Covering the belated “apology,” not the original controversy or underlying cause of Islamist anti-Semitism and hate.
There are few things less ambiguous than a call to kill another person. Except, apparently, at The Washington Post.
On July 21, imams Ammar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Davis (ICD) and Mahmoud Harmoush of Islamic Center of Riverside gave speeches calling for the destruction of the Jews in the context of the recent violence centered around the Temple Mount. Both imams called on Allah “to liberate Al Aqsa from the Jews.”
The speeches were brought to light by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which picked them up from the YouTube channels of both Islamic centers.
After exposure by MEMRI, news of one or both of the offending sermons were picked up The Jerusalem Post, the National Review, The Times of Israel, the Jewish Journal, the Free Beacon and various pro-Israel blogs, including Legal Insurrection and The Tower. There appears to be little or no national coverage given during the week to the sermons. (The local Davis Enterprise reported on it in middle of last week, but most national news organizations didn’t touch the story until Friday.)
Ignoring the Controversy
On Friday, Michelle Boorstein, the Post’s religion reporter covered the apology of Sheikh Ammar Shahin, the imam of the mosque, at the Islamic Center of Davis (ICD), in California, for giving an anti-Semitic sermon a week earlier.
For a full week The Washington Post was silent about this crude anti-Semitism. Only a week later did the Post cover it and a number of things are readily apparent.
- The Post only reported once Shahin offered a dubious apology.
- The Post never reported on Harmoush’s sermon. Harmoush did not apologize.
- The Post reported uncritically a false claim made by Shahin and one of his supporters.
- The Post got an expert to reinterpret part of his sermon so that it was somewhat less offensive.
The first two items are related. The news, which was first reported by MEMRI, on July 21 was that two California imams gave virulently anti-Semitic speeches calling for the killing of the Jews. That was the news.
The Post had a whole week to be aware of this news before Shahin’s “apology” press conference, but only reported on the sermon once an apology was in hand and damage control effort had begun. The fact that the speech by Harmoush, who to the best of my knowledge never apologized, was ignored makes it less likely that this was an accident.
Reporting the Apology with Sympathy, and Ignoring Root Causes
In the course of the article Boorstein reported ,”In the hour-long sermon, the 31-year-old Shahin focused on the standoff at the site and called Muslims to come together to protest the closure there.”
Later she quoted a worshiper from the mosque who said that he was disgusted “by the action of the Israeli government in preventing Muslim people from doing their prayers in the Masjid Al-Aqsa.”
But it wasn’t the Israeli government that closed the mosque (except in the immediate aftermath of the killings of two police officers there by a gang of three terrorists), Muslims stayed away from the mosque on account of boycott called by the head of the Waqf, the Jordanian religious trust that administers the site.
(I pointed this out to Boorstein on Twitter, she responded that it wasn’t her job to correct the inaccuracies as she linked to the reporting from Israel and this story was about what happened in Davis. Shahin, as her own reporting attests, made the false claim, so its inaccuracy is central to the story and should have been reported on.)
In case people were unconvinced by Shahin’s apology:
A Northern California imam whose widely distributed sermon about Jews in disputed Jerusalem set off controversy and fear of violence apologized at a Friday news conference, saying his words were hurtful and “unacceptable.”
“To the Jewish community, here in Davis and beyond, I say this: I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused. The last thing I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart, nor does my religion allow it,” Ammar Shahin said in his statement. …
“Commitment to defending religious rights in Jerusalem should not cause division or fan the flames of anti-Semitism,” Shahin said at Friday’s news conference. “Today, I commit to working harder and will join efforts for mutual understanding and building bridges. As a young religious leader, this has humbled me.”
Boorstein got an expert to re-translate part of Shahin’s speech so it would fit the imam’s new interpretation:
Nazir Harb Michel, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Arab and Islamic Studies, translated one passage in the imam’s sermon this way:
“O God, liberate the al-Aqsa mosque from the desecrations of the Jews. O God, upon you is the handling of those who closed the al-Aqsa mosque. O God, defeat each of them and count them all, and don’t leave any of them out.”
That’s certainly not as offensive as:
Oh Allah, support the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Muslim lands. Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, show us the black day that You inflict upon them, and the wonders of Your ability. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.
but I suspect that Michel is taking a good deal of literary license with his interpretation. Is it a reporter’s job to seek advocates of a controversial figure and republish those remarks uncritically?
What no one seems to dispute is that elsewhere in the speech Shahin spoke in very unambiguous terms about the destruction of the Jews.
When that war breaks out, they will run and hide behind every rock, and house, and wall, and trees. The house, the wall, and the trees will call upon the Muslims. It will say: Oh Muslim… It will not say: Oh Palestinian, oh Egyptian, oh Syrian, oh Afghan, oh Pakistani, oh Indian… No, it will say: Oh Muslim. Muslim. When Muslims come back… ‘Come, there is someone behind me – except for the Gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews. Except for a certain tree that they are growing today in Palestine, in that area, except this form of tree, which they are growing today… That’s the tree that will not speak to the Muslims.
This hadith (saying attributed to Mohammed), along with some embellishments added by Shahin, is one that is cited in the Hamas covenant, saying that all Jews will be destroyed on Judgment day.
