The Islamic Society of Boston & the Politicians' Red Faces
by Daniel Pipes
At the groundbreaking in November 2002, local politicians hailed the planned construction of an Islamic Center by the Islamic Society of Boston as a bridge between Islam and Boston's other religions, the Boston Herald recounted yesterday in the first of a major two-part investigative series. Mayor Thomas M. Menino hailed the center for "creating a space for inter-faith dialog," and thereby bringing "both the Muslim community and the community at large closer together." U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (Democrat) predicted the center would "help to create a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims so we may learn more about each others' traditions." The Boston Redevelopment Authority, a public agency, was no less enthusiastic about the project and sold a 1.9-acre lot to the Islamic Society of Boston for $175,000, or well under the property's market value.
Then today's Herald casts an intense look at:
Menino and Capuano responded today to the initial revelations, Menino by blowing off the charges ("The Islamic community I know is a good community. Two individuals do not make up a whole community") and Capuano by calling the allegations "pretty serious" and promising "to do my best to learn more."
The moral of this too-oft-repeated tale is not hard to guess: politicians – and bureaucrats, journalists, clergy, academics, et al. – need to know an Islamic institution is clean of Islamist associations and intentions before endorsing it, much less selling it government-owned land at fire-sale prices. Good will and ecumenical intent cannot substitute for research. (October 29, 2003)
Oct. 31, 2003 update: Rep. Capuano called today on the Department of Treasury to look into the Herald's allegations. To which I say: Bravo to the congressman for taking the matter to heart; and may he and others be more cautious before offering future testimonials.
March 8, 2004 update: And bravo to the Boston Herald for sticking with the story of the Islamic Society of Boston's extremism, even when nearly all other media are treating the subject as radioactive. The newspaper just finished a two-part series, running on March 7 and March 8 that details ISB's ties to Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi (quoting his memorable 1995 statement "We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America! Not through [the] sword, but through da‘wa") and to Walid Ahmad Fitaihi (who refers to suicide bombings against Israelis as "glad tidings"). Confronted with this information, the major's spokesman weakly reiterated the same line as in October 2003, insisting that the ISB not "be tainted by one or two individuals."
Aug. 25, 2004 update: Despite the revelations about the ISB, it continues to receive establishment support – indeed, it may be getting more than ever. If in May 2002, it received $15,000 from the United Way of Massachusetts Bay "to operate classroom-based education programs to raise awareness and acceptance of Islam and Muslims," today it received $100,000 from the National Council on Community and Justice (formerly known as the National Conference of Christian and Jews) "to increase the civic involvement of immigrant Muslim communities in the Greater Boston area." And on July 23, 2004, the ISB received a glowing report from the Pluralism Project at Harvard University.
Sep. 29, 2004 update: The Boston Herald reports that James C. Policastro, a Roxbury resident, filed suit yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court against the city of Boston for subsidizing the $22 million Islamic center going up in his neighborhood, the largest Islamic institution in the Northeast. He argues that, in its land deal with the center, the Boston Redevelopment Authority violated two violations of both the state and federal constitutions: it accepted a less-than-fair-market-value price for a parcel of city land and it is illegally supporting a religion.
Comment: Is the Boston taxpayer to pay a portion of the mosque building? Will other taxpayers around the country? This case is worth watching, as it could be important in determining whether Islam in the United States is treated like other religions or whether it benefits from the special privileges is customarily receives in Muslim-majority countries.
Oct. 5, 2004 update: Citizens for Peace and Tolerance ("a new group comprised of Christians, Muslims and Jews") has emerged and challenges the ISB "to honestly answer concerns about radical Islamist roots of its $22 million Roxbury mosque." The Boston Herald, as ever on top of this issue, reports on the group's inaugural press conference:
Oct. 6, 2004 update: The Boston Herald today tells about the "double blow" ISB received today as "an Islamic scholar [Ahmed Subhy Mansour] accused its leaders of tolerating "hateful views" and a city councilor [Jerry P. McDermott] ordered a probe into how the group acquired a choice piece of Hub-owned land at a bargain rate." The Boston Globe adds that another city councilor, James M. Kelly, is demanding to know that the ISB activities do not involve "that element of extremists, who have threatened this country."
Oct. 7, 2004 update: The Anti-Defamation League has jumped in the fray, pointing out that ISB's treasurer, Walid A. Fitaihi, has applauded anti-Israeli violence as "a great thing" and made antisemitic statements about Jews having "perpetrated the worst of evils and . . . brought the worst corruptions to the earth." Meanwhile, Mayor Menino has finally acknowledged there may be a problem at ISB, announcing that he asked his staff to look more closely at its associations. And the Boston Herald breaks the news that Muhammad Ali Salaam, called a key fund-raiser for the ISB, also happens to be deputy director of special projects at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the very agency that agreed to sell the 1.9-acre parcel to the ISB at a less than half its market value.
