THE DECISION by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt to withdraw the appointment of Salam Al Marayati to the National Commission on Terrorism is an unfortunate capitulation to misplaced pressure. Mr. Gephardt claims that what nixed the nomination was merely that it would take too long for Mr. Al Marayati's security clearance to be granted. But it's hard to imagine that this problem alone could not have been resolved. What made the nomination controversial is that Mr. Al Marayati, director of the California-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, has made statements that some Jewish groups and members of Congress regard as justifying Arab terrorism.
Mr. Al Marayati's statements don't endorse terrorist attacks; they do indicate his belief that anti-Israel terrorism flows out of legitimate grievances. One such comment seemed to blame a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv chiefly on then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He has also labeled the American bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan as terrorism, and objected stridently to Israeli bombings in Lebanon. Such comments, the Jewish groups argue, indicate a tendency to justify terrorism and are in conflict with American policy. No one espousing such views, they conclude, should be helping formulate American policy on the subject.
Many of Mr. Al Marayati's statements seem to us apt grounds on which to question his political judgment. But the fact is that Mr. Al Marayati has repeatedly denounced terrorism as antithetical to Islam. He is a supporter of the Arab-Israeli peace process. And whatever one thinks of them, his objections to Israeli and American policies reflect widespread sentiment among American Muslims.
Mr. Al Marayati should not be kept off the commission merely because his views are in tension with American policy. Nor is it right for Mr. Gephardt to hide behind a security clearance matter. If he believes Mr. Al Marayati's statements disqualify him, he should say so. If he believes him an appropriate candidate, he should insist on an expedited clearance process.
Americans should not ignore the Muslim community in discussing terrorism. Many Arabs feel their community bears the brunt of aspects of American terrorism policy. It is important for American counter-terrorism measures not to be seen reflexively by Muslims as illegitimate. People like Mr. Al Marayati should be at the table.