Home inContext Building Bridges? Ground Zero Mosque Imam to Travel MidEast on U.S. Dollar

Building Bridges? Ground Zero Mosque Imam to Travel MidEast on U.S. Dollar

Samara Greenberg

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the controversial imam heading the $100 million Ground Zero Mosque project, will soon be going on a trip to the Middle East and the U.S. government will be picking up the tab, State Department officials confirmed yesterday. Although the State Department has not yet divulged an itinerary of the trip or the price tag, Arab media is reporting Rauf will visit the oil rich states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and possibly others.

Defending the trip at the State Department’s daily briefing yesterday, Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters, “He is a distinguished Muslim cleric. We do have a program whereby, through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau here at the State Department, we send people from Muslim communities here in this country around the world to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society.” When questioned, Crowley confirmed that fundraising “would not be something he [Rauf] could do as part of our program.”

Proposed site for the Ground Zero Mosque

In digging deeper, journalist Claudia Rosett, who broke the story last week, learned from Rauf’s wife and partner in nonprofits, Daisy Kahn, that she will be making a similar State-sponsored trip later this month to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. According to Khan, fundraising will not be involved in her trip, either. But, as Rosett notes, fundraising in 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.”

Funding issues aside, the State Department believes that sending American Muslims abroad will help “foster a greater understanding and outreach around the world among Muslim majority communities.” Many scholars would agree. In Winning the Long War, author Ilan Berman notes that the West is in a war of ideas with radical Islam, and in order to combat such a war the U.S. must work within the Islamic World to dilute the appeal of extremist ideology, diminish the legitimacy of regional radical scholars, and exacerbate fissures between radical forces and the societies in which they operate – part of which is done through discrediting the radicals’ messages with an American message.

But while sending American Muslim ambassadors to Middle Eastern countries to speak with the people is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, sending a man such as Imam Feisal Rauf, who has refused to define Hamas as a terrorist organization and will not disclose where funding for his mosque will come from, is a step in the wrong direction for the United States. In light of these developments, the State Department should find someone else to send abroad, perhaps an individual who has no qualms with denouncing terrorist organizations.