Oct. 11, 2004 update: The Boston Herald asks in an editorial "why an organization that can afford to build a $22 million mosque should be given a cut-rate price on the land it will occupy - land which then will be taken permanently off the city's tax rolls," then raises questions about the mosque's extremism and opines that "city officials, including Mayor Tom Menino, can ill afford to ignore" these matters.
Oct. 12, 2004 update: Ahmed H. al-Rahim, an instructor of Arabic language and literature at Harvard University and chairman of the American Islamic Congress, wrote a letter to the Boston Globe stating:
Oct. 13, 2004 update: And speaking of "politicians' red faces" – who should have written a warm letter of congratulations to the Islamic Society of Boston on the occasion of its groundbreaking, dated Nov. 7, 2002, but John Kerry?
Oct. 14, 2004 update: The ISB sent a letter to Mayor Menino in which it stated ""We unequivocally condemn all hateful, insensitive, and divisive statements. Furthermore, we have expressed these sentiments to Dr. Fitaihi in writing. … We regret that previous responses by the ISB with regard to the contentious statements of Dr. Walid Fitaihi have been ambivalent." It also indicated it will create a community relations department to "aid our work in rebuilding relationships that have suffered in the past several months."
In response, Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, found the letter to Menino inadequate and listed eight steps the ISB should take "to allay our serious concerns."
Oct. 15, 2004 update: The Boston Globe editors had a long conversation with the ISB leadership, who "suggested that the controversy has roots in both the political radicalism of some of the early members of the mosque and distortions by critics. The point now, they say, is to move ahead and assume a place as a moderating influence and welcoming presence. There is evidence that the Islamic Society of Boston means to do just that." So, for the Globe, the story has come to satisfactory close. Were that only the case for the rest of us.
May. 12, 2005 update: The ISB has gone on the offensive, with its chairman, Osama Kandil, filing a suit against the Boston Herald and WFXT-TV, alleging that their news reports in, respectively, October 2003 and November 2004, destroyed his reputation by incorrectly linking him to Islamist terrorists. In the words of the complaint, the two are guilty of "sensationalizing a story that Dr. Kandil ... was linked to radical Islamic terrorists and that both he and the ISB presented a danger to the community."
Oct. 21, 2005 update: Jerry McDermott, a Boston City councilor, sent a letter to constituents in which he made two allegations about the ISB transaction (I leave the original punctuation of the letter unchanged):
Boston's Jewish weekly, the Advocate, followed up on the Salam allegation:
McDermott added this on the Saudi angle:
Judging by pictures at an academic website, the cultural center is coming along nicely.
Nov. 3, 2005 update: The Advocate reports on two new developments. First, the ISB on Oct. 31 added new names to its May 2005 lawsuit against the Boston Herald and Fox 25 News charging defamation, bringing the total to sixteen institutions and individuals. It is now also suing the David Project, its director of education (Anna Kolodner), the Investigative Project on Terrorism, its director (Steven Emerson), Steven Cohen and Dennis Hale (of Citizens for Peace and Tolerance) and William Sapers (Roxbury Community College). These various individuals and organizations are accused of both defamation and conspiring to violate the ISB's civil rights through "a concerted, well-coordinated effort to deprive the Plaintiffs, who are members of the Boston area Muslim community, of their basic rights of free association and the free exercise of religion." As the Advocate characterizes the complaint, it "alleges an elaborate web of connections between the groups newly named in the suit and Fox 25 News and the Boston Herald, all aimed at undermining the ISB's $22 million mosque and cultural center project under construction in Roxbury.
For more on Salah Soltan (whose last name is also spelled Sultan), see the extensive discussion of him by Solomonia at "Salah Soltan - A moderate's guest?"
Nov. 5, 2005 update: A reader notes an error in the Advocate account, cited just above. Soltan's own website shows him speaking on Oct. 16, 2005 at the Islamic Center of Boston (in Wayland), which is not the same as the Islamic Society of Boston (in Cambridge). But the ISB lists him speaking for it on Feb. 4, 2005, so the mistake is, in all, a minor one.
Nov. 18, 2005 update: The Policastro suit filed on Sep. 28, 2004 (see above) can go forward, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Nancy Holtz ruled, denying an ISB motion to dismiss the case. "As a resident taxpayer of the City of Boston, Policastro has the right to contest the sale of publicly owned land at a below-market price to a religious institution for the purposes of operating a house of worship and the endorsement of a particular religion and excessive entanglement created by the establishment of a particular lecture program at a public college."
