On December 15, All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena hosted the annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group with Muslim Brotherhood origins and a controversial past. The question of why All Saints would collaborate with this specific group persisted. The answer came during the event when Reverend Ed Bacon listed “acts of evil” committed by Christians and included “evangelical Zionism.”
The first hint of a political objective behind this interfaith gathering came during a December 6 press conference. Salam al-Marayati, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), said that his organization seeks to help the U.S. act as an “honest broker” for peace in the Middle East. This is a soft way of saying that the U.S. must take a tough stand towards Israel, as evidenced by MPAC’s record of anti-Israel activism. The All Saints Episcopal Church leadership was standing with him.
During the opening session, Reverend Ed Bacon talks of his “heartbreaking” visit to the Gaza Strip in 2002, where he visited the “Red Crescent Society” and met with its leader. Presumably, he was referring to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, an anti-Israel humanitarian group that accuses Israel of “continuous targeting of civilians and their properties and hampering the access of medical personnel and ambulances to casualties.”
In a later session, Bacon said that he’d speak about problems in his own religion’s past. He said “the history of Christianity is littered with acts of evil.” He mentioned the Crusades, slavery, the Jim Crow laws, Islamophobia and “evangelical Zionism, where Christian right-wing evangelicals are paying for the growth of settlements in the West Bank.” He claimed that there are “an awful lot of people who are paid by the industry of fear.”
Al-Marayati said at the convention that MPAC has worked with All Saints Church since 1990. This means that the partnership was not severed when al-Marayati said in 1999 that Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli soldiers is “legitimate resistance” and MPAC founder and senior adviser Maher Hathout’s 1998 statement that Hezbollah is fighting for “an American value—freedom and liberty.”
In 1999, MPAC said that Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 “was not, in a strict sense, a terrorist operation” and was “exactly the kind of attack that Americans might have lauded had it been directed against Washington’s enemies.” In 2006, MPAC said it “completely deplore[s] the attack” but was pointing out a “highly relevant fact.”
In 2003, though, MPAC opposed the designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups and suggested it was “based on political considerations.” Former MPAC Political Adviser, Mahdi Bray, has a history of extremist rhetoric and went to Egypt in February 2008 to stand in solidarity with prosecuted Muslim Brotherhood members.
The MPAC-All Saints partnership withstood Maher Hathout’s speech in October 2000 where he said, “Israel is an apartheid state against every fiber of the modern world” and referred to it as “butchers.” He predicted that the Arab governments “will be flushed down in the cesspools of history of treason” by a “general intifada.” He later said he regretted the “harshness of my remarks” but stands by them.
On May 30, 2010, Sandy Tolan, who argues that the U.S. “must stop sanctioning Israeli impunity,” spoke at All Saints about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He writes that Israel’s psychology is “’never again’ gone mad.” He argues that Israel’s security measures are an excuse to “incrementally take and hold ever more of the land.” He even believes that the sharp drop in suicide bombings since Israel implemented these measures is only because Palestinians have changed their mind about the tactic.
When I criticized All Saints for hosting the MPAC convention in an article at FrontPage Magazine, they saw an opportunity to generate favorable publicity. A press conference was held on December 6 about the attacks of “right-wing extremists.” They made it sound like the church was drowning in “hate mail.” Enormous media coverage followed.
How much “hate mail” did All Saints actually receive? The church reported receiving “nearly 30.” It said that many were too vile to quote from but of the quotes that were disclosed, some weren’t actually hateful.
One example of “hate mail” said, “The problem is that by providing cover and legitimacy to an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Constitution, and substituting Sharia law therefore, you endanger my country and my grandsons’ future.” Another “hate mail” told the church to not “be gullible suckers.” This is what the New York Times called a “barrage of hate mail.”
A parade of officials praised MPAC, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Janice Hahn, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Adam B. Schiff and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez sent a recorded message. Rep. Mike Honda delivered the keynote speech and Rep. Janice Hahn also spoke, even though I provided their offices with my original article. Absent was Rep. Brad Sherman, who confronted MPAC over its record in 2008.
The conference speakers repeatedly bashed their critics as bigots. Al-Marayati said they are “political extremists in America that cannot see Muslims as basically normal people” and oppose MPAC because they have a “litmus test” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hathout said that the critics think they “own” America and oppose diversity.
To be fair, MPAC’s leaders did present an anti-Islamist message. Hathout said that “we don’t want to enforce Sharia anywhere” and that Sharia’s penal code was developed 300 years after Islam’s birth and is not suitable for today. He said Muslims must choose a system of governance based on freedom, not coercion and “chase out the ideology of death.”
Hathout said he opposes criminalizing speech against Islam. MPAC also says it supports Israel’s right to exist, though Hathout’s 2000 speech calls that into question. Al-Marayati had a similar message, but implied that Muslim-Americans are second-class citizens when he said that the U.S. could become the first country in the West where Muslims are “full and equal citizens.”
However, the rebuttals were lacking. Hathout said he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt 60 years ago when it was fighting against the British and Nasser. He didn’t mention what they were fighting for, which is an Islamic state. In the press conference, he said he is “proud” of his time in the Brotherhood and reiterated at the convention that he has “nothing to regret or to apologize for.”
In a radio interview, Hathout criticized Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s power grab as an “imminent” threat but called him “sincere” and said he has “a sense of respect for the [Brotherhood] party.” In 2010, an MPAC policy paper referred to the Brotherhood as a “conservative” group that can promote non-violence. When I urged MPAC to take an active stance against the Brotherhood in a radio interview on December 5, al-Marayati called it a “ridiculous suggestion” that is “not worth our time.”
Hathout said at the convention that he came to America with the objective of “sharing the gifts of Islam as much as I can.” His late brother, Hassan, provided more insight in 1997. He said they came to the U.S. to start the “Islamic Movement” inspired by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, of whom he was a “close disciple.”
The reason was because “this current civilization harbors in its body the seeds of its own destruction.” The language is similar to that of an internal U.S. Muslim Brotherhood memo from 1991 that said its “Civilization-Jihad” is a “kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.”
Maher Hathout said he has had no ties to any foreign groups since arriving in the U.S. However, a 1989 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Financial Committee document talks about working with a person named Hathout “in the field.” This may be a reference to his brother, but he was also an MPAC founder and president. Maher Hathout was still promoting Hassan al-Banna as a “reformer” in 1997, as well as Islamists Hasan al-Turabi and Rachid Ghannouchi, the latter of which spoke at an MPAC event in 2011.
Hathout mocked my concern that the Islamic Center of Southern California, which he founded and is still a spokesman for, has books by Brotherhood spiritual leader Sheikh Qaradawi. A bibliography on its website lists him and other Islamist authors. He said it was the “funniest” criticism. His answer was, “So what? You want censorship?” He compared it to how schools have books by Marx and Hitler.
The All Saints-MPAC bond is not solely based in a desire for improved Christian-Muslim relations. There is a political objective of undermining support for Israel.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.