Debbie Schlussel: Funding Islamic Hate
Last week, the Rev. Jerry Falwell told Beliefnet.com, a religion website, that when it comes to applying for federal funds under President Bush's proposed faith-based initiatives program, "Islam should be out the door before they knock. ... The Moslem faith teaches hate."
Falwell was swiftly attacked by Muslim groups and was forced to apologize, explaining to USA Today that he meant that any group that is anti-Semitic, racist or in any way bigoted should be disqualified from the funds. He clearly told Beliefnet, "I think that when persons are clearly bigoted towards other persons in the human family, they should be disqualified from funds."
But my experience with President Bush's star Muslim recipient of the proposed funds -- Imam Hassan Qazwini, religious leader of Detroit's Islamic Center of America mosque -- illustrates that Falwell was right.
When he held his January press conference announcing the issuance of an executive order for the faith-based funds, President Bush featured Qazwini front and center, among the 35 religious leaders on stage with him. He introduced Qazwini, the only Muslim and Michigan's only religious representative at the White House press conference, as "my friend from Michigan." According to the Detroit Free Press, Qazwini met with Bush in Texas in December "to advise him on formulating the pair of executive orders issued" for federal funding of faith-based initiatives. Qazwini's mosque will certainly be a major recipient of the funds.
But Qazwini's receipt of tax-funds, let alone his close friendship with Bush and attendance at the White House, should disturb all Americans. When I attended Qazwini's mosque on Nov. 15, 1998, it was one of the most frightening, hate-filled occasions I've ever experienced. On that day, at Qazwini's invitation, the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan spoke to the mosque's congregants and was received with a hero's welcome. Qazwini and Osama Siblani, editor of the Arab-American News, introduced Farrakhan as "our dear brother," "a freedom fighter," and "a man of courage and sacrifice."
Farrakhan's same old anti-Semitic, anti-White canards were no surprise. It was the cheers and fervor of Qazwini and his congregation that were so chilling. Watching the audience of more than 1,000 Arab-American and Black Muslims who surrounded me in the mosque rising up and hatefully screaming about "the Jews, the Jews," I realized how my grandparents must have felt in Nazi Germany.
During his hour-long rant, Farrakhan spouted his usual pap claiming the Jews control the U.S. government, saying that the "core message" of his speech was "the evil power of the 'Zionists.' ... [They are] forces of evil."
But, clearly, "Zionists" was his euphemism for the Jews. He shouted out Jewish-sounding surnames of Clinton administration cabinet members and asked the crowd, "Rubin, who is he? Cohen, who is he?" The audience stood up and -- in an angry frenzy -- shouted, "A Jew, a Jew!" (Actually, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen is not Jewish. He's a Unitarian.)
Farrakhan denounced the Jews as "forces of evil. ... We should perform a jihad (holy war). [They are] frightened, and we must frighten them even more." This garnered thunderous applause and cheers from Qazwini and his congregants. He continued to describe Jews as "these people in positions of power with a Satanic mentality ... [who] deceive us." More cheers and applause from Qazwini and the crowd.
As Yale professor and black writer, Julius Lester once wrote about attending a Farrakhan event, "It is one thing to read the words of political, racial, and religious anti-Semitism in books; it is another to hear them spoken with intensity, urgency and conviction, to hear them affirmed with cheers, the stamping of feet, laughter, applause and arms thrust toward heaven." My experience at Imam Qazwini's mosque was identical to that -- my experience at the mosque to which President Bush wants to give our tax money.
Ironically, this display of racism and bigotry, sponsored by Qazwini and his mosque, came within a week of Qazwini's complaints about alleged bigotry against Arabs in the movie, "The Siege," which had just come to movie screens at the time. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
This past Sunday, on CBS' "Face the Nation," Secretary of Education Roderick Page said that faith-based organizations "are very good at after school programs for kids. They teach kids things like empathy, compassion, tolerance." But that's hardly what they were teaching the many children who attended Farrakhan's speech at Qazwini's mosque. Yet, that's, de facto, what the federal funds to faith-based organizations -- at least in the case of Qazwini's mosque -- will go to.
While Bush appointee John DiIulio, who heads the new Faith-Based and Community Initiatives effort, maintains that "Washington's not funding [religious beliefs]," it can't help but indirectly fund the type of vitriol spewed by Farrakhan at Qazwini's mosque. Even if there are strong restrictions on the use of the funds, the receipt of them will offset other amounts in the budgets of such bigoted religious organizations-offsets that will allow further funding of such racist speeches.
While there are Muslim leaders, like W. Deen Mohammed, son of the late Elijah Muhammed, who've abandoned the separatist, anti-White, anti-Semitic rantings of mainstream black Islam, the fact remains that, in poll after poll, Farrakhan is the most popular black leader, Muslim or otherwise. And the fact also remains that Qazwini's mosque is one of the largest Arabic mosques in North America. Qazwini's invitation to -- in fact, promotion of -- Farrakhan and his hate is typical of mainstream Arabic Islam.
If Qazwini's Islamic Center of America is any indication -- and it certainly seems to be -- of the behavior of Islamic recipients of federal funds for faith-based initiatives, Falwell is right. They should be ineligible for taxpayer-funded means of spewing such hate.
But Bush feels he owes Qazwini and Muslims. Why is not clear. He met with Qazwini while campaigning in Michigan, and a coalition of major Muslim political groups, for the first time issued a "Muslim endorsement" of Bush for president. But their endorsement meant little, and their political power was overrated. Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Muslims and Arabs in North America, went for Al Gore. And even Arab-American Sen. Spencer Abraham lost his re-election bid.
While the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council both denounced Falwell's comments, neither they nor Bush's "friend from Michigan," Imam Qazwini, ever denounced Farrakhan's bigoted, hateful comments. And President Bush's strong ties to Qazwini are troubling, especially with the advent of federal funding of faith-based initiatives -- and Qazwini as Bush's star recipient of them.
Bush should heed Dr. Julius Lester's prescription regarding Farrakhan: "[T]o speak only of the man is wrong. Not to speak of the people who give him credence and legitimacy partakes of evil."