MPAC: Who's Changing the Subject?
by Steven Emerson
June 8, 2007
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has a long history of clumsy attempts to dodge embarrassing allegations about the outrageous statements and activities of its officials. MPAC's June 4th post on its website, entitled "Stop Changing the Subject, Mr. Emerson," is the latest attempt, a textbook example of spinning the facts, failing to credibly and directly address the accusations, while conducting a personal attack against someone who exposed their double talk.
The post addresses the charges I made in my May 30th post, where I produced irrefutable evidence of Ms. Lekovic's affiliation with al Talib following her denial of any such affiliation on CNBC's Kudlow & Company.
MPAC now concedes that Ms. Lekovic did indeed work at al Talib, albeit qualifying her affiliation with the paper as "brief" (even though her name appears on the masthead of at least a dozen issues from October 1997 to May 2002). In defense of the fact that she publicly denied her involvement with the paper on CNBC, MPAC states that Ms. Lekovic had "a memory lapse," rhetorically asking "how many people can recall with clarity all the things they did while they were in college?" The fact that a 30-year-old public figure would forget about her five-year affiliation with a newspaper, let alone as a managing editor, is quite preposterous, but we'll give Ms. Lekovic the benefit of the doubt.
MPAC then proceeds to further minimize Ms. Lekovic's role at the paper, claiming that, despite her position as managing editor, she had no control over the published articles. While this could be true, what is undeniable is that Mrs. Lekovic never publicly distanced herself from either the article glorifying Bin Laden or from the publication itself. If Ms. Lekovic was genuinely outraged by the article she should have resigned from the paper and made her disagreement with such outrageous views public either in al Talib itself or in any other venue. Of course, none of that happened. To remind you, she even proudly proclaimed her affiliation with al-Talib in an official MPAC bio a few months after 9-11. (See page 6) Ms. Lekovic continued to be involved in the activities of al Talib for three more years after her graduation, yet never condemned the al Talib articles until publicly challenged by me. How convenient.
Unfortunately the series of outlandish statements does not stop there. Having tried to downplay Ms. Lekovic's role, MPAC then attempts to do the same with the gravity of what was written in al Talib's articles. According to MPAC, al Talib's praises for "our brother Osama bin Laden," who is described as "a freedom fighter, someone who has forsaken wealth and power to fight in Allah's cause and speak out against oppressors," are to be viewed in light of the fact that they were published in "a pre-9/11 world." MPAC even adds that "a brief survey of American publications and statements by public officials before the catastrophic events of 9/11 would also show that terrorists like Bin Laden were naively described as American allies and freedom fighters." These statements border on the ridiculous and do not really deserve any comment. It suffices to say that Bin Laden's name had been linked to terrorism in media reports since the mid-1990s and that a grand jury had indicted him in November 1998 in connection with the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. As for the claim that American publications and public officials were calling Bin Laden a "freedom fighter," MPAC might refer to al Talib and other fringe Islamist publications, but I dare them to produce such statements from mainstream American media outlets or any American government official.
In typical MPAC style, attempts to twist the facts can be found throughout the text. Rather than pointing out all of them, it is more useful to go the core issue: is MPAC a "moderate, inclusive and forward-thinking organization with a history of fostering a strong Muslim American identity, and combating terrorism and extremism," as it claims?
Since 9/11 MPAC has tried to portray itself as the ideal partner of law enforcement agencies in the War on Terror: that it is a moderate organization that would combat radicalization at the grassroots level. Yet overwhelming evidence indicates that MPAC has pursued a deliberately ambiguous policy, publicly stating its desire to work with authorities on terrorism-related issues, while condemning any concrete measure taken by authorities on the matter. MPAC officials have constantly criticized virtually every arrest made by authorities since 9/11, and, even more troublingly, often described the War on Terror as a war on Islam and/or on Muslims and continue to deny the underpinnings of radical Islam.
