The Scam Artist at the Ground Zero Mosque

by RAEL JEAN ISAAC September 22, 2010
While there has been much emotion and argument over the proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, it has largely swirled over issues that miss the nature and significance of the issues involved.  Thus we hear endless variations on the theme “How can a moderate imam whose stated goal is to promote healing in the wake of 9/11 be so insensitive to the feelings of those who lost those they loved at the hands of Islamic fanatics?”
But, as the public is slowly learning, Imam Rauf is no moderate and bridge-building is not his agenda.  The project with which Rauf has been most closely associated is the “Sharia Index Project” which measures how closely each country approaches the ideal of complete conformity to sharia law. The ideal is replacing Western   law with Islamic law, i.e. achieving worldwide Islamic supremacy.
How did the issue of the Ground Zero mosque come to be framed so poorly?  It’s because Imam Rauf is an expert at gaming the system, exploiting every economic, political and psychological vulnerability of this society.  How does he scam us?  Let me count the ways.
1          In a burst of investigative journalism, The Bergen Record has documented how, thanks to his connections with powerful politicians (including Robert Janiszewski, the county’s disgraced former county executive), Rauf managed to obtain over $2 million in public financing for purchasing and rehabilitating low income apartments in Hudson County, New Jersey.  Maintaining the buildings was another matter. Page after page of municipal health records, the Record reports,  chronicle a barrage of tenant complaints from failure to pick up garbage to rat infestation to no heat or hot water. Union City has now brought suit, seeking receivership on two buildings, charging Rauf with ignoring orders by the city to address violations.
2          Rauf obtained church status for the American Sufi Muslim Association, giving it exemption from taxes, from filing tax returns and from revealing its sources of funding.  The Association gave a one bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a high rise at 251 West 85th street (elsewhere listed as his wife’s residence) as its place of worship.  In petitioning for church status, Rauf claimed as many as 500 people prayed there daily, five times a day.  Steve Emerson’s  Investigative Project, which dug up this scam, points out that there is no way this small apartment could have functioned as Rauf claimed it did. (Emerson’s group has also revealed that Faiz Khan,  one of the Association’s three directors, is a “truther,” insisting  at a  2006 conference of these U.S.-hating fantasists that the “most logical explanation” for 9/11 was that the hijackers were “working for corporate America.”)
3          Rauf claims his mission, in his own words, is “to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology.” On the strength of this persona the State Department sends him off on junkets to the Middle East, most recently this summer.
But how can the State Department possibly believe a man openly dedicated to instituting sharia worldwide will counter Islamic radicalism when implementing sharia is the central demand of Islamic radicals?
If the relation of sharia to Islamic radicalism is beyond the comprehension of our State Department,  there is the interview Rauf gave to Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He told Bradley “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime.” 
Today Rauf  tries to explain this away. On CNN (September 8th) Rauf said he meant to say that the U.S. had empowered Islamist militants like bin Laden while fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  Only trouble is that in the original interview a startled Bradley had a follow up question:“How?”  And Rauf replied “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”   Rauf was clearly claiming that the U.S. had brought 9/11 upon itself (was “accessory to the crime”) by its brutality to Muslims. If that wasn’t clear enough, in 2005 Rauf told a Moslem audience in Australia “the U.S. has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.” 
Apparently for the State Department, it’s enough to say 9/11 was a “crime” to pass muster as a Muslim moderate—it doesn’t matter to whom you attribute it.
4          Rauf exploits the ill-advised Jewish passion for interfaith dialogue (no matter how disingenuous the other side) to line up Jewish–especially rabbinic–support for the Ground Zero mosque.  There are the familiar far-leftists like Arthur Waskow (formerly of the radical left-wing Institute for Policy Studies, now reincarnated as a rabbi), Rolando Matalon of the trendy  B’nai Jeshurun congregation and, inevitably, the Union for Reform Judaism. But there are also the Orthodox Rabbis Schneier, father and son, and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee to whom Rauf’s position on Israel should be of some concern.
So where does Rauf stand on Israel? Challenged to condemn Hamas in a radio interview, Rauf replied “Terrorism is a very complex question.” As National Review editor Rich Lowry has observed, that’s the stock answer for anyone excusing terrorism.
But the most significant insight into Rauf’s views on Israel comes from a letter from Rauf published in The New York Times that The Wall Street Journal unearthed.  Elsewhere (“Taiba at Ground Zero?” Family Security Matters, August 20) I have compared Rauf to Tariq Ramadan, the urbane and articulate Swiss born academic, grandson of of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan-al-Banna, whose role as an alleged moderate has made him a fixture of the “commentariat” on Islam on European television and even secured him an invitation from the British Prime Minister to serve on the government’s task force on preventing extremism.  As French journalist Caroline Fourest documents extensively in her book Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, Ramadan is adept at saying one thing to his Islamic followers, another to his Western audience. Rauf outdoes Ramadan at this game: he manages to address both audiences with opposing messages at the same time!
