Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf,
being interviewed on Egypt’s independent Radio Horytna
on February 5, 2010.
(Photo: Radio Horytna)

'Ground Zero Mosque' Cleric Says Parts of His Book Were Woven into Obama’s Cairo Speech

Friday, August 27, 2010

By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor

The cleric who wants to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero claims that ideas from his book were incorporated into President Obama’s landmark Cairo address to the Muslim world last year by one of the drafters of the speech.

Feisal Abdul Rauf made the remarks during two media interviews in Egypt last February.

White House staffers involved in drafting Obama’s speech, according to media reports, included speechwriter Ben Rhodes, political advisor David Axelrod, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Rashad Hussain, a deputy associate counsel later appointed by the president as special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

In the interviews in Egypt, Rauf referred to his 2004 book What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West (later reprinted as What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America). He specifically mentioned chapter six.

Interviewed by journalist Hend Bashandy, on the independent Radio Horytna on February 5, Rauf said of his Corboda Initiative, “we have to look at it … as how to engineer solutions, we think of ourselves as an engineering shop.”

He described chapter six of his book, which deals with what the U.S. government and other parties should do to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West, as the “blueprint.”

“If you examine this chapter you will find that [Obama’s] speech to Cairo was all taken from this section,” he said, calling it “an example of the impact of our work in a positive way.” (In the interview Rauf actually says “Bush’s speech to Cairo” but is corrected by the translator and interviewer.)

Two days after the Radio Horytna interview, Rauf told journalist Hany Waziri that Obama’s speech had been “wonderful and wise in his choice of words.”

“I am not going to hide from you that one of those who participated in writing the speech transferred parts of my book ‘A New Vision for Muslims and the West,’ which he referred to U.S. interests converging with the best interests of the Muslim world,” he said. (The interview, in Arabic, is here)

Rauf’s interviews in Egypt were unearthed by Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian-American who describes himself a “former PLO terrorist [who] now speaks out for the U.S. and Israel.”

“For an imam in New York to be involved in the orchestrating U.S. foreign policy is quite the claim,” Shoebat said this week.

President Obama’s envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Rashad Hussain. (Image: White House)

Speech drafters

The Los Angeles Times last August described White House speechwriter Rhodes as the “principal draftsman” of the Cairo speech, and said Axelrod, Emanuel and Hussain were among other aides and officials involved.

It attributed to Hussain the inclusion of the passage, “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, ‘Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.’ “

Other reports also referred to Hussain’s contributions: The New York Times said he “helped draft Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech and accompanied him on the trip,” and the Times of India reported that Hussain “was associated with the team that drafted the historic speech.”

According to the Washington Post, Rhodes “sought Hussain’s counsel last year as he drafted the president’s Cairo address,” and ABC News said Hussain “helped inform the speech President Obama gave in Cairo – particularly with the speech’s references to the history of Islam and the Koran, and its general tone.”

When Obama last February named Hussain as envoy to the 57-member Islamic bloc, he said the appointee “has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo.”

(Hussain’s appointment was marked by controversy over comments he made in 2004 to the effect that a man indicted for supporting Palestinian terrorists was the victim of “politically-motivated persecutions.”)

‘President should directly and dramatically address Muslim world’

A comparison of chapter six of Rauf’s 2004 book and Obama’s June 2009 speech does not back up Rauf’s February claim that the speech was “all taken from this section,” although some similar themes are apparent.

The chapter deals with what various parties – the U.S. government, religious communities, businesspeople, educators and others – “can do to heal the relationship between the Muslim world and the West.”

In the section on the U.S. government, he writes:

“If America seriously wants to bridge the chasm between the Muslim world and the West, it must publicly declare that its foreign policy is returning to its original democratic values. It should articulate a vision of an Islamic democratic capitalism to ordinary Muslims around the world.

“This effort would be best initiated by the president of the United States directly and dramatically addressing the Muslim world at large,” Rauf says, adding that this would “demonstrate emphatically that America’s best interests coincide with the Muslim world’s best interests.”

He says President Bush had missed several opportunities, “but no doubt other occasions will rise for the leader of the free world to wholeheartedly and publicly commit the United States to pursuing a new foreign policy toward the Muslim world.”

This new foreign policy would help Muslim nations to attain objectives including economic freedom, the rule of law, broader public participation in decision making, a free press and freedom of religious expression.

In his speech on Cairo, the president touched on some of these issues, saying he believes “that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

In an op-ed published the day after Obama’s speech, Rauf said its “historic significance” could not be overstated.

“Never before has an American president spoken to the global Muslim community,” he said. “His speech marked a major shift in American foreign policy.”

“By embracing Islam in the peacemaking process, Obama has laid down a challenge to Muslims,” Rauf concluded. “Live up to the tenets of our religion, embrace Shariah law as conceived by the Prophet, and see what happens.”