Mind Your Own Fatwas!

Right-wingers have asked for it, and on July 28 they got it: a coalition of Muslim clerics took the extraordinary step of issuing a fatwa against terrorists who besmirch their religion.

And then the right-wingers complained that wasn't enough.

"There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism," the imams wrote in their one-page fatwa, an Islamic legal ruling with the theological weight of a papal bull. "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram—or forbidden—and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs.'"

The fatwa, issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), a group led by Garden Grove imam Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, was endorsed by almost every major Muslim organization in North America—in part to placate conservatives who claim Muslims don't condemn crimes committed in the name of Allah.

But the conservative blogosphere quickly dismissed the fatwa as a ruse. An American Spectatorcolumnist described it "as sincere as a snake oil salesman's pitch." An Aug. 4 Associated Press story reported some American Muslim scholars criticized the imams for not naming names. Closer to home, a letter writer to The Orange County Register deemed the move "weather-vane morality."

No critic, however, received more attention than the Investigative Project (IP), a Washington, D.C., think tank that claims it's "widely acknowledged as one of the leading counterterrorist research and investigative centers in the world." The day FCNA announced its fatwa, IP director Steven Emerson posted a statement on the group's blog (counterterror.typepad.com) that panned the declaration—and added this wrinkle: the FCNA imams were terrorist lovers.

"In fact, officials of [FCNA] have been directly linked to and associated with Islamic terrorist groups and Islamic extremist organizations," Emerson roared.

Which would be a great scoop—if it were true.

Emerson focuses his argument on Siddiqi—who heads the county's oldest mosque, the Islamic Society of Orange County—and Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, who made headlines in 2001 after issuing a fatwa permitting Muslims in the American military to fight terrorists (who might also be Muslims) in Afghanistan.

Emerson claims that Al-Alwani is associated with various organizations the government suspects of aiding terrorists. Siddiqi is also a terrorist sympathizer, another IP blog post states, because the imam once served as chairman of the Department of Religious Affairs at the Muslim World League, which the IP says American officials have linked to al-Qaeda (see "The Wrath of Chuck" for more of Emerson's claims against Siddiqi).

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, another FCNA member and fatwa signer, is a terrorist sympathizer to Emerson because Al-Hanooti served during the 1980s on the board of the Islamic Association for Palestine, which government officials tied to Hamas after the 9/11 attacks. Signer No. 8, Jamal Badawi, earns the ire of the Investigative Project because of his tenuous links to people who might be bad: he's vice chair of the Islamic American University, a subsidiary of the Muslim American Society, which "commonly glorifies" the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the ideological precursor to many Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations.

But federal officials have never indicted, accused, charged or even linked any of the imams Emerson and his organization name to terrorist activity. This is also the case with Al-Alwani, named but not charged in various documents as an associate of Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor the government has unsuccessfully prosecuted for nearly two decades for purportedly working with Palestinian terrorist organizations.

Throwing out wild accusations is nothing new for Emerson. He received prominent airtime immediately after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing for pinning the blame on Muslim fanatics—and was unapologetic when it turned out white supremacists committed the crime. In a 1998 out-of-court settlement, Emerson paid independent reporter Reese Erlich $3,000 after accusing him of being charged with conspiracy to carry out violent acts for the Black Panthers during the 1960s. That same year, Emerson sued John Sugg, now editor of Creative Loafing Atlanta, then editor at Tampa Bay's Weekly Planet, for libel after Sugg questioned Emerson's work; Emerson dropped the suit in 2003 after a judge ordered him to turn over documents Emerson said would prove his case.



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