Commentary Magazine


Topic: Organization of Islamic Conference

Obama’s Priorities

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

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Priorities

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

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Re: Obama Envoy Vouched for a Convicted Terrorist?

A few other data points regarding Obama’s Muslim envoy are worth noting. First, Obama’s envoy Rashad Hussain appeared at a CAIR Leadership Training Event this year. CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.) So does Hussain share an affinity for the CAIR grievance-mongering perspective and its dedication to disrupting and litigating any anti-terrorism activity that might focus on those we should be focusing on? We don’t know, but again, it’s worth exploring.

Second, a helpful reader points out that George W. Bush also appointed a Muslim envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Sada Cumber, a Texas businessman. That, I would contend, was an ill-advised move. But at least there was no apology offensive for America’s stance toward the “Muslim World.” When interviewed last year, Cumber listed among his greatest accomplishments “’strengthening the OIC’s denunciations of suicide bombing and terrorism in general,’ and said his efforts had been an ‘important catalyst’ in the case of a statement by [OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin] Ihsanoglu last January calling suicide bombers ‘enemies of Islam’” Suffice it to say, I think Hussain has a different agenda in mind.

And finally, Hussain is not the only U.S. official with an apparent connection to Sami Al-Arian. This report explains:

Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida computer-science professor and prominent Muslim activist, handed out $1,000 contributions to [Rep. Cynthia] McKinney and other lawmakers during a short burst of political giving between 1998 and 2001. … Al-Arian’s first legal campaign contribution on record was a $200 donation in 1998 to re-elect his local congressman, Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), according to FEC records. Between 1999 and early 2001, the Islamist leader and his wife, Nahla, gave larger, multiple contributions to the campaigns of McKinney ($2,000), [David] Bonior ($3,200) and [Tom] Campbell ($1,300).

What was Al-Arian up to and why did he favor then Congressman (and now Senate candidate) Tom Campbell? The report continues that Al-Arian and other Muslim figures were looking to do away with “provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allowed federal authorities to use classified information as a basis on which to hold foreign terrorist suspects and to deny that information to the suspects’ defense attorneys. The thinking behind the law, congressional sources say, was to allow domestic law-enforcement services to use foreign intelligence as evidence on which to detain and deport the foreign suspects. Much of that intelligence could not be revealed to the defense because it would put the sources of that intelligence in physical danger.” (Campbell, in fact, testified in favor of his donor’s position at a congressional hearing.)

Beyond that, the report tells us that a Campbell staffer “serve[d] as point man on the issue. That staffer, according to the program and subsequent AMC newsletter, spoke to an event for training Muslim activists on ‘How to Lobby Congress.’ The published agenda of the AMC’s June 2001 national conference shows that al-Arian was another AMC lobbying coach who helped train activists from around the country in lobbying Congress.” That staffer was most likely Suhail Khan, who  served as Campbell’s policy director and press secretary. And lo and behold, he appeared at the very same CAIR conference in 2009 — with none other than Hussain. (Campbell, too, was a CAIR fan. When a new headquarters opened in June 2000, “several members of Congress, including Republican Congressmen Tom Campbell and Democrat James Moran also came to lend their support.”) What a small world.

A few other data points regarding Obama’s Muslim envoy are worth noting. First, Obama’s envoy Rashad Hussain appeared at a CAIR Leadership Training Event this year. CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.) So does Hussain share an affinity for the CAIR grievance-mongering perspective and its dedication to disrupting and litigating any anti-terrorism activity that might focus on those we should be focusing on? We don’t know, but again, it’s worth exploring.

Second, a helpful reader points out that George W. Bush also appointed a Muslim envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Sada Cumber, a Texas businessman. That, I would contend, was an ill-advised move. But at least there was no apology offensive for America’s stance toward the “Muslim World.” When interviewed last year, Cumber listed among his greatest accomplishments “’strengthening the OIC’s denunciations of suicide bombing and terrorism in general,’ and said his efforts had been an ‘important catalyst’ in the case of a statement by [OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin] Ihsanoglu last January calling suicide bombers ‘enemies of Islam’” Suffice it to say, I think Hussain has a different agenda in mind.

And finally, Hussain is not the only U.S. official with an apparent connection to Sami Al-Arian. This report explains:

Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida computer-science professor and prominent Muslim activist, handed out $1,000 contributions to [Rep. Cynthia] McKinney and other lawmakers during a short burst of political giving between 1998 and 2001. … Al-Arian’s first legal campaign contribution on record was a $200 donation in 1998 to re-elect his local congressman, Rep. Jim Davis (D-Fla.), according to FEC records. Between 1999 and early 2001, the Islamist leader and his wife, Nahla, gave larger, multiple contributions to the campaigns of McKinney ($2,000), [David] Bonior ($3,200) and [Tom] Campbell ($1,300).

What was Al-Arian up to and why did he favor then Congressman (and now Senate candidate) Tom Campbell? The report continues that Al-Arian and other Muslim figures were looking to do away with “provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which allowed federal authorities to use classified information as a basis on which to hold foreign terrorist suspects and to deny that information to the suspects’ defense attorneys. The thinking behind the law, congressional sources say, was to allow domestic law-enforcement services to use foreign intelligence as evidence on which to detain and deport the foreign suspects. Much of that intelligence could not be revealed to the defense because it would put the sources of that intelligence in physical danger.” (Campbell, in fact, testified in favor of his donor’s position at a congressional hearing.)

