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Crossing the line NY posts attempts to label Imams are terrorists
Aishah Schwartz

Crossing the Line: NY Post Attempts to Label Prominent Muslim
Advocate as 'Terror Imam'

Imam Siraj Wahhaj led "Why Islam" campaign (coming to 4.9 million New
York City subway commuters this Ramadan), hopes to help clarify
misperceptions about Islam and being Muslim.

By MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director, Ibrahim Abdil-Muid
Ramey

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) July 28, 2008 " Rupert Murdoch's New York
Post has, once again, re-established itself as having the
journalistic integrity and ethics rivaling the worst of tabloid
publications found in the check-out isle at most convenience stores.
The in-your-face sensationalism and hyperbole of Post news articles
is not designed to elevate intelligent debate or present objective
news information. Rather, it is published to sell tabloid-style news
" trading on the emotional responses, and often prejudices " of
those who might not otherwise be inclined to read publications such
as the New York Times or the Economist.
So it wasn't any surprise to me when, on Monday, July 21, I was
alerted to a Post "Exclusive" cover story titled, "Train-ing Day for
Jihadists " Muslim Subway Ads Have Terror Tie-In" referring to Imam
Siraj Wahhaj, of Brooklyn, as the 'inflammatory imam', who has
organized a campaign to post advertisements on 1,000 New York City
subway cars, this September (during Ramadan), guiding commuters to a
source for information explaining the true nature of Islam to non-
Muslims curious about the religion, or who, based on inaccurate
information (largely provided through media sources), believe the
religion is bent on acts of violence.
This, of course, in the eyes of the Post editorial team and its
journalists, would make Imam Wahhaj guilty of being a purveyor of
terrorism and a supporter of radical Islam and its proponents, who
launched an attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in 1993.
Despite the fact that Imam Wahhaj was never formally charged with
having any connection to the 1993 WTC tragedy, cited as 'evidence'
for the inappropriately titled Post article, was U.S. Attorney Mary
Jo White's statement alleging him to be 'one of 170 unindicted co-
conspirators' in the WTC bombing; the fact that he testified as a
character witness for Sheikh Oman Abdul Rahman - convicted of playing
a role in the same incident; and past statements wherein Wahhaj is
said to have referred to the FBI and CIA as the 'real terrorists'.
While it can be said that Imam Wahhaj is, indeed, a highly vocal and
prolific critic of U.S. foreign policy and the blanket indictment of
Muslim activists by the Justice Department, it is clear that the
intent of the Post's article is to suggest that the "Why Islam"
campaign, very simply designed in an attempt to aid in clarifying
long-held misperceptions about Islam and being Muslim for the 4.9
million people riding the New York City subway, is nothing less than
a blatant attempt to recruit people into criminal or terrorists acts.
What the Post failed to include in their report is the fact that
the "Why Islam" initiative has been a part of the east coast
billboard landscape for the past several years, has been advertised
in community newspapers, promoted at booths in local malls, and has
never once been associated with promoting violence or condoning
crime.
Now to address the matter of the nebulous and dangerous 'smear'
otherwise known as the 'unindicted co-conspirator' (UCC) phenomenon,
a tool used by government prosecutors empowering them with the
ability to cast a wide net of implied conspiracy in criminal cases
" with or without evidence of guilt. More than 150 UCC's were named
in the WTC case " a number that rose to 300 or more as the
government prosecuted the Holy Land Trust (a Muslim charitable
organization).
Despite the fact that Imam Wahhaj is a well-established, prominent,
national Muslim leader and highly regarded advocate and fund-raiser
for Muslim institutions throughout the United States, the tag, "UCC"
has, in effect, according to the Post, morphed into his being labeled
as the 'terror imam'.
Numerous national legislators, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
have called the Justice Department to task for their use of the UCC
label as a substitute for real evidence in legal actions against
Muslim individuals and institutions " an act that has subsequently
produced 'trial by trash' journalism " just one of numerous
strategies designed to malign, and even destroy, the credibility and
work of Muslim individuals and organizations who have had nothing to
do with criminal activities. Perhaps that was the intent of the
Post's article as it relates to the "Why Islam" initiative.
For the record, I believe that all people are free to accept or
reject the call of the Holy Qur'an, and equally, they are free to
reject the ideology and vision presented to them by any Muslim
individual or organization propagating the message of Islam. We are
all free to form our own opinions about the credibility and
authenticity of " or lack thereof " Muslims in the public sphere.
After all, there is no compulsion in religion, and there should never
be.
But to label Imam Wahhaj as the 'terror imam' based merely on guilt-
by-association, or by a desire to propagate his religion, is simply a
flimsy and crude attempt at character assassination and fear-
mongering.
Imam Wahhaj is not underground, by the way. It's fairly easy to find
his mosque, Masjid Al-Taqwa, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of
Brooklyn. I would suggest that, New York Post reporters, and anyone
else with a legitimate interest in the truth about who he is and what
he believes, meet him and visit his community before launching future
attempts to label or smear him, Islam, or the Muslim community at-
large.
If the Post has hard evidence of the involvement of Imam Siraj
Wahhaj, or anyone else, in conspiracy to commit violent crimes, they
should present the evidence to the proper law enforcement
authorities. If the publication and/or its publishers have contempt
for Islam, that is its/their right. And for those objecting to the
public display/advertisement of educational material on the subject
of Islam, I would suggest a good read-through of the First Amendment
of the United States Constitution.
And finally, the Post, and the general public, should also be aware
that labeling someone as a terrorist, or implying that a person has
connections with terrorists, is a very, very, serious charge that
cannot be used as a cover for bigotry, religious hostility, or a
sensationalist pretext to sell newspapers.
"Why Islam" is a public information campaign to bring information
about the religion of Islam, the Holy Qur'an, and Prophet Muhammad
(Peace be Upon Him) to the American public. The centerpiece of the
campaign is a toll-free number (1-877-WHY ISLAM) and a website
(whyislam.org) that gives people access to further information about
the fastest growing religious affiliation in the United States.
RELATED:
"Why Islam", Chicago Tribune, December 13, 2007
http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/religion_theseeker/2007/12/why-
islam.html

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