In 2004, a North Texas Muslim organization staged a fateful “tribute” conference honoring the life and works of the “Great Islamic Visionary” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. One of the scheduled speakers, Mohamad Elibiari, became a prominent national security adviser who occupied the spotlight as a Muslim civil rights “spokesman” until journalist Patrick Poole saw this story and began reporting on Elibiary here.
IRVING, TX. — A North Texas Muslim organization last week staged a “Tribute” conference honoring the life and works of the “Great Islamic Visionary” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The late Iranian leader’s legacy includes the 1979 American hostage crisis, the first large-scale terrorist bombings against Americans, and a strict Islamist government accused by
President George Bush of making up part of an international “Axis of Evil.”
Last Saturday’s all-day conference in Irving was sponsored by the Metroplex Organization of Muslims in North Texas (MOMIN) and was attended by a number of prominent North Texas Muslim leaders and activists who were invited to speak.
The conference has ignited an Internet controversy in the week since word of it – until now ignored by media organizations -spread across the country on web logs and through email.
In an exclusive interview with CBS-11 on Friday, MOMIN Imam Shamshad Haider defended the conference and said Ayatollah Khomeini was a great, if widely misunderstood, scholar and poet who deserved tribute and
“You cannot discuss in a very simple tone and denounce someone for one aspect of his personality. We want to understand the whole person of Ayatollah Khomeini, not just one slogan of, for example, ‘Great Satan,’ or one of his political speeches, no.” Haider said. “In fact, politics was only a portion of his personality. He was an ascetic poet , and he was a jurisprudent, and also he was a great inspiration for those who want to find healing for their spiritual sicknesses and use religion for their reformation.
“As they say in Persian, every flower! has a front side and a back side,” Haider told CBS-11. “There are lots of aspects of his personality that have been totally ignored.”
Others sought for comment about the conference said they strongly believed otherwise and found the conference offensive and frightening in a post-9-11 period marked by disclosures that openly militant groups for years raised funds and curried support for overseas terrorism from U.S. soil – largely unmolested by law enforcement and ignored by American media outlets.
Former FBI deputy director Buck Revell, who lives in Rowlett, said Khomeini, was a figure “clearly identified with the most violent form of Islam” and “openly propagandized the absolute responsibility of Islamic people to carry on global conflict.
Islam” and “openly propagandized the absolute responsibility of Islamic people to carry on global conflict.
“Under his regime, they engaged in terrorism, including acts in the United States and elsewhere outside the Middle East,” Revell said. “The bottom line is what they are promoting is jihad against the West, our values, our traditions, our culture, our law…and replacing it with an Islamic republic, Islamic globalization. That’s what Khomeini wanted. He said every Muslim has an obligation to fight to impose Islam on the world.”
Revell, who in his former FBI role oversaw terrorist bombing investigations during the 1980s, said Iran’s various terrorism campaigns against the U.S., its interests and allies have occurred because “we’ve ignored it. We’ve had our head in the sand.
“Even today, the vast majority of the news media refuse to listen to what these people are saying, to look at what they are doing and to look at what they support and advocate,” he said. “I mean, it’s out there, but our media won’t look at it.”
Khomeini took power in a popular 1979 coup against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and installed a strict Islamic theocracy based on an evolving interpretation of the Koran by politically powerful religious mullahs.
The Islamist regime he brought to power has been accused of sponsoring the first large-scale suicide bombing attacks against Americans in Lebanon during the early 1980s, acts that killed and wounded hundreds of Marines, and for the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. That attack, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and wounded hundreds of others, came as a result of a “fatwa,” or order, from Khomeini before he died in 1989.
Last week’s conference in Irving also came at a time of heightened tensions between the American administration and Iran’s mullahs over that country’s secret nuclear weapons development program, as well as alleged open support for insurgents who are attacking American troops in Iraq.
The Pentagon this week called Iran the principal destabilizing force in Iraq. Iran remains on the U.S. state department’s list of terrorist states, and diplomatic relations have been suspended since Khomeini took power.
MOMIN leaders said the pro-Khomeini conference was not the first.
“No one needs to be scared or afraid of anything,” he said. “A person needs to basically always support justice and understand what the reality is, not go by one slogan or one political action of a person, but rather try to see what it is that is so special about him.”
Asked if he understood that many Americans resented Khomeini for the 1979 hostage crisis at the American embassy and support for attacks that have killed Americans, Haider said Khomeini was not responsible.
