By Ari Lieberman
Ammar Shahin, the California imam exposed nationally for an anti-Semitic rant he delivered on July 21, finally apologized last week for his hateful remarks at an interfaith press conference on July 28. Shahin, who is the imam at the Islamic Center of Davis, claimed that he allowed his “emotions” to get the better of him and acknowledged that his words were “hurtful.” He added: “Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to discuss the content of my sermon with several individuals inside and outside the Muslim community, and have come to realize the harm it has caused.”
The belated apology should be rejected outright. It took Shahin a full week to issue his faux apology but not before he along with the ICD issued nonsensical explanations claiming that his screed was “taken out of context,” and “misconstrued.” I wonder how one can contextualize references to Jews as “filth” and pleas to Allah to “annihilate the Jews, every last one,” among other gems.
Seeking to deflect attention away from Shahin’s egregious conduct, the ICD initially sought to besmirch the reputation of the Middle East Media Research Institute, the watchdog group responsible for exposing Shahin. It adopted the tired practice of attacking the messenger by referring to MEMRI as “an extremist agenda-driven organization that supports Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.” Even if that were the case, and there is no evidence to suggest that it is, it would still not excuse the repugnant nature of Shahin’s comments.
Moreover, Shahin’s July 21 sermon, which gave rise to the instant controversy and subsequent fake apology, is not the first time Imam Shahin delivered a sermon laced with anti-Semitic invective. According to MEMRI, Shahin issued an almost identical sermon at the ICD on July 14. MEMRI correctly points out that Shahin does not lash out at “Israelis” or “Israel” but reserves his vitriol for “Jews,” though in the final analysis, genocide is genocide whether directed against Israelis or Jews.
Rarely do anti-Semites limit their xenophobia to one particular ethnic group or class of people and Shahin is no exception to this rule. In January 2017, the ICD hosted an event featuring Mohamed Rateb Al-Nabulsi. On its Facebook page, the ICD referred to Al-Nabulsi as a “renowned scholar.” At the January 21 sermon, Shahin introduced Al-Nabulsi and sat to his immediate right. Al-Nabulsi however, is a rabid homophobe who believes that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for members of the LGBT community. It is doubtful that the ICD and Shahin were unaware of Al-Nabulsi’s abhorrent views since they were published on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, and easily accessible. That Shahin would feel comfortable associating with such a rancid individual speaks volumes about Shahin and the center he represents.
Shahin claimed that he got carried away with his emotions, which were prompted by clashes on the Temple Mount (he refers to it as the al-Aqsa). But this assertion is a provable lie. In a November 25, 2016 sermon, Shahin expressed gleeful elation over wildfires raging in Israel and termed them a punishment from Allah. At the time, there were no disturbances at the Temple Mount so what was Shahin’s excuse then?
Tellingly, Shahin has also expressed disdain for the very frameworks and institutions that allow him to freely spew his venom. In a November 11, 2016 sermon, he spoke pejoratively of the United States Constitution and principles of democracy comparing these foundational building blocks of Western civilization to idol worship, and bizarrely, to idols “made of dates.”
The reality is that Ammar Shahin and the ICD are mired in xenophobia and harbor deep seated hatred toward Jews, gays and anyone else espousing views that are not consistent with their readings and interpretations of the Quran and the Hadiths. Shahin’s apology was not a product of sincere contrition but was in fact, a public relations stunt aimed at damage control. It was the result of extreme pressure brought to bear on the ICD and its imam. The only real remorse Shahin felt was remorse over being caught and exposed. Once exposed, there was instant outrage, mostly from conservative and Jewish media but it was enough to generate sufficient worry within the ranks of the ICD.
California lawmakers expressed outrage and the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a letter to the Justice Department and Homeland Security asking for an immediate investigation of Shahin and the ICD. Even the Anti-Defamation League – not known for having a backbone when confronting Islamic antisemitism – issued a somewhat generic denunciation but a denunciation nonetheless.
There are some important takeaways from this unfortunate incident that should be a source of worry for most Americans. First, what occurred at the ICD on July 21 was not unique to the ICD. Many Islamic centers throughout the United States (though certainly not all) serve as breeding grounds for antisemitism, extremism and xenophobia. Indeed, on the very day that Shahin issued his July 21 sermon, another California imam, Mahmoud Harmoush, delivered a sermon similar in both tone and vitriol to Shahin’s, to congregants at the Islamic Center of Riverside.
This pressing problem of ingrained and systemic Islamic antisemitism is all too often ignored or downplayed by the left for a myriad of reasons, which leads us to the second takeaway. Imam Shahin’s anti-Semitic screed received scant coverage from the establishment, left-wing media. For example, it took the New York Times a full week before publishing the story and when it finally did, it was in the context of Shahin’s apology. Moreover, the New York Times’ brief article whitewashed Shahin’s anti-Semitism omitting some of his most offensive statements while attempting to contextualize Shahin’s Jew-hatred within the broader subject of the Temple Mount disturbances, as if this somehow excuses his rabid xenophobia.
The manner in which the establishment, left-wing media covered the Shahin incident stands in marked contrast to the manner in which it covered (and continues to cover) bias crimes directed at Muslims. When a deranged woman placed bacon strips on the ICD’s door handle, it garnered immediate national establishment media attention. Why do bacon strips take precedence over calls for the annihilation of Jewry?
Fake news is not a concept limited to explicit falsehoods but incorporates purposeful omission of material facts with the intent to either obfuscate or advance certain narratives. The establishment media’s failure to adequately address the systemic problem of Islamic anti-Semitism, as demonstrated by its purposeful lack of interest in the Shahin and Harmoush incidents, seriously undermines its credibility and reinforces the accurate perception by many of an agenda driven media that seeks to indoctrinate and brainwash rather than inform.