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Fevered Pitch

by Franklin Foer

On the after­noon of Sep­tem­ber 26, George W. Bush gath­ered 15 promi­nent Mus­lim- and Arab-Amer­i­cans at the White House. With cam­eras rolling, the pres­i­dent pro­claimed that “the teach­ings of Islam are teach­ings of peace and good.” It was a crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant moment, a state­ment to the world that Amer­i­ca’s Mus­lim lead­ers unam­bigu­ous­ly reject the ter­ror com­mit­ted in Islam’s name.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many of the lead­ers present had­n’t unam­bigu­ous­ly reject­ed it. To the pres­i­den­t’s left sat Dr. Yahya Basha, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Mus­lim Coun­cil, an orga­ni­za­tion whose lead­ers have repeat­ed­ly called Hamas “free­dom fight­ers.” Also in atten­dance was Salam Al-Maray­ati, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Mus­lim Pub­lic Affairs Coun­cil, who on the after­noon of Sep­tem­ber 11 told a Los Ange­les pub­lic radio audi­ence that “we should put the State of Israel on the sus­pect list.” And sit­ting right next to Pres­i­dent Bush was Muza­m­mil Sid­diqi, pres­i­dent of the Islam­ic Soci­ety of North Amer­i­ca, who last fall told a Wash­ing­ton crowd chant­i­ng pro-Hezbol­lah slo­gans, “Amer­i­ca has to learn if you remain on the side of injus­tice, the wrath of God will come.” Days lat­er, after a con­ser­v­a­tive activist con­front­ed Karl Rove with dossiers about some of Bush’s new friends, Rove replied, accord­ing to the activist, “I wish I had known before the event took place.”

If the admin­is­tra­tion was caught unaware, it may be because they placed their trust in one of the right’s most influ­en­tial activists: Grover Norquist. As pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Tax Reform, Norquist is best known for his tire­less cru­sades against big gov­ern­ment. But one of Norquist’s less­er-known projects over the last few years has been bring­ing Amer­i­can Mus­lims into the Repub­li­can Par­ty. And, as he usu­al­ly does, Norquist has suc­ceed­ed. Accord­ing to sev­er­al sources, Norquist helped orches­trate var­i­ous post-Sep­tem­ber 11 events that brought togeth­er Mus­lim lead­ers and admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. “He worked with Mus­lim lead­ers to engi­neer [Bush]‘s promi­nent vis­it to the Mosque,” says the Arab-Amer­i­can poll­ster John Zog­by, refer­ring to the pres­i­den­t’s Sep­tem­ber 17 trip to the Islam­ic Cen­ter of Wash­ing­ton. Says Zog­by, who counts Norquist among his clients, “Absolute­ly, he’s cen­tral to the White House out­reach.” Indeed, when Jew­ish activists and ter­ror­ism experts com­plained about the Mus­lim invi­tees to Adam Gold­man, who works in the White House pub­lic liaison’s office, Gold­man replied that Norquist had vouched for them. (Gold­man denies this, but two sep­a­rate sources say they heard him say it.) “Just like [admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials] ask my advice on invit­ing reli­gious fig­ures to the White House,” says Paul Weyrich, anoth­er top con­ser­v­a­tive activist, “they rely on Grover’s help [with Mus­lims].”

Norquist denies being involved in “micro­manag­ing the specifics” of White House meet­ings, but admits “I have been a long time advo­cate of out­reach to the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty.” In fact, the record sug­gests that he has spent quite a lot of time pro­mot­ing peo­ple open­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to Islamist ter­ror­ists. And it’s start­ing to cause him prob­lems. Weyrich, echo­ing oth­er move­ment con­ser­v­a­tives, says he is “not pleased” with Norquist’s activ­i­ty. Accord­ing to one intel­li­gence offi­cial who recent­ly left the gov­ern­ment, a num­ber of coun­tert­er­ror­ism agents at the FBI and CIA are “pissed as hell about the sit­u­a­tion [in the White House] and pissed as hell about Grover.” They should be. While nobody sug­gests that Norquist him­self is soft on ter­ror­ism, his lob­by­ing has helped pro­vide rad­i­cal Islam­ic groups–and their causes–a degree of legit­i­ma­cy and access they assured­ly do not deserve.

