I am interested to see Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism researcher and zealous foe of Islamism, defend Rashad Hussain, the White House attorney who has been chosen as envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain has been accused of being, essentially, a terrorist sympathizer. Gartenstein-Ross, who has known Hussain since 1998 (when Gartenstein-Ross was himself a Muslim), isn’t buying it. He is shocked at the attacks on his friend written by people who don’t know him — from “the proverbial view” at “50,000 feet.” He concludes that Hussain “is a Kerry-supporting Democrat rather than a bin Laden-supporting jihadist.”
I haven’t taken a close look at the case, but Gartenstein-Ross’s statement seems at first blush to be convincing — not least because it reminds me of a similar controversy in which I was involved. Back in 2008, Samantha Power, then a Kennedy School professor who was advising candidate Obama (now a NSC staffer), was accused of anti-Israel animus. I had known Power for a number of years and defended her against the charge. I, too, was shocked at how a real person had been chopped up in the Cuisinart of politics and reassembled into a caricature.
I am by no means suggesting that friends of a nominee or staffer should have the final word on their fitness for office. As Gartenstein-Ross notes, “Friendship can be a double-edged sword. It can truly illuminate for us how a person views the world, show us what he cherishes and fears, give us insight into his character. It can also have a distorting effect, causing us to be defensive when we should not be, and to overlook our friend’s flaws.” But as a general rule, I would suggest approaching these debates with some degree of humility and sympathy, and an understanding that a few statements often pulled out of context do not necessarily constitute the totality of a person.