Dec. 9, 2005 update: Critics of the ISB having received a sweetheart land deal from the City of Boston formally requested City Council to review the deal yesterday; in particular, they are citing the July 2005 Department of Treasury statement linking ISB founder Abdurahman Alamoudi with Al-Qaeda. To which, an ISB lawyer, Howard Cooper, replied that "The ISB has had nothing to do with Alamoudi for a long time."
Dec. 18, 2005 update: The Boston Globe reports today that accusations that ISB officials sympathize with Islamic extremists has caused donations to slow "to a trickle." Further, it cannot get access to loans. This has lead to the indefinite postponement of the mosque's opening:
Dec. 24, 2005 update: The defendants in the ISB suit filed yesterday to have it dismissed on the grounds that it fails to identify false and defamatory statements made by them. The Boston Herald, one of those defendants, covered the story in its own pages today, written by Greg Gatlin:
Gatlin notes that the ISB case is unusual "in that the plaintiffs allege a broad conspiracy involving news organizations, their sources and advocacy groups. That could raise the possibility of more reporters getting sued for ‘conspiring' with their sources." This brings to mind the theme I follow at "Islam Driving the Social and Legal Agenda," where I document "the extent to which Islam, not the traditional religions present in the United States, much less other religions new to the country, is driving the social and legal agenda."
Dec. 30, 2005 update: In addition to this regular filing on Dec. 23 to have the ISB case dismissed, the defendants filed an Anti-SLAPP motion in Suffolk Superior Court. SLAPP stands for "strategic litigation against public participation" and is a law in several states to protect against lawsuits that would curtail constitutional activities. Massachusetts passed an Anti-SLAPP law in 1994; if the court grants this motion, the ISB would find its suit dismissed and it would have to pay the defendants' legal costs. The ISB now has 60 days, or until Feb. 15, to show that the defendants caused it harm and were not engaged in legitimate activities. Jeffery Robbins, lawyer for the David Project, points out that "It now becomes the burden of the plaintiffs to persuade the court that [what his clients did] is not petitioning activity … or somehow to show there wasn't a reasonable basis for it."
David H. Rich, a lawyer for the ISB and its two top leaders, hinted at the counter-argument when he told the Boston Globe that Robbins's clients do not qualify for legal protection under the Anti-SLAPP statute and cited a September 2004 e-mail from the education director for the David Project, Anna Kolodner, to other defendants. In it, she discussed planning a media campaign and considering a lawsuit that would expose "the radical fundamentalist underpinnings of the Mosque and its leaders."
Jan. 5, 2006 update: The Jewish Advocate, a weekly in Boston, has been the locus of dueling full-page ads. On Dec. 23, the ISB placed an open letter: "Like you, we are not perfect. We have among us those who would act in a divisive manner. We understand our obligation not to tolerate this in our community. But when we are the ones who are wronged by intolerance, we need to be able to look to our friends and neighbors to stand up with us and condemn those who are attacking us. . . . We ask you not to buy into the poisoned rhetoric and attacks against our community undertaken by the few extremists who would divide us."
The Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New England responded in today's issue, calling the ISB's defamation suit an attempt "to stifle public discussion and dissuade others from asking legitimate and important questions." It tells how the two groups are "deeply disappointed by the Islamic Society of Boston lawsuit. We stand in solidarity with the David Project and those in our community who have raised these valid concerns and issues and with all those who believe, as we do, that they need to be acknowledged and answered."
Jan. 6, 2006 update: The Council on American-Islamic Relations has jumped into the fray with its usual understatement, subtlety, and good sense. "Unfortunately, I see the Boston case as indicative of a growing trend in anti-Muslim rhetoric that has grown after 9/11," said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal director. "It has especially impacted local Muslim communities in terms of building their mosques. High concentrations of Muslim populations are being given a hard time for just trying to practice their faith."
Mar. 1, 2006 update: Boston's Weekly Dig reveals that the land sold to the ISB for $175,000 had a offer to stop litigation in exchange for private mediation. In a letter to Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as local politicians, Yousef Abou-Allaban, chairman of the ISB's board of directors, wrote that "We are far more interested in peace and harmony than in winning a lawsuit." To which Jeffrey Robbins, an attorney for the defense replied, "There would be a lot of concern that people who have used this tactic of intimidation ... then go to the media and say, ‘Look how magnanimous we are. Look how dialogue-prone we are.'" Robbins also noted how the offer suggests the ISB realizes its suit, with its lack of evidence and iner-community strife, is "a terrible thing."
To what, ask reporters Paul Mcmorrow and Ted Siefer, "do we owe this sudden devaluation of public land, as well as the BRA's insistence on publicly citing the $401,000 figure? That's anybody's guess. The mayor's press office referred all questions to the BRA's spokeswoman, who failed to acknowledge repeated inquiries."
