What are we to make of the fact that a Muslim extremist (or “Islamist”) named Dr. Sami Al-Arian was arrested and indicted last week on 50 counts, among them conspiracy to finance terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 people including two Americans?
One thing is sure: It is not, as Al-Arian claimed when federal agents led him away in handcuffs, “all about politics.”
After all, this alleged leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad an organization Attorney General John Ashcroft has described as “one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world” was allowed into the Bush White House on at least one occasion. According to last Saturday's Washington Post, in one of these meetings, he was among the front-row attendees at a briefing conducted by the man who is, arguably, Mr. Bush's chief aide: Karl Rove. Generally, political foes do not receive such treatment.
The Post article was accompanied by a photograph (above) taken of Al-Arian with Candidate George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, during a campaign stop at the Tampa Strawberry Festival in March 2000. Perhaps this photo op was a way of thanking Al-Arian and his wife for the efforts they claim to have made on Mr. Bush's behalf “in Florida mosques and elsewhere because they thought him the candidate most likely to fight discrimination against Arab-Americans.”
Al-Arian had particular reason to prefer Candidate Bush since the latter had pledged as part of his campaign's “outreach” to the Muslim community to end the use of secret evidence against suspected terrorists. This goal was a particular priority for Al-Arian since his brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, was incarcerated for three-and-a-half years on the basis of such evidence, prior to his deportation.
In the photo with Mr. Bush, Al-Arian was accompanied by his son, Abdullah, who Mr. Bush reportedly dubbed “Big Dude.” Big Dude Al-Arian was himself admitted into the White House six days after his father's June 2001 visit. Ironically, as the Wall Street Journal noted on Friday, “the Secret Service deemed Mr. Al-Arian's son at the time an intern in a Democratic congressional office [that of then-Rep. David Bonior of Michigan] a security risk and ejected him from a meeting on President Bush's faith-based initiatives program.”
The episode precipitated howls of outrage from representatives of other Islamist groups who had been allowed to participate in this and other, high-level Administration meetings. It produced apologies from the President's spokesman and the Secret Service. According to the Post, on August 2, 2001, Mr. Bush even wrote Mrs. Al-Arian expressing “'regret' about how her son was treated. 'I have been assured that everything possible is being done to ensure that nothing like this happens again.'”
The question, in short, is not whether “politics” are responsible for Sami Al-Arian's prosecution for aiding and abetting terror. The question is: What considerations, political or otherwise, prompted members of Mr. Bush's staff to believe that Al-Arian was the kind of person they wanted on their team? Who bears responsibility for making those calculations? And are they continuing to do so with respect to other individuals and organizations that could, at the very least, embarrass Mr. Bush and, at worst, seriously undermine his efforts in the war on terror?
Obvious candidates include two individuals who have, at various times, had responsibilities in the White House for Muslim outreach: Suhail Khan, formerly with the Public Liaison Office, and Ali Tulbah, currently Associate Director for Cabinet Affairs. As it happens, their judgment about which people should be admitted to the President's company might have been influenced by the fact that their fathers were, respectively, active in Islamist-associated organizations in California and Texas.
Alternatively, Grover Norquist, the founding co-chairman of the Islamic Institute an organization that has played an important role in its own right in facilitating the Bush team's outreach to groups whose leaders and activities have repeatedly excused terror and/or opposed the administration's aggressive pursuit of the war against it asserted in an interview circulated last week by NewsMax.com, that Messrs. Khan and Tulbah “were merely underlings carrying out decisions made by more senior White House officials…. The people making decisions are Presbyterians and Catholics, not Muslims.'” The issue is not their faith; it's their judgment.
Whoever is responsible, their behavior has seriously disserved President Bush, and risks becoming more than a mere political liability if it is allowed to persist. In a recently released document entitled, The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the Administration declares:
Together with the international community, we will wage a war of ideas to make clear that all acts of terrorism are illegitimate…. We must use the full influence of the United States to delegitimize terrorism and make clear that all acts of terrorism will be viewed in the same light as slavery, piracy, or genocide: behavior that no respectable government can condone or support and all must oppose. In short, with our friends and allies, we aim to establish a new international norm regarding terrorism requiring non-support, non-tolerance, and active opposition to terrorists. The United States will work with such moderate and modern governments to reverse the spread of extremist ideology and those who seek to impose totalitarian ideologies on our Muslim allies and friends.
Sami Al-Arian and those who share his extremist views, defend his conduct, and have tried to legitimize him politically are not on President Bush's side in the war on terror. They should, therefore, be seen as unfit to be by his side in implementing his strategy for winning that war.