Speaking yesterday at Stop Islamization of America‘s rally at Ground Zero against the Park 51 Islamic cultural center, North Carolina GOP congressional candidate Ilario Pantano attempted to turn the event into an anti-Iran rally. Pantano also spun a bizarre conspiracy theory in which Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf, the leader of the Park 51 group, was in league with Iran to support the Gaza flotilla in late May that resulted in the killing of nine Turks — including one Turkish American — by Israeli commandos.
“Let’s take a moment to take a look at the person that wants to bring it [the Islamic center] here,” Pantano said, referring to Rauf. “Does anyone find it interesting that he’s also involved in the Free Gaza flotilla movement that had a made-for-TV action with Israel just as all of this was developing?”
PANTANO: But there was something else that happened. Because, and I want to stretch your imagination for a second, but every time Iran is about to face a nuclear sanction, from the EU or the UN, what happens? Something flares up with Israel! I wonder how that happens? I wonder in 2006 when Iran was about to face nuclear sanctions for their nuclear weapons program — yes folks, we want to give radical extremists nuclear weapons, it’s unconscionable to me — but remember back to 2006, a fight in Lebanon with the Israelis. Who provoked that? Iran! Iran! Think back to 2008, again, Iran about to face sanctions, who provoked attacks from Gaza, missile attacks on Israel? Iran. And radical Islam. That’s exactly right.
Ladies and gentlemen, in 2010 as Iran faced its toughest round of sanctions, we have the made-for-TV episode, with Israel rightfully trying to protect itself by maintaining a blockade to make sure murderous rockets don’t kill its innocent citizens, where did that come from? Imam Rauf is a member of the organization that has been behind all of that. We know that Iran has been complicit in all of that. I want to know where the money for this mosque is coming from!
Pantano’s rant was neatly emblematic of the entire event, stirring together half-truths with outright falsehoods into a stew of anti-Muslim paranoia. His claim that Imam Rauf is a member of the organization behind the Free Gaza movement is probably a reference to the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, a major donor to the flotilla campaign. Like much of the misinformation floating around about the Park 51 project, this claim originated with the New York Post. But a Cordoba Initiative FAQ page notes that Imam Rauf “has never been a member of this group,” explaining that “several years ago, Imam Feisal was invited to Malaysia, the most moderate Islamic country in the world, to participate in a Peace Conference sponsored by the Perdana Peace Group. He was one of the hundreds of speakers present.”
The idea that Iran was “complicit,” along with Rauf, in the Gaza flotilla is a strange new element, one that hasn’t been claimed elsewhere, let alone proven. And while it’s clear that Iran maintains supportive relationships with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, it’s simply false to present the aims and actions of the groups as identical to those of Iran, or to suggest that they have anything to do with Imam Rauf. Unless, of course, your purpose is to gin up paranoia and hatred against an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan.