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[This Just In]

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Grover Norquist and Abdurahman Alamoudi

BY SETH GITELL

During his presidential campaign and his first months in office, George W. Bush had no stronger supporter than Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. During the New Hampshire primary, Norquist’s group ran television ads that morphed the face of Arizona senator John McCain into that of President Bill Clinton (see " New Hampshire Diary, " News and Features, January 12, 2000). When Bush finally took office, Norquist became a key ally in the president’s tax-cut quest. In its May 14 issue, the Nation highlighted the relationship in a piece titled " Grover Norquist: ‘Field Marshal of the Bush Plan.’ "

But now, as Bush embarks on a war against terrorism, the president may find Norquist more of a liability than an asset: the tax reformer has emerged as one of the leading conservative critics of the administration’s legislative response to terror, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. Certainly, Norquist is no defender of terror or terrorists. Still, he has, in a political and a business capacity, befriended those who have failed to renounce terror. And if you don’t toe the party line on terror these days, you’re not in the party.

The Protestant Norquist is a founding director of the Islamic Institute, a socially conservative Muslim think tank that eschews international issues in favor of domestic issues such as tax cuts and faith-based initiatives. In addition, Norquist’s lobbying firm, Janus-Merritt Strategies LLC, was officially registered as a lobbyist for the Islamic Institute as well as for Abdurahman Alamoudi, the founder and former executive director of the American Muslim Council. Public records show that Alamoudi has done more than $20,000 worth of business with Norquist’s firm, on issues relating to Malaysia. One source says the lobbying involved efforts on behalf of reformist Islamic leader Anwar Ibrahim, imprisoned in Malaysia, whose cause has been taken up by Amnesty International, among others.

To be sure, the bulk of Norquist’s work on behalf of American Muslims merely falls in line with the American tradition of targeting ethnic voters — a tradition that goes back to the days of urban machine politics and before. To that end, Norquist and Khaled Saffuri, the executive director of the Islamic Institute and former director of government relations at the American Muslim Council, brokered meetings between Muslim and Republican leaders during the 2000 presidential campaign. These meetings led Bush to come out against secret evidence (evidence in certain immigration and national-security cases that the accused can’t see) and ethnic profiling by police — tools that some law-enforcement experts now want in the fight against terror.

It’s Norquist’s alliance with Alamoudi, however, that’s raising eyebrows now. In recent days, some in the press, most notably Salon’s Jake Tapper (on September 26), have raised questions about certain Muslim American advocacy organizations (including the American Muslim Council), charging that they have been " tacitly ... supportive of extremist groups guilty of terrorism. " Take Alamoudi, who attended an anti-Israel protest outside the White House on October 28, 2000. Alamoudi revved up the crowd, saying: " I have been labeled by the media in New York as being a supporter of Hamas. Anybody supporters of Hamas here? " The crowd cheered. " Hear that, Bill Clