So what did the Muslim leader say?

032540 184887 02OK, I'm curious. Godbeat reporter Teresa Watanabe has a report out in the Los Angeles Times about a hot skirmish on the front lines of interfaith life. The issue? Should the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission reaffirm its selection of veteran Muslim leader Maher Hathout to receive a major human-relations award after two weeks of hot debate? Only four of the 14 commission members ended up voting for him, but that was enough -- due to those who declined (were afraid?) to cast a vote.

Here's the heart of the story:

Hathout said he was not concerned by so many abstentions and called the vote a victory for free speech, inclusiveness and a rejection of the "tactics of intimidation."

"We will not allow untouchable and sacred cows in the midst of our democracy," said Hathout, referring to Israel. He added that he was accepting the award for the "Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists and Muslims" who supported him.

The furious fight over what has normally been a quiet award selection process was sparked when some Jewish groups charged that Hathout, a 70-year-old retired cardiologist, was a closet extremist who denounced Israel as an apartheid state and was soft on terrorism. Their opposition prompted the commission to reopen its July decision selecting Hathout.

. . . The Muslim leader, in remarks before the commission vote, offered to meet in a dialogue with critics and expressed regrets for harsh language toward Israel.

Now, this raises two questions that I, as a reader, would like to see answered. The first is quite simple: What did Hathout say, that led to his statement of regret? The second is a bit more involved: What evidence did his critics present when they made a case that he was a "closet extremist"?

That is a loaded, loaded term. What was the evidence that they presented? If the Times can report the charges that they made, can the newspaper offer any hint as to the evidence they cited? In other words, can someone please tell us what Hathout has said and done that is so troubling? There are paraphrased references, but no direct quotes pinned to specific dates and places.

One can, of course, find one-sided websites that offer more than a few hints. Or readers of that right-wing rag The New Republic can click here.

Personally, I think it would have been good for the Los Angeles Times to have risked addressing these issues, in the same story in which it used that "closet extremist" label. Input, we need input.

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