Imam Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Center of Orange County
On February 19, 2012, The Islamic Center of Orange County and the Council of Pakistan American Affairs hosted a town hall at the above Islamic Center in Garden Grove. The theme was the US Constitution, US Law and Sharia. I attended and took notes. Afterward, I had a chance to talk with a couple of the panelists/speakers.
The official host of the affair was Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, who is the head of the center. Panelists included LASD Sheriff Lee Baca, LAPD Chief of counter-terrorism, Michael Downing, US Attorney for the Central District of California Andre Birotte, Jr, Congresswomen, Loretta Sanchez, Maxine Waters and Judy Chu (all Democrats), the Pakistani Consul General of Los Angeles, Riffat Masood, and, of course, Siddiqi. Introduced from the front row of the audience was Irvine's Democrat mayor Sukhee Kang. Aside from Downing, there were three uniformed LAPD officers from his unit present, one of whom appeared to be recording images of the crowd with his cell phone. First, I would like to summarize the theme of the hour-long session then mention some specific statements by the speakers.
If it may be summarized, each speaker talked about equal rights for all. They stated that it was wrong to single out all Muslims as a result of the actions of some. They spoke of widespread hatred directed at the Muslim community. Most made reference to their belief that Sharia was not in contradiction with US laws, the Bill of Rights, or the US Constitution. Sanchez, Chu and Waters took the opportunity to make partisan political attacks against Republican members of Congress.
Here are some of the statements made by the speakers, each of whom spoke for 5-10 minutes.
Siddiqi stated that Muslims were the target of increasing hateful propaganda, also coming from public officials. He stated that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. He also complained of misinformation about Sharia. Siddiqi then read a prepared statement by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). The statement ( I am paraphrasing from my notes) stated that they saw no contradiction between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution. The statement stressed securing of life, equality of all humans, and religious freedom. It went on to state that Muslims in America should obey US laws, the Constitution and Bill of Rights as long as it doesn't conflict with their duty to obey God. It also stated that the core values of Sharia are respect for human life and property. There is no contradiction between Sharia and the US Constitution.
Siddiqi is the chairman of the FCNA. The entire statement is below from their website:
US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr
There was really little noteworthy about Birotte's remarks. He spoke of civil rights, diversity, working with all creeds, colors etc. He did tell the audience that upon taking over the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, he re-instituted the public corruption unit.
Chief Michael Downing
Downing spoke of a campaign of hate against Muslims across the country. He repeated the same themes about protecting rights of all. He stated that Sharia is not a threat to America, but that the threat is violent ideological extremists
Waters (reading most of her remarks) began by praising Sheriff Baca for his courage in taking on this issue. She then went on to attack House Republicans for their hearings on Islamic radicalization. She said they were "attacking Muslim people" and using "scare tactics". She mentioned that 13 states had attempted to pass legislation banning Sharia. She criticized Peter King (R-NY) for stating that he would continue his hearings. She also referred to Newt Gingrich's calling for a federal law that Sharia would not be recognized in US law. She also referred to HR 3618, the End Racial Profiling Act, that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from profiling. She went on to list violent acts by hate groups, and said that many of the recent terrorist arrests in the US were a result of tips from the Muslim community. She added according to a report by the Muslim Public Affairs Council that since 9-11, there have been 77 terrorist acts committed by non-Muslims domestically. She quoted a rabbi named Jerry Serotta of Clergy Beyond Borders, who took a shot at Newt Gingrich for speaking about American exceptualism. She concluded by quoting ACLU director of religious affairs Daniel Mach, who said that "anti-Sharia laws are motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry, plain and simple."
Sanchez began her presentation by rudely challenging an older man in the audience who was filming with a hand held camera. She asked who he was and if he was an official videographer. She then asked him to turn off his camera unless he was an official videographer for the event. A few moments later, a woman in the audience pointed out another woman who was filming. Sanchez asked her to turn off her camera unless she was an official videographer.
Sanchez then launched into an attack against Peter King for his hearings, which she called, "Muslim hearings". She stated that "the one purpose of the hearings was to humiliate and offend the cultural integrity of the American Muslim community." She also used the term, "witch hunt".
She also accused Republican members of Congress of having "accused CAIR of trying to insert Muslims into Congress to spy." Sanchez told the audience that she had seen racial profiling directed to people "who look like me".
She mentioned that President Obama has instituted the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to oversee all laws relating to fighting terrorism.
