Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is on schedule to say the Muslim prayer at an inaugural prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral on Wednesday. There has been no change of plan. The Obama inauguration team has not withdrawn its invitation.
That might come as a surprise to readers who read several news items and blogs in recent days with headlines like "Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas." or "Questionable Connections for Speaker at High-Profile Inaugural Event?" The report started on a blog called American Thinker on Saturday and has been picked up repeatedly since then.
Charges of supporting Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist organisation, would seem like just the thing to get anyone disinvited from the prayer service pronto. But they would have to be proven. These articles only mentioned alleged "links" that seem flimsier the more they're examined.
"This is brought up over and over again," Mattson said by cellphone as she prepared to travel to Washington from Hartford, where she is professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary. The "links" line refers to the fact that ISNA was among about 300 individuals and Muslim groups listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal case against the Holy Land Foundation, which was convicted last November of channeling money to Hamas. That case was so messy that it resulted in a mistrial in 2007 before the prosecution won on its second try.
ISNA and Mattson have publicly denounced Hamas and repeatedly denied supporting them. They are trying to get the organisation's name off that list. But since ISNA was only an unindicted co-conspirator, it could not hear what evidence the government claimed to have against them or defend itself in court. "If they had any real evidence, they would have indicted people," Mattson said. "We have never had any links with Hamas."
Did the Obama inaugural team know this? It's hard to imagine they didn't — Mattson already participated in a prayer service at the Democratic convention in Denver last August.
"They know who we are," Mattson said. "We've been in touch with them. They have a good understanding of how smear campaigns work. They've received statements of support for us from other people in the wake of these stories, including from Jewish groups."