Tucked away in a tranquil suburb of Philadelphia sits the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge where, at a recent town hall the hundred or so attendees, most of whom appeared to be white Christians, were fed a fistful of lies.
Entitled "Islamophobia: Confronting Hate, Celebrating Diversity," the town hall meeting was co-sponsored by Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Philadelphia chapter and Emgage, a political action group which supports Muslim American candidates running for office.
The event featured Pennsylvania State Representatives Joe Webster (D), Melissa Shusterman (D), and Movita Johnson-Harrell (D). Others on the panel were CAIR-Philadelphia civil rights attorney Timothy Welbeck, Deputy Attorney General Robert Reed and community leader Marwan Kreidie, representing the Al Aqsa Mosque in Philadelphia which made local and national news recently when Imam Abdelmohsen Abouhatab was caught on camera delivering three anti-Semitic sermons there from Nov 2018 through January 2019.
Kreidie painted a terrifying, and dishonest picture for the unsuspecting attendees claiming that "Islamophobia is an organized attempt to denigrate Muslims in America. It is not a conspiracy theory. It's real." To support his assertion he referred to "Fear Inc.," a study by the Center for American Progress which promotes the falsehood that there is a "network financed by Richard Mellon with $42 million" whose mission is to disseminate misinformation about Islam. To demonstrate this, Kreidie dropped a lot of names, ranging from former Reagan national security official Frank Gaffney, to Middle East historian Dr. Daniel Pipes, counterterrorism researchers like Steve Emerson, Robert Spencer, and Bridgette Gabriel. Even pastors like John Hagee and Pat Robertson and the entire Fox News network are in on the conspiracy, if Kreidie is to be believed.
Kreidie spent a good deal of time discussing a pig's head that was thrown at the Al Aqsa mosque back in December 2015. When the incident occurred he was quoted in the Washington Post: "They want America to appear to be anti-Muslim. This will help them in their recruiting; this will help them in their propaganda. We can't let the extremists win."
We can't let the extremists win.
Does that include the horrific sermons delivered at his own mosque that included statements like "Oh Servant of Allah, There is a Jew behind me, come and Kill him (Nov. 16, 2018); "The propaganda and the media are controlled by the Jews" (Jan 11, 2019); "The Jews are the vilest people..." (Feb. 15, 2019). Kreidie labels as extremists the very people concerned about the rhetoric preached in American mosques yet said nothing about these very real extremist views pushed at his own mosque.
Kreidie refuses to accept that criticism of radical Islam — the kind his Philadelphia mosque was caught promoting — is not the same as criticism of the majority of the Muslim population. Daniel Pipes, who Kreidie singled out for condemnation is known for coining the phrase, "radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution." You'd never know that from Kriedie's presentation.
Kreidie's conspiracy-addled view that Muslim Americans are under dire oppression was unfortunately echoed by the other participants of the town hall.
State Representative Motiva Johnson-Harrell, the first Muslim woman elected to such office opened by saying "You have to love Moses and the Torah, Jesus and the Gospels, Mohammad and the Koran." But she then painted a picture of a racist, discriminatory Pennsylvania and described her swearing in ceremony as "horrible" because Clinton County State Representative Stephanie Borowicz disrespected her by mentioning Jesus "seventeen times" during the event's invocation (it was actually thirteen times). But what really offended the newly representative , Johnson-Harrell told the audience, was when Borowicz said "I stand with Trump with Israel and against Palestine".
But as Johnson-Harrell knows very well Borowicz never said "against Palestine" in her remarks. Johnson-Harrell appears to have added that fabrication in order to make both Borowicz and Trump appear Islamophobic rather than merely pro-Israel.
Like Kreidie, Johnson-Harrell seems to see Islamophobia where it doesn't exist, and yet remains incapable of seeing bad behavior by Islamists and calling it out.
Take for example the representative's response to the revelation that the Muslim American Society of Philadelphia hosted a children's skit featuring dancing and singing about the beheading of Jews; "We will defend Palestine with our bodies... we will chop off their heads and we will subject them to eternal torture." She never mentioned the videos of but she did issue a statement following the event that seemed to justify it, when she said "I wanted to note that all religions have sections of their holy books that they might not be particularly proud of," before quoting scripture from both the Hebrew bible and Christian New Testament. Noticeably she did not reference any similar passages from the Koran.
All the politicians on the panel followed Johnson-Harrell, pandering to the "Muslim as victim" theme.
Deputy Attorney General Robert Reed said he wished to reach out to all who are marginalized so he began a coalition of Arabs, Muslims, and Hindus — he didn't say Jews — to meet with government agencies in Lehigh Valley and Pittsburgh to stop ethnic intimidation despite admitting there were twice an many reported acts of anti-Semitism committed as there were anti-Muslim acts. Reed said he held emergency meetings at the Al Aksa mosque to gauge the level of hatred against Muslims after the presidential election.
Where was the effort to gauge the level of hatred being shown at the Al Aqsa Mosque against Jews after their anti-Semitic sermons were unveiled?
Rep. Joe Webster's presentation was particularly appalling as he told the audience, "we just had to do something" following the shooting in Christ Church, New Zealand. That attack, which took place a half a world away, motivated the decision of Webster and Shusterman to put together this town hall meeting at this mosque. Yet these same representatives apparently didn't feel motivated to hold a similar town hall after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue which took place in their own state.
Rep. Melissa Shusterman, for her part, expressed exuberance that two new mosques were being built in Montgomery and Chester counties, calling them "places of laughter, embracing, we need to amplify our voices." Certainly we can hope that will be the outcome. But what are politicians like Shusterman, Webster, and Johnson-Harrell doing to ensure that new mosques will be "places of embracing" and not anti-Semitism?
Community tensions are likely to only worsen as long as Muslim community leaders and elected officials whitewash Islamist anti-Semitism, treat Muslims solely as victims, and demonize those who point out the problems of extremism within the Muslim community.
Len Getz, CPA, is a Counter-Islamist Grid associate in Philadelphia