The Esam Omeish affair is the latest example of a "moderate," "peaceful" American Muslim leader done in by his own words, caught on tape.
Omeish, the president of the Muslim American Society (MAS), was forced to resign last week from his recently-appointed position on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's immigration commission when videos featuring Omeish posted by Little Green Footballs and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) were brought to the governor's attention.
Kaine asked for Omeish's resignation after observing one video featuring Omeish at a December 2000 rally praising Palestinians for "...you have learned the way, that you have known that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land."
Instead of owning up to his words, Omeish told reporters at a press conference Friday that he was taken out of context as part of a "smear campaign" based on"Islamophobia."
When speaking of jihad, he said he did not mean violence. He only meant "exerting full effort." He, like the Muslim American Society, is completely peaceful, espousing only a "path of moderation, engagement and outreach." Omeish is a surgeon, and before that, an honor student – a pillar of the community, and nothing more. The re-production of his own words is an "Islamophobic" "smear."
MAS Freedom Foundation Executive Director, Mahdi Bray, went one step further, portraying Omeish as the victim of a not-so-vast right wing conspiracy by those who "send people into our mosques and send people into our conventions dressed as Muslim women with hidden cameras."
Bray, too, has been "caught on tape" by the IPT, raising his arms and cheering loudly in October 2000 as his former colleague, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, announced his support for two notoriously deadly terrorist groups:
Alamoudi: I have been labeled by the media in New York to be a supporter of Hamas, anybody supports Hamas here?
[Crowd cheers, "Yes!"].
Anybody is a supporter of Hamas here?
[Crowd cheers, "Yes!" Mahdi Bray on stage nods and raises his arms in approval].
Anybody is a supporter of Hamas here?
[Crowd cheers, "Yes!"].
Hear that, Bill Clinton; we are all supporters of Hamas, Allahu Akbar. [Crowd responds].
I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hizballah. Anybody supports Hizballah here?
[Crowd cheers, "Yes!"]
Now, is it "Islamophobia" to show a tape of Bray gleefully cheering on Hamas and Hizballah? Somehow asking Omeish to be accountable for his endorsement of "the jihad way" is over the line.
As with all the Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, MAS has its public face of "peace" and "compassion" it plays up in front of the Western media and government officials, and another when comfortably surrounded only by its supporters.
And Omeish is no different. Watch the videos. Here is the entire December 2000 speech.
Without the power of videotape and an historic record, gullible members of the media would probably believe a "jihad" as an approach to "liberate your land" had no violent connotation as Omeish claimed. Sadly, even with powerful and damning video evidence, they might choose to believe the likes of Omeish and Bray, earnest as they are in their denunciations of those who merely produce the evidence.
The Sept. 29 Washington Post story simply took Omeish and his allies at their words. His jihad-way reference "was not a call for violence. It was never any condoning of terrorism or any violent acts," the newspaper quoted Omeish. It sought no other viewpoint. Nor did its reporters appear to ask what it means to say "exerting full effort" is "the way to liberate your land" peacefully.
It could have turned to Imam Abdul Alim Musa, of the Masjid al-Islam in Washington D.C. Musa offered a definition of jihad in stark contrast to Omeish during a MAS rally in Washington in May 2003.
The Post story also cited Brian Becker, national coordinator of the leftist ANSWER Coalition, as a character witness, who called Omeish "one of the foremost leaders" of ANSWER's anti-war rallies and someone who agreed Omeish had fallen to a smear campaign by "right-wing anti-Muslim bigots.
But what the Post did not tell you was that Becker was a comrade of Omeish and actually spoke together with him at a rally supporting Hizballah in July 2006. To Becker, Israel's response to Hamas rockets from Gaza targeting civilians was a "criminal reaggression." He minimized Hizballah's cross-border raid that killed three Israeli soldiers and ended with the kidnapping of two others. He made no reference to Hizballah rocket fire raining down on civilian neighborhoods.
Becker also argued that Israel is supported by U.S. aid because "Israel carries out the fundamental colonial functions against not only the Palestinians but against all Arab people and against other peoples of the Middle East."
Despite the denials and obfuscation, MAS officials have justified suicide bombings and terrorism repeatedly.
At a June 2001 press conference and sit-in at the State Department, then-MAS Secretary General Shaker El-Sayed was asked directly whether he condemned "the terrorist attacks from Hamas and the suicide bombings."
"I made a statement that we do support the Palestinian resistance," El-Sayed said. "The so-called Israeli settlers are not civilian population. They are military reserves; they are armed, trained and dangerous. They invade the Palestinian neighborhoods at night and squander everything. They kill, maim, and destroy homes. If I were there, I would use every power in my hand to defend my family."
El-Sayed continued, "so long as occupation continues, we say to the Palestinian people, ‘Go ahead. Continue your fight against occupation no matter what name they give you because we give you the name of courageous people who stand for the rights and we're standing with you.'"