Norquist is one of the undis­put­ed mas­ters of Repub­li­can coali­tion build­ing. And so it is no sur­prise that he has turned his atten­tion to Amer­i­ca’s fast-grow­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, which by some accounts now stands at sev­en mil­lion strong. (Although two oth­er recent reports sug­gest it is less than three mil­lion.) “He’s worked with [Rab­bi Daniel] Lapin to bring Jews into the fold,” says one Norquist asso­ciate. “That was an uphill effort. So he fig­ured that he could turn Mus­lims into the obvi­ous coun­ter­weight to the rela­tion­ship between the Jews and Dems.” In the last few years, Norquist has pur­sued a Repub­li­can-Mus­lim alliance with a two-track approach. With con­ser­v­a­tives, he has empha­sized that Mus­lims are a good demo­graph­ic fit for the GOP: well-off and social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive. “Amer­i­can Mus­lims look like mem­bers of the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion,” he wrote in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor this sum­mer. To Mus­lims, he has promised a sym­pa­thet­ic hear­ing for their caus­es. He has pushed Repub­li­can lead­ers to sup­port a pro­hi­bi­tion on the gov­ern­men­t’s use of “secret evi­dence” in the depor­ta­tion of sus­pect­ed terrorists–an issue that jibes with Norquist’s own anti-gov­ern­ment agen­da. And he has inti­mat­ed that Mus­lim sup­port for Repub­li­cans could change U.S. pol­i­cy toward the Mid­dle East. Appear­ing on a pan­el at a 1999 meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Mus­lim Alliance, along­side activists who com­plained about the “Zion­ist lob­by” and Jew­ish “monop­o­liz­ing” of Jerusalem, Norquist announced that “[t]oo many Amer­i­can politi­cians have been able to take their shots at Mus­lims and at Mus­lims coun­tries.”

orquist has not under­tak­en this cru­sade alone. In the mid-1990s, he enlist­ed a part­ner, Khaled Saf­fu­ri, then work­ing as a lob­by­ist and deputy direc­tor for the Amer­i­can Mus­lim Coun­cil (AMC). After receiv­ing a mas­ter’s in man­age­ment sci­ence, Saf­fu­ri came to Wash­ing­ton in 1987 and worked his way up through the city’s Arab-Mus­lim polit­i­cal appa­ra­tus, start­ing with a stint at the Amer­i­can Arab Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mit­tee. In 1998 he left the AMC to help Norquist found the Islam­ic Insti­tute, an advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing a con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da that would appeal to Mus­lims. Saf­fu­ri served as exec­u­tive direc­tor and Norquist as chair­man of the board.

The Insti­tute oper­at­ed out of the head­quar­ters of Amer­i­cans for Tax Reform, from which it bor­rowed not just a fax machine and con­fer­ence room, but an agen­da. Soon the Insti­tute was shilling for all of Norquist’s pet issues–a mora­to­ri­um on Inter­net tax­a­tion, fast-track trade nego­ti­a­tion author­i­ty, and per­son­al sav­ings accounts. It even pub­lished a paper on the Koran’s com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with cap­i­tal­ism. “Peo­ple should remem­ber that Mohammed and his wife were busi­ness­men,” Norquist notes. With the help of Saf­fu­ri, who brought ties to a vast net­work of activists, the Islam­ic Insti­tute became a nerve cen­ter for Mus­lim lob­by­ing in Wash­ing­ton. As Norquist puts it, “They gath­er at the Islam­ic Insti­tute to plan and debrief, when they have meet­ings [with admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials].”

