Two-Faced on Terrorism

DAVID A. LEHRER is president and JOE R. HICKS is vice president of Community Advocates Inc. (, a Los Angeles-based human relations organization.

THE CHAIRMAN of the Islamic Center of Southern California and senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Maher Hathout, is set to be honored next month by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission with its annual humanitarian award. But Hathout, an exceptionally pleasant man who has been a seeming stalwart of moderation in his dealings with the diverse inter-religious communities of our city, now seems to have been less than moderate in speeches delivered to his community.

In October 2000 (in a speech that only recently surfaced on the Internet), Hathout spoke to a rally in Washington, threatening a “general intifada” against Arab governments that negotiated with Israel. He went on to warn that the leaders of those governments would be “flushed down in the cesspools of history of treason” for their perfidy.

In 2001, after a particularly heinous act of terror in which 15 innocents (including children) were killed at a pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, he opined that the deaths were ultimately “the bitter result of the reckless policy of [Ariel] Sharon.”


A recurring theme in statements from Hathout and MPAC, which want to be viewed as mainstream and moderate, is that while terror and the killing of innocents is wrong, we have to understand why terrorists do what they do and that if the United States and the Israelis acted differently, terrorists would be less violent.

Last month, in an article in The Times, Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of MPAC, demonstrated its ambivalence about terrorist groups associated with Islamo-fascism. Al-Marayati, whom the ACLU of Southern California has honored with an award for religious freedom, condemned The Times’ coverage of Hezbollah as being too dismissive of the organization as “just an army” — implying that it should be better understood and should be more sympathetically reported on because (quoting a Times reporter’s description) it is “a massive political party, and it’s a massive social welfare network.”

In an Op-Ed article in the Orange County Register, he wrote: “When measured by the U.S. yardstick, our policy in the Middle East is a failure, and Washington needs only to look to its own miscalculation of the region as the reason. While there is much talk about religion and culture as an explanation for the conflict, it is the government policy that needs to be scrutinized for root causes.”

Most telling of MPAC’s blame-the-victim theme is a press release this month defending Hathout that says: “He and MPAC have not hesitated to also condemn acts of terrorism by Palestinian groups that employ suicide bombings and target civilian lives, with the acknowledgment that a root cause for this indiscriminate violence is Israeli occupation and repression of Palestinians.”

It is a particular brand of immorality that seeks to divert the responsibility for terror from the terrorist to the victim or those associated with the victim.

During the anniversary of 9/11, Americans can more readily see how insidious that line of thinking is. Are there any actions by the United States, real or imagined, that could justify the murder of thousands of innocents in New York, the Pentagon or the fields of Pennsylvania? Is there any grievance that lessens the perpetrators’ culpability for what they did?

MPAC also fails to recognize and, in fact, denies that what animates the terrorist groups it occasionally and halfheartedly criticizes is an epidemic of worldwide terror that is clearly linked to Islam.

It admonishes the media and public officials to avoid identifying Islamic-fundamentalist terror for what it is. It recently decried President Bush’s statement about the West’s war against militant Islamic fundamentalism. “There’s nothing Islamic about fascism,” said its communications director, and “suggesting there is only over-politicizes things in a way that does not accurately describe the criminal adversaries we face at the moment.”

It is distressingly evident that those whom we have viewed as Islamic moderates don’t recognize the problem that, ultimately, they must confront. If the leadership of the Muslim community’s most accepted organizations in the U.S. continues to describe the nihilism and death that girdle the globe as simply “criminal adversaries,” cite the perpetrators’ “non-terrorist” activities as factors mitigating the assaults against innocents and blame the victims for the horrors — there isn’t much hope for the reformation that Islam so desperately needs.

The local leaders of these groups have served on “human relations” commissions and on panels that “talk the talk” about human rights, tolerance and moderation, and they are genial and affable folks. But when it comes to straight talk about the most profound threat that confronts our civilization, they are strangely ambivalent. And that ambivalence should be reason enough to not recognize them with awards.