First the Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan said there would be no foreign funding on the mega mosque 600 feet from Ground Zero. Then last week we learned that Imam Rauf was in Malaysia, home to the Perdana Organization, of which he is a prominent member. The Perdana Organization was the single largest financier of the Islamic terror group IHH -- which launched the genocidal mission of the jihad warship flotilla.
But that was just the first of many stops to Muslim countries -- most the homelands of the Muslim terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the intended target of the Capitol building (or White House), save those brave Americans on flight 93. (Photo right: Armaros)
While debate rages over plans for an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, the imam behind this project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is not available to answer questions in New York. Since locating the absent Rauf last week in Malaysia, I have now discovered that he's about to embark on a nearly month-long swing through the Middle East, with plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
Not that I learned this from Rauf, whose Malaysian office staff told me by phone on Tuesday that "All media requests have to go through his office in New York." Nor did his New York colleagues simply volunteer information about his imminent trip to the Middle East. It took a series of phone calls and questions to eke it out of them, starting with a vague reply from a staffer who then tried to backtrack with a message that, retroactively, her remark was "completely off the record."
Ultimately, in response to repeated questions, a member of Rauf's New York Cordoba Initiative foundation e-mailed me Friday, saying that Rauf's trip to the Middle East, "in the near future," will be hosted by the U.S. government as part of an outreach program to "bring the message of moderation, peace and understanding."
At the State Department, which presumably will be spending taxpayer money on Rauf's tour, I have yet to receive confirmation or any other information about his program, despite three days of my repeated requests by phone and e-mail. Apparently it is taking a while for State's Bureau of Public Diplomacy to get "clearance" to release any details of this particular public outreach effort, though Rauf's wife says it has been in the works for months.
All this comes at a moment when Rauf and his partners in New York are preparing to raise $100 million to build a 13-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. A Manhattan Landmarks committee gave the necessary approval on Aug. 3 to tear down the old Burlington Coat Factory building already purchased for $4.85 million by a real estate developer partnering with Rauf. That building is so close to Ground Zero that on the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks parts of one of the hijacked planes damaged its roof. On that lot, the Islamic center project is now cleared to roll forward, once the money rolls in.
Perhaps it's coincidence that instead of haggling over financing in New York, Rauf--Imam Feisal, to his followers--will spend the rest of the summer touring some of the petro-dollar capitals of the planet, including such fonts of potential funding as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Rauf's wife and partner in nonprofits, Daisy Kahn, told me in a phone interview this week that he will not be fundraising during these travels. Nor, said Kahn, will she be fund-raising when she makes a similar State-sponsored outreach trip later this month to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
What does that actually mean? Fundraising, especially in the bargaining halls of the Middle East, does not always consist of a brusque pitch and immediate handshake. A lot of business begins with drinking tea, rubbing shoulders and moseying toward the eventual deal. In May the English-language website of Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Rauf, in a London interview, had said his Islamic center will be financed by donations both from Muslims in the U.S. and from Arab and Islamic countries. Asked recently how this might work in detail, Kahn said she doesn't know; all plans are still in flux while a new entity to handle the Islamic center project "is being formed."
To some of the defenders of this project, such specifics don't matter. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week said he doesn't care where the $100 million comes from; he sees it as none of the government's business. If the only criterion here is that Rauf and his partners comply with the minimum due diligence and disclosure required by law, Bloomberg has a point.
But to a great many Americans, it quite likely does matter where the money comes from. For one thing, there is always the potential for the preferences of big donors to sway the behavior of nonprofit ventures. Countries such as Saudi Arabia are not known for full-throated support of American values and freedoms.
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*** Join SIOA and FDI on Sepember 11, 2010 at 2pm, on Park Place (between Church and West Broadway) as we pay our respects to the murdered and demonstrate against the Ground Zero mega mosque opening on September 11, 2011. ***