Friday, September 17, 2010

The “Ground Zero” Mosque: A Project Based on Con-Men and Special Privileges

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By Barry Rubin

As I previously pointed out, you don’t have to get into Constitutional questions, sanctified ground, and other such issues to see the problem with the proposed “Ground Zero” mosque. There are two critical issues which should clarify the lessons of this issue:

--On purely “normal” grounds of city regulations, legal requirements, and good business practices, this project should never have received public approval. The developer has a very bad record and is incapable of implementing the project, the financing isn’t there, and the promoters don’t even own half the property in question.

--What we are dealing with in the history of this project--leaving aside the reaction of private citizens--is clearly not “Islamophobia” but special privileges accorded to a group beyond what others would have received. This has been done, in part, by politicians and media who wanted to bask in the light of pretended tolerance and ensure they weren’t accused of “Islamophobia” rather than doing their job while observing law and regulations.

When democratic governments ignore their own laws and mass media stop reporting the news that means trouble. Now there’s even more evidence to support my thesis.

The project’s chief developer, Sharif el-Gamal, has been evicted from his Soho office for not paying $39,000 in back rent. It is just one more in a long string of brushes with the law by this man, whose sudden rise from wealth--waiter to multimillionaire almost overnight--still cannot be explained. Nothing wrong with someone bettering himself but when the way it has happened is so murky and the person is involved in such a controversial project that calls for some investigation.

Now the mosque's imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been painted by the mass media in near-saintly terms despite a history of radical Islamist statements, is showing his seamy side.  He's the owner of two New Jersey apartment buildings where he has refused to make repairs, endangering tenants' lives, and now is defying a court. See HERE and HERE for details. Here's a study of Rauf's record by a Muslim critic.

There are two additional lessons from this information.

--One tenant, Cindy Balko, said: "I've been here since the building opened [in 1990] and it hasn't been peaceful with this owner. He cares nothing about the people who live in this building. Not a thing....It's fine and dandy that he can build a mosque," Balko said. "But he doesn't take care of this building or the building around the corner, and he's going to take care of a mosque?"

Right. Equally, he cares nothing about the feelings of the people of New York or of the country who have asked that the mosque be moved. His response was to threaten them--only as an observer, of course--of massive violence in the Muslim-majority world and the killing of U.S. soldiers if they don't do what he wants.

--Rauf views himself as being above the law. Aside from all of the above points, he simply didn't show up for a court hearing, with no explanation, nor submit documents demanded by the judge who, understandably, blasted Rauf and his lawyer for their behavior.

But why shouldn't he think himself above the law when New York City and New York State have been so quick to treat him that way regarding the mosque issue, while the State Department send him on a free trip despite his lack of support for U.S. foreign policy (a requirement, even if they don't admit that publicly) and doesn't spring into action to investigate reports that he is using the trip to raise money (a violation of State Department regulations).

The buildings are so dangerous that Union City, NJ, is suing him to take them over. The risk of fire is considered so dangerous that taxpayers there must pay for a fire watch. Tenants are living amidst leaks, mold, bedbug and rodent infestation, as well as fire hazards. according to the city's mayor.

As a "man of God" who talks about morality all the time, bridge-building, etc., it is particularly egregious for Rauf to act this way. Given the fact that he knows he is controversial and people can be expected to look for "dirt" on him, it is reckless behavior and shows dangerous character flaws. Or maybe he isn't worried about the mass media investigating him because it hasn't up until now done so.

This is a pattern seen around the world, including the failure to report on key indicators of what radical Islamists think and do, see here and here for examples. When political extremists and criminal con-men receive, respectively, concessions and flattery or special privileges they don't respond with gratitude but with increased aggression and rapacity. They conclude that they are entitled to everything they want and act accordingly.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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