A hush fell over the packed ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va., as the emcee asked Arab guests to join him in a moment of silence "in honor of all the heroes and martyrs" of the 2000 intifada. Ralph Nader, the event's keynote speaker, was among the participants.
The silence was soon replaced by thunderous chants of "Run, Ralph, run!" as presidential spoiler Nader took the stage to demand a "viable state" for Palestinians. He also slammed Washington for using secret terror evidence against illegal Arab immigrants, and called economic sanctions against Iraq one of the "great crimes of the U.S," according to an American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee newsletter account of its June 2001 convention.
That was three months before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which were carried out by 19 Arab immigrants who got substantial assistance from the Muslim community while they prepared for the attacks. Did that terrible day change Nader's views? Not one bit.
In July 2002, at another Washington-area Islamic convention, he accused the FBI of using McCarthyite tactics to question Arab immigrants -- the new American bogeymen, according to Nader. "They used to be called communists," he said. "Now they are called terrorists."
As a keynote speaker there at the Islamic Circle of North America's confab in Baltimore, he shared the stage with Imam Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Anwar Aulaqi, the Wahhabi imam who ministered to two of the 9-11 hijackers in closed-door sessions.
Nader must have made quite an impression, because the next year, ICNA's former president invited him to headline an Islamic conference in Florida with none other than Shaikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, a top Saudi cleric who has called on Allah to "terminate" Jews -- "the scum of humanity" and "grandsons of monkeys and pigs" -- while urging Muslims to shun peace with Israel.
While no anti-Semite, Nader has publicly deplored Israeli retaliation for Palestinian suicide attacks and recommended suspending U.S. aid to Israel.
The promotional flier bills him and Al-Sudais, senior imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, as "specially invited guests" at the December 2003 event near Orlando, which featured co-conspirator Wahhaj again, along with the imam of dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla and an official of an Islamic
charity raided by federal agents for suspected terror financing. Nader declined the invitation only after the press got a hold of it.
This is the side of Nader, an Arab-American, most Americans don't know, including the Birkinstock-wearing, tree-hugging trust funders who actually vote for him. And it's why Nader will likely draw even more votes this election from the energized Muslim community, which feels betrayed by the Bush administration for the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, both of which
Bush met with Muslim leaders during the last campaign to at least pay lip service to their concerns, and walked away with 72 percent of the Muslim vote. But in the wake of 9-11, Nader remains the only real champion of their causes. Democratic hopeful John Kerry voted for both the Patriot Act and Iraq war resolution.
"I am aware of all the Patriot Act arrests without charges, stereotyping, harassing and dragnetting of Arab-American immigrants," Nader told the Village Voice upon announcing his 2004 bid for the White House this month. "There is a civil liberties crisis in those communities."
"Ralph Nader was the unchallenged hero of Muslims" in the last election, said friend Paul Findley, a leading Islam apologist who authored "Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam," which is on Saudi-backed CAIR's recommended reading list. And he'll be that and more to them this time around.
The affinity is more than just political, says the former U.S. congressman, who earned a reputation as "Arafat's best friend in Congress." He notes that Nader shares a cultural bond with the community as the son of Lebanese immigrants. His late father, Nadra, and mother hail from Zahlah, Lebanon. Ralph is the youngest of four, including two sisters and a late brother,
"Muslims of Arab ancestry felt a close kinship with Nader, the first candidate of that heritage to run for the nation's highest office," said Findley, who's been on Saudi's payroll since leaving Congress.
How touching ... and scary.
Of course, Nader has little chance of winning the White House and officially appeasing the Wahhabi lobby with whom he appears to be so cozy. The Muslim voting bloc, at just a few million, is relatively small. If the presidential election were held today, Nader would draw just 7 percent of the overall vote, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, though that's more
than twice as much as he got in 2000.
In fact, Nader could end up hurting his community more than helping it. If Muslims shift much of the overwhelming support they gave Bush in the last election to Nader, rather than Kerry, they may help reelect Bush, their new sworn foe. Bush and Kerry are in a statistical dead heat, and Kerry can't afford to lose any votes to Nader.
Ironically, the White House may be joining Arabs and Muslims in their "Run, Ralph, run!" chorus.