Let’s look at Rauf’s letter to The New York Times of Nov. 27, 1977, in which he comments on Sadat’s then ground breaking trip to Jerusalem.  Rauf encourages his fellow Muslims to “give peace a chance.”  So much for making a Western audience happy.  He goes on to address specifically “my fellow Arabs.”  To them he says “Learn from the example of the Prophet Mohammed, your greatest historical personality.  After a state of war with the Meccan unbelievers that lasted for many years, he acceded in the Treaty of Hudabiya, to demands that his closest companions considered utterly humiliating. Yet peace turned out to be a most effective weapon against the unbelievers.” As The Wall Street Journal points out, Rauf is referring to the treaty that established a ten year truce during which Mohammed built up his forces to conquer Mecca.  Rauf is telling the Arabs that Sadat is doing the same thing, offering a time-out before the ultimate conquest.  In case they missed the point, he adds “In a true peace it is impossible that a purely Jewish state of Palestine can endure….In a true peace, Israel will, in our lifetimes, become one more Arab country, with a Jewish minority.”
Asked by The Wall Street Journal if his views had changed since the 1970s (when he also celebrated the Iranian revolution as “inspired by the very principles of individual rights and freedom that Americans ardently believe in”) Rauf professed himself “amused” that the Journal would dredge up letters he wrote as a young man. But he stood by his original views.
“As I reread those letters now, I see that they express the same concerns—a desire for peaceful solutions in Israel and for a humane understanding of Iran—that I have maintained, and worked hard on, in the years since those letters were published.”  “Peaceful solutions” in the case of Israel,” as Rauf made crystal clear, meant Israel’s extinction.
5          Rauf  claims  that the mosque “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”  But as Amir Taheri has pointed out, the structure will be a rabat, the creation of which was ordered by Mohammed at the heart of infidel territory that had been successfully raided—and where the next raid would be prepared. As Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director general of Al-Arabiya TV, put it in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the mosque “will become an arena for the promoters of hatred, and a monument to those who committed the crime.”
This is more than well-informed speculation by individuals who understand the Moslem world.  In August, as Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe wrote in The Wall Street Journal,  the German authorities shut down the Taiba mosque and cultural center in Hamburg after it became a magnet drawing enthusiasts for jihad—along with actual practitioners—from around the world.  It was a magnet, as Manfred Murck, deputy chief of Germany’s domestic security agency, explained “because it has the aura of the 9/11 assassins.”  This was the mosque where Mohammed Atta and several other 9/11 hijackers had hung out, and Murck reported that “devotees of the 9/11 killers have come from all over on a tour of jihadism that starts in Hamburg, then proceeds to Madrid, then to London, where dozens were murdered in the tube in 2005.” 
If the mere “aura” of Mohammed Atta proved so powerful in Hamburg, imagine what a magnet a mosque at the site of the greatest triumph over the infidels would be?  In the imagination of the jihadists it will be almost as good as a mosque in the actual footprint of the towers, for the Burlington Coat factory was badly damaged when landing gear from one of the planes  crashed through the roof.
And this is precisely the reason why Imam Rauf and his associates are so reluctant to accept the alternative site New York Governor Patterson has offered them, on the surface an easy way to put the controversy to rest.  At any other site Imam Rauf would be unlikely to raise anything like the $100 million he can plausibly hope to obtain for a mosque in the shadow of what were once the World Trade Center towers. Moreover, it is important to note the title of Rauf’s book.  The abridged English version  is a comforting What’s  Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.  But it was published earlier in Malaysia under the very different title A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post 9-11.  Dawa means proselytizing. Rauf is set on spreading the message of Islam from the heart of Ground Zero—and the Burlington coat factory is as close as you get.
There is another backstory, not yet uncovered, as to why the Pomerantz family, owners of the site, sold it to Rauf’s group for $4.8 million, when they had turned down multiple offers, including one by developer Kevin Glodek for $18 million. Why did Kukiko Mitani, Pomerantz’s widow, claim that there were no other offers?
6          Rauf  games the system by claiming he seeks reconciliation while  demonizing the mosque’s opponents.  He claims his life’s work is “peace-making” even as he issues dire warnings of worldwide violence if his Ground Zero mosque is blocked.
Speaking in a forum in Doha on his recent taxpayer funded tour, Rauf declared: “The battlefront is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates [and] extremists—radicals of all faith traditions.”  Rauf treats those who are offended by a mosque at Ground Zero as the moral equivalent of jihadists.  Not to be outdone, on August 22 Rauf’s wife Daisy Khan announced on national TV that America was a place “beyond Islamophobia.”