Mar. 3, 2006 update: On the same day that the ISB filed a lengthy response to the defendents' motion to dismiss its defamation suit, the ISB also made an offer to stop litigation in exchange for private mediation. In a letter to Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as local politicians, Yousef Abou-Allaban, chairman of the ISB's board of directors, wrote that "We are far more interested in peace and harmony than in winning a lawsuit." To which Jeffrey Robbins, an attorney for the defense replied, "There would be a lot of concern that people who have used this tactic of intimidation ... then go to the media and say, ‘Look how magnanimous we are. Look how dialogue-prone we are.'" Robbins also noted how the offer suggests the ISB realizes its suit, with its lack of evidence and iner-community strife, is "a terrible thing."
Mar. 4, 2006 update: Although the Boston Herald broke the news back on Oct. 7, 2004 (see above) that a key fund-raiser for the ISB, Muhammad Ali Salaam, is also deputy director of special projects at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the agency that sold the land at below market value, this detail has not been the focus of much attention until now. That might change with the publication today of a Boston Globe article, "Aide's role in mosque deal eyed: BRA official raised funds, priced land," by Charles A. Radin and Yvonne Abraham. Relying on BRA documents cited in the two ISB-related lawsuits, they found that Ali-Salaam (as they call him) "played an integral role at key points inside the BRA as the agency gave its approval" to reduce the price the mosque had to pay for the site from $2 million to $175,000.
This runs counter to what Ali-Salaam said in an interview in October 2005, when he insisted his activities had always been within guidelines issued by the State Ethics Commission. "When permits and stuff like that had to be done, it was turned over to another" BRA official, he said. He also asserted then that similar deals to that with the mosque have been made with other religious groups, but the BRA has not yet responded to a request to identify these other arrangements. In 2001, Ali-Salaam went further, stating he had not even participated in the decision-making process.
In addition, a letter released by the BRA showed a blurring of his roles as city official and mosque promoter. The letter is from the ISB to Roxbury Community College and accompanies a donation of $10,000. The letter is written on BRA stationary and was signed by Ali-Salaam, Abou-Allaban, and Walid Fitaihi, ISB trustees. The donation was sent to the president of the college, Grace Brown, with a request that she not reveal the source of the donation.
Finally, Radin and Abraham report that Ali-Salaam "raised funds for the project when he traveled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as a representative of the city in 2000. The BRA board gave him permission to make the trip, which was paid for by the Islamic Society, but the BRA spokeswoman, Susan Elsbree, said yesterday that Ali-Salaam was not given permission to raise funds for the project while there."
Mar. 8, 2006 update: As a Boston Herald editorial notes, lawsuits are often long, drawn-out affairs and the public needs to know what was behind what it calls the "sweetheart land deal" that BRA gave ISB. It endorses Jerry P. McDermott, a Boston city councilor, who says he's prepared to hold public hearings to find out what happened, how and why land worth more than $2 million was sold for a mere $175,000 and a package of so-called "community benefits."
Mar. 9, 2006 update: In its filing last week, the ISB further amended its complaint in a way only reported on now, removing the trustees of the ISB as plaintiffs and adding Ahmed Mansour, an Islamic scholar, as a defendant. Mansour, a political refugee from Egypt, encountered anti-American literature in the ISB mosque and joined Citizens for Peace and Tolerance.
Mar. 31, 2006 update: The David Project has provided a data dump of ISB-city relations at "Recently disclosed Boston Redevelopment Authority ("BRA") documents." The eight documents in pdf format, dated between February 1999 and December 2000, consist of letters, memos, and agreements. My favorite is thie 5-page "confidential memorandum" from BRA employee Muhammad Ali Salaam to the ISB board of directors, advising the board how to obtain a favorable response to the ISB proposal, which includes the following sentence (typo included; note the use of "we" and "us"); "Consequently as long as the City feels we working cooperatively and making measured progress, then they will continue to work with us."
May 10, 2006 update: Ahmed Mansour, the Egyptian scholar of Islam sued by the ISB, has filed an affidavit in response. In it, he suggests that his initial exclusion from the suit "was a deliberate choice to advance the plaintiff's agenda" to portray opposition to the mosque project by Citizens for Peace and Tolerance "as based on some form of religious bias by Christians and Jews." Supporting his claim that the ISB supports Islamist teachings, Mansour submits a booklist from the ISB's library which includes authors who, Mansour says, advocate "killing Muslims who convert … and who challenge views espoused by Wahhabi imams." He also cites an ISB pamphlet in the Arabic-language claiming a relationship with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the Islamist scholar who Mansour says "openly preached the same message of hatred of Jews, intolerance, and violence I struggled against in Egypt."
