In their attempt to stop the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City, right-wing opponents of the mosque have voraciously attacked the motives of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the project, demonizing him as a radical and a terrorist sympathizer.
But in an interview with the editorial board of the Sioux City Journal, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — who supports moving the mosque to a new location — attempted to ignore the ugly attacks against Rauf and his supporters, saying none of the mosque’s critics have suggested there is “any ill intent” behind the proposed center:
Said Grassley: “I doubt there was any ill intent by Muslims in wanting to place that there. I don’t have any evidence, I don’t think any of the critics have said there was any ill intent, and constitutionally you can’t question their right to do it. But I hope, on second thought — and we also sometimes have to have second thoughts about initial decisions, even well-thought-out initial decisions — that it is insensitive and unwise to do it.”
In fact, the right-wing echo chamber has done little else but smear Rauf and question his “intent” in recent days. In a campaign ad, New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio warned, “Now a terrorist-sympathizing imam wants to build a $100 million mosque near Ground Zero. Where is this money coming from? Who’s really behind it?” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said Rauf “is no friend to America,” because his “radical” views are “very disturbing.” Fellow Fox host Glenn Beck falsely claimed Rauf is “connected to” Hamas, and that Rauf employs an antisemitic imam.
Meanwhile, Pamella Geller, a key organizer of the mosque opposition, has completely dedicated her blog Atlas Shrugs to pumping out smear campaigns against Rauf. She’s argued that the mosque is all about “stealth Jihad,” that Rauf is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, that Rauf “supports homicide bombers,” and that he has even “prais[ed] Hitler’s antisemitism.”
Of course, Rauf is no radical — he and his wife “are actually the kind of Muslim leaders right-wing commentators fantasize about: modernists and moderates who openly condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherent.” The Bush administration understood this, sending Rauf on a diplomatic mission, and having him work with the FBI on counter-terrorism efforts. Even Beck understood this in 2006, suggesting Rauf was a “good Muslim,” like those who make up the “vast majority” of Islam’s believers.