Sanchez also told the audience that she is "the only member of Congress in Orange County to stand up for the American Muslim community."
Masood was introduced as someone who represents the Muslim community of Southern California in general, not just the Pakistani community. The Pakistani Consul General told the audience that the Muslim-American community needs to integrate themselves more into the political process. She also made a reference to watching the Republican debates and made a vague comment that if they can discuss these issues there is hope. There was snickering in the audience.
Masood also made a vague reference to Congress proposing legislation regarding Pakistan, but she did not go into detail. She spoke of her first trip to Washington DC and visiting the memorials-especially the Jefferson Memorial. She compared the words and slogans on the memorials as being the same as Islam.
"Today", she said, we are far from what Jefferson and the Constitution talk about". ("So much hatred.") She urged her listeners as Americans to "marry" the Constitution with Islamic values.
Baca began by lavishing praise on the "great Congressman Waters". He described Los Angeles as the epicenter of diversity. He commended Janet Napolitano for creating an inter-faith council within the Department of Homeland Security.
Chu arrived late, during the Q and A, thus bringing that portion to a quick halt (after two questions). She talked about hate crimes against Muslims post-9-11, which, according to her, shot up. She spoke of her opposition to the King hearings, the New York PD spying on the Muslim community, a protest against Lowe's, the "terrible" FBI counter-terrorism training materials. She quoted Attorney General Eric Holder as stating that "the people who put together those materials are no longer with the department". Below is the actual exchange at a congressional hearing.
Chu also spoke of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that "prevented Chinese-Americans from immigrating and becoming naturalized", and spoke of a bill in Congress that would issue an expression of regret for that action. She also mentioned the relocation of the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. She attributed that to Japanese-Americans not standing up and speaking out, which she urged Muslims Americans to do.
During the presentations, a small notebook and pencils were passed among the audience for questions. It appeared there would be no opportunity for people in the audience to voice their questions. I managed to scribble my own question, which was directed to Imam Siddiqi. It went something like this:
"If you are a true moderate, why did you host the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, at your mosque in 1992 and interpret his speech about violent jihad? Why did you participate in a demonstration in Washington in October 2000 along with Abdul Alim Musa and Abdurahman Alamoudi?"
Needless to say, that question never made it to the light of day, but one Arab woman was able to stand up and ask a question of the two law enforcement officers on the panel. She asked them as those who had taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, what they would do in the case of a wife-beating by a Muslim man. That caused a lot of grumbling in the audience and some people told her to sit down and be quiet. Before Baca or Downing could answer, an agitated Siddiqi stood up and stated that wife-beating was forbidden by the Koran. The questioner referred to Koran chapter 4 verse 34 (which refers to this issue). The woman also referred to the principle of abrogation. (This means that if there is a contradiction between two passages in the Koran, that which was written later in time abrogates that which was written earlier.) Siddiqi replied that he didn't want to go into abrogation. At some point, Downing stated that in the case of wife-beating in his jurisdiction, the offender would be arrested. One other written question was taken from the audience, which concerned a National Security measure regarding arrests. Sanchez responded and told the questioner that if contacted, her office would send him or her a copy of the law. There were no other questions taken.
Once Chu concluded her remarks, the meeting adjourned because it was time for prayers.
Subsequently, I was able to chat with Mr. Birotte, Downing, and the aforementioned three LAPD officers. First, I introduced myself to Birotte as a retired DEA agent who had worled in the Central District of California (Los Angeles) for several years. I told him that I strongly agreed with his statements that all Muslim-Americans should not be painted with the same wide brush because of the terrorist and extremist acts of some. I then told him that I did have concerns about this place (the Islamic Center of Orange County) and Imam Siddiqi. I informed him that in 1992, Siddiqi had hosted the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman and had interpreted in real time Abdel Rahman's speech on violent Jihad. I also told him of Siddiqi's appearance in Washington DC in October 2000 at an anti-Israel protest, in which other speakers were Abdul Alim Musa and Abdurahman Alamoudi. I offered, if he would give me his card, to send him all the documents regarding Siddiqi. He agreed and gave me his card. Our conversation was very cordial.