Furthermore, it may be possible to excuse Shahin if all he said that his call for Allah to deal with the Jews. But he said more than that. Shahin also prayed, “Oh Allah, make this happen by our hands. Let us play a part in this.” This isn’t simply a prayer for God to settle accounts with the Jews, it is literally a call to arms of his listeners to physically take part in liberating Al Aqsa.
It looks like Boorstein did her best to reduce Shahin’s inflammatory sermon to a political commentary delivered by someone who was understandably upset by the actions of the Israeli government.
CAIR is Silent
There are three other points worth noting.
The first is that a representative of CAIR of Sacramento Valley was quoted in the Post article:
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said that the Jewish and Muslim communities in the area have a history of “strong relations.” He added, “Working together, we’ll get through this.”
Of the imam, he said it was essential for “people to realize words matter, words have consequences.”
If you check CAIR Sacramento Valley Facebook and Twitter feeds, you will find no condemnation of Shahin’s hate speech. On Twitter, they describe themselves as “Leading advocates for justice and mutual understanding.”
MEMRI Rebuts Allegations made by Islamic Center
As noted in the Post article the ICD mosque attacked MEMRI:
In the context of the full sermon, it becomes clear that the theme of the sermon was against oppression, and not against Jews or any religion,” the mosque statement said. “If MEMRI and company sincerely followed Imam Ammar Shahin’s work and did not just cut and paste what suits their cause, they would have come across the countless lectures and sermons he has given regarding treating all people, especially non-Muslims, with kindness and giving them their full rights, supporting them when they are oppressed.”
A longer attack on MEMRI was published on the ICD YouTube page on which the July 21 sermon was published. Part of it reads:
MEMRI, an extremist agenda driven organization that supports Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and other Islamophobic news organizations, accused Imam Shahin of anti-Semitism, quoting edited, mistranslated, passages of the sermon out of context.
If the sermon was misconstrued, we sincerely apologize to anyone offended. We will continue our commitment to interfaith and community harmony.
MEMRI’s video included an edited segment about a Prophetic tradition dealing with the apocalyptic battle between Jesus and the Antichrist. Prophetic traditions addressing the end of times are not meant to address modern conflicts, the Imam was using the tradition to address unity and coming back to the faith.
If Shahin’s apology were sincere, he would not have attacked MEMRI. The fact that he apologized (or claimed to apologize) shows that his comments were not taken out of context.
Furthermore the fact that a contemporary terrorist group (Hamas) used the same hadith that Shahin used, shows that the call to murder can’t be dismissed as a “prophetic vision.”
MEMRI responded to the latter attack:
Imam Shahin is one of a group of extremist preachers who have been exposed by MEMRI to be delivering incitement to hatred and violence (see AppendixII for list of these). Like the others, after being exposed, Imam Shahin and the Islamic Center of Davis are trying to deflect responsibility from themselves by issuing all kinds of mendacious and libelous statements against the entity that exposed them.
The inciting messages in Imam Shahin’s prayer were absolutely in context; here is the sermon in full from the YouTube channel of the ICD. The viewer can use their own judgment.
The message in the Imam’s prayer is clear and coherent, and MEMRI’s translation was absolutely accurate. It should be noted that Imam Shahin referred neither to “Israelis” nor to “Zionists,” but to “the Jews.” Imam Shahin also made similar statements in his July 14 Friday sermon, which was also posted on the ICD’s YouTube channel (view it here).
The libelous accusations against MEMRI are untrue, inasmuch as they are irrelevant to Imam Shahin’s inciting prayer. Additionally, the messages in his July 21 prayer are in line with his messages in the prayer from his sermon the previous week, on July 14 (see below MEMRI transcripts of the July 21 and July 14 sermons).
In contrast to the allegations by the ICD, MEMRI is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that has been translating and analyzing the media of the Arab and Muslim world for nearly two decades (www.memri.org). One of our most important projects is our Tom Lantos Archives on Antisemitism, named after Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress; in this project, we present content and figures like Imam Shahin as well as voices who oppose this. Sadly, hundreds of examples of such statements by sheikhs and imams, in both the Middle East and the West, can be found on our website.
Keep in mind in Shahin’s July 14 sermon, in which he said, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is besieged, and there are no prayers in it. Those wicked Jews are prohibiting prayer there, so how can one not pray to Allah at night, because he is busy with his food, his drink, his children, or his country, his circumstances, or things that happen to him? Isn’t there a single wise man among us?” came in the wake of a terror attack earlier in the day in which three Muslim terrorists smuggled weapons to the Temple Mount and murdered two Muslim policemen there. So a cold-blooded terror attack in a holy place is not an outrage to Muslims, but the effort to secure the area afterwards and make sure that it’s safe is?
What Took so Long?
Boorstein in her report acknowledges that she had received a statement from Shahin already on Wednesday, yet she held off reporting on the hate speech until Shahin offered his so-called apology. This another indication of how the reporting was designed not to expose the hate speech, but assist in the damage control.
The Washington Post recently adopted an ominous sounding motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” if its reporting on Shahin’s remarks is any indication, it apparently has adopted an approach that will allow anti-Semitism to flourish.
The Sacramento Bee also played down Hassin’s anti-Semitism.
Petra Marquardt-Bigham recently recalled the hate sermons issued from the Al Aqsa mosque, does their language sound substantially different from that of Shahin or Harmoush?
[Photo: Screenshot from MEMRI video ]
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