Muslim American Society President Esam Omeish met with reporters Friday to portray himself as the victim of a smear campaign by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Omeish resigned Thursday from a Virginia immigration commission after IPT videos of him giving speeches were seen on YouTube.
"The smear campaign brings forward comments and speech excerpts which were taken out of context . . . and used to undermine a whole community of faith in a relentless campaign of Islamophobia intimidation," Omeish told reporters.
In one of the videos, Omeish praises Palestinians saying "you have learned the way, that you have known that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land." He congratulates Palestinians for giving up their lives for the sake of Allah in another video.
Omeish said he meant "jihad" to mean a struggle rather than acts of violence.
"In Islam, jihad is a broad word that means constant struggle -- struggling spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, physically -- in all respects. So my words were in support of people who are resisting occupation and people who are trying to . . . remove oppression from their land," Omeish told the Associated Press Thursday.
Omeish's organization, the Muslim American Society, echoed that explanation in a news release. "Clarifying his use of the term 'Jihad' while referring to solidarity with the Palestinian people, Dr. Omeish explained that, in the context of his public criticism of the Lebanon invasion and the oppression of Palestinians, it meant "total resistance to oppression and dedication to the struggle for justice", rather than a call for violence," the release said.
See the entire 2000 speech here.
With reporters Friday, Omeish said his reference to "jihad" should be seen in its context before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was "a general way to indicate the willingness, the intent, the perseverance to remain steadfast in facing difficulties that are insurmountable or against many, many odds. And so it wasn't a context. It was not a call for violence; it was never any condoning of terrorism or of any violent acts."
Both videos were shot in late 2000, after the second Palestinian Intifada broke out. It featured a series of shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis, including a Nov. 22 car bombing that killed one person and injured 60 others on a crowded street in Hadera.
Despite Omeish's attempt to minimize his comments based on the fact that they came before 9/11, there is no confusing the call to violence issued by some speakers at the rally.
Imam Mohammed Al-Asi, told supporters "Rhetoric is not going to liberate Al-Quds and al-Aqsa (Jerusalem and the holy mosque there). Only carrying arms will do this task."
Reporters did not challenge Omeish's explanation or ask for the context of the rallies.
Meanwhile, the Virginian-Pilot cites two Muslim community leaders in the Norfolk area who greeted Omeish's resignation favorably.
M. Sharif Hafiz, chairman of the Islamic Center of Tidewater described Omeish's taped comments as representing "an extremist point of view."
"I don't subscribe to it," he told the newspaper. "I am a tolerant, open-minded Muslim."
Similarly, Imam Vernon M. Fareed of Masjid William Salaam mosque in Norfolk said he found Omeish's comments "out of place."