How Radical is the Cambridge Mosque?
On Tuesday, USA Today and Breitbart News both reported that the Cambridge, MA mosque attended by the late Boston Marathon terror suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has ties to Islamist radicals. It was founded in part by Abdulrahman Alamoudi, who is now serving a 23-year federal sentence for terrorism and who served as the mosque's first president.
The mosque, and the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) Cultural Center in Boston, are also affiliated with the Muslim American Society, which federal prosecutors link to the Muslim Brotherhood.
As more details emerge about the Cambridge mosque, which Fox News reports has long been a target of criticism, it is yet unclear whether Tsarnaev and his younger brother were radicalized at home, or during visits with radicals abroad, as Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested. The answer may well be both.
Family members also point to a local recent convert to Islam named "Misha" as a strong influence. Other reports point to the growing radicalization of the boys' mother, who has loudly demonstrated her fanaticism.
Still, absent further details, it is difficult to point to the Cambridge mosque as a direct influence.
The mosque itself has been at great pains to demonstrate that Tsarnaev was on the fringe of the congregation. In a press release distributed yesterday, the Islamic Society of Boston recalled Tsarnaev's angry reaction to a sermon about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his objection to observing "national holidays like July 4th and Thanksgiving." It insisted that Tsarnaev and his brother were neither "members nor regular attendees."
What seems clear, however, is that radical views were not unknown at the mosque, and were in some instances welcomed.
I became aware of the ISB in 2009 when Charles Jacobs, formerly of the pro-Israel David Project and now the leader of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, led protests against the ISB's new mosque in Boston as I was finishing up at Harvard Law School. Local politicians and clergy, eager to prove their tolerance, lined up to support the new mosque. Jacobs wanted to warn them, and the public, about the ISB's radical roots.
I caught up with Jacobs on Monday, and he was careful not to jump to conclusions.
"We don't know that the terrorists were radicalized by this mosque," Jacobs told me. "If the story emerges that they were radicalized in America, but they didn't come here that way, the Islamic Society of Boston and its leaders provide an interesting place to look.
"I have to say they were sitting in a soup of radical leaders of Boston Islamic institutions who were given credibility and a 'kosher' pass by the media, by politicians, and by liberal clergy, both Christian and Jewish," he added, citing a recent video his organization produced on the Boston mosque.
The video notes that "most of [the Boston mosque's] worshippers are peaceful and well-meaning members. However, many of the mosque's leaders and trustees have long-standing links to radical Islam and terrorism." One section focuses on a speaker, Yusuf Qadhi, who was once invited to speak at the Cambridge mosque and had a history of radical statements, including "extremely anti-Christian" and antisemitic sermons.
At 8:42 in the video, a young Boston member espouses anti-Jewish beliefs allegedly shared by some mosque leaders.
Whether the Tsarnaev brothers first cultivated their own views at the mosque or elsewhere, the fact is that such extremism is widespread throughout the Muslim world--without being shared by every mosque or every Muslim.
I have personally seen Islam at its most radical and its most tolerant. I lived in a Muslim community in South Africa for over five years, sharing a home with a Muslim family for two of those years. One of their relatives scolded them for "harboring a Jew." My landlady bravely and proudly stood up to such criticism.
I enjoyed learning about Islam firsthand, studying Arabic and fasting for Ramadan. I encountered local clerics who were interested in cultivating interfaith ties, and more than a few Muslims who had traveled to Israel or befriended Jewish Israelis.
At the same time, I could not help but notice the extremist nature of politics in the community, often inflamed by sermons in mosques and on community radio stations. One year, I asked a street merchant whether he had enjoyed his Eid holiday. "Yes," he said. "Now we just have to kill the Jews."
At Harvard in the 1990s, I developed a close friendship with a Muslim friend who had abandoned the campus's Islamic services because of their radicalism. (He called the campus Muslim society the "Crimson Jihad," a play on Harvard's school color and the outrageous terrorist villains of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies.) Some of those same students likely attended the Cambridge mosque later attended by the Tsarnaev brothers.
It is important to note that there are members of the Cambridge mosque, and mosques elsewhere, who oppose extremism. In 2010, I addressed such a mosque in the Chicago area to explain my opposition to the "Ground Zero" mosque in Manhattan.
Such frank conversations are preferable to a craven political correctness that erases Islamist terror from FBI manuals, giving cover to extremism and--ironically--fodder for unfair prejudice against Muslims as a whole.
It is too early to draw conclusions about the Cambridge mosque--though answers must be sought.
Photo: Kerry Picket, Breitbart News