MPAC Calls Steve Emerson's Defamation of Mainstream Muslim American Leader "Un-American"

September 5, 2006


The Muslim Public Affairs Council today called self-proclaimed terrorism expert Steve Emerson's defamation of renowned Muslim American leader Dr. Maher Hathout in the New Republic Online and a series of Fox News Channel appearances "an un-American attempt to stifle free and open debate."

Emerson's latest vitriol follows an announcement by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations that it will honor Hathout, who is Senior Advisor to MPAC and chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, with its prestigious John Allen Buggs Award for his outstanding human relations work.

Hathout, who has dedicated his life to the service of God and country, is an internationally renowned leader of mainstream Islam, and the author of "In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam" and "Jihad vs. Terrorism" -- a set of books intended to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam's unwavering opposition to oppression, terrorism, and tyranny. Hathout is recognized by the vast majority of American Muslims as one of the founding fathers of American Muslim intellectual thought and tradition, and a leading advocate of nonviolence.

He is an international figure who is highly regarded as a positive voice of Islam offering a unique and valuable perspective on national and international issues and actively combatting ideologies which lead to extremism and terrorism. Among the numerous offices he holds, Hathout is a Charter Member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, the western partner of the Council on Foreign Relations, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Alliance. Dr. Hathout has been invited to Capitol Hill and the State Department several times to address a variety of topics such as "Islam and U.S. Policy," "Islamic Democracy," "Emerging Trends in Islamic Movements," and "the Future of the Middle East."

The hollow allegations broadcast in more than one million American homes -- without challenge -- charge Hathout with being a "Hezbollah apologist". Throughout his written and oral diatribe, Emerson displays a shocking disregard to the cherished American values of democracy, such as the right of dissent with honest and constructive debate.

SEE: "Counterproductive Counterterrorism: How Anti-Islamic Rhetoric is Impeding America's Homeland Security" (MPAC, 2004)

In the New Republic and again on the Fox News Channel, Emerson cites a videotape of Hathout in a November 2000 rally in Washington, DC, in which he criticized the state of Israel for "butchering the Palestinians" and characterized its policies as "apartheid." In fact, the videotape Emerson cites features remarks by Hathout about Israeli policies, but even in these segments, no where is Hathout shown voicing support for Hezbollah, Hamas or any foreign group.

While Hathout may be guilty of using direct and powerful language, there is ample evidence for the factual basis of this statement. In Fall 2000, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon descended on the Dome of the Rock with more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers, provoking the second intifada. The rally took place at a time in which Israel's brutal aggression toward Palestinians was broadcast around the world.  Apartheid takes place when government policies offer full rights and democracy for one group but denies them to another. Israel's treatment of Palestinians is considered by many international human rights experts to exhibit apartheid-like policies. Regardless of the language, Hathout's right to free speech as an American is guaranteed.

In the article, Emerson claims "Hathout's hatred of Israel is well-documented". Hatred? No. Criticism? Yes. Hathout (and MPAC) recognize the right of Israel to exist, and the right of Palestine to exist. In fact, Hathout condemned Iranian President Ahmedenijad last fall when he publicly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." He has also repeatedly condemned terrorist acts committed by Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups. So what is Emerson's proof for Hathout's supposed "hatred"? He relies solely on the fact that, in his speech, Hathout criticized Arab governments for "holding summits with Israeli participation". In reality, Hathout has a decades long track record of criticizing many Arab governments, but that criticism is directed at dictatorships which do not represent their people, not on their engagement with Israel. Hathout has also been on record in stating that Egypt's repressive political leadership was the primary motivation for his own emigration to the United States.

Emerson then reveals what is really bothering him, namely that "Hathout addressed the American people directly" telling them that the blind support for Israel is not in the United States' best interest, that it is against our values, that it is further tarnishing America's international reputation, and that Israel has not helped advance strategic US interests in the region. Emerson alleges that Hathout supports Hezbollah unconditionally. The fact of the matter is that Hathout has consistently condemned terrorism, regardless of the perpetrator. 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 acknowledgement that a root cause for this indiscriminate violence is Israeli occupation and repression of Palestinians.

Hathout and MPAC approve or disapprove of Hezbollah based on its actions. In the 1990s, when Dr. Hathout made his remarks, Hezbollah engaged only in a military conflict with an Israeli military force which had continuously occupied southern Lebanon for nearly a decade. Neither Hathout nor MPAC approve of rocket attacks on civilians, but Hezbollah was not taking aim at Israeli civilians in the 1990s. Despite intense criticism of Israel's policies, MPAC and Hathout remain opposed to terrorism, call for negotations, and support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

"My words were an example of free speech, and of necessary speech for healthy U.S. policy discourse. In this context, his gross distortions and hollow accusations are irrelevant, to say the least," said Hathout. "This is an award from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations -- what does Israel have to do with an award given to an American by his fellow Americans?"

Although MPAC has often criticized actions of the Palestinians and other Muslim nations, Emerson has never criticized Israel's actions. It is he who is the apologist, and he who needs to develop more intellectual maturity. This episode is just the latest attempt in the long history of American politics to silence critics to the detriment of American democracy. Criticism of Israel does not justify the marginalization of any American voice. To do so is simply un-American.

Formed in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council is a public service agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims, for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives.

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