Is it difficult to be as awesome as you are?
How do you represent your constituency so gallantly?
Reading through Patt Morrison's softball interview of Salam al-Marayati in this weekend's Los Angeles Times, one almost expects to see these questions. Morrison describes the job of al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), as:
"a balancing act that engages local and international politics, religion and culture, internal and civic and public relations, all of it performed on a tightrope that quivers after every terrorist attack and attempted attack by Muslims."
Given the opportunity to speak with al-Marayati, who has been at the helm of the group since its foundation, Morrison failed to ask the tough follow-up questions you would hope to see in anything but a fluff piece.
Most telling was Morrison's failure to press al-Marayati on his definition of terrorism. For the sake of full clarity, Al-Marayati defines terrorism as:
"the use of violence against a civilian population to terrorize them in order to achieve a political goal."
On this definition, we would agree. The problem is that MPAC and al-Marayati have selectively applied this definition. While identifying al Qaida as a terrorist organization, they have consistently defended Hamas and Hizballah as "resistance movements." In one such instance, at the National Press Club on June 18, 1998, MPAC Senior Advisor Maher Hathout cast Hizballah as misunderstood:
"The whole country keeps condemning Hizballah. I disagree with them on other issues, but on the issue of fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate, this is an American value—freedom and liberty."
Moreover, as we have explained, in responding to an MPAC counter-terrorism white-paper, MPAC has focused too much on the "bomb thrower"—the militant with an "intent and ability to use a weapon of mass destruction" who is actually ready and willing to die for their Islamist ideology. Contrast that with their complete unwillingness to denounce those who provide "material support" to terrorist groups.
In addition to failing to press al-Marayati on his organization's inadequate labeling of terrorist groups and activities, Morrison failed to get a response to concerns that MPAC is partly to blame for the "climate of fear" that they so often point to as degrading counter-terrorism efforts.
MPAC routinely touts its relationship with law enforcement, claiming that it wishes to serve as a bridge between the American Muslim community and American law enforcement. In the interview, al-Marayati claimed that:
"Every Muslim leader has stated publicly that if [people] see any threat or danger to society, they will connect with law enforcement."
While we are unwilling to make broad statements about "every Muslim leader," we can say that MPAC has not lived up to these lofty ambitions. The organization has consistently fanned the flames of distrust between the American Muslim community and U.S. law enforcement. During a 2008 news conference, for example, al-Marayati stated:
"America is judged today by the rest of the world by how it treats its Muslim citizens and how it treats its Muslim citizens and how it views Islam. If the war on terror continues to be viewed as a war against Islam America will lose. It's as simple as that. And this is not about censorship; it's about exposing the stupidity…."
Patt Morrison had an opportunity to press one of the most influential leaders of the American Muslim community this weekend. Instead of doing that, the journalist choose to lob softballs right over the plate and let al-Marayati knock them out of the park.