Assessing Imam Rauf

by Conor Friedersdorf

Over at Ricochet, Claire Berlinski has been asking tough questions about the Cordoba Initiative, engaging that organization via social media, and expressing dismay at certain remarks made by Imam Rauf even as she opposes the approach taken by Sarah Palin, Abe Foxman, and Newt Gingrich. In other words, she's one of the people whose take on this differs from my own, but whose work on the subject nevertheless seems to me a valuable contribution.

In her latest, I want to highlight an excellent point:

I am all for pointing out good reasons to be offended by Imam Rauf's political opinions, but one argument that keeps coming up is actually not compelling at all. Feisal has been roundly criticized for saying the the September 11 attacks were a "reaction against the U.S. government politically, where we [the U.S.] espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and [yet] where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries.” Feisal has said many stupid things, but these words can hardly be numbered among them by any enthusiast of the Bush Doctrine, given that they're indistinguishable from the standard neoconservative critique of American foreign policy prior to September 11. This point is explained approvingly by none other than William Kristol.

Elsewhere in the same post, she writes, "Those smiling photos of the good Imam at a Hizb ut-Tahrir conference at the very least suggest that the man is naive to the point of lunacy about what that organization represents and the likelihood of spreading moderation among its members through any form of outreach short of a Hellfire missile."

Obviously I cannot know the motivations of Imam Rauf, nor am I familiar with Hizb ut-Tahir, and I certainly don't think that the leader of the Cordoba Initiative is beyond scrutiny or criticism. But I will say that were I a moderate Muslim working to oppose violent jihad, I'd go wherever I was invited in an attempt to win converts. And it seems to me that folks engaged in similar projects often do reach out to some shady characters for better or worse.

Bill Clinton earnestly sought peace between Israel and Palestine. And he worked closely with Yasser Arafat. Naively? A lot of people think so. What would people say if Imam Rauf had sat down with the same man? It would be cited as proof that he isn't really a moderate Muslim who abhors terrorism, because Muslims in the media spotlight are in some ways held to a much higher standard, and distrusted far more readily. Again, I don't know the man's heart, but I don't envy the task he asserts is his life's work, and absent persuasive evidence that his public remarks, professed aims and admirable cooperation with the American government are all a charade, I see no reason to withhold from him the benefit of the doubt.