Add one more item to the list that makes Maher Hathout's selection for a major human relations award so mind-boggling: His spirited defense of an accused -- and later convicted -- cop-killer.
Hathout, president of the Islamic Center of Southern California and a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), already has a lengthy record of hate speech to his credit. He has called Israel a nation of butchers and accused the United States of state terrorism; he has justified the actions of Hizbollah and defended terrorist financiers.
Despite these seeming disqualifiers, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations announced recently that the Muslim activist would receive its prestigious John Allen Buggs Award in ceremonies next month. The award is given annually for what the commission describes as "outstanding human relations work." I wrote about the award on "New Republic Online" on August 31 and will discuss the issue again on the Fox News Network.
And despite his long record of vitriolic statements, he has maintained -- as recently as a September 7 appearance on the Fox News Network, in which he tried to refute documentation of his extremism presented by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) -- that he is a moderate who condemns both Hizbollah and Hamas. More about that record below.
But now IPT has uncovered the tape of a speech that Hathout gave at a benefit dinner held to raise defense funds for Jamil Al-Amin at his trial on charges of shooting one Georgia sheriff's deputy to death and seriously wounding another.
No fewer than a half-dozen times in the speech Hathout referred to Al-Amin as "our brother." He said he would always take Al-Amin's word over that of supposedly untrustworthy police. And he veered off into generalized charges of racism against the United States, and even piggybacked on the Al-Amin case his standard charges of "apartheid racial slaughtering" of Palestinians by Israel.
The man now known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin first came to public attention as the 1960s black militant H. Rap Brown, serving then as so-called Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party. Among his best-known statements from that period: "Violence is as American as cherry pie," and "If America don't come around, we're going to burn America down." Brown converted to Islam while imprisoned on a robbery conviction in the early 1970s, later adopting his Islamic name.
In the case in which Hathout defended him, he was charged with shooting two Fulton County, Georgia, sheriff's deputies who had sought to arrest him in connection with earlier charges of impersonating a police officer and accepting stolen property. One of the two officers -- both of them African-Americans -- died within hours.
A jury found Al-Amin guilty after only brief deliberations. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Speaking before the trial, Hathout had said, "There are two stories for this case. One story, told by our brother Imam Jamil Al-Amin; the other story is a different one, told by the police of Atlanta. It just happened that we believe the story of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, and we don't believe the story told by the police of Atlanta."
The reason, he explained in his September 9, 2001 speech at the "Justice for Imam Jamil Al-Amin Benefit Dinner" held at the University of California's Irvine campus, was that "The track record of our brother is one of integrity and straight-forward speaking and a bold stance."
The Atlanta police, on the other hand -- like police "in so many other places" including New York and Chicago -- have "not a very good track record," he charged.
"Let us face it," Hathout continued. There are so many sugary talks about court, about justice, about legal system, etc. but we know and we can prove it, that in America, the legal system is not color blind and is not money blind."
Nor did the efforts on Jamil Al-Amin's behalf by MPAC and its senior adviser, Hathout, end with his conviction on the charges he faced.
MPAC was a member -- indeed, MPAC political advisor Mahdi Bray served as chairman -- of a "Support Committee for Imam Jamil Al-Amin," which took issue with the trial outcome. In a statement issued March 9, 2002, after the largely African-American jury reached its verdict, the support committee said:
"We do not believe the facts presented in court warranted a guilty verdict against Imam Jamil. His defense team offered credible evidence indicating that he was not the person who shot the deputies. We believe Imam Jamil will be exonerated on appeal."
"Because the death penalty has been disproportionately applied to minority defendants in America," the committee statement added, "we oppose its use in this, or any other trial."
MPAC then cosponsored a Los Angeles "Rally for Justice" in support of the convicted killer on March 24, 2002. An advertisement for the rally declared that "Despite inconsistencies and lack of evidence, Imam Jamil was convicted of these crimes on March 9 …(and) is now faced with life in prison without parole."
The ad urged readers to "Join us in support of Imam Jamil!"
Hathout, for his own part, argued that the issues went beyond the Al-Amin case itself to "the situation in America in general and we have to be very aware about that."
"There is an organized system of injustice. It is intact. It is effective. It is viable, vibrant, and strong, and it depends on a triangle. That triangle, three-limb triangle, is racism, exploitation, blinding propaganda," Hathout continued.
"You take that satanic triangle and you apply it to any case, and justice is sacrificed. To any case, to Imam Jamil Amin, to Malcolm X, to Martin Luther King, to anybody that can be subject to that malignant triangle and you can destroy that person, unless the voice of conscience within the people and within the public can object and can reject that," he said.
The exploitation, Hathout argued, is supported by "a blinding propaganda machine and industry, to put a spin on everything, to make the victim looks like the criminal, and to make the criminal looks like the angels and the innocent and the shy and the poor and the besieged. To make the falsehood looks like right, and right looks like false."
Expanding his thesis further, Hathout complained that the United States had "behaved shamefully" at a conference held in South Africa weeks before. At that meeting, he said, U.S. officials lacked "the mere willingness to accept any more responsibility for reparations of the victims of racism here in America" or, he added -- getting in his customary digs at Israel -- "to stop the apartheid racial slaughtering of the people in Palestine."
The conference to which Hathout referred so favorably: "The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" in Durban on the eve of 9-11 -- a set of meetings whose most memorable outcome was passage by non-governmental organizations of an infamous resolution that accused Israel of "racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing [and] acts of genocide."
Hathout complained that this resolution "against the apartheid racist regime in Israel and for reparation of the victims of slavery," had not been similarly approved by governments in attendance -- purportedly under U.S. pressure.
"…We find that all European governments took the side of America, so they came beside America and the Muslim and other Arab governments did not come beside America, they came under America. And we ended up by a very tragic and shameful resolution that did not mention reparations and did not mention the state of Israel. That is racism," he declared.