July 4, 2006 update: Prominent Christian and Jewish (but not Muslim) leaders in Boston belonging to the Interreligious Center on Public Life are trying to settle the ISB dispute out of court. Members of the 40-member group include the Rev. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J., Rev. Nick Carter, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, and Rabbi David M. Gordis.
July 6, 2006 update: "Miss Kelly" is on the job and reveals that Salma Kazmi, assistant director of the Islamic Society of Boston, is on the executive committee of the Interreligious Center on Public Life, which has offered to mediate between the ISB and its many self-generated legal opponents. Miss Kelly adds two observations: this connection "might explain how the ICPL got involved in the mediation" and "Perhaps a small conflict of interest here?"
July 14, 2006 update: In what appears to be a major development in the Policastro case (on which, see the Sep. 29, 2004 update, above), Judge Regina Quinlan in late June rejected the Boston Redevelopment Authority's claim that only materials it had submitted could be considered in the case. Ted Siefer explains in the Jewish Advocate:
James Policastro's lawyer, Evan Slavitt, called this "a significant step forward." Slavitt even raised the possibility that, should the court invalidate the BRA-ISB transaction, the ISB would "have to tear down the establishment." That is, the three-quarter-finished mosque complex might have to be razed.
July 21, 2006 update: And in news of the other case, the defamation suit initiated by ISB, Norfolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders yesterday denied anti-SLAPP petitions presented by the nine non-media defendants in the suit, indicating it will likely go forward.
Aug. 27, 2006 update: The ISB has taken another step to shut down discussion of itself. After Jeffrey Robbins, a defense attorney for the David Project in its lawsuit with the ISB, appeared on the radio talk-show hosted by Michael Graham on station WTTK in mid-August, the ISB subpoenaed WTTK. ISB attorney Howard Cooper justified this step by saying that "the appearance for the lawyer of the David Project on the Graham show is directly relevant to the issues before the court in the pending litigation, and this is why a subpoena has been issued simply asking for copies of the broadcast."
Lawyers not involved in the lawsuit disagreed. One, W. Andrew Copenhaver, said he would argue the subpoena is a fishing expedition. ISB, he said, is "trying to curtail legitimate public discussion. They are going to try to punish people for talking about them." Another lawyer, Harvey Silverglate, described the subpoena as "extraordinary," noting that it demands (1) materials used by Graham to support his remarks about the ISB, (2) documents related to Robbins' appearance on the show, and (3) communications between Graham and defendants or attorneys involved in the ISB lawsuit. A manager at the station has said it would provide the ISB with tapes of the broadcast, but not the other materials: "We don't have any of those of things."
Aug. 29, 2006 update: Michael Graham writes in his blog that the ISB "has issued a subpoena of my personal phone records, show notes and other materials related to our on air conversations regarding Menino's Mosque. The subpoena came one week after a threatening letter from the ISB's attorney warning me against discussing the issue on the air." Graham also adds: "And, as you heard on my show, my answer to the ISB both times has been ‘Kiss My Burkha'."
Sep. 10, 2006 update: The ISB legal offensive, issuing two more subpoenas. One went to Tamar Morad, a Waltham-based writer for The New Republic, asking to turn over any communications between her and the lawsuit's defendants concerning the ISB and Osama Kandil and Yousef Abou-Allaban. The other went to the Cambridge-based Christian Broadcasting Corp., demanding that it submit any broadcasts on the ISB, Kandil and Abou-Allaban.
Sep. 30, 2006 update: Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders rejected the defendants' argument that the case should be dismissed, in part because its actions are protected under the First Amendment and has decided that the plaintiffs' claims should be heard in court. She did, however, dismiss the ISB's charge that statements in the Boston Herald and on Fox 25 (WFXT-TV) placed it in a false light.
Oct. 5, 2006 update: The David Project, one of those sued by the ISB, is in turn suing the Boston Redevelopment Authority in Suffolk Superior Court, demanding that BRA produce public records relating to the ISB land deal, and specifically those concerning the actions of BRA Deputy Director Mohammad Ali-Salaam, someone publicly identified by the ISB as one of its principal fundraisers in the Middle East.
Oct. 6, 2006 update: Susan Elsbree, spokeswoman for BRA, said the authority is "confident the court will find that the BRA has complied with all public records requests."
Dec. 6, 2006 update: The David Project may be a defendant in the ISB case, but continues its valuable work on the case. In a press release today, "City of Boston, Islamic Society Pressed on Fundraising Trips to Middle East by The David Project," it
For more on this step, and how it fits the larger picture, see the excellent blog of "Miss Kelly."
Charles Jacobs at a rally.
Charles Jacobs at a rally.
