In a recent column for Canada’s National Post, the invaluable Barbara Kay writes about one Ingrid Mattson, a Catholic who was raised in Kitchener, Ontario, converted to Islam, and went on to become a major figure in the North American Islamic establishment. Until recently she taught Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary, where, as Kay puts it, citing an account by Andrew Bieszad of his experiences as a student there, “Islam and other faiths were held to very different standards in classroom discussions.”
In one “interfaith dialogue” class, for example, Bieszad said, “I am Catholic and I do not believe in Islam.” Following this, according to Bieszad’s account, “one of the Muslim students spoke. She said that she was Muslim, and then she addressed me directly. In a soft, Arabic accented voice, she told me, ‘You are an infidel because you do not accept Islam’ and that ‘according to Islam you do not deserve to live.’ A second Muslim student heartily agreed.’ ”
Bieszad reports that when he brought such incidents to the attention of the administration, he was told that he was “intolerant of Muslims,” and that the best solution was a better “understanding of Islam.”
“Not a single classmate, Muslim or non-Muslim, ever spoke up in support of my opinion, even on the principle that different views should be respected,” Bieszad writes.
Mattson was not just a teacher at Hartford Seminary. Until last year she was also head of the Islamic Society of North America, a leading national organization which, at the 2007 trial in Dallas of a now-defunct Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation, was named an unindicted co-conspirator on charges of aiding Hamas. The trial proved to be an explosive event, uncovering a great deal of vital information about the unsavory connections of supposedly innocuous Muslim organizations in the United States. Yet it was almost entirely ignored – and, when not ignored, whitewashed – by the mainstream American media.
In a sane world, one would expect that revelations of links to terrorist groups would have something of a negative impact on an organization’s or individual’s reputation. But that is not the way things work nowadays when it comes to Islam. Writing about the ISNA in the New York Times shortly after the Holy Land trial, Neil MacFarquhar, as I noted in my 2009 book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, “completely ignore[d] damning information about ISNA that came out during the trial, including such things as its foundations in the Muslim Brotherhood, and its multiple financial contributions to Hamas through its subsidiary, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).” As I pointed out, “MacFarquhar didn’t settle for just whitewashing the ISNA”; he also went on the attack against two members of Congress who had been critical of the ISNA, Pete Hoekstra and Sue Myrick. Gretel C. Kovach, writing about the trial in Newsweek, seemed determined to dismiss the whole thing as an exercise in Islamophobia.
Only days after the Holy Land trial, USA Today ran a profile of Mattson by Cathy Lynn Grossman that was nothing less than glowing. Amazingly – or not – Grossman didn’t even mention the trial. Gushing over Mattson as the “face of Islam in America,” Grossman poured out the kind of prose that is to be found in American newspapers these days only when the subject is Islam. Mattson, we learned, was a convert who had “found her spiritual home in Islam,” a “faith she chose at age 23, drawn in, she says, by Islam’s beauty, its ethos of service and its synthesis of life and faith in which every act relates to God.” (When was the last time you read anything like that in a major American newspaper about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religion?)
The profile was a classic puff piece, and then some. Every charming detail was in place (the “tiny, bookstuffed office” and “snug black headscarf”). Grossman took at face value Mattson’s determination to build “a strong religious and civic institutional life for Muslims in America.” And Grossman was careful not to include any details of Mattson’s theology that might ruin the perfect picture, simply saying (in a formula that has become de rigueur in such profiles) that Mattson was “too liberal for some, too conservative for others.”
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