Even more outrageously, Rauf now claims he only insists on the present mosque site out of concern for American lives!  Rauf used an hour long interview on Larry King Live (conducted by Soledad O’Brien) to claim that he would not have embarked on the project had he anticipated the outcry, but it now must go forward  to save American lives: “If we move from that location…the headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack.” Rauf warns that the 2006 riots in the wake of the Mohammed cartoons could pale in comparison, for anger will likely “explode in the Muslim world” leading to “something which could really become very, very, very dangerous indeed.“  But as Claudia Rosett points out on, it is Rauf himself who created and now stokes the “crisis.”
There is a strong parallel to the Danish cartoons incident but not the one Rauf draws.  Those cartoons aroused no reaction whatever in the Muslim world until, months after their publication, a group of imams toured the Middle East to incite murderous rage among  ever-so-easily outraged Muslims.  Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed of Al-Arabiya, quoted earlier, insists that most of the world’s Muslims couldn’t care less about Rauf’s mosque and most don’t want it at a place “that tomorrow may become a source of pride for the terrorists and their Muslim followers.” If that changes it’s because Rauf succeeds in persuading Muslims “they are under attack.”
Moreover, our naïve State Department encourages Rauf’s dangerous game. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Rauf could talk about the mosque (but not raise funds for it) during his Middle East tour. Crowley said “he wouldn’t be surprised” if Rauf was talking of the ongoing debate “as an example of our religious tolerance and resolving questions that come up within the rule of law.” This is a good example of what Charles Jacobs calls “our ruling delusional elites” in action.
 7         To hear Imam Rauf, his 13 story mosque plus cultural center is designed “to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.” He promises (in his New York Times op-ed of September 7th)  “a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks,” ”separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths” and to promote “a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.”
 But Christine Brim of the Center for Security Policy has come closer to uncovering some of the planned activities of the center.  On the basis of copious since-deleted pages on Rauf’s website (which she has managed to preserve for readers on Brim concludes that up to six floors of the 13 floor edifice are to be devoted to the Sharia Index Project, designed to benchmark sharia compliance, to distribute sharia propaganda and to enforce sharia law in America and worldwide.” The first now-hidden website reveals that the Sharia Index Project had its initial meeting, convened and chaired by Rauf, in Malaysia in August 2006 and the first four participants Rauf recruited were international leaders affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (the fount of today’s radical Islam). The group was subsequently expanded to include “the Shi’a perspective” with one of the new recruits (identified by Anne Bayefsky on the basis of a photograph) Iran’s Mohammad Javad Larijani, who has justified torture of Iranian dissidents as legal punishments under sharia.
There is of course not a hint of  “recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship,” the American values Rauf claims to pursue, in the Moslem Brotherhood or in sharia.  Imposing sharia is what the Taliban is all about. On September 20 The Wall Street Journal described how Karzai’s reaching out to the Taliban is dividing Afghans.   The Journal quotes Khwaja Mir, head of the provincial council in the majority-Tajik provincial council in the Panjshir Valley: “If we had accepted the Taliban’s ideology during Shah Masood’s time [the Northern Alliance leader murdered by Taliban before the American invasion] there wouldn’t have been any problem between us. But we didn’t because we wanted to live a free life.”
Rauf practices a consummate con. But a con needs a mark. The mark is someone who finds the surface story so appealing he is reluctant to dig down and check out the con’s claims.  Rauf has found an unlimited supply of marks—our  entire political and cultural elite.  Perhaps stupidest of the lot is California Rabbi Haim Bialik (one of 71 religious leaders in California signing a pro-mosque petition) who declaimed: “The loneliness and isolation that Jews felt in the 1930s is palpable but now it’s directed to the Moslems.” Mayor Bloomberg is a close second. With the Statue of Liberty as backdrop, a gaggle of religious leaders at his side, Bloomberg declaimed: “I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state, as important a test as we may see in our lifetime.” Later Bloomberg said the mosque’s opponents “should be ashamed of themselves.”
The mosque at Ground Zero may never be built. Under the stress of all the opposition and embarrassing disclosures, Rauf and his partner, developer Sharif El-Gamal, already show signs of falling out. (El-Gamal, it turns out, has just been evicted from his SoHo offices for non-payment of rent and has had at least seven run-ins with the law, most recently for assaulting a barber.) One or both could decide to take the money and run.  Donald Trump has already offered a 25% premium on the purchase price.
 But while the future of the mosque remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: because of his skill in playing our elites for fools, Imam Faisal Abdul  Rauf is a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous man indeed. Contributor Rael Jean Isaac is co-author (with Erich Isaac) of The Coercive Utopians.

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