Cleveland Muslim leader Fawaz Damra, who has been arrested on suspicion of concealing ties to terrorist groups, has been forced to take a paid leave of absence by the Islamic Center of Cleveland “” although the Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes one local man there as saying that Damra enjoys the support of eighty to ninety percent of area Muslims.
More importantly, in a variation of the race card that Muslim leaders often deploy against critics, Damra and his supporters are charging that his arrest is part of an ongoing campaign targeting Muslims:
Damra declined to comment Tuesday, but at a rally last Friday at the mosque, attended by about 250 supporters including Christian clergy and leaders of other Islamic groups, Damra criticized what he called the “blatant targetting” of Islamic leaders by the government.
“In these difficult times, we must not allow fear and hate to deprive us of our collective civil rights,” he said. . . .
“He has the support of, I’d say, 90 percent of the Arab and Muslims in this community,” said Aziz, a trustee of the club, which represents Palestinian families from the West Bank village of Beit Hanina. “The few that think they have the power to influence the future of Fawaz, they are mistaken.”
On Jan. 13, FBI agents arrested Damra at his Strongsville home and charged him with lying on his citizenship application by not disclosing previous ties to terrorist groups. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $160,000 bond.
It was another blow for a cleric who had been embroiled in criticism over videotaped anti-Semitic slurs he made more than a decade ago.
In a videotape from April 7, 1991, that was made public in the fall of 2001, Damra is shown calling for attacks on Jewish people and referring to them as animals. Damra apologized, expressing his “overwhelming regret and sadness” for the remarks. The cleric said he made the remarks at a time when he had no interaction with the Jewish and Christian communities.
Damra didn’t refer to Jews as just any animals, and this is an important distinction. He actually referred to them as “pigs and monkeys,” which is just what the Qur’an calls them in Suras 2:62-65, 5:59-60, and 7:166. As I explain in Onward Muslim Soldiers, this is how radical Muslims around the world refer to Jews routinely. Thus in 1991 Damra accepted their equation of the Qur’an’s Sabbath-breaking Jews who were cursed by Allah and turned into pigs and monkeys with the Jews of today. It was a matter of theology, not personal experience. Of course, he says that since then his personal experience led him to modify his theology, and I hope that is true.
Meanwhile CAIR, of course, jumped aboard the scapegoating bandwagon:
At the rally Friday, the Cleveland chapter of the Muslim American Society issued a statement calling on area Muslims to unite behind Damra. Jad Humeidan, executive director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also urged support, declaring the Damra case “is part of a pattern of attacking the Muslim community, its leaders and its institutions.”
Mr. Humeidan, was the arrest of CAIR’s Randall Todd Ismail Royer part of this pattern? Was his guilty plea part of it? Since you evidently assume that Damra is not guilty, please explain also these facts, reported in the Plain Dealer last week (via FrontPage):
Imam Fawaz Damra helped lay the groundwork for an organization that ultimately merged into al-Qaida in the late 1980s.
He was an unindicted co-conspirator of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. And he passionately raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which killed dozens of Jews in Israel during the 1990s. . . .
How much Damra knows is unclear, but he is directly linked to two of the largest terror-funding probes in the United States, and implicated by association in a third sprawling investigation. . . .
In the mid-1980s, he co- founded the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., part of a network that recruited and trained Muslims to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a venture that dovetailed with U.S. government efforts in the region.
When the Soviets withdrew, however, there was an international fight over what to do with the leftover money and power.
Like many Alkifah centers around the world, the Brooklyn chapter was drawn into the al- Qaida network created by Osama bin Laden. The mosque itself fell under the sway of Omar Abdul Rahman, known as the “blind sheik,” who was later blamed for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Damra, meanwhile, settled in Cleveland, where he reinvented himself as a peacemaker and spent more than a decade building tentative, then increasingly sturdy, bridges between local Muslims and Jews.
Nearly all of his efforts collapsed following the terror attacks of 2001, when a grainy videotape surfaced revealing another side of the charismatic cleric.
The 1991 video shows Damra at a Muslim gathering in Cleveland, disparaging Jews in Arabic as “pigs and monkeys” and raising money for the killing of Jews by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Maybe he isn’t guilty. But it would be helpful to get a full explanation and clarification. Does he now reject Islamic radicalism? Does he want to see the U.S. someday become an Islamic state? These are the kinds of questions that must be answered.