Through the Islam­ic Insti­tute, Norquist appears to have devel­oped close rela­tion­ships with a num­ber of Mus­lim lead­ers. When I recent­ly spoke to the Mus­lim Pub­lic Affairs Coun­cil’s Salam Al-Maray­ati, the man who fin­gered Israel as a poten­tial spon­sor of the World Trade Cen­ter attacks, he recit­ed Norquist’s phone num­ber from mem­o­ry. When Uni­ver­si­ty of South Flori­da pro­fes­sor Sami Al-Ari­an e‑mailed The Wall Street Jour­nal in response to an op-ed that tied him to Islam­ic Jihad, he CC’d Norquist. Last year at its annu­al din­ner, the AMC pre­sent­ed Norquist with an award for his ser­vice. As John Zog­by told me, “[H]e’s played the role of inter­locu­tor. With all respect, many of the lead­ers are immi­grants and don’t have years and years of expe­ri­ence. Grover has filled that void.”

And he has done so to their mutu­al polit­i­cal ben­e­fit. Dur­ing the 2000 cam­paign, Norquist urged Karl Rove to focus on the Mus­lim vote–pointing to, among oth­er things, the thou­sands of Mus­lims in the key state of Michi­gan. By all appear­ances, the Bush cam­paign heed­ed Norquist’s advice. In an admirable depar­ture from the usu­al Repub­li­can script, Bush fr
equent­ly inte­grat­ed mosques into his plat­i­tudes about church­es and syn­a­gogues. In the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial debate, Bush vowed to repeal the use of secret evi­dence, just as Norquist had promised. Bush even named Saf­fu­ri as the cam­paign’s Nation­al Advi­sor on Arab and Mus­lim Affairs.

When Bush won, Norquist cred­it­ed the Mus­lim strat­e­gy. “Bush’s talk about out­reach and inclu­sion had extra­or­di­nary results–the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty went 2–1 for Bill Clin­ton in 1996 and almost 8–1 for Bush in 2000,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times. (That sta­tis­tic is almost cer­tain­ly untrue, and Bush actu­al­ly lost Michi­gan, the state where Mus­lims are most heav­i­ly con­cen­trat­ed.) Or, as Norquist put it in the Spec­ta­tor, “George W. Bush was elect­ed Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca because of the Mus­lim vote.”

Norquist quick­ly set about turn­ing that sup­posed elec­toral influ­ence into leg­isla­tive influ­ence. One day after Bush’s inau­gu­ra­tion, he and Saf­fu­ri arranged for Mus­lim lead­ers to meet Newt Gin­grich and Con­gress­man Tom Davis, head of the Nation­al Repub­li­can Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. Soon Saf­fu­ri began reg­u­lar­ly appear­ing at the White House, accom­pa­ny­ing imams and heads of Islam­ic orga­ni­za­tions to dis­cuss the faith-based ini­tia­tive and con­cerns about law enforce­ment per­se­cu­tion of Mus­lims. Suhail Khan, an admin­is­tra­tion advis­er who helps plan Mus­lim out­reach, once served on the Islam­ic Insti­tute’s board. And at one of his reg­u­lar Wednes­day meet­ings, accord­ing to two wit­ness­es, Norquist announced that he had lob­bied to get Khan his White House post. On the after­noon of Sep­tem­ber 11, a group of Mus­lim lead­ers hap­pened to have plans to meet the pres­i­dent in the West Wing to dis­cuss their griev­ances with racial pro­fil­ing and secret evi­dence. When they could­n’t enter the build­ing, along with almost every­one else, they head­ed a few blocks uptown and reconvened–in the con­fer­ence room of Norquist’s office.

