By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007
RICHMOND -- Two Republican state legislators are accusing Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and other Democrats of embracing radical Islamic organizations that support terrorism, an allegation that has outraged the governor and Muslim leaders, who say the GOP is resorting to fear-mongering to win votes.
As Republicans work to retain their majorities in the General Assembly, the two delegates from the Shenandoah Valley say they are conducting an investigation into Democrats' ties to the Muslim American Society and Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center, both in Falls Church.
Dels. C. Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah) and C.L. "Clay" Athey Jr. (Warren) allege that the society and mosque have links to terrorism, even though federal officials have found no such connection.
The delegates have been trying to connect Kaine and other Democrats to prominent Muslim leaders affiliated with the organizations. On Friday, Gilbert and Athey released a photograph of Kaine speaking at a Muslim American Society dinner this spring.
"It is clear to me that the leadership of the Virginia Democratic Party has compromised the best interests of the citizens of Virginia by cozying up to organizations and individuals that have radical agendas," Gilbert said in a statement Friday. "I am appalled by the utter lack of judgment that Democrats at the highest levels have shown in joining forces with a radical element of the Muslim faith for the sole purpose of filling the ballot box."
Kaine and other Democrats accused the GOP of trying to smear all Muslims.
"Politics and campaigning have stooped to a new low when the governor of Virginia's effort to reach out to people of all faiths and races is characterized as an association with terrorists," said Delacey Skinner, the governor's communications director.
Several political observers predicted the GOP effort to link Democrats to terrorists will backfire and cost the party votes in the Nov. 6 election, when all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot.
"The idea is such a stretch, so beyond the realm of believability, this just strikes most people as either ridiculous or just political desperation," said Mark J. Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University. "The people doing this risk alienating a growing segment of the population and don't really gain anything substantial in return."
Gilbert and Athey, neither of whom have an opponent this fall, say they are focused on Virginia's security, not the election. They say they are just following up on the controversy last month involving Esam S. Omeish, the president of the Muslim American Society. Kaine forced Omeish, who is also a surgeon, to resign from the Virginia Commission on Immigration after videos surfaced of him making controversial statements about Israel.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) hasn't sanctioned Gilbert and Athey's investigation. But the speaker's staff has been helping the delegates distribute their findings to the media.
On Tuesday, Athey and Gilbert released a 2005 photograph of Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) standing next to Johari Abdul-Malik, the senior imam at Dar Al Hijrah, which is the largest mosque in Northern Virginia and one of the largest in the country.
Gilbert and Athey allege that the mosque is linked to terrorism because two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers worshipped there in the months leading up to the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. But the FBI and the presidential Sept. 11 commission both concluded that the mosque played no role in the attacks.
Moran accused Republicans of resorting to "desperate tactics" that prove they are out of touch with increasingly diverse Northern Virginia.
"To label an entire religion is irresponsible," Moran said.
In an interview, Gilbert said he is targeting the Muslim American Society and the mosque, not all Muslims. Gilbert said the leaders of the society and mosque have expressed past support for Hamas or Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers terrorist organizations.
He noted that some of the founders of the Muslim American Society had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that started in Egypt in the 1920s and advocates a purer, more restrictive form of Islam in the Middle East.
"This is not a knock on Muslims, Muslim Americans, Muslim Virginians," said Gilbert, who is also an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Warren County. "This is a knock on this particular organization that has radical origins and continues to maintain radical beliefs."
In the photo released Friday, Kaine is standing with Mahdi Bray, a top Muslim American Society official. Gilbert also released a grainy video in which Bray is seen expressing support for Hamas at a rally in Washington seven years ago.
Athey stresses that his criticism is aimed at the organizations' leaderships, not their individual members. "Maybe I'm too much of a Boy Scout, but it troubles me something like this could happen in Virginia," Athey said. "It's not about individual members of a particular group; it's about the leadership who seem to have certain ties."
Gilbert said he is basing his conclusions about the mosque and society on reports by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, an organization that tracks individuals it suspects of having links to terrorism.
Ibrahim Ramey, director of the Muslim American Society's human and civil rights division, said the Investigative Project's work is flawed.
"We have taken positions that we oppose the economic strangulation of Gaza, as do many people in the United States, but we are not involved in any violent, insurgent activity, and our concern is humanitarian," Ramey said.
Ramey noted that the State Department invites Muslim American Society leaders to participate in events.
"We sponsor Boy and Girl Scout troops around the country. We do charity drives," Ramey said. "So the attempt by people to cast us in a negative light is just deplorable."
The Republican-controlled General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in 2005 praising Mukit Hossain, one of the Muslim American Society's leaders, after the Herndon Times named him its citizen of the year. Hossain was honored because he raised $10,000 to buy coats for day laborers.
Del. Thomas David Rust (R-Fairfax), one of the co-sponsors of the resolution honoring Hossain, said Gilbert and Athey should temper their investigation.
"I know Mukit; he is a friend of mine. I have lots of friends in the Muslim community, and I am very disappointed this is going on," Rust said.
Hossain, who also runs the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, which has primarily donated to Republicans in recent years, said Athey and Gilbert's campaign has persuaded him to work especially hard this year to unseat Republicans in the General Assembly. He noted that there are 66,000 Muslims registered to vote in Virginia, about 85 percent of whom live in Northern Virginia.
"I am hoping this sense of urgency and sense of civic duty will prompt them in very, very large numbers to get out and vote to convince the likes of Gilbert to come out of their cocoon of hate," Hossain said.