Founded in 1988, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) describes itself as “a public service agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims, for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives.” The organization consists of eight chapters in California, and one each in Texas, Kansas, Nevada, and Iowa.
MPAC’s vision is “to establish a vibrant Muslim American community that will enrich American society through promoting the Islamic values of Mercy, Justice, Peace, Human Dignity, Freedom, and Equality for all.” In an effort to achieve this objective, the Council’s mission consists of: “effect[ing] positive change in public opinion and in policy with the purpose of realizing our vision”; “promoting an American Muslim identity”; “fostering an effective grassroots organization”; “training a future generation of men and women who share our vision”; “promoting an accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims in mass media and popular culture”; “educating the American public, both Muslim and non-Muslim, about Islam”; “building alliances with Muslim and non-Muslims groups”; and “cultivating relationships with opinion- and decision-makers.”
From its inception, MPAC presented itself as more inclusive, and more open to peaceful coexistence with Jews and Christians, than other Arab and Muslim groups, and sought to make Americans comfortable with Islam by showing how much the religion embraced core American values. Throughout the 1990s, MPAC nurtured this image of moderation by organizing Muslim-Jewish dialogues in Los Angeles. Its members received invitations to the Clinton White House and appointments on federal commissions; they were similarly courted by the Bush campaign as the Clinton presidency drew to a close. MPAC’s Senior Advisor, Maher Hathout, who has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and espouses the radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, was invited to address the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. Shortly thereafter, however, MPAC endorsed George W. Bush for U.S. President.
MPAC’s centrist public image unraveled after the September 2000 launching of the Second Palestinian Intifada, when the Council severed its ties to the Jewish community and issued one-sided condemnations of Israel’s response to the Arab violence.
MPAC’s support for President Bush similarly disintegrated after 9/11, when the Council actively opposed Bush’s military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as his “excesses” in the war on terror. In February 2003, MPAC joined the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in forming a coalition to repeal and amend the Patriot Act, which these organizations depicted as an assault on the civil liberties of Americans, particularly Muslims. Seven months earlier (on July 14, 2002), MPAC National Director Ahmed Younis had stated that “if Thomas Jefferson or Madison or the like were alive today, they would go to John Ashcroft's house and just shoot him." (Ashcroft was the Attorney General who sought to enforce the Patriot Act.)
MPAC claims that Islam is a religion of peace and moderation, and contends that Muslim extremists are no more numerous or dangerous than fundamentalists in any other faith. “There are radical Christian, Jewish and Hindu movements, too,” says MPAC, “which are also capable of slaughtering innocents.” On occasion, MPAC has publicly condemned Islamic suicide bombings. These condemnations, however, are invariably accompanied by endorsements of Muslim “resistance” and “armed struggle” which MPAC frames as justified retribution against prior Israeli or Western transgressions.
Holding Israel entirely responsible for the "pattern of violence" in the Middle East, MPAC asserts that Hezbollah “could be called a liberation movement.” The Council likens Hezbollah members to American “freedom fighters hundreds of years ago whom the British regarded as terrorists.” In a November 1997 speech at the University of Pennsylvania, MPAC Co-Founder and Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati steadfastly refused to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization; he justified the existence of Hamas as a political entity and a provider of social programs and “educational operations”; and he equated jihad with the sentiments of the American statesman Patrick Henry, whose “Give me liberty or give me death” declaration was, in Al-Marayati’s view, “a way of looking at the term jihad from an American perspective.” In a 1999 position paper, MPAC justified Hezbollah’s deadly 1983 bombing of the American Marine barracks in Lebanon as a "military operation" rather than a terrorist attack. As Maher Hathout puts it: "Hezbollah is fighting for freedom, an organized army, limiting its operations against military people, this is a legitimate target against occupation. … this is legitimate, this is an American value -- freedom and liberty."
MPAC’s worldview is further revealed by its many additional public statements on a wide array of issues and events:
In September 2005, MPAC joined with the anti-war organization Code Pink for Peace to sponsor a Culver City, California event promoting a new book by UC-Irvine professor Mark LeVine, who contends that an "Axis of Empathy" is the only strategy that can bring about a long-term solution to the war between radical Islam and the West. MPAC has also worked closely with International ANSWER, which has intimate ties to Ramsey Clark’s International Action Center and the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party.
In November 2010, MPAC reported that it had recently given -- to some 2,200 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) responsible for screening passengers and luggage at U.S. airports -- a two-month training program in cultural awareness about Islam and Muslims. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC Civic Outreach Coordinator Saadia Khan, and two MPAC volunteers conducted the trainings at Los Angeles International Airport. According to MPAC, the four trainers taught the TSOs "how to properly handle a Quran"; they "discussed the different ways Muslim women and men choose to cover or dress"; and they "allowed trainers to discuss the common practice of Muslims praying in various areas of the airport, adding that they do this because LAX does not have a designated prayer area as other airports do."
MPAC has long worked to promote positive portrayals of Islam and Muslims in movies and television programs. Shortly after 9/11, the organization established its own Hollywood Bureau for this purpose. Since then, MPAC has consulted with the producers of such TV shows as "24," ''Bones," ''Lie to Me," ''7th Heaven," ''Saving Grace" and "Aliens in America." The organization also has held meetings with top network executives from ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, and organizes a Muslim-inspired version of a Hollywood awards show each year for productions that advance the public's understanding of Islam. In 2009, for instance, this event recognized "The Simpsons," for an episode that featured young Bart befriending a Muslim boy named Bashir. In early 2011, MPAC announced that it would soon be hosting a series of workshops -- taught by Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated veterans of the entertainment industry -- to further promote more positive images of Muslims in film and television.
On October 19, 2011, MPAC was one of 57 organizations to co-sign a letter that Farhana Khera, executive director of an Islamic organization called Muslim Advocates, wrote to Barack Obama’s then-Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (and later CIA director) John Brennan. The letter demanded that Obama officials “purge all federal government training materials of biased materials”—that is, materials that they claimed were biased against Islam—and “implement a mandatory re-training program for FBI agents, U.S. Army officers, and all federal, state and local law enforcement who have been subjected to biased training.” Joing MPAC as signatories were such groups as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Circle of North America, Islamic Relief USA, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim American Society.
The Obama Administration immediately complied with the letter's demands. Dwight C. Holton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, emphasized that same day that training materials for the FBI would be purged of everything that Islamic supremacists deemed offensive: “I want to be perfectly clear about this: training materials that portray Islam as a religion of violence or with a tendency towards violence are wrong, they are offensive, and they are contrary to everything that this president, this attorney general and Department of Justice stands for. They will not be tolerated.”
In November 2011, MPAC held a Washington, DC event in honor of Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda, the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate that had recently emerged victorious in the political elections in Tunisia. Ghannouchi is a longtime Islamist who, during the 1990s, was invited to the United States by Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian but was banned from the country. Yet by MPAC's reckoning, Ghannouchi is “one of the most important figures in modern Islamic political thought and theory.”
Just a few months prior to the November 2011 event, in an interview with an Arab-language website, Ghannouchi had stated that the Arab Spring “will achieve positive results on the path to the Palestinian cause and threaten the extinction of Israel.” Added Ghannouchi: “I give you the good news that the Arab region will get rid of the bacillus of Israel. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, said that Israel will disappear by the year 2027. I say that this date may be too far away, and Israel may disappear before this.”
Parts of this profile are adapted, with permission, from Stand4Facts.org.