Telling half the story

Muslims Celebrate Eid al-Fitr To Mark End Of Ramadan

I was reading this Washington Post story about how "some" Muslims don't want to fill out U.S. Census forms for fear of how the federal government will use that information. The story isn't terribly well sourced and doesn't really quantify how widespread this concern is among Muslims (beyond, again, "some" and, later, "many") and I thought it might be confusing religious issues with immigration or residency concerns. But what I found most interesting about the story, which brought up past problems with the federal government violating civil liberties in the name of combating terrorism, was that it repeatedly mentioned the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., without mentioning some of the mosque's ties to terrorists.

It's a very popular mosque in the area but it's also known for having once had an imam by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki. Yes, that Anwar al-Awlaki. Two of the 9/11 hijackers attended services there and a German planner of the 9/11 attacks had the number for the mosque in his apartment. Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan also attended there years ago. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was convicted of conspiracy to assassinate President George W. Bush and of providing support to Al Qaeda, worshiped and taught Islamic studies there. A former member of the mosque's executive committee was convicted of obstruction of justice for refusing to testify about Hamas. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that mosque leaders have been political (he quotes from one 1998 sermon: "Allah will give us the victory over our tyrannical enemies in our country. Allah, the infidel Americans and British are fighting against you. Allah, the curse of Allah will become true on the infidel Jews and on the tyrannical Americans."). And the Post has reported that the mosque is affiliated with the Muslim American Society, which has links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Dar Al Hijrah hosted a fundraiser last month for Sabri Benkahla, who members believe was wrongly convicted of terrorism-related charges.

Now, I certainly don't think you need to mention any or all of this every time you write about the mosque. But if you're writing about terrorism and you're writing about the mosque? Then you probably should. Not all mosques are like the Dar Al Hijrah mosque. And if reporters obscure those distinctions, I think it might have the effect of making all Muslims seem more radical as a group.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write anything about this larger topic of how to handle Dar Al Hijrah's controversial ties but then I saw this brief Washington Post Virginia Politics blog post by Anita Kumar. It explains that hundreds of people are asking the House of Delegates there to revoke an invitation to a Falls Church imam. We're told they accuse him of condoning violence. The delegate who invited him defends him as "a great guy." We get almost no specifics.

I know it's just a blog post but what, precisely, are the things Abdul-Malik is accused of? I know that some people aren't happy about that fundraiser for the guy who was convicted of terrorism-related charges. But I also know that much of the other stuff I mentioned above predated Abdul-Malik's tenure at the controversial mosque.

So the Post has a follow-up story, a great opportunity to clarify some of these mysteries. Here's how it begins:

Hundreds of people are urging legislators to boycott the House of Delegates' floor session on Thursday, when a Falls Church imam whom they accuse of condoning violence and defending terrorism is set to deliver the opening prayer.

The imam, Johari Abdul-Malik, and many other leaders in the Muslim and interfaith communities say the accusations are false.

It goes on to include one sentence about how 9/11 hijackers worshiped there and Al Awlaki was the imam there. It doesn't mention much of what the Post itself has reported over the years about ties to accused and convicted terrorists. And then it transitions:

But Abdul-Malik was not affiliated with the mosque in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. In recent years, he has made statements following the arrest of Muslims on terrorism charges, arguing for due process, civil rights and fair sentencing.

"To try to cast me as someone who's a terrorist and closed-minded -- they picked the wrong guy,'' he said.

Evidence also supplied in Abdul-Malik's favor include that he was featured in ads denouncing terrorism and has condemned Osama bin Laden on "The O'Reilly Factor." Note, above, the use of the word "but." Now note how the next paragraph begins:

Still, letters and calls have poured into legislative offices since Friday, when a handful of concerned delegates let community activists know that Abdul-Malik was coming to Richmond.

"He's an apologist for people who commit criminal acts,'' said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force. The group, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Act for America, will hold a rally outside the state Capitol on Thursday morning.

Unbelievably, though, we never get to hear the specific allegations made by critics of Abdul-Malik and the Dar Al Hijrah moseque. I mean, you can easily find them on the internet -- but you can't find them in this story. Again, I know the fundraiser they hosted last month really bothered some people. But it's not mentioned in the story. Are there other things that critics are upset about? If so, we don't learn about them from the Post article.

Completely apart from the merits of either side's case, this story goes out of its way to find supporters and defenders of Abdul-Malik. That's fine and good but because we never hear the specifics of critics' complaints, it's just a very one-sided story. It's even worse than not giving the specifics. The reporters actually tell us that the terrorist connections at the mosque predate the current imam. But at least some of the (apparently-too-hot-for-the-Post) complaints they have about the mosque and its imam are quite recent.

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