to invitations by the Leadership Development and Education for Sustained Peace; he has not been suspended from visiting military bases; and the claim that Dr. Safi is under criminal investigation is not only cannot be substantiated,  but also the information ISNA obtained thus far indicate that it is not true.

On Muslim Brotherhood Document and Affiliation

The insinuation that ISNA is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood has been promoted by Muslim bashers. Now DMN decided to echo their methods and amplify their lies.  The DMN report’s assertion that ISNA is a member of a foreign organization with plans to “overtake the United States” is based on a document in Arabic dated May 19, 1991, and signed by an obscure author. The document is written as a blueprint for gaining control over several Muslim American organizations. The document named ISNA as one of the prime targets of the author’s ambition, and this, Muslim bashers think, gives them the liberty to brand ISNA as a Brotherhood vehicle. Muslim bashers do not explain how they could appropriate the fantasy of an unknown author to assert that ISNA is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamic Society of North America is an independent Muslim American organization governed by an elected council and led by an elected president. It has no affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and has a membership that is too diverse in its religious orientation and so broad in its political views to be boxed into a singular ideological profile. ISNA has been on the forefront of working towards the integration of Muslim Americans into mainstream society, is committed to building bridges of cooperation and understanding through religious and ethnic lines, and is actively engaged in interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Rather than working to eliminate and destroy Western civilization from within, as the Muslim bashers’ favorite document alleges, ISNA members have been working on strengthening their society by serving as medical doctors, public servants, professionals, professors, social workers, chaplains, and, yes, soldiers. Anti-Muslim hate mongers have been using the Brotherhood-linked document to defame Muslim Americans and discredit their mainstream organizations in the same way the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was used by anti-Semitic pundits against Jews.

Finally, it is disturbing that the whole approach of the article is to link ISNA with terrorism and to cast aspirations on the organization that offers the widest platform to bring diverse Muslim American communities in conversation and partnership with people of other faiths and good will. ISNA is ready to work with DMN to provide an accurate report on the Islamic Society of North American and the Muslim American community in general.

Action Requested

The negative article by Brooks Egerton was published on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News. ISNA appeals to members of the Muslim community in general, and the Texas Muslim community in particular, to let the newspaper know about their feelings regarding this negative presentation. Please make sure that you speak respectfully but firmly on this issue.
Please contact Ms. Maud Beelman, the DMN News Editor, and Brooks Egerton, the article writer, at the Dallas Morning News and request that the newspaper issue a retraction and allow ISNA to publish rebuttal on the DMN op-ed page.
  • Maud Beelman, The DMN News Editor
  • Brooks Egerton, staff writer
Please circulate this action alert to your email list and members of your organization and community.

Note: This response was published on ISNA Website in February  2010. Dallas Morning News website agreed to publish a shorter version of it on its website. Since then both the above response and the shorter version have disappeared from both websites. I was able to find a copy of the original on an unknown website called In-Vaid-Ing in the blogosphere, and decided to republish it on my website for the record.

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