To give but one example, MPAC Executive Director Salam al-Marayati, in the Los Angeles Times in March 2003, blasted what he called "the FBI's policy of targeting people because of their race and religion" and added, "That's what (the FBI has) been doing since the attacks, and we don't know of any case that has resulted in the arrest, indictment or prosecution of a terrorist." So according to MPAC, there is no war on terror, just a war on Islam. And a June 2006 study by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has concluded that the frequent use of "War on Islam" mantra specifically results in the radicalization of the "homegrown" jihadists.
At an April 2007 testimony before a House Homeland Security Panel in Torrance, CA, MPAC "hate crime prevention coordinator" Sireen Sawaf stated, "With all due respect, 'jihadist' is wrong terminology, because it is a very noble concept that all Muslims believe in. However, it is used and it simply strengthens the arguments of the extremists." Apparently, we should be more concerned about how to label Islamic terrorists than with terrorism itself. In May 2004, Sawaf also told Inter Press Service that, "'The 'war on terror' is a war, really, on a community that is being connected to the (9/11) hijackers.' Again, MPAC portrays U.S. law enforcement actions as a "War on Islam."
But the problem with MPAC starts at the top. On May 15, as part of a Council on Foreign Relations conference call, Marayti said, "We don't believe there's such a term as 'Islamic terrorism.' There's nothing Islamic about terrorism, nothing Islamic about fascism, nothing Islamic about radicalism even." This is exactly why MPAC officials feel so comfortable labeling anyone who states that Islamic terrorism and radicalization are major national security issues as an "Islamophobe."
And on May 26, Al-Marayati gave a speech where he said, "we demand from the Secretary of Homeland Security, from the FBI Director, from the chiefs of police, to the sheriffs of all the counties to speak out against Islamophobia, because Islamophobia is a root cause of radicalization." As recently as this week, MPAC released a 19 page report entitled, "The Impact of 9/11 on Muslim American Young People," which highlights only one root cause of radicalization – you guessed it: Islamophobia. The report's chief recommendations call for a government crackdown on "Islamophobia" and for the news media to censor "Islamophobic" points of view. Of course, MPAC considers anyone who criticizes, or even dares to mention, its long history of extremist statements and support for such terrorist groups as Hamas and Hezbollah to be an "Islamophobe."
But Marayati and MPAC have it exactly wrong, as the CSIS report concluded, "The most important reason for radicalization is the perception that Islam is under attack from the West." And claiming that that American law enforcement is engaged in a war on Islam is an MPAC specialty.
While MPAC has indeed opened a dialogue with the government, its overture is designed merely to sway authorities away from the source of the problems, through claims of victimization, cries of Islamophobia and misrepresentations. But when it comes to concrete cooperation, MPAC's contribution has been non-existent. MPAC boasts about its cooperation with authorities in Southern California, where its headquarters are located. Yet, less than a year ago, when asked whether dialogue with local Muslim organizations had helped his office in any of the investigation it was conducting, Warren T. Bamford, head of the Counterterrorism Division of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office, responded: "At this time I don't have any specific recollection of any times that it has helped our investigations." And if MPAC's cooperation with authorities is not focused on providing specific intelligence but in preventing radicalization, MPAC officials' continuous endorsement of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is hardly comforting.
Which brings me back to the Pew poll that launched this discussion in the first place. According to the poll, 13% of American Muslims say "the use of "suicide bombing against civilian targets to defend Islam from its enemies" can be justified. It is great that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims do not support such tactics. However, the Pew center estimates that there are 2.35 million Muslim Americans, so according to their research, roughly 300,000 American Muslims support the violent jihad of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas. That's a frightening number.
But back to Ms. Lekovic. MPAC expects us to believe that, "The role Lekovic played at Al-Talib was peripheral at best, insignificant enough that she simply did not recall it when she was asked about it on CNBC." So her role with al-Talib was significant enough to include in her official MPAC bio (a point MPAC interestingly enough failed to address in its more than 2,000 word reply) but apparently not significant enough to "remember" before a national television audience. Lekovic's and MPAC's excuses, just like their self-proclaimed "moderation," fail the laugh test, and MPAC's latest evasion only serves to reinforce that conclusion.