Founded in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) describes itself as “a public service agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims, for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives.” The organization consists of eight chapters in California, and one each in Texas, Kansas, Nevada, and Iowa.
MPAC’s vision is “to establish a vibrant Muslim American community that will enrich American society through promoting the Islamic values of Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom, and Equality for all.” In an effort to achieve this objective, the Council’s mission consists of: “effect[ing] positive change in public opinion and in policy with the purpose of realizing our vision”; “promoting an American Muslim identity”; “fostering an effective grassroots organization”; “training a future generation of men and women who share our vision”; “promoting an accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims in mass media and popular culture”; “educating the American public, both Muslim and non-Muslim, about Islam”; “building alliances with Muslim and non-Muslims groups”; and “cultivating relationships with opinion- and decision-makers.”
From its inception, MPAC presented itself as more inclusive, and more open to peaceful coexistence with Jews and Christians, than other Arab and Muslim groups, and sought to make Americans comfortable with Islam by showing how much the religion embraced core American values. Throughout the 1990s, MPAC nurtured this image of moderation by organizing Muslim-Jewish dialogues in Los Angeles. Its members received invitations to the Clinton White House and appointments on federal commissions; they were similarly courted by the Bush campaign as the Clinton presidency drew to a close. MPAC’s Senior Advisor, Maher Hathout, who has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and espouses the radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, was invited to address the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. Shortly thereafter, however, MPAC endorsed George W. Bush for U.S. President.
MPAC’s centrist public image unraveled after the September 2000 launching of the Second Palestinian Intifada, when the Council severed its ties to the Jewish community and issued one-sided condemnations of Israel’s response to the Arab violence.
MPAC’s support for President Bush similarly disintegrated after 9/11, when the Council actively opposed Bush’s military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as his “excesses” in the war on terror. In February 2003, MPAC joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council, and the American Muslim Alliance in forming a coalition to repeal and amend the Patriot Act, which these organizations depicted as an assault on the civil liberties of Americans, particularly Muslims. Seven months earlier (on July 14, 2002), MPAC National Director Ahmed Younis had stated that “if Thomas Jefferson or Madison or the like were alive today, they would go to John Ashcroft’s house and just shoot him.” (Ashcroft was the Attorney General who sought to enforce the Patriot Act.)
MPAC claims that Islam is a religion of peace and moderation, and contends that Muslim extremists are no more numerous or dangerous than fundamentalists in any other faith. “There are radical Christian, Jewish and Hindu movements, too,” says MPAC, “which are also capable of slaughtering innocents.” On occasion, MPAC has publicly condemned Islamic suicide bombings. These condemnations, however, are invariably accompanied by endorsements of Muslim “resistance” and “armed struggle” which MPAC frames as justified retribution against prior Israeli or Western transgressions.
Holding Israel entirely responsible for the “pattern of violence” in the Middle East, MPAC asserts that Hezbollah “could be called a liberation movement.” The Council likens Hezbollah members to American “freedom fighters hundreds of years ago whom the British regarded as terrorists.” In a November 1997 speech at the University of Pennsylvania, MPAC Co-Founder and Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati steadfastly refused to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization; he justified the existence of Hamas as a political entity and a provider of social programs and “educational operations”; and he equated jihad with the sentiments of the American statesman Patrick Henry, whose “Give me liberty or give me death” declaration was, in Al-Marayati’s view, “a way of looking at the term jihad from an American perspective.” In a 1999 position paper, MPAC justified Hezbollah’s deadly 1983 bombing of the American Marine barracks in Lebanon as a “military operation” rather than a terrorist attack. As Maher Hathout puts it: “Hezbollah is fighting for freedom, an organized army, limiting its operations against military people, this is a legitimate target against occupation. … this is legitimate, this is an American value — freedom and liberty.”
MPAC’s worldview is further revealed by its many additional public statements on a wide array of issues and events:
According to MPAC: “Israel was established by terrorism”; its founding “involved the unjust and illegal usurpation of Muslim and Christian land and rights”; and “to recognize the legitimacy of that crime is a crime in itself.”
MPAC characterizes Israel as a “racist, chauvinistic and militaristic” state that is prosecuting “a war to steal land from Palestinians, to decimate their leadership, to humiliate the Palestinian people.”
Condemning Israel’s “apartheid-like ideology,” MPAC warns: “History shows that Muslim and Christian religious rights are not safe under Israeli occupation.”
Israelis are “the worst terrorists in the world,” says MPAC, “… Yet Israel is not found on the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the [U.S.] State Department Report on Terrorism.”
MPAC co-sponsored pro-Palestinian rallies in the fall of 2000, where MPAC speakers chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the Army of Muhammed is coming for you!” The rally featured literature and many placards calling for the annihilation of the Jews and Israel.
A few hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MPAC Co-Founder Salam Al-Marayati told a Los Angeles talk radio audience: “If we’re going to look at suspects, we should look at the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.”