In sharp contrast to Hathout's denunciations of the United States for failing to join in the Israel-bashing lynch mob, leading newspapers across the country applauded the U.S. action in quitting the conference.
An editorial in the Washington Post on September 9, 2001 declared that "Arab negotiators tried to turn the proceedings into a propaganda exercise against Israel" and that their "efforts to equate Zionism with racism, interspersed with promises of moderation that subsequently proved empty, gave the U.S. delegation ample reason to walk out."
The Los Angeles Times had similarly editorialized on September 5, "The United States and Israel were right to walk out of the United Nations conference on racism now underway in South Africa. Washington provided plenty of warning that unless language branding Israel a racist state was removed, the U.S. would leave."
Returning to Hathout's protestations of being a voice for moderation, a look at numerous other statements he has made over the years -- well beyond those previously chronicled by IPT -- gives the lie to that self-characterization.
Consider these examples:
● Asked during a 1998 debate to clarify his views on Hizbollah, a group already at that time on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations, Hathout responded, "[W]hat we said and what we say and what we will be saying that any group who is fighting on their own territory against a military occupation, fighting only military who are armed, are actually a movement of liberation. Whether this group is this group or that group, under this name or that name, this particular action [Hizbollah's activity in Lebanon] is very American, is what America did in the beginning against the colonizing of the British, is what all honorable people in the world are doing."
● Speaking at a "United for Al Quds" -- the Islamic name for Jerusalem -- conference in 2002, Hathout talked of "a junction that joins us to Christians, those Christians who are not being fooled by Jerry Falwell and their likes, and with Jews who have not been Zionized, and also with large numbers of oppressed people all over the world, who understand how the hegemony of the elite of the world can violate what is sacred and what is important to the masses." Presumably, in Hathout's view, the "Zionized" Jews were in league with those oppressive elites.
He invoked anti-Semitic phrases, akin to those uttered by David Duke: "This is an Israeli occupied territory," Hathout declared. "And it is more Zionist than the Knesset."
● Hathout spoke on March 12 of this year at a fundraiser in Anaheim, California for former University of South Florida professor Sami Al Arian, alleged by the government to have served as North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Said the Muslim activist on that occasion, "We still, as Muslim Americans, we believe in the integrity of our justice system, and we believe in our jurors who really did a marvelous job in the case of the hour, and cleared the mess of the accusations against Sami Al-Arian."
(Hathout's statement was not exactly correct. A jury acquitted Al Arian of eight of the 17 charges against him and deadlocked on nine. In the course of the trial, tapes and documents were introduced showing that Al Arian had called for death to Israel, lauded terrorist attacks on Israelis, raised money for the Islamic Jihad, and served as a senior member of Islamic Jihad. He ultimately pled guilty to conspiring to provide services to PIJ, and agreed to be deported after completing his prison sentence on that charge.) Interestingly, in the case of Jamal Al Amin, Hathout claimed that the justice system was "satanic." But when it came to Al-Arian, who admitted to being a member of Islamic Jihad, Hathout praised the justice system because Al Arian was "cleared."
● Earlier, in a speech on emerging Islamic trends that he delivered at the State Department in 1997, Hathout praised a group of individuals he described as Islamic "reformists."
An article on the speech in the July/August 1997 Minaret reported his comments this way: "In his view the reformists, represented by leaders like Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Abdu, Mohammad Iqbal, Hassan al-Banna and Maududi, Ghannoushi, Erbakan and Turabi, have advocated a pluralistic society that would work for peace and justice for all. They have, however, according to Dr. Hathout, been ignored, despite the fact that they represent the masses and speak their language."
In this litany, Hathout labels people "reformists" who are, in reality, extremists. Hassan Al Banna was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fierce proponent of Jihad, and whose movement gave rise to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other radical Sunni movements. Rashid Al Ghannoushi was the head of Tunisia's banned Islamic fundamentalist Al-Nahda Party and was convicted by a Tunisian court of responsibility for a bomb blast that blew the foot off a British tourist.
Additionally, prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Hasan al-Turabi was the head of the National Islamic Front, which the U.S. government has condemned for supporting terrorism, launching a genocidal war in southern Sudan, and for continued human rights violations. Turabi also gave Osama bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.
● In 1996, when Israel opened an entrance to an ancient tunnel that ran near the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa mosque, Hathout delivered a khutba (sermon) alleging Israel—and the United States—were engaged a massive conspiracy to "eliminate" Islam. This incendiary allegation was designed to incite; it was similar to the conspiratorial delusions alleged by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Under the protection of military armed to the teeth, the mayor of Jerusalem, the Jewish mayor, the Zionist Jewish extremist racist mayor of Jerusalem decided to resume digging up tunnels that they believe they that they started some time ago and should be continued," Hathout declared.
Once again Hathout implicated the United States in what he portrayed as a nefarious plot to undermine Islam. "Are we that stupid? Are we supposed to assume that really we are upset because in the Israeli state they built a tunnel?" he asked. "Or is it making it clear, the whole plan and the whole plot to eradicate Islam and its symbols and to humiliate Muslims all over the world to the point of demoralization and helplessness and hopelessness so that they cease to be participants in shaping the human civilization and converting the atrocities and the injustices that are taking place all over the world, on the hands of Israel supported by the military and political power of the greatest power on Earth which is the United States of America."
● At an "Interfaith Rally for Peace and Justice in Los Angeles" in 2000, to cite one more example of his invective, Hathout delivered a khutba (sermon) in which, The Minaret reported, he characterized Israel as a "criminal apartheid regime, doing what it does best -- stealing land and killing people."
And now, on October 5, the self-styled moderate Hathout will be picking up his human relations award.