Tuesday, Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) called Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — best known for his work with multicultural Cordoba Initiative to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan — a “radical” and criticized the Obama Administration for including him on a Middle East speaking tour. That tour, which includes stops in Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, is designed by the public diplomacy office to explain to Muslims abroad what it’s like to be a Muslim in America.
Outside of how getting constantly called a radical by American politicians busy flacking the proposed “Ground Zero mosque” for political purposes might affect Rauf’s view of what it’s like to be a Muslim in America, there’s one other big problem with King’s and Ros-Lehtinen’s accusation: Rauf already represented America in this way, under the Bush Administration.State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley responded to the accusations Tuesday:
“His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States,” State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Tuesday. He added that the department’s public-diplomacy offices “have a long-term relationship with” Rauf – including during the past Bush administration, when the religious leader undertook a similar speaking tour.
If one were to hearken back to the halcyon days of the Bush Administration, one would remember that, when Bush adviser Karen Hughes was appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, the Bush Administration saw improving America’s standing among Muslims abroad as a part of its national security strategy. And, as such, Hughes set up listening tours, attended meetings and worked with interfaith groups that — shocking, by today’s Republican standards — included actual Muslims.
One of those people was Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Contemporary press accounts indicate that Rauf and Hughes were part of the February 2006 U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He was part of a delegation that met with her in March 2006 and held a joint press conference. A letter to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007 indicates that contacts with Hughes and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns had continued apace.
And, of course, an interview with Foreign Policy in 2007 explored both the depths of his ongoing contact with the Administration and his so-called radical views.
I have had meetings with Karen Hughes. However, I would welcome the opportunity to have further, deeper, and more nuanced discussions with other members of the Bush administration on how they need to understand religion and how it intersects with political affairs. To not understand the role of Islam and faith as a motivator is to be incapacitated in shaping a foreign policy that achieves the objectives of the United States.
The perception in the Muslim world is that the West wants to impose a secularism upon it, which to them is equivalent to the erasure of religion in society. As an American, I know that is not the intent of the United States at all. But thats the perception. The perception in America is that when people say they want an Islamic state, they want something like the Taliban. And that is not true at all.
Rauf added that, during Ramadan, it was important to remember the love that Jews, Muslims and Christians agree that their gods preach, adding, “It also means do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.” Guess that’s one thing Rauf’s critics forgot.
[H/T Adam Serwer]