Replying for the David Project, its attorney, Jeffrey Robbins, denied that the David Project is intent to inflame anything. "It is seeking answers to questions that the Islamic society and the BRA continue to dodge. … Who paid for Mr. Ali-Salaam to spend 10 days in the Middle East raising money for the Islamic society? Who did he solicit? They will not say."
Dec. 24, 2006 update: The academy weighs in on the ISB controversy. Diana L. Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University, writes these pearls of accuracy, insight, and wisdom today in the Boston Globe:
Comment: Just to point out the glaring mistake here, progress at the ISB is not "swamped" by the David Project but by the ISB's own affiliations, statements, and actions, including its lawsuit versus the David Project.
Dec. 30, 2006 update: The presidents of two prominent Boston-area religious institutions, Nick Carter , president of Andover Newton Theological School, and David Gordis, president of Hebrew College, sent a joint letter to the ISB and the David Project. The Boston Globe reports it appeals to the two parties to drop their respective lawsuits, issue a joint statement condemning terrorism, declare their shared support for the construction of houses of worship, support the creation of a new center for interfaith understanding, and that they hold a joint "celebratory event."
"We don't mind being called naive, but there's a simplicity about this that tries to say to each of them that we think this is something worthy of your consideration—it's a chance for peace to break out," Carter said. "It has rarely produced productive results to try and go back and find out who was to blame. Sometimes it's easier to try and listen carefully to what each is trying to say." Gordis added: "we think that this business of trading lawsuits is really not the way to deal with issues like this."
"We embrace the proposal. … We want to immediately begin the process of healing these rifts," said Jessica Masse of the ISB.
Comments: (1) Is this another indication that the ISB regrets its rush to the courtroom? (2) The Carter-Gordis letter offers a crystalline example of moral equivalence. (3) It's lucky that Carter and Gordis don't mind being called naïve, for that well describes what they are. Real issues are at stake here – including freedom of speech and separation of church and state; singing Kumbaya together does not solve them but only delays their resolution.
Jan. 10, 2007 update: The ISB has acknowledged receiving at least $1 million in financing from the Islamic Development Bank in late 2005, report Charles A. Radin and Stephen Kurkjian of the Boston Globe. The bank, based in Saudi Arabia, is owned primarily by the governments of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran, and Egypt.
Jan. 23, 2007 update: The Boston Redevelopment Authority argued in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday that four of its key officials need not answer questions under oath about the ISB deal, as demanded by the David Project, being Robert Tumposky, deputy director for management information systems; Muhammad Ali-Salaam, deputy director for special projects; Patraap Patrose, deputy director for urban design; and Kevin Morrison, the agency's general counsel.
Jan. 24, 2007 update: ISB's Jessica Masse explains in the Boston Globe "why the Islamic Society of Boston turned to the Middle East for assistance in funding its $14 million mosque." The answer:
Feb. 19, 2007 update: The David Project announced today that ISB has for the second time served a subpoena on the Anti Defamation League.
Feb. 25, 2007 update: James C. Policastro sued the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Sep. 28, 2004 (see above) for violating the constitutional separation between religion and state when it sold a parcel of land to the ISB at far below its appraised price; Judge Sandra L. Hamlin of Suffolk Superior Court has now dismissed Policastro's suit, ruling that he lacks legal standing to challenge it, having failed to file his lawsuit within 30 days of the sale, the period of time the Massachusetts Legislature has set as the deadline for appealing BRA's decisions. (Policastro filed more than 16 months after the sale.) Hamlin rejected Policastro's argument that he should be afforded the court's customary three-year period to bring the suit, given that he was contesting the agency's decision on constitutional grounds.
Jessica Masse, the ISB's interfaith coordinator, indicated that about $12 million has been spent on the mosque project so far, with the society hoping to raise another $2 million to complete construction of the mosque and part of the school by September 2007.
Mar. 1, 2007 update: The Muslim Public Affairs Council is seeking amicus curiae status in ISB's lawsuit against the 17 defendants. Its brief, dated February 26, states that
Mar. 15, 2007 update: The ISB is the beneficiary of an affidavit by John Esposito of Georgetown University. He says that the defendants "misleadingly attempt to suggest a link" between the ISB and Wahhabism.
Mar. 25, 2007 update: Whoops. In "Uncovered Document Shows: Islamic Society of Boston Lawsuit a Sham," Solomania reports on an ISB e-mail dated July 18, 2005, claims that "Fundraising has been robust." This directly contradicts the ISB's first amended complaint, dated March 3, 2006, where it states that its critics had undermined its fundraising capabilities. Or, to quote pp. 2-3, paragraph 3 of the complaint, "In the wake of the Defendants' attack, donations to the ISB have decreased."
