Middle East studies in the News
The Catholic Theological Union And The Limits Of Understanding
by William A. Mayer & Beila Rabinowitz
CTU is in the news again.
Since the beginning of this year, unwanted media attention been directed at the Catholic Theological Union's Bernardin Center, its Muslim Studies program and the program's embattled director, Dr. Scott Alexander
Alexander has been under fire because he is increasingly being seen as building bridges and associations - under the guise of Christian/Muslim interfaith outreach - to some truly reprehensible disciples of radical [Salafi] Islam.
A bit of history:
In February, as part of an ongoing series we have been doing about militant Islam in America, we came upon the activities of Oussama Jammal and the Bridgeview Mosque Foundation in Illinois.
Oussama Jammal is the Mosque's president and Sheikh Jamal Said its Imam, or religious leader. It has a reputation for being a nerve center of Islamist organizing, recruitment and fundraising activity. As a result, it has been under law enforcement scrutiny for over a decade.
Bridgeview has a long history of funding groups like Hamas [In a February 8, 2004 article, the Chicago Tribune listed the following entities as having received substantial funding from Bridgeview: "Al-Aqsa Educational Fund, Benevolence International Foundation, Global Relief Foundation, Holy Land Foundation For Relief And Development, Islamic Association For Palestine, and the Quranic Literacy Institute"] - through a complex arrangement of financial ties provided by organizations like the Holy Land Foundation For Relief and Development [formerly the largest Muslim "charitable" foundation in the United States].
The Holy Land Foundation was shut down and had its assets frozen by the Federal government on December 4, 2001, a few months after the 911 attack.
On the day the doors of HLF were closed, President Bush presented the people's case straightforwardly, detailing where funds raised inside of Bridgeview ended up:
"Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas to support schools and indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers...Money raised by the Holy Land Foundation is also used by Hamas to recruit suicide bombers and to support their families."
It is interesting to note that not only is Jammal's Mosque located only a few feet from the now closed HLF office, but - according to the Chicago Tribune - it immediately hired the man who ran the office, Kifah Mustapha, in an apparently defiant show of continued support for the organization.
Bridgeview's Saudi trained Imam, Sheikh Jamal Said and at least one his Board members have direct ties to the terror network themselves:
"One of Sheik Jamal's fellow mosque leaders, Muhammad Salah, drew scrutiny for his Palestinian fundraising activities. In 1993, while part of the mosque's eight-member executive committee, Salah was arrested at a Gaza Strip checkpoint and accused of financing Hamas military operations. He was sent to an Israeli prison for five years. In a statement to Israeli authorities that he later retracted, Salah said a religious leader in America recruited him into the Muslim Brotherhood, which led to his involvement in Hamas...The man he named: Sheik Jamal…" – "Islamic Hardliners in the Heartland"- Chicago Tribune - February 16, 2004
Yet, despite the full knowledge of the controversial nature of Oussama Jammal and his Mosque [we discussed this in detail with Scott, before publishing the first in our series] Alexander invited Jammal to participate in CTU sponsored events.
The Catholic Theological Union, located in Chicago, is America's largest Roman Catholic school of theology and ministry. It produces more Catholic scholars than any other institution in the United States.
Given its high profile one would think that it might be more circumspect in its vetting process before bestowing its official imprimatur.
Dr. Alexander, as part of his Conversations in Faith series brought Jammal into the bosom of CTU. That occurrence, in February caused the American Jewish Committee representative to withdraw, rather than appear on the same platform as Jammal.
As we wrote previously and have since updated:
Sari Nusseibeh is the president of Al-Quds, he is also the senior representative in Jerusalem of the Palestinian Authority, meaning he works for Yasser Arafat.
Nusseibeh has characterized what he euphemistically calls "martyrdom operations" as a legitimate form of resistance by Palestinians against Israel.
Witness Muhammad Farhat Nidal, an Hamas terrorist, who carried out a suicide attack on March 3, 2002 which resulted in the killing of 5 Israeli boys and the maiming of 23 others. Farhat's mother [Umm Nidal] was widely quoted in the Western press as having strongly encouraged her son to become a suicide bomber and murder Israeli's.
Nusseibeh went so far as to appear on Al-Jazeera television with Khaled Mash'al, a Hamas leader and Farhat's mother, Umm Nidal. Nusseibeh, observing - in Arabic:
"All respect is due to this mother. It is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a jihad fighter on this land."
This is the face of Al-Quds University, this is the institution to which Alexander wishes to build a relationship...in the name of peace and religious toleration.
Fast forward - June, 2004.
We find Scott Alexander once again attempting to grant legitimacy to a militant Islamist, in this case Fawaz Damra, the Imam of the largest Mosque in Ohio, located in Cleveland.
Damra was convicted on June 16, 2004 in Federal Court on charges of unlawfully gaining U.S. citizenship in 1994 by lying about past associations with terrorist organizations and faces possible deportation and a prison sentence of 5 years.