The question was not whether he supported the Palestinians, but whether he condemned Hamas and suicide bombings.
Eighteen months later, at a joint conference sponsored by the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), El-Sayed had this to say (in mixed Arabic and English) about suicide bombers:
El-Sayed (Arabic): And about the subject unfairly named suicide bombers, homicide bombers, or murderers, or killers. Our answer to this issue is simple. To decide that this man is a martyr or not a martyr, it is a pure religious matter. Nobody who is not Muslim has any right to decide for us, we the Muslims, whose is a martyr or another. We as Muslims will decide that. It is in-house business.
The Islamic scholars said whenever there is an attack on an Islamic state or occupation, or the honor of the Muslims has been violated, the Jihad is a must for everyone, a child, a lady and a man. They have to make Jihad with every tool that they can get in their hand. Anything that they can get in their hand and if they don't have anything in their hand then they can fight with their hand without weapons.
In its June 2002 issue, MAS's official publication, the American Muslim, featured a question and answer section with the deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. When asked about suicide bombings, Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi responded that "Martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one's life."
But back to Omeish and his self-proclaimed non-violent support for "jihad." It includes going to bat in support a specific Hamas activist. Omeish wrote a letter in support of Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a Virginia-based Hamas activist convicted in Chicago last year of obstruction of justice and contempt of court, related to his activities in support of the terrorist group His sentencing is slated for later this year, and his attorneys have actively solicited letters to sway the judge. Omeish, for his part, wrote of Ashqar:
"Never at any time did I sense a radical tone and an extremist agenda in his words or actions. He has never and from what I saw can never aide or abet any terrorist or help finance any act of terror, simply because he does not believe in violence and extremism as a way to voice disenfranchisement or disagreement." (Emphasis added)
It was Ashqar who helped organize a secret 1993 gathering of Hamas members and supporters in Philadelphia. They gathered with the specific intent of finding ways to "derail" the new Oslo peace deal, which group members opposed because it left the state of Israel intact and threatened to marginalize the Islamist Hamas.
During the course of Ashqar's trial, prosecutors entered into evidence a 1993 wiretapped phone conversation between Ashqar and Hamas co-founder, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, in which the two discussed a Hamas attack that day on Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped and then killed. Rantisi then told Ashqar that they had even taken the ID Cards of the two soldiers and both men began laughing.
Others have rallied to Omeish's side, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which also blasts any criticism of itself as an Islamophobic smear. CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Dallas terror-financing trial against the Holy Land for Relief and Development (HLF).
The trial has shone new light on CAIR's connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
CAIR issued a statement supporting Omeish, who it said resigned "after being subjected to what he called a ‘smear campaign' by anti-Islam bloggers and Muslim-bashers like Steven Emerson who distorted past comments he made about Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinian people and about ‘jihad.'"
Thankfully, and importantly for the Muslim community at large, not all Muslim leaders are on board with CAIR's (or MAS,' for that matter) specific "Islamic perspective," and they are willing to speak out against its extremism and pressure tactics. As reported in the Virginian Pilot:
Two leaders in South Hampton Road s' Muslim community said they approved of Kaine's action.
Omeish represented "an extremist point of view," said M. Sharif Hafiz, board chairman of the Islamic Center of Tidewater. "I don't subscribe to it," he said. "I am a tolerant, open-minded Muslim."
Imam Vernon M. Fareed of Masjid William Salaam mosque in Norfolk said Omeish's comments "seem out of place."
Fareed said he has met Kaine several times. "I perceive the governor as a person who is fair and who is inclusive with religious communities," he said.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy also spoke out against Omeish's CAIR-backed brand of extremism, issuing a release that stated, in part:
"Many of Dr. Omeish's statements and activities in the past have in fact been a manifestation of political Islam and his attempt to use the Muslim community as a tool in a specific Islamist political agenda. This not only violates the core principles of the separation of religion and politics, which is a cornerstone of our nation, but is in fact the main mechanism of influence of transnational Islamism. His public advocacy of 'jihad' in the Middle East by co-religionists implicitly via terrorist organizations like Hezbullah or HAMAS against Israel, an ally of the United States, should certainly highlight the toxicity of Islamism as a political ideology-- regardless of the ideological jujitsu one uses to define 'jihad'. This becomes especially concerning in an individual appointed to contribute to a more sound immigration policy because it begs the question: Will this appointee's point of view be one primarily of American nationalism and security first, or will it be one of transnational global Islamism?"
Omeish and his colleagues at MAS can continue to cry foul when their own words are broadcast publicly. And they can continue trying to spin the meaning of those words. It might just be their best strategy, and clearly some people fall for it. Telling the truth is clearly not an option. The proof is in the video tape.