“Ayatollah Khomeini became the voice of the oppressed people, and he did not sanction…the takeover of the embassy,” Haider said. “The people did it. Emotions were very high, and he could not tell the people to come back because people saw the connection of the U.S. embassy with the Shah.”
The conference was advertised, in part, with brochures entitled “A Tribute to Great Islamic Visionary” celebrating the 16th anniversary of Khomeini’s death. Under a heading “Selected sayings of Holy Prophet” is a line that reads: “Alah has made Islam to prevail over all other religions.”
Among the guest speakers at last week’s conference was a Washington D.C. Imam, Mohammad Asi, who is known for his radical views and firebrand anti-American speeches. Asi’s own web site calls his speeches “revolutionary and thought-provoking,” so much so that he was expelled from the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. and now preaches on the sidewalk outside.
“Hear this man… because once you have, you will be changed forever,” Asi’s web site says.
CBS-11 has learned that Asi issued a strongly worded anti-American, anti Jewish speech during the Irving conference in which he said American imperialism and pro-Israel Zionism are “diabolical, aggressive, bloodthirsty ideologies that are trying to take over the world and destroy Islam.”
But Asi was not the only one who spoke in that vein. A 10-year-old boy opened the conference praising Khomeini for reviving “pure” Islamic thinking and saving the religion from being conquered by the West. The boy called President Bush “the greatest enemy of the Muslim Ummah,” CBS-11 has learned.
Asked why Asi was invited to impart a message many consider extreme, Imam Haider, originally from Pakistan, said, “We don’t know all of his political views…This country allows freedom of speech. Many of us didn’t have that freedom back home.”
Other speakers included Yusuf Kavakci of the Richardson Mosque, a prominent North Texas Imam widely viewed as an Islamic moderate. Kavakci did not return numerous telephone and email messages Thursday and Friday. CBS-11 has been told that Kavakci urged Muslim unity between various Islamic factions.
At least two other featured speakers sought to distance themselves from the event.
Another North Texas Muslim leader who spoke at the conference was Iyas Maleh, chairman of the Dallas/Fort Worth branch of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. The North Texas branch of CAIR is listed on an event program as a scheduled speaker, although no individual is named. Maleh spoke, discussing a church movement calling for financial divestiture from companies that do business with Israel.
But on Friday, Maleh said that he did not attend the event as a CAIR representative but rather as a pro-Palestinian activist. He said no one from CAIR showed up to fill the advertised speaking slot; the pamphlet’s listing, he said, was the result of a miscommunication.
Maleh said he did not learn the event was a tribute to Khomeini featuring Asi until after he arrived.
“When I was introduced to speak it was as a Muslim activist who would speak about Palestine. I made sure when I spoke that I’m not speaking on behalf of CAIR,” he said. “I don’t know anything about Khomeini. there’s nothing I can contribute on his life.”
Maleh also said he did not see any problem participating after learning of the event’s true nature because such events could benefit from a moderate voice such as his.
“If I don’t do that, we are just isolating people and it’s not the right thing to do,” he said about boycotting conferences featuring militant speakers and messages. “That’s how you come to agreement with Christians and Jews.”
Also featured as a speaker was Mohammed Elibiary, president of the Dallas-based Freedom and Justice Foundation. The foundation has been credited with voter registration drives and other advocacy activities benefitting Muslims.
But Elibiary said that he too did not know the event was a tribute to Ayatollah Khomeini until after he arrived. He said he arrived at the event before hearing the first speakers, which would include the 10-year-old boy who denounced President Bush, and also before Asi spoke. “I didn’t attend the whole thing,” he said.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to associate me with anything anti-American,” he said. “The theme was Muslim unity, not Khomeini. I didn’t know it was a Khomeini event.”
Elibiary said that he did not know that Asi was a fellow speaker and called him “an extremist.”
During his interview with CBS-11, Imam Haider recited a poem written by Khomeini as an example of how the deceased leader’s attributes have been widely overlooked.
“He was a very good poet. He said that ‘I have been to the mosque, and have been to the church, and the synogogue, and the temple, and wherever I went I found you, oh Lord…You were the light of my heart…'”
Asked why Khomeini did not show this softer, poetic side during the hostage crisis, Haider responded that Iranians in those days associated the U.S. with the Shah’s repressive regime.