Outside, I went over and introduced myself to the three LAPD officers who had accompanied Downing. Actually, I had met one previously at UC Irvine, a young officer who was born to a Muslim family in Pakistan. I repeated the same facts to them. I was met with some degree of skepticism. One officer stated that I should not blame Siddiqi for the statements of others, referring to the Washington appearance, but agreed that the information about the Blind Sheikh was troubling. Another officer asked me what evidence I had for my statements about the Washington appearance. I replied that it was on videotape and I had witnessed and reviewed the statements of Siddiqi, Musa, and Alamoudi. When asked what specifically Siddiqi had said, I replied that he had warned America not to risk the "wrath of God" by continuing to support Israel.
Here are his exact words. (The below videos come from the Investigative Project on Terrorism.)
"Siddiqui: We want our government to stop feeding the Israeli war machinery. We want to awaken the conscience of America. America has to learn that. Because if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Please! Please all Americans, do you remember that, that Allah is watching everyone. God is watching everyone. If you continue doing injustice, and tolerating injustice, the wrath of God will come." (Video by Investigative Project on Terrorism- Al Quds Day rally Washington DC, October 28, 2000)
The man in black standing over Siddiqi's left shoulder is radical imam Abdul Alim Musa formerly Clarence Reams, who served prison time for drug trafficking. He is virulently anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and pro-Iran. He tells his audiences that Islam will "take over" America, something he said at UC Irvine in my presence a few years ago. Here is what he said in Washington on October 28, 2000:
Below is a link to a video of Alamoudi's words that day in Washington:
Alamoudi is serving 23 years in prison based on his conspiring with Libya to murder a Saudi prince.
At some point, Chief Downing came over, and I repeated the same concerns I had to him. As to Siddiqi, he stated that over time some people change. He asked me if I was a member of any organization, and I replied that I was not. I also asked him if he knew about people like Zuhdi Jasser and Stephen Schwartz. He seemed not be aware of them, but asked if they were connected to people like Steve Emerson and David Horowitz. I replied that as far as I knew, they were not. I did elicit one telling comment from Downing. When I told him that I had concerns about leading Islamic organizations in the US like CAIR, MPAC, ISNA, ICNA etc, he stated that "CAIR is problematic."
It should also be mentioned that after the meeting, one man handed an LAPD officer a flyer, which the officer proceeded to tear up in front of him.
For what was advertised as a town hall meeting, there was no room for anything other than the narrative provided by the speakers. The theme was that hate-filled right-wingers (and Republicans) are targeting Muslim-Americans, and that Sharia law is perfectly compatible with US law. The program was timed to preclude any meaningful discussion or debate. The one person who raised the issue of wife-beating, herself, an Arab, was not treated with respect.
Maxine Waters and Loretta Sanchez shamelessly made this a partisan political issue trying to paint congressional Republicans as Islamophobes. Anyone who had fears about Sharia was just anti-Muslim.
I personally found Masood's comments about America being far from the ideals of Jefferson and the Constitution offensive. How does a diplomat come here and make such a statement about the host country? She should pay more attention to the hate, religious intolerance, and radicalism that goes on in her own country.
Of course, there was no mention of the hatred against non-Muslims and the persecution that goes on in virtually all Muslim countries against non-Muslims. Not a word was mentioned, for example, of the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Similarly, there was no mention of Muslim on Muslim violence in the name of Sharia.
As for our law enforcement representatives, I got the distinct impression that were not interested in hearing the other side of the issue or the disturbing history of Muzammil Siddiqi and his associations with Islamic jihadists in the US. In the case of the LAPD, these four officers are part of the counter-terrorist unit. Yes, they have a responsibility to maintain contact with as many elements of the Muslim community as possible, develop sources and contacts while protecting their civil liberties. I just wonder whether their eyes are really open, or they are simply bowing to political correctness. It is worrisome. One thing I learned during my nearly 30 years in law enforcement; when someone offers you information, you consider it and evaluate it. You don't just tear it up before reading it.
I also believe that it was inappropriate for two high-ranking police officials to sit on a panel with three partisan politicians who turned their presentations into attacks on a rival political party while attacking other law enforcement agencies (NYPD-FBI).
Finally this: After the meeting, while people went into the mosque to pray, I was standing outside alone. A young American Muslim girl (about 20) in hijab came up to me and asked if I needed any help. She was very sweet and gracious as she invited me to enter the mosque and observe the prayers. I politely declined (I felt it would be inappropriate to enter.) We had a brief but pleasant chat as she attempted to be of assistance. Here is my point: God forbid that I would want this young lady or others like her to be subjected to any hate and discrimination in America. She is not the problem. But I also worry about the influence that some of her leaders are having upon her and other young American Muslims.