Apr. 9, 2007 update: Boston's Jewish Advocate reports that Walid Ahmad Fitaihi, longtime director for the ISB, met privately with a Jewish group of about 25 persons on April 6 and apologized for his past statements about Jews. According to one participant, Michael Felsen, Fitaihi "recognized that there were wounds in both directions, to both the Jewish and Muslim communities, and he came with the stated desire to begin to heal the wounds caused by some of his words." Fitaihi, chairman of the board and chief executive officer at the International Medical Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was briefly in the United States and left the country two days later.
Apr. 10, 2007 update: "Miss Kelly" helpfully recalls that the wounds inflicted by Fitaihi were in part caused by his "engaging in local interfaith dialogue at the exact same time as he made his comments in Arabic newspapers. … His comments included applauding anti-Israeli violence as ‘a great thing,' and statements about Jews having ‘perpetrated the worst of evils and ... brought the worst corruptions to the earth'." She adds that Fitaihi is not alone in living outside the United States: "My understanding is that all [ISB] trustees reside overseas (KSA, UAE, Qatar) at this time. None reside in the U.S., let alone in Massachusetts."
"Solomonia" reacts skeptically to Fitaihi's initiative:
Apr. 12, 2007 update: The vigilant "Miss Kelly" notes that the ISB's board of trustees is half the size of what it used to be: "First there were six Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) trustees... Jamal Hafiz resigned and then there were five. Mohammad Attawia was removed, and then there were four. Walid Fitaihi resigned, and then there were only three trustees. It's the Incredible Shrinking Board of Trustees!" She also delves into the odd practices of the ISB board of trustees.
There is also news today from the Boston Redevelopment Authority vs. David Project front (see the Jan. 23, 2007 update for the last bulletin): Suffolk Superior Court Judge Allan van Gestel ordered BRA to release files on the ISB land deal that it had hitherto withheld. (This is in addition to several hundred pages of documents already released under court order.)
BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree indicated that the agency would turn the documents over within two weeks; she also responded with a preposterous statement, about The David Project stirring up negative media attention about the documents' contents. "Every time they breathe, they make a press release out of nothing. We think this is a good project." To which The David Project's lawyer, Jeffrey Robbins, replied: "This isn't a matter about public relations or press conferences. It is a matter of citizens imploring a public agency to obey the law and give the public what it is entitled to."
Apr. 16, 2007 update: Back to the "Incredible Shrinking Board of Trustees": "Miss Kelly" notes that Ali Yusuf Tobah resigned, bringing the number down to two, but then Jamal Badawi joined the board, returning its number to three.
Apr. 25, 2007 update: Jeff Jacoby turns up another interesting discrepancy in the ISB's record. Writing in a Boston Globe column, "New Questions For The Islamic Society," he finds an inconsistency with the ISB's claim to have had no connection with Abdurahman Alamoudi.
Who is Abdurahman Alamoudi? A quick review:
Not surprisingly, since it became a topic of controversy in 2003, the ISB has repeatedly distanced itself from its founder.
But Jacoby reveals that the ISB paid Alamoudi for one or more speaking engagements between November 10-12, 2000.
Jacoby inquired of the ISB about this and other issues recently in the news, to which he got this reply from its spokeswoman Jessica Masse: such questions "do not reflect a position of unbiased fact finding." She also said the issues would only be dealt with "by our lawyers in court."
May 1, 2007 update:
May 1, 2007 update: The ISB's Jessica Masse sent out a long "Letter from the ISB" today, in which she in one small part replies to Jacoby:
There is also more breaking ISB news from the Boston Globe today; Donovan Slack reports from Boston Redevelopment Authority documents (in "BRA official asked help from mosque backer: Pushed for mayoral visit to Mideast during talks") that BRA's deputy director for special projects, Muhammad Ali-Salaam, wrote to Esam Mudeer, a Saudi television executive and supporter of the ISB project, to help plan a trip to the Middle East for Mayor Thomas M. Menino and several of his political allies (BRA chairman Clarence Jones, BRA board member Joseph Nigro, BRA director Thomas O'Brien, Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Representative Gloria Fox, plus Ali-Salaam himself) shortly after Mudeer had met with Menino in Boston in 1998 to discuss the mosque. "Wouldn't this be a fitting way to express our gratitude for their support and encouragement?" Ali-Salaam wrote to Mudeer on BRA letterhead.