An important facet of the prosecution case against Damra was a series of wiretapped conversations that Damra had with Sami Amin Al-Arian, formerly a professor at the University of Southern Florida. Arian organized two front groups, the Islamic Committee for Palestine [ICP} and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise [WISE] the purpose of which was - according to INS affidavits - funding the entry of terrorists into the United States.
Arian [aka - "Amin", "The Secretary" and "Abu Abdullah"] is currently under [a 123 page] indictment for conspiracy to commit racketeering in furtherance of the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ].
The type of activity Al-Arian is being charged with includes, but is not limited to - conducting and attending terror fundraising seminars, inviting known terrorist into the United States to speak at these seminars, using the Internet to further organize terror networks and post their deeds and advocacy [orally and in writing] of "death to Israel and her supporters," i.e. the United States.
Another piece of the evidence against Damra was a video clip of a fundraising speech that he made to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a major terrorist group that contained the following pitch.
"...[Muslims should be] directing all rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews..." Fawaz Damra, 1991
Maybe you can just consider that statement to be clarifying language for this 1989 snippet also by Damra:
"...terrorism and terrorism alone is the path to liberation..."
Unbelievably, Dr. Alexander submitted in writing, the following exculpatory "expert" testimony on behalf of Damra's motives with the court.
"The rhetoric is principally used by political and religious leaders to galvanize resistance to what Palestinian Arabs consider to be the patent persecution of their people by Jewish immigrants to the Middle East…As unquestionably hate-filled and thus morally reprehensible as such language is, when Palestinians refer to Jews as 'descended from apes and swine' or encourage support for those who 'kill Jews,' they do so with the reasonably justifiable self-image of victim and persecuted, not of victimizer and persecutor."
Looking at Damra's words carefully, it's clearly more than the case of a bigot using hate speech. He is fomenting a campaign of murder based upon ethnicity, in a statement that would have done the Third Reich proud.
Furthermore, in March of this year - before Damra was convicted, US District Court judge James Gwin denied him persmission to vist the Viginian based United Association for Studies and Research.
The United Association for Studies and Research [UASR] is the American arm of Hamas:
One of UASR Virginia group's founders, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, was the self-proclaimed leader of Hamas in the U.S.
Marzook was deported in 1997 and is reportedly now in Syria.
Mohammed Salah - a former employee of the Virginia group - has been identified by the DOJ as a terrorist and the New York Times reported that Salah has personally identified the UASR as the head of the political command for Hamas in the U.S.
At the last minute Alexander, mindful of his having made a serious political miscalculation in fending for Damra, pulled the apologia he had filed, under withering fire from Chicago's Jewish community - a large financial and intellectual supporter of the interfaith programs.
The fact remains that before the firestorm erupted, Alexander excused some of the vilest anti-Semitic speech imaginable under a disingenuous theory of moral equivalence, which argues that such statements can at times be justified if only they are viewed in "proper" [we must assume, terrorist] cultural context.
To bring this full circle let us excerpt from our previous series, the following refers to a telephone conversation we had with Dr. Alexander in the days immediately preceding the appearance of Oussama Jammal at one of CTU's programs.
"We inquired whether or not he [Alexander] knew much about Oussama Jammal. He responded that he had known Jammal for approximately 3 years and that he had never heard him say anything vaguely troubling, nothing anti-Semitic or pro-terror.
A look at Alexander's track record on this matter is damning.
He has not only personally associated with individuals and groups who represent the worst elements of Islam, he has appeared at their conferences and been lionized as an academic visionary by them - small wonder when the following quote is his stock in trade - it could easily be interpreted [especially given Alexander's penchant for contextual manipulation] a thinly disguised defense of jihad.
"When nationalism is used to raise a fraction of the universal family in terms of economy, social service and military sphere then this is the nationalism that contradicts the fitra and the natural law." - Statement by Dr. Scott Alexander - MAS-ICNA Convention Dec. 25 - 28, 2003
Far worse; Dr. Alexander has actively recruited these people into CTU/Bernardin and structured the Muslim Studies' interfaith outreach programs around their militant sophistry instead of seeking to bring true moderation to the discussion of superheated matters of faith.
By his actions, Dr. Alexander has given official recognition to the enemies of Judaism, Christianity and in a larger sense the national security interests of the United States.
His actions have granted them a respectability that they could not otherwise achieve. Alexander is guilty not only of multiple instances of exceedingly poor judgment, but has shown himself to be a strident apologist for odious individuals and philosophies.
He displays a moral blindness - unless continued funding gets in the way - that is shocking and has therefore disqualified himself from any claim of academic objectivity, having long ago crossed the line into advocacy.
So far Dr. Alexander's superior, Fr. Daniel Senior C.P., has been negligent in taking any meaningful administrative action in this matter, while Alexander attempts to remain aloof, refusing to comment, apparently hoping that this will somehow blow over.
Alexander is on trial, here, as is CTU. CTU's behavior, in allowing this matter to fester is inexcusable. No apology or retraction can or will change Alexander's egregious show of bad faith. We demand his immediate dismissal.
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