Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Imam Feisal Adbul Rauf's "60 Minutes" interview

Overview

I begin with a matter of form. As an American, my tendency is to refer to people by what we Americans would consider a surname. In the case of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, that would seem to me to be "Rauf." However, on the Cordoba Initiative website, he is always referred to as by his full name or "Imam Feisal." Consequently, I will from now on refer to him as "Feisal" or "Imam Feisal."

In the last few weeks, all kinds of questions have been raised about Park 51 and Imam Feisal. There have also been many allegations made about Park 51 and Imam Feisal. I have addressed some of those in my posts about the bullshit issued by Newt Gingrich, but there are plenty more to discuss, and this post will start that process.

Let's get started...

On 60 Minutes, the Imam said that American Foreign policy is an accessory to terrorism.

At issue are comments Feisal made in an interview with Ed Bradley that aired on "60 Minutes" on September 30, 2001. From a transcript of that interview, here is the excerpt that has been repeatedly cited in criticism of Feisal:
Bradley: Are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?

Feisal: I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

Bradley: You say that we're an accessory? How?

Feisal: Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.
That really sounds bad, right? This excerpt of the interview is damn near the only excerpt that you will find reprinted on almost every website in opposition to Park 51. What you will rarely--and I mean rarely--find are the statements bracketing this excerpt. Here's a more complete excerpt:
Bradley: And throughout the Muslim world, there is also strong opposition to America's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East because of its support of Israel and economic sanctions against Iraq.

Feisal: It is a reaction against the US government politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries. [NOTE: I found this portion of the transcript at News Busters, a website dedicated to "exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias."]

Bradley: Are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?

Feisal: I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

Bradley: You say that we're an accessory? How?

Feisal: Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.

Bradley: Bin Laden and his supporters were, in fact, recruited and paid nearly $4 billion by the CIA and the government of Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to fight with the mujahadeen rebels against the former Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan. After the Soviets pulled out, the Saudis, our best friends in the Arab world, our staunchest ally during the Gulf War, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the newly-formed Taliban regime, and then felt that bin Laden and the Taliban were out of control. Bin Laden's faith is a strict, puritanical form of Islam called Wahabbism, which was founded in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia, and is now that country's predominant ideology. [NOTE: I found this explanation by Bradley on FactCheck.org.]
So let's examine Feisal's comments from this fuller context.

Comments about U.S. foreign policy and reaction thereto

Feisal explained that part of the objection of some Muslims to U.S. foreign policy is a reaction to what some see as hypocrisy by the U.S.: talking about democracy and human rights while supporting governments that are oppressive and un-democratic. I wrote about this very topic back in 2005 in reaction to Bush's second inaugural speech. That post dealt with the then current circumstances--all post 9/11--while Feisal was speaking about events prior to 9/11, but my earlier post gives a good description of our country supporting oppressive governments while supposedly promoting democracy.

And a review of history shows that this country has engaged in such behavior in the past. The history of Central and South America proves this. Pinochet in Chile and Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua are two examples. Nicaragua then became part of the Iran-Contra affair, and speaking of Iran, it was the U.S. that planned and executed the ovethrow of a democratically elected government and put the Shah in power. And then there's the fact that the U.S. helped none other than Saddam Hussein gain and keep power in Iraq (see this interview for more).

Now I know what some of you are thinking: I am just another one of those liberals who wants to apologize for America. Wrong. I am simply stating facts without judging. The reality is that foreign policy sometimes requires making deals and alliances with bad people and bad regimes. Sometimes those deals benefit American interests, and sometimes they are calculated risks. Take Iraq and our support of Saddam. Saddam was Iran's enemy and helped keep Iran from expanding its influence and spreading its theocracy. Yes, Saddam was oppressive and evil, but can you say that not having any check on Iran in the 1980s would have been a good thing?

By the way, my post about Bush's second inaugural speech also gives an idea of why sometimes these kinds of deals are not easily classified as bad.

Whether specific instances of U.S. support of oppressive regimes was good or bad, right or wrong is not the point for purposes of this discussion. What is pertinent is that it is a fact that the U.S. has in the past supported such regimes while still espousing democracy and human rights. In other words, we have not always "practiced what we preached." And that has caused many people around the world to view America as hypocritical. I want to stress that I am talking about the perceptions and feelings of people outside our country. Again, whether those perceptions and feelings are correct or incorrect is not the point. The point is that those people have those perceptions and feelings AND there is a basis in fact for having them. I believe that is one point Feisal was trying to make.

And that puts Imam Faisal's next remarks into context.

U.S as accessory and bin Laden being "made in the USA"

Feisal first said that U.S policy was an accessory to the crimes of 9/11, but then he also said "we have have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world." (emphasis added). And then came the statement that really upset a lot of people: "In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA."

The statement about U.S. policy being an accessory is another way of stating his point about the U.S supporting oppressive regimes while still speaking about democracy and human rights (as discussed in the previous section).

As for the U.S. being responsible for the deaths of innocent people, oppressive regimes pretty much kill innocent people--that's part of the reason why they are "oppressive."

Now let's talk about bin Laden...Take a look at what Ed Bradley said immediately after Feisal's "made in the USA" comment. Bradley's statements certainly support Feisal's claim. However, I have to say that I have found little evidence of bin Laden and other Arabs being recruited, trained, and funded by the CIA. There is plenty of evidence that the U.S. funded and supplied weapons to the Afghans fighting the Soviets, but the official U.S. government position is that the U.S. never had anything to do with the Arab mujahadeen fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. On the one hand, I find that position persuasive, but on the other hand, that position does not conclusively prove or disprove anything, and we are talking about the CIA and covert operations. That means we might never know the full story for many years (as was the case with CIA involvement in the Guatemalan coup of 1954). Still, on the basis of what information I have found, I think that Bradley's statements cannot be considered corroboration of what Feisal said--to the extent he was claiming that bin Laden had been recruited, trained, and/or funded by the CIA.

