EVER SINCE 9/11, we learned last month, federal officials have been monitoring radiation levels around a number of American mosques. It is an understandable precaution, given Al Qaeda's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, and its history of mass murder.
Understandable -- but also troubling. In a nation as tolerant as this one, nobody can be happy about the need to focus self-defensive attention on mosques. Unfortunately, we are at war with violent Islamist radicals, and they are not above using mosques to incubate terrorism. If there is evidence of heightened radioactivity around a Muslim facility, the government should be aware of it, and should find out -- lawfully, of course -- whether it represents a threat.
The federal monitors have been checking for physical radiation, but there are other ways in which mosques can be radioactive.
Last year, for example, Freedom House issued a report on the extent to which Saudi publications in US mosques promote Wahhabism, the harsh, supremacist version of Islam that is the established creed in Saudi Arabia. Many of these publications, it turned out, were riddled with religious bigotry. They advocated contempt for "infidels," portrayed America as alien territory, and urged Muslims to prepare for jihad. Considering the use of such teachings in recruiting terrorists, one might well view the presence of this literature in the library of an American mosque as "radioactive," and a legitimate cause for concern.
Which brings us to the roiling controversy over the mosque being built by the Islamic Society of Boston -- a controversy made all the worse by an abusive lawsuit the Islamic Society has filed against its critics.
When completed, the $24 million mosque will be the largest Muslim house of prayer in the Northeastern United States. The Islamic Society has pledged that it will also be a center for moderation, peace, and dialogue among different religious communities. It was in part on the strength of that pledge that the Islamic Society was allowed to buy the land for the mosque from the city for a fraction of its fair market value.
But for more than two years, questions have been raised about just how committed the Islamic Society really is to moderation and interfaith understanding. Beginning with reports in the Boston Herald, news outlets, citizen groups, political officials, and private citizens have been pointing out disturbing signs of extremist "radioactivity" around the Islamic Society and its leadership. To mention only a few:
- The society's original founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is now serving a 23-year prison term for his role in an assassination plot. The Treasury Department identified him as a fund-raiser for Al Qaeda, and he has publicly proclaimed his support for two notorious terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Yusef al Qaradawi, who for several years was listed as a trustee in Islamic Society of Boston tax filings and on the Islamic Society website -- the Islamic Society now claims that was due to an "administrative oversight" -- is a radical Islamist cleric who has endorsed suicide bombings and the killing of Americans in Iraq. In 2002, he was invited to address an Islamic Society fund-raiser, but had to do so by video from Qatar -- he has been barred since 1999 from entering the United States.
- Another Islamic Society trustee, Walid Fitaihi, is the author of writings that denounce Jews as "murderers of the prophets" who "brought the worst corruption to the earth" and should be punished for their "oppression, murder, and rape of the worshipers of Allah." After Fitaihi's words were reported in the Boston press, the Islamic Society was urged to unequivocally repudiate them. It took seven months before it finally did so.
- When Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian-born Muslim scholar, examined the Islamic Society's library in 2003, he found books and videotapes promoting hostility toward the United States and insulting other religions. Among the publications on hand were several of those listed in the Freedom House report.
Individually, none of these points proves that there is anything amiss with the Islamic Society. Taken together, they give rise to obvious questions and concerns. Surely the Islamic Society, which emphasizes its commitment to moderation, tolerance, and dialogue, should be at pains to answer those questions and allay those concerns. Instead it accuses its critics of defamation, and has sued many of them for -- of all things -- conspiring to deprive Boston-area Muslims of their religious freedom.
But the last thing Muslims in Boston or anywhere else need is a leadership that treats legitimate public misgivings as an anti-Muslim "conspiracy," or that launches specious lawsuits in order to intimidate those looking into its record. The Islamic Society's overreaction does rank-and-file Muslims no favors -- and gives all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, another reason to wonder about its motives.