ut the events of Sep­tem­ber 11 have cast some of Norquist’s rela­tion­ships in a less flat­ter­ing light. Con­sid­er first the his­to­ry and recent state­ments of the Amer­i­can Mus­lim Coun­cil, the orga­ni­za­tion that pre­sent­ed Norquist with an achieve­ment award, and whose offi­cials attend Norquist-arranged meet­ings with the Repub­li­can hier­ar­chy. In the 1990s it co-spon­sored two con­fer­ences with the Unit­ed Asso­ci­a­tion for Stud­ies and Research, which, accord­ing to The New York Times, a con­vict­ed Hamas oper­a­tive named Mohammed Abdel-Hamid Salah in 1993 called “the polit­i­cal com­mand” of Hamas in the Unit­ed States. At a Wash­ing­ton ral­ly last year, Abdu­rah­man Alam­ou­di, Saf­fu­ri’s boss at the AMC, declared, “I have been labeled by the media in New York to be a sup­port­er of Hamas. Any­body sup­port Hamas here?...Hear that, Bill Clin­ton? We are all sup­port­ers of Hamas. I wished they added that I am also a sup­port­er of Hezbol­lah.” In press releas­es and forums, the AMC has defend­ed the ter­ror­ist-har­bor­ing Sudanese gov­ern­ment against charges that it mas­sive­ly vio­lates human rights and con­dones slav­ery. As late as June of this year, the AMC put out a press release enti­tled “SLAVERY IN SUDAN IS A SHAM..”

The record of the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR)–which, like the AMC, sends mem­bers to meet­ings orga­nized by Norquist and Saffuri–is no more encour­ag­ing. When inter­viewed by Salon’s Jake Tap­per on Sep­tem­ber 26, CAIR Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Direc­tor Ibrahim Hoop­er refused to con­demn Osama bin Laden. CAIR founder Nihad Awad, who appeared with Bush at the Wash­ing­ton Islam­ic Cen­ter, has argued that “[t]here is ample evi­dence indi­cat­ing that both the Mossad and the Egypt­ian Intel­li­gence played a role in the [1993 World Trade Cen­ter] explo­sion.” And Sir­aj Wahaj, who has served as a CAIR board mem­ber, has been described by fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor Mary Jo White as a pos­si­ble con­spir­a­tor in the ’93 bomb­ing. As Har­vard pro­fes­sor of Islam­ic stud­ies Ali Asani has com­plained, “There is gen­er­al con­cern among Mus­lim intel­lec­tu­als about how not only CAIR but some of these oth­er orga­ni­za­tions are claim­ing to speak in the name of the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty, and how they’re com­ing to be rec­og­nized by the gov­ern­ment as spokes­peo­ple for the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty in the U.S.”

nd Norquist has­n’t only devel­oped close ties to Amer­i­can groups that apol­o­gize for ter­ror. He has also flacked for at least one Mid­dle East­ern autoc­ra­cy: Qatar. Eager to improve rela­tions with the Unit­ed States, Qatar worked with Norquist and Saf­fu­ri to help por­tray itself as a lib­er­al out­post in the Islam­ic world. In April, Saf­fu­ri spon­sored the “First Annu­al Con­fer­ence on Free Trade and Democ­ra­cy” in the Qatari cap­i­tal of Doha, for which the Islam­ic Insti­tute received over $150,000 in pay­ments from the Qatar Embassy’s Min­istry of For­eign Affairs Account. (Saf­fu­ri says these were reim­burse­ments for the trav­el expens­es of con­gres­sion­al del­e­gates.) A lob­by­ist at Norquist’s firm, Janus-Mer­ritt, has solicit­ed pro-Qatari op-eds from at least one con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dit. When the emir of Qatar came to Wash­ing­ton, Saf­fu­ri host­ed a Capi­tol Hill lun­cheon in his hon­or. And just three weeks after Sep­tem­ber 11, Norquist wrote an op-ed in The Wash­ing­ton Times in which he claimed that “Qatar has tak­en great strides to enshrine val­ues of uni­ver­sal suf­frage, a free press, and human rights.” He con­tin­ued, “[S]he real­ly means it on being a reli­able ally.”