On November 30, 2002, MPAC Vice Chairman Aslam Abdullah said: “Those who are part of the political Zionist movement in America … know it very well that without the support of the United States … their country, namely Israel, would not be able to pursue its apartheid and racist policies in the Middle East. They will use every means possible to ensure that American administration stays on their side. They will create false enemies, they will distort facts, they will manipulate events; and they will concoct and fabricate lies. They have taken America hostage.”
MPAC was a signatory to a MAY 20, 2004 Joint Muslims/Arab-American Statement on Israeli Violence in Gaza, which “strongly condemn[ed]” Israel’s “indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians, including many children,” and its “demolition of Palestinian homes” — but made no mention of Arab terrorism.
On March 23, 2005, MPAC National Director Ahmed Younis spoke at a Muslim Students’ Association-sponsored event, where he explained that because Adolf Eichmann was himself a Jew, it could accurately be said that Jews had killed themselves in the Holocaust.
MPAC endorsed a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 attacks as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military means. Ascribing the hijackers’ motives to alleged social injustices against which they were protesting, this document called on the United States “to promote fundamental rights around the world.”
MPAC speakers regularly complain that the U.S. is “dominated” by Zionists and favors Jews over Muslims.
Opposed to efforts to shut down Islamic charities that fund terrorism — alleging that such efforts interfere with freedom of religion and the exercise of the Muslim obligation to give to charity — MPAC states that the U.S. government should instead investigate what it terms Jewish “terrorists” like the Jewish Defense League. The Council signed and sponsored a petition to reinstate the assets of Hamas’ charitable front, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, after it was designated as a front for terrorist financing.
According to MPAC, “A major threat to the safety of the Muslim community is the Islam-bashing that has been very evident since 9/11. There has been a steady stream of attacks on the Quran … These attacks are vicious, mean-spirited, and politically motivated. … [T]he most sustained and vitriolic [attacks] are from right-wing Christian groups led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.”
The MPAC 2002 Annual Banquet featured Ali Al-Mazrui, a SUNY-Binghamton professor who said: “There is also suspicion that some members of the Bush administration in collusion with Israel are more than ready to plunge the Middle East into turmoil in the hope that the final outcome would be to the territorial advantage of Israel and the strategic advantage of the United States. All this is part of the emerging external sadism of the United States, a readiness to hurt others abroad.”
In a May 7, 2004 statement, MPAC said: “The scandal of Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident but a manifestation of hate rooted in a distortion of American culture. The soldiers charged for torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners were reflecting, among other things, an irrational hatred against Arabs and Muslims. Hatred in Abu Ghraib is inextricably linked with hatred increasingly fostered by some elements of our government, our media, and other major national institutions.”
After a series of arrests made in connection with an August 2006 airline terror scare in London, President Bush called the uncovered plot “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.” MPAC spokeswoman Edina Lekovic reacted, “When the people we need most in the fight against terrorism, American Muslims, feel alienated by the President’s characterization of these supposed terrorists, that does more damage than good.”
In September 2005, MPAC joined with the anti-war organization Code Pink for Peace to sponsor a Culver City, California event promoting a new book by UC-Irvine professor Mark LeVine, who contends that an “Axis of Empathy” is the only strategy that can bring about a long-term solution to the war between radical Islam and the West. MPAC has also worked closely with International ANSWER, which has intimate ties to Ramsey Clark’s International Action Center and the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party.
In November 2010, MPAC reported that it had recently given — to some 2,200 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) responsible for screening passengers and luggage at U.S. airports — a two-month training program in cultural awareness about Islam and Muslims. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC Civic Outreach Coordinator Saadia Khan, and two MPAC volunteers conducted the trainings at Los Angeles International Airport. According to MPAC, the four trainers taught the TSOs “how to properly handle a Quran”; they “discussed the different ways Muslim women and men choose to cover or dress”; and they “allowed trainers to discuss the common practice of Muslims praying in various areas of the airport, adding that they do this because LAX does not have a designated prayer area as other airports do.”
MPAC has long worked to promote positive portrayals of Islam and Muslims in movies and television programs. Shortly after 9/11, the organization established its own Hollywood Bureau for this purpose. Since then, MPAC has consulted with the producers of such TV shows as “24,” ”Bones,” ”Lie to Me,” ”7th Heaven,” ”Saving Grace” and “Aliens in America.” The organization also has held meetings with top network executives from ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, and organizes a Muslim-inspired version of a Hollywood awards show each year for productions that advance the public’s understanding of Islam. In 2009, for instance, this event recognized “The Simpsons,” for an episode that featured young Bart befriending a Muslim boy named Bashir. In early 2011, MPAC announced that it would soon be hosting a series of workshops — taught by Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated veterans of the entertainment industry — to further promote more positive images of Muslims in film and television.