When we last looked at the Islamic Society of Boston's (ISB) efforts to build a mega-mosque in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, the project was beleaguered. Insufficiently funded and riddled with negative media coverage, the ISB lashed out by filing suit against more than a dozen Boston area residents that it blamed for hostile press clippings. It further claimed that the negative press was the result of a tortious conspiracy hatched by the defendants, and that the scheme had succeeded by making the ISB's fundraising hopelessly difficult.
Meanwhile, another lawsuit was launched almost simultaneously. This one, filed by Boston resident John Policastro, claimed that the City of Boston had shown unconstitutional favoritism to the ISB by giving it a piece of land valued at over $400,000 at a discount of roughly 50 percent.
At the time of our last piece on the matter, I labeled the ISB's suit contemptible and frivolous. So it remains.
I also stated that the Policastro case had great potential. To date, the Policastro suit has lived up to its promise, bringing to light some rather curious actions undertaken by the City of Boston.
LAWSUIT #1: THE ISB vs. THE WORLD
Even though the ISB's original suit named well over a dozen defendants, one of the suit's curiosities pertains to a party whose name was noticeably absent--Ahmed Mansour.
Ahmed Mansour is a moderate Muslim cleric. Mansour sought refuge in America when a Wahabbist fatwa calling for his assassination forced him to flee his native Egypt. After being granted asylum by the U.S. government and moving to Boston, Mansour began visiting the ISB and was appalled by what he saw. In particular, the ISB's willingness to seek and receive the favor of controversial cleric Yussuf al-Qaradawi outraged Mansour. Al-Qaradawi is perhaps best known in America for the enthusiastic embrace he receives from the academic establishment in spite of his outspoken support for Palestinian suicide bombers (even female suicide bombers), as well as a 1995 speech he gave in Toledo where he vowed Islam would conquer both America and Europe.
According to the affidavit he filed soon after the ISB lodged its suit, Mansour, more than any other individual, is responsible for the negative press coverage that rained down on the ISB. And yet, oddly, the ISB did not name Mansour as one of the defendants. In his affidavit, Mansour alleged that this was because the ISB wanted its suit to appear as a struggle between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Regardless of the ISB's motivations, Mansour soon got his wish; the ISB amended its suit, naming him as a co-defendant in the action. With Mansour's inclusion, the perversity of the ISB's legal action became apparent--a group dubiously claiming to represent moderate reformist Islam was suing a cleric who is a genuine champion of moderate reformist Islam.
Including Mansour wasn't the only sign of the ISB taking the offensive. In February, the ISB produced an affidavit prepared by the dean of American academia's Islam apologists, John Esposito. Currently presiding over Georgetown's Prince Alalweed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Esposito is perhaps best known for publishing an article in the summer of 2001 ridiculing the U.S. establishment's preoccupation with Osama bin Laden. The issue of Fletcher Forum magazine in which this ill-timed observation appeared was still on newsstands when bin Laden's minions brought down the World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 civilians in the process.
Esposito's affidavit for the ISB is quite a piece of work. It includes a nine page self-hagiography in which Esposito informs the court that his writings "are used as authoritative source material for the understanding of Islam worldwide." Esposito also exhaustively details the many honors he has won during his lengthy career, including 1996's World Book Prize awarded by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Esposito's affidavit mounts a spirited defense of Yussuf Al-Qaradawi, who for three years served on the ISB's board as an honorary trustee (which the ISB claims was the result of a clerical error), and who helped the ISB raise funds for the mosque. The defense of Al-Qaradawi is transparently disingenuous. As proof of Qaradawi's good nature, Esposito quotes London's notoriously anti-Semitic mayor, "Red" Ken Livingtone, praising Al-Qaradawi for preaching "moderation and tolerance to all faiths around the world." Unlike the nine pages he devotes to cataloguing his own expertise, Esposito doesn't offer a single word of explanation as to why Livingtone's analysis is at all pertinent.
Livingstone's and Esposito's embrace of Al-Qaradawi could hardly be more wrong-headed. As noted terrorism expert Walid Phares observes, "Al-Qaradawi produced most of the doctrinal foundations for Jihadi radicalism since the mid 1990s, including the incitement for Jihadists to defeat the Africans in southern Sudan, the Middle East minorities, and women's movements. In fact, Al-Qardawi does indeed call for change, but in the direction of further Talibanization of the Muslim world."
Respected scholar Daniel Pipes offers more withering commentary on the motivations of Esposito, stating "(His) affidavit shows how John Esposito shamelessly prostitutes himself for any radical Islamic cause, recklessly lending his name and his academic credentials to Islamists, no matter how legally dubious or politically disreputable they may be."
Doubling down on the polarizing Al-Qaradawi's appeal seems an odd tack for the ISB to take. This new offensive, marked by the Esposito affidavit and the inclusion of Mansour in the suit, appears stranger still given the ISB's recent offering of an olive branch to the suit's defendants. In early March, the ISB sent a letter to the head of Boston's Jewish Community Relations Council generously "offering to sit down and talk" in spite of "the very real damage done to the ISB" by the defendants. The ISB has also suggested to the defendants that the case be moved out of the public courts and into the realm of private mediation.
Though coming short of saying "Nuts!" to the offer, the suit's defendants seem unmoved by the ISB's purported display of goodwill. Jeff Robbins, a lawyer for one of the defendants, observes, "Whenever people file a lawsuit that results in the disclosure of damaging facts and then abruptly change tactics, reasonable people will make inferences regarding the suit's prospects."
LAWSUIT #2: POLICASTRO vs. THE CITY OF BOSTON
When the Policastro suit was originally filed, the hope was that the discovery process would explain why the City of Boston appeared to show favoritism to the ISB. While the suit has yet to do that, Policastro, his attorneys, and a sympathetic city councilor all seem warm to the scent.
Originally, the controversy centered on the fact that the city gave the ISB land valued at $400,000 for only $225,000 plus a nebulous set of "services" such as offering a lecture series at neighboring Roxbury Community College. The city conveniently valued these "services" at $175,000.
It came as quite a shock when the lawsuit's discovery process revealed that the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the city agency in charge of selling the land, had originally valued the parcel not at $400,000 but at $2 million. Odder still, the BRA originally valued the ISB's offered services for an extraordinary $1.8 million. The BRA later re-assessed the services at $175,000, after it reassessed the land.
This chain of events seems nearly incomprehensible. And to date, neither the city nor the BRA has offered any explanation.
Like everyone else, City Councilor Jerry McDermott is unable to account for the discrepancy. He has, however, aggressively investigated the affair and plans future hearings on the matter.
McDermott frankly questions the original $2 million assessment of the land as being too high; the land's Roxbury location is hardly one of Boston's most desirable spots. But larger questions remain: Apparently someone played games with the transaction's numbers. Who did it, and why?
And did they know that the beneficiaries were an organization whose leadership stubbornly lauds the virtues of men like Yussuf Al-Qaradawi?
Dean Barnett writes on politics at SoxBlog.com.