An Arab-American activist who publicly denounced Attorney General Ashcroft as a “lunatic” has been given a community service award by the Philadelphia field office of the FBI.
The award is being criticized by some who say it is another foul-up by the federal law enforcement agency, which has recently come under attack from across the political spectrum for its failures in counterterrorism before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Last year, the FBI decided to give a similar award to an Arab-American leader in Michigan but then changed its mind after protests.
During a panel discussion at an October 2003 conference of the Arab American Institute, the activist, Marwan Kreidie, referred to “that lunatic Ashcroft, who is a lunatic, he really is.”That comment was reported in the October 20, 2003, New York Sun.
Said Mr. Kreidie, “anytime Ashcroft comes to Philadelphia, we hand him a copy of the Constitution.”
Also at the October conference, which took place in Dearborn, Mich., Mr. Kreidie said, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a lot of ways the root of why they hate us in the Middle East.”
Reached by phone yesterday, Mr. Kreidie said he did not recall using the word “lunatic” to describe the attorney general,who,as the head of the Justice Department, oversees the FBI. “I don’t approve of the Patriot bill and some of the actions he took. I’m still not a big fan of Ashcroft,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in Philadelphia, Special Agent Linda Vizi, said Mr. Kreidie “has been very helpful to the FBI office” as a leader of the Arab-American community.
She said he had been “educating us on the mores and customs of the Arab people.”
Ms. Vizi said the Philadelphia field office was aware of Mr. Kreidie’s feelings about the Uniting & Strengthening of American by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, or the USA Patriot Act, before giving him the award this month. But she said she had been unaware of his description of Mr. Ashcroft as a “lunatic.”
The editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Tobin, said Mr. Kreidie had taken part in protests outside the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia. “After the whole September 11 and various investigations about what law enforcement and the FBI were or were not doing, it certainly doesn’t surprise me that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” said Mr. Tobin, whose newspaper is published weekly by the major Jewish charity in Philadelphia.
Another Philadelphia resident, a member of the board of the United States Institute of Peace, Daniel Pipes, called the award a “travesty.”
“The FBI has repeatedly shown an inability to use common sense when it comes to honoring Muslim-American individuals and organizations,” Mr. Pipes said. “It’s quite amazing to me that the FBI would honor someone who attacks the president, the attorney general in any of these ways.”
A May 23 article by Mr. Kreidie in the Philadelphia Daily News accused Mr. Bush of “a litany of anti-Arab and Muslim actions,” including nominating Mr. Pipes to the peace post.
An anti-terror expert praised by Richard Clarke in his new book, Steven Emerson, said, “This is someone who has compared the U.S. to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, attacked the seizure of Hamas terrorist funds, and portrayed nearly all post-9/11 U.S. anti-terrorist initiatives in inflammatory language as racist. Does he have every constitutional right to express his views? Absolutely. But why would he, out of all the possible citizens in the greater Philadelphia area who have worked tirelessly to protect this country since 9/11, be selected as the man to be given this incredible honor by the FBI? This sends a terrible message to genuine moderates in the Arab and Muslim communities who have courageously stood up for the United States.”
Still, Mr. Kreidie has his defenders. The executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee, Robert Seltzer, said,“Good for the FBI in identifying Marwan as an appropriate recipient.”
An award from the FBI may have less cachet now than it did before September 11. A former speechwriter for President Bush, David Frum, and the former chairman of Mr. Bush’s Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, argued in their recent book, “An End To Evil,” that the FBI “should be fired from the counterterrorism job it has bungled.”A front-page New YorkTimes headline on April 12 said, “Disclosures Put F.B.I.’s Actions Under Scrutiny.”
The FBI seems to have at least one ally in Mr. Kreidie. He said he hung the award plaque in his living room.
“I’m very proud of my award,”he said. “That’s the good thing about America,” he said. “You can disagree, but in the long run, we are all in it together to make sure our country is safe.”