On December 15 the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) will have its annual convention at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, a prominent liberal parish within the increasingly liberal Episcopal denomination. It's the first time MPAC has convened at a church.
Last week a younger writer on national security issues named Ryan Mauro penned a column critical of MPAC's radical connections in its past and questioned the church's wisdom in hosting it. The article appeared in Frontpagemag.com and on the website of my group, the Institute on Religion and Democracy. On December 6, MPAC and the All Saints Episcopal convened a press conference at the church to denounce an ostensible "attack from right-wing extremists," which seemed mostly to be Mauro's article.
On Sunday, the church's senior pastor, Ed Bacon, cited the controversy in his sermon, faulting a "toxic narrative that too many of our religions have promulgated and that is, that in order to become a part of my religion, you have to hate someone else in another religion or you have to hate somebody else in another category."
In his original story, Mauro recounted that MPAC was founded by two brothers who had been active with the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the brothers, Maher Hathout, is still alive and active with MPAC, even joining the December 6 press conference at the church, where he affirmed his past history with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mauro quoted several MPAC personalities who over the years have praised Hamas and Hezbollah. During the recent Israel clash with Hamas over Gaza rockets, MPAC condemned Israel for "assassination" but also called for both sides to end the conflict, as Mauro described.
Mauro's column did not assert any shocking new information. Andrew McCarthy wrote an extensive piece on MPAC's radical ties in an August column for National Review Online. Like Mauro, McCarthy noted that MPAC executive director Salam al-Marayati after 9-11 conspiratorially named Israel as the potential perpetrator of 9-11's terror: "If we are going to look at suspects," he told a Los Angeles radio station, "we should look at groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list."
At the church press conference, nobody really dealt with the MPAC's controversial past. Instead the church's associate pastor complained of the "hateful, vitriolic, demonization of Islam." The Rev. Susan Russell specifically had in mind 50 offensive emails the church says it has received complaining about the MPAC conference. In a Huffington Post story, she had claimed the emails included "threats" against the church. But at the press conference the senior pastor, Rev. Bacon, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, admitted there were no actual threats. Yet the emails and the complaints against the church expose the "underbelly of Islamaphobia in this country," Rev. Russell insisted. "It gives us an amazing teachable moment to demonstrate what it looks like when people of faith refuse to be polarized by our differences."
It was not explained how concerns about attitudes towards Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as suggesting Israel orchestrated 9-11, equal "Islamophobia." But most news stories about the controversy, which have included the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Religion News Service, a local public radio station and local television stations, have all emphasized purportedly "hateful" emails laced with "threats." On December 5 Salam al-Marayati debated Ryan Mauro on local public radio. He denied blaming Israel for 9-11 and claimed he was only trying to be ironic, while also conceding it was the "wrong way" to talk about it. Elsewhere, he has tried to explain: "My point was to say if you're going to accuse political Islam [of 9-11], then Muslims will accuse political Zionists, and we both should not do that."
At the December 6 church press conference, al-Marayati hailed All Saints Episcopal as a refuge from "fear of surveillance," "prejudice" and "bullying," while explaining the need to push back against "fear-mongerers." In his press conference remarks, an elderly Maher Hathout recalled his work with the Muslim Brotherhood as only in the distant past while a student opposingthe British occupation of Palestine. Rev. Susan Russell praised MPAC's "holy work." Rev. Ed Bacon called the 50 or so complaining emails to the church "some of the most vile, mean-spirited emails I've ever read in my life."
Congratulations to All Saints Episcopal Church for extracting such extensive sympathetic media attention over several dozen unpleasant emails. Conservative groups and high profile conservative churches no doubt routinely get lots more hate mail. But they don't typically call press conferences because they know there'd be no media sympathy and because they're less adept at claiming victimhood.
One All Saints Episcopal Church member told Huffington Post that he chose the church "because of their belief that everyone deserves love and respect no matter your political agenda, age, race, sexual orientation, religion or creed." The church's ultra-egalitarian agenda, with strong emphasis on gender and sexual liberation, is starkly at odds with nearly all of Islam, much less the more extreme Islam that some MPAC officials are accused by critics of abetting.
Of course, this church, like most of the Religious Left, chooses to look the other way, preferring dreams about diversity to realities of culture clash.