The trip did not take place but, as the Globe notes, it "raises new questions about Ali-Salaam's role on the project, as well as his relationship with the Islamic Society and outside advocates of the mosque while he negotiated a land deal on behalf of Boston taxpayers." BRA officials have insisted that Ali-Salaam has been in "full-compliance with conflict of interest law and state ethics standards" in his work on the mosque project and that he kept agency officials informed of his activities. But state conflict of interest law, the article goes on, "prohibits public officials from seeking or personally receiving anything valued at $50 or more if it is being given to influence a present act, induce a future act, or reward a past act, according to State Ethics Commission guidelines. The law also prohibits officials from engaging in activities that create the appearance of a conflict of interest, unless they disclose potential conflicts to their appointing authorities."
There is more:
Masse says this all looks just fine to her. "He was a public servant helping the public, in this case, an Islamic organization, work through a bureaucratic process."
May 16, 2007 update: Martin Solomon provides an overview of the ISB case in "The Silencing," as well as two original pieces information resulting from the discovery process:
Also today, Miss Kelly posts no less than thirteen documents dating from 1992 to substantiate her title question, "ISB and BRA's Muhammad Ali-Salaam - Slight Conflict of Interest?"
May 29, 2007 update: The ISB has unconditionally and completely dropped its lawsuit against all 17 defendants it sued in 2005, without any payment or other benefits in return.
Amusingly, it has the gall to claim this on its website as a "major victory."
Comments: (1) It would appear that the accumulating evidence about ISB activities made going forward, even on a predatory basis, counterproductive. (2) What a great day for American justice and freedom of speech.
June 5, 2007 update: I interpret the ISB lawsuit in an article today, "Islamists in the Courtroom."
June 27, 2007 update: Jeff Jacoby looks back on the lawsuit and understands its purpose as intimidation:
Aug. 29, 2007 update: Walid Fitaihi is a Saudi who was an original ISB trustee and deeply involved in ISB's mosque project; he resigned from the board and left the United States when his anti-Semitic writings caught up with him – see the many mentions of him in this weblog entry for details. Well, Solomonia announces that, with the lawsuit over, Fitaihi has returned to the ISB board.
Sep. 19, 2007 update: In an important (and daring) analysis, Adam Reilly of Boston's Phoenix weekly takes up the media intimidation angle of the ISB legal actions in "Scared silent: Three lawsuits have been dropped, but local media still seems reluctant to tackle the Islamic Society of Boston." Reilly starts by noting that Walid Fitaihi going off and then back on the ISB board got no MSM attention, then he reviews the complex back-and-forth concerning Fitaihi's antisemitic writings about the "Zionist lobby" incurring "Allah's wrath." In response to a Boston Globe article on this subject in October 2004, Reilly writes,
Things then heated up: one ISB suit for defamation in February 2005 against television station WFXT, another in May 2005 against WFXT and the Herald, a third in October 2005 against these two plus the David Project, Steven Emerson, Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, and others. These lawsuits had the intended effect:
Reilly asked ISB spokesman Bilal Kaleem: "Had the threat of litigation changed the way the Boston media covered the ISB?" To which Kaleem replied, "I hope so."
Dec. 6, 2007 update: Wanting to replicate its Philadelphia mistake of giving an award to Marwan Kreidie, the FBI's Boston branch has given Muhammad Ali-Salaam its "Director's Community Leadership Award," as the Muslim American Society proudly announced. Miss Kelly asks what's going on here and offers a few choice opinions of her own:
July 24, 2008 update: A reader, the producer of L'Afrique (lafrique.com), was surprised to see that the Roxbury Crossing station of the Boston area subway system sports a painting of the nearby Islamic Society of Boston mosque and other Islamic themes. He sent me pictures of the still-unfinished mural and its surroundings, one of which I reproduce here. (For the others, click here, here, here, here, and here).
Comment: As the photographer points out, the Boston public transportation system does not sport crosses, stars of David, or other religious insignia. How did this exception come about? One hopes that Bostonians are not so beat down by ISB litigiousness that they have lost all curiosity about that institution's activities.
Sep. 15, 2008 update: The ISB has opened for worship.
Nov. 24, 2008 update: Boston's Phoenix weekly published an important, 6,000-word piece today by David S. Bernstein, "Menino's mosque: The bizarre story behind the construction of Boston's most controversial building." It provides a historical review, especially of the city politics behind the mosque's rise, but also notes two current developments:
Dec. 3, 2008 update: Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, which has been on the ISB case for years, issued a meaty press release today, "Texas Terrorism Trial Ties Boston Mosque Leaders to Extremist Network," that looks in detail at ties between three of the ISB leadership (Hossam Al Jabri, Jamal Badawi, and Osama Kandil) and the Holy Land Foundation, which, along with five of its organizers, was just convicted for sending more than $12 million to Hamas.
Dec. 10, 2008 update: The Phoenix published a lengthy and well-informed editorial today, "Menino's mosque II," in which dwells on the double role of Muhammad Ali-Salaam and asks some tough questions about his playing both sides against the middle.
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