And it appears that is what Feisal was claiming. As stated on the Cordoba Initiative FAQ page,
The "60 Minutes" piece was completely incorrect as the statement was edited out of context. In the full interview, Imam Feisal describes the mistake the CIA made in the 1980s by financing Osama Bin Laden and strengthening the Taliban. This view is widely shared today by journalists, foreign policy experts and the US government. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf underlines the importance of not supporting “friends of convenience” who may later become our enemies. This is common sense.
The only defense I can offer of these claims at this time is that there were many others who thought (and still think) there was a connection between bin Laden and the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Still, I cannot conclude at this time that there was such a connection.

However, that does not close the discussion on bin Laden. There is another sense in which bin Laden was "made in the USA." It appears that U.S. foreign policy had a direct effect in creating the bin Laden that came to attack America directly. As the BBC wrote in April 2003:
Ever since the 1991 Gulf war, the US has had about 5,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia - a figure that rose to 10,000 during the recent conflict in Iraq.
*******
Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam's holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden.

It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident - blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks - to justify violence against the United States and its allies.
Indeed, well before 9/11 bin Laden had often complained about the American presence in Saudi Arabia--and Jerusalem as well. The PBS series "Frontline" devoted an entire show to bin Laden, and the web site for that show contains many of his complaints in this regard. This page in particular has an extensive litany of bin Laden's pronouncements. Some examples appear below. Note that bin Laden also complains about U.S. policy and actions resulting in deaths. Also note that one of his biggest complaints concerns U.S. support for Israel.
August 23, 1996

Several months after being expelled from the Sudan, bin Laden issues his "Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques."

October - November 1996

Bin Laden is quoted in October/November issue of Nida'ul Islam magazine as saying:

"As for their accusations of terrorizing the innocent, the children, and the women, these are in the category of 'accusing others with their own affliction in order to fool the masses.' The evidence overwhelmingly shows America and Israel killing the weaker men, women and children in the Muslim world and elsewhere."

March 1997

In a CNN interview with Osama bin Laden, he says:

"We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation."
The "Frontline" site also contains a May 1998 interview of bin Laden by John Miller of ABC News. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
The call to wage war against America was made because America has spear-headed the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics, and its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control.
*******
The truth is that the whole Muslim world is the victim of international terrorism, engineered by America at the United Nations. We are a nation whose sacred symbols have been looted and whose wealth and resources have been plundered. It is normal for us to react against the forces that invade our land and occupy it[.]
*******
After World War II, the Americans grew more unfair and more oppressive towards people in general and Muslims in particular. ... The Americans started it and retaliation and punishment should be carried out following the principle of reciprocity, especially when women and children are involved.
*******
Our mothers and daughters and sons are slaughtered every day with the approval of America and its support. And, while America blocks the entry of weapons into Islamic countries, it provides the Israelis with a continuous supply of arms allowing them thus to kill and massacre more Muslims.
*******
American presence in the Gulf provides support to the Jews and protects their rear. And while millions of Americans are homeless and destitute and live in abject poverty, their government is busy occupying our land and building new settlements and helping Israel build new settlements in the point of departure for our Prophet's midnight journey to the seven heavens. America throws her own sons in the land of the two Holy Mosques for the sake of protecting Jewish interests.
These statements from bin Laden--all well before 9/11--reflect what Feisal described in the "60 Minutes" interview of September 30, 2001: reaction to U.S. foreign policy that some Muslims saw as hypocritical and as causing the deaths of innocent people. For purposes of this post, it is important to note that bin Laden's complaints have some basis in fact. That is not to say that bin Laden is 100% correct in his recitation of facts or that I agree with his interpretation of the facts. Nonetheless, I believe it is accurate to say that bin Laden's reaction to U.S. policy and actions caused him to some degree to be "made in the USA."

There are post-9/11 statements from bin Laden which support this conclusion. I will cite two sources, and rather than quote them here, I encourage people to read them for themselves. One source is a videotape from bin Laden from December 27, 2001. The other source is the "October surprise" video from late October 2004. [NOTE: Some still question the authenticity of this video.]

So, according to the leader of Al Qaeda, it was not our freedom he hated, but rather our foreign policy, which he viewed as unjust and responsible for innocent deaths. In that sense, Feisal was accurate in saying that bin Laden was "made in the USA."

Feisal did not blame America for 9/11

Many opponents of Park 51 are claiming that in the "60 Minutes" interview Feisal blamed America for 9/11. These opponents apparently ignore the fact that he said "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened[.]" They also ignore something he said earlier in the interview:
Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam. That's just as absurd as associating Hitler with Christianity, or David Koresh with Christianity. There are always people who will do peculiar things, and think that they are doing things in the name of their religion. But the Koran is... God says in the Koran that they think that they are doing right, but they are doing wrong.
Thus, Feisal ultimately put the blame on the terrorists, not America.

Conclusion

When the full context of Feisal's statements in the interview and the facts and history underlying those statements are examined, it is not reasonable to conclude that Feisal was blaming America for the 9/11 attacks. His comments about U.S. foreign policy provided an explanation as to why the terrorists attacked us. That explanation had a basis in facts, and it gave some insight into why some Muslims seek to attack America. He expressly said that we did not deserve what happened, and he said that there is no justification for terrorist acts like 9/11 under Islam. So if people want to oppose Park 51 and Feisal on the basis of this "60 Minutes" interview, they need to look for another basis.

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