Qatar may not be Iraq, but Norquist’s argu­ments are still laugh­able. Free­dom House, which mon­i­tors reli­gious lib­er­ty, rates Qatar “not free.” Among coun­tries in the Mid­dle East–a region hard­ly known for its liberalism–Qatar fin­ished in the bot­tom half of a Her­itage Foun­da­tion “Index of Eco­nom­ic Free­dom.” Two days after Norquist’s op-ed, The Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed on Qatar’s refusal to sup­port a widen­ing of the war on ter­ror­ism to include Islam­ic Jihad, Hamas, or Hezbol­lah. And, just two weeks lat­er, the for­eign min­is­ter of Qatar–our “reli­able ally”–announced that “[t]he attacks against Afghanistan are unac­cept­able and we have con­demned them. It is our clear posi­tion.”

orquist’s new associations–particularly his links to groups like CAIR and the AMC–have not gone unno­ticed in con­ser­v­a­tive ranks. Paul Weyrich says, “I have on at least one occa­sion [con­front­ed him] and he assured me that he knew what he was doing and that I should­n’t have any con­cerns.” Anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive says he told Norquist about the two orga­ni­za­tions’ state­ments on ter­ror­ism, but it did­n’t make an impres­sion. “We can’t knock it off; we want them on our own team,” Norquist replied.

Norquist’s rela­tion­ships have even pit­ted him against the GOP lead­er­ship. After the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion last year, he set up a lunch at the Capi­tol Hill Club for Repub­li­can Par­ty chair­man Jim Nichol­son to plot strat­e­gy with Mus­lim lead­ers. But in the week before the event, angry Jew­ish groups pro­vid­ed the RNC with a set of damn­ing quotes from rep­re­sen­ta­tives of CAIR, the AMC, and some of the oth­er invit­ed guests. When I asked Cliff May, who was the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor at the time, he con­firmed the sto­ry. “I was approached and apprised of their back­grounds and told the chair­man there’s rea­son to be con­cerned.” The event took place–Nicholson did­n’t feel he could can­cel it–but not as orig­i­nal­ly planned. As one RNC source explains it, Nichol­son gave a “gener­ic five-minute talk about low­er tax­es and less gov­ern­ment and said thank you for your sup­port and got the hell out.”

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events

Since Sep­tem­ber, not sur­pris­ing­ly, con­ser­v­a­tives once will­ing to over­look Norquist’s alliances have more aggres­sive­ly aired their griev­ances. Con­sid­er William Mur­ray, head of the Reli­gious Free­dom Coali­tion. He had con­sid­ered Norquist a com­rade, but now makes no secret of his dis­plea­sure. “Grover has a very lib­er­at­ed view of Islam­ic nations,” says Mur­ray, some­what hyper­bol­i­cal­ly. “So they behead peo­ple in the pub­lic square. He thinks that’s their busi­ness. Hey, it’s no big deal to have peo­ple behead­ed for rel
igious crimes.” Weyrich, too, has made his unhap­pi­ness a mat­ter of pub­lic record: “I’m afraid Grover’s woe­ful­ly naive.” Even Norquist’s week­ly con­fab has become the scene of internecine fight­ing. At a ses­sion ear­li­er this month, Frank Gaffney ques­tioned the pres­ence of ter­ror­ist sym­pa­thiz­ers at the White House. Norquist explod­ed, accus­ing Gaffney of smear­ing Mus­lims. Lat­er he choked up as he addressed the meet­ing and asked Gaffney to stand up and join him in con­demn­ing anti-Mus­lim big­otry. One con­ser­v­a­tive who wit­nessed Norquist’s tirade says, “His response is pow­ered in part by a sense that this whole edi­fice he’s cre­at­ed is in dan­ger of com­ing unrav­eled because of [these groups’] stat­ed and abid­ing posi­tions.”

When I vis­it­ed Norquist, he was in a sim­i­lar­ly embat­tled frame of mind. He asked me to turn off my tape recorder. Any quote I want­ed to use, he told me, would require his approval. There were none of his usu­al pas­sion­ate ide­o­log­i­cal per­ora­tions. He just sat in his chair, seething. “There are some peo­ple who spit on Mus­lims and would­n’t like to see them have any role in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics,” he told me in a near scream. Grover Norquist’s pur­suit of the fabled Repub­li­can-Mus­lim alliance, it seems, will con­tin­ue for a long time.



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