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The other day the New York Times invited a few contributors to answer the question “Is America’s religious freedom under threat?” The answer provided by Salam Al-Marayati, head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), in an essay entitled “A Campaign Against Patriotic Muslims,” was a resounding yes – at least, that is, where his co-religionists are concerned. Among Al-Marayati’s assertions: “religious freedom for the Muslim American is under threat….Today’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is eerily similar to the pre-Nazi rhetoric against Jews….Hate against Muslim children in elementary and secondary schools is on the rise.” There is, insisted Al-Marayati, “an inquisition mentality toward America’s Muslims.”
People who have written books critical of Islam were described by Al-Marayati as “Muslim-haters” whose “work is reminiscent of the pre-Nazi propaganda…that regarded Judaism as a threat to Germany.” Al-Marayati railed about the controversy over the TLC reality show “All-American Muslim,” which, he sneered, “became a controversy because it did not include a terrorist.” America, he claimed, is being misled by those who, refusing to define American Islam by what he called its “mainstream,” insist rather on viewing it “through the lens of extremism.” “I love my faith and I love my country,” maintained Al-Marayati at the end of his piece. “The fact that some readers still question which country I am referring to indicates a serious level of distrust toward Muslim Americans.”
This isn’t the first time Al-Marayati has pleaded for American non-Muslims to reject “Muslim-haters” and recognize the compatibility of the Koran and the Constitution, Islamic law and Jeffersonian democracy. A couple of years ago he informed readers of the Huffington Post that “Islamic law has five goals accepted by all the scholars of Islam: securing and developing rights to life, expression, faith, family and property. That’s similar to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.” The concluding flourish of his Huff Po article was almost identical to that of his Times piece: “I am an American. I am a Muslim. I will work for a better future for all Americans and Muslims worldwide.”
Then there’s the op-ed he published in the Wall Street Journal after the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood. Al-Marayati’s goal there was to put as much distance as possible between the killer, Army major Nidal Hasan, and Islam. Hasan, Al-Marayati contended, suffered from a “critical fault in understanding the Quran” and a “deeply flawed understanding of Islam” – which, he assured his readers, is (what else?) a religion of peace and justice. In short, Al-Marayati constructed an alternate reality in which there is no such thing as jihad and in which America is not engaged in a war with its practitioners.
So who is this spokesman for “mainstream” Islam – this man intent on spreading the good news that American Muslims are (as he put it in the Times) overwhelmingly “God-loving and America-loving” citizens who thoroughly reject all forms of violence and extremism? Well, he first gained national attention in 1999, when Dick Gephardt, having nominated him as a member of the National Commission on Terrorism, withdrew the nomination after learning that Al-Marayati had, in fact, publicly defended terrorism. (As Daniel Pipes noted shortly thereafter, this was “the first time that a prominent Muslim figure in America has been repudiated because of extremist politics.”)
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