Beyond that, the report tells us that a Campbell staffer “serve[d] as point man on the issue. That staffer, according to the program and subsequent AMC newsletter, spoke to an event for training Muslim activists on ‘How to Lobby Congress.’ The published agenda of the AMC’s June 2001 national conference shows that al-Arian was another AMC lobbying coach who helped train activists from around the country in lobbying Congress.” That staffer was most likely Suhail Khan, who  served as Campbell’s policy director and press secretary. And lo and behold, he appeared at the very same CAIR conference in 2009 — with none other than Hussain. (Campbell, too, was a CAIR fan. When a new headquarters opened in June 2000, “several members of Congress, including Republican Congressmen Tom Campbell and Democrat James Moran also came to lend their support.”) What a small world.

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Obama Envoy Vouched for Convicted Terrorist?

Fox News – doing what the Obama-approved outlets won’t — takes a look at the newest Obama envoy. The report tells us:

President Obama’s new envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain, is at the center of a controversy over remarks attributed to him defending a man who later pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist group.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs quoted Hussain in 2004 as calling Sami al-Arian the victim of “politically motivated persecutions” after al-Arian, a university professor, was charged in 2003 with heading U.S. operations of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The United States has designated the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a foreign terrorist group as far back as 1997. At the time of al-Arian’s arrest, then Attorney General John Ashcroft called it “one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world.”

Al-Arian pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad and was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

The White House says the controversial remarks defending al-Arian two years earlier were made by his daughter — not by Hussain. Both were part of a panel discussion at a Muslim Students Association conference, but the reporter covering the event told Fox News she stands by the quotes she attributed to Hussain, who was a Yale Law student and an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Well, this seems like it’s worth looking into. A helpful profile on Al-Arian is here.

And while we’re at that, perhaps it’s worth asking what Hussain’s job description really is. Is he charged with raising issues like human rights and democracy with the “Muslim World”? After all, Hillary Clinton assured us that “at the State Department, though, every week is Human Rights Week.” So I would expect that would top his agenda — honor killings, women’s rights, and such. There’s plenty of work to do in the nations to which he is assigned.

But let’s not be coy here. Hussain is the designated man to continue the suck-uppery to the “Muslim World,” which Obama was personally conducting in Cairo and via his televised addressed to the Iranian Supreme Leader at the start of his presidency. The task here is not so much to engage the “Muslim World” on issues we care about — denying Israel’s right to exist, state sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights atrocities — as to deliver the message the “Muslim World” wants to hear, namely that misunderstanding, American insensitivity, and of course Guantanamo are the causes of much of the problems in our relationship.

So here’s an idea: investigate what Hussain said and whether he is fit to play any role in the administration. And then abolish the post. It’s likely to be unhelpful and counterproductive, regardless of the assigned envoy. And really, do we assign envoys to the Christian World? Or the Hindu World? We have envoys and officials galore in this administration designated to conduct diplomacy with every country in the world. We have a secretary of state and a president (not effective ones, but still). Let them do their jobs and send Hussain packing.

Fox News – doing what the Obama-approved outlets won’t — takes a look at the newest Obama envoy. The report tells us:

President Obama’s new envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, Rashad Hussain, is at the center of a controversy over remarks attributed to him defending a man who later pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid a terrorist group.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs quoted Hussain in 2004 as calling Sami al-Arian the victim of “politically motivated persecutions” after al-Arian, a university professor, was charged in 2003 with heading U.S. operations of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The United States has designated the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a foreign terrorist group as far back as 1997. At the time of al-Arian’s arrest, then Attorney General John Ashcroft called it “one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world.”

Al-Arian pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad and was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

The White House says the controversial remarks defending al-Arian two years earlier were made by his daughter — not by Hussain. Both were part of a panel discussion at a Muslim Students Association conference, but the reporter covering the event told Fox News she stands by the quotes she attributed to Hussain, who was a Yale Law student and an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Well, this seems like it’s worth looking into. A helpful profile on Al-Arian is here.

And while we’re at that, perhaps it’s worth asking what Hussain’s job description really is. Is he charged with raising issues like human rights and democracy with the “Muslim World”? After all, Hillary Clinton assured us that “at the State Department, though, every week is Human Rights Week.” So I would expect that would top his agenda — honor killings, women’s rights, and such. There’s plenty of work to do in the nations to which he is assigned.

But let’s not be coy here. Hussain is the designated man to continue the suck-uppery to the “Muslim World,” which Obama was personally conducting in Cairo and via his televised addressed to the Iranian Supreme Leader at the start of his presidency. The task here is not so much to engage the “Muslim World” on issues we care about — denying Israel’s right to exist, state sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights atrocities — as to deliver the message the “Muslim World” wants to hear, namely that misunderstanding, American insensitivity, and of course Guantanamo are the causes of much of the problems in our relationship.

So here’s an idea: investigate what Hussain said and whether he is fit to play any role in the administration. And then abolish the post. It’s likely to be unhelpful and counterproductive, regardless of the assigned envoy. And really, do we assign envoys to the Christian World? Or the Hindu World? We have envoys and officials galore in this administration designated to conduct diplomacy with every country in the world. We have a secretary of state and a president (not effective ones, but still). Let them do their jobs and send Hussain packing.

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