If the administration was caught unaware, it may be because they placed their trust in one of the right's most influential activists: Grover Norquist
On the afternoon of September 26, George W. Bush gathered 15 prominent Muslim- and Arab-Americans at the White House. With cameras rolling, the president proclaimed that "the teachings of Islam are teachings of peace and good." It was a critically important moment, a statement to the world that America's Muslim leaders unambiguously reject the terror committed in Islam's name.
Unfortunately, many of the leaders present hadn't unambiguously rejected it. To the president's left sat Dr. Yahya Basha, president of the American Muslim Council, an organization whose leaders have repeatedly called Hamas "freedom fighters." Also in attendance was Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who on the afternoon of September 11 told a Los Angeles public radio audience that "we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list." And sitting right next to President Bush was Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of North America, who last fall told a Washington crowd chanting pro-Hezbollah slogans, "America has to learn if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come." Days later, after a conservative activist
confronted Karl Rove with dossiers about some of Bush's new friends, Rove replied, according to the activist, "I wish I had known before the event took place."
If the administration was caught unaware, it may be because they placed their trust in one of the right's most influential activists: Grover Norquist. As president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist is best known for his tireless crusades against big government. But one of Norquist's lesser-known projects over the last few years has been bringing American Muslims into the Republican Party. And, as he usually does, Norquist has succeeded. According to several sources, Norquist helped orchestrate various post-September 11 events that brought together Muslim leaders and administration officials. "He worked with Muslim leaders to engineer [Bush]'s prominent visit to the Mosque," says the Arab-American pollster John Zogby, referring to the president's September 17 trip to the Islamic Center of Washington. Says Zogby, who counts Norquist among his clients, "Absolutely, he's central to the White House outreach." Indeed, when Jewish activists and terrorism experts complained about the Muslim invitees to Adam Goldman, who works in the White House public liaison's office, Goldman replied that Norquist had vouched for them. (Goldman denies this, but two separate sources say they heard him say it.) "Just like [administration officials] ask my advice on inviting religious figures to the White House," says Paul Weyrich, another top conservative activist, "they rely on Grover's help [with Muslims]."
When Bush won, Norquist credited the Muslim strategy. "Bush's talk about outreach and inclusion had extraordinary results--the Muslim community went 2-1 for Bill Clinton in 1996 and almost 8-1 for Bush in 2000," he told The Washington Times. (That statistic is almost certainly untrue, and Bush actually lost Michigan, the state where Muslims are most heavily concentrated.) Or, as Norquist put it in the Spectator, "George W. Bush was elected President of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote."
Norquist quickly set about turning that supposed electoral influence into legislative influence. One day after Bush's inauguration, he and Saffuri arranged for Muslim leaders to meet Newt Gingrich and Congressman Tom Davis, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Soon Saffuri began regularly appearing at the White House, accompanying imams and heads of Islamic organizations to discuss the faith-based initiative and concerns about law enforcement persecution of Muslims. Suhail Khan, an administration adviser who helps plan Muslim outreach, once served on the Islamic Institute's board. And at one of his regular Wednesday meetings, according
to two witnesses, Norquist announced that he had lobbied to get Khan his White House post. On the afternoon of September 11, a group of Muslim leaders happened to have plans to meet the president in the West Wing to discuss their grievances with racial profiling and secret evidence. When they couldn't enter the building, along with almost everyone else, they headed a few blocks uptown and reconvened--in the conference room of Norquist's office.