Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Many can't stomach Bush Ramzan feasts

Many can't stomach Bush Ramzan feasts

Author: Hanna Rosin & Thomas B. Edsall
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 22, 2001

As President Bush hosts Ramzan feasts at the White House this week to bolster Muslim support for the war on terrorism, he is shadowed by criticism of the administration's outreach efforts to American Muslims during the past two months.

Jewish groups and some conservatives have been lobbying the President to stop courting certain Muslim leaders who, they say, have equivocated on terrorism by condemning the September 11 attacks but praising Hamas and Hezbollah. Those two groups, which are fighting Israel, are on the State Department's list of terrorist organisations. ''It's a very simple proposition,'' said Phil Baum, Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress. ''The White House ought to be certain that the people they associate with don't defend, excuse or condone suicide bombing.''

The pressure presents the administration with a problem. Many Muslim leaders being criticised are popular in their communities. Their visible support for the President is critical to Bush's contention that the war is against terrorism, not Muslims, and certainly not American Muslims. Even before the war, Arab Americans had proven themselves good friends to Bush, supporting him en masse in the 2000 election. The White House has rejected the idea that any Muslim leader would be excluded for statements he made in the past, and sources there say the White House is expanding its list of Muslim contacts.

At the same time, these sources say, the White House has begun to vet more carefully leaders who appear with the President. Two weeks ago, the administration ran a list of 25 prospective guests for an event past some of the critics, according to two sources. Among the additions on the list were people affiliated with the Islamic Institute, a key Republican ally. Among the better-known organisations absent was the Council on American Islamic Relations.

The sources said CAIR had ''lost the PR battle'', meaning it was omitted from that list because of the criticism. After they learned of the list earlier this month, CAIR leaders released a statement calling for an end to an ''Islamophobic smear campaign''. They said the media and some politicians were allowing ''themselves to be used as unwitting tools'' of pro-Israeli analysts and Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Defense League. ''We do not support terrorism in any way, shape or form,'' the release said.

Muslim leaders under less pressure will acknowledge that they disagree with the State Department's designation as terrorists some of the groups fighting Israel. Many particularly disagree with the new anti-terrorist legislation's expansion of that definition. Hezbollah, the group fighting in southern Lebanon, is ''a legitimate military operation'', and many of its activities are social, such as running hospitals and schools, said Hussein Ibish, head of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. ''You will have a tough time convincing Arabs that Hezbollah are terrorists while the tactics of the Israeli military are not.''

The pressure on the administration is coming not just from Jewish groups. A split is emerging between two wings of the Republican Party: libertarians who consider Muslims the party's greatest immigrant asset and conservatives who conceive of the war exactly the way Bush tries to avoid, as a cosmic one between Islam and the West. The emerging spokesmen for the latter group are Paul Weyrich and William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation. ''There is no such thing as peaceful Islam,'' Lind said. ''Islamics cannot fit into an America in which the first loyalty is to the American Constitution.

They should be encouraged to leave. They are a fifth column in this country.''

On the opposite side are people such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist calls Muslims ''natural conservatives''. After the election, Norquist wrote an article in The American Spectator headlined: ''George W. Bush was elected president of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote.'' Bush had campaigned at mosques and spoke out against a 1996 law permitting secret evidence to be used in deportation proceedings.

In 1998, Norquist co-founded the Islamic Institute with lobbyist Khaled Saffurri. The institute is credited with giving the Arab American community, including many of those invited to the White House since September 11, entree to the Republican Party. This networking is what had led to the White House's current problem. For example, Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was chosen by the White House to attend a prayer service with the President, said at a Washington rally last year that ''we are all supporters of Hamas''.

White House sources expressed frustration at this ''guilt by association,'' where any Muslim leader who worked with someone who once said something objectionable is automatically deemed unsuitable to appear with the President. ''You can always dig for a quote somewhere,'' a White House source said. ''They (the critics) are asking for moderates. But I'm not sure the moderates they want have any following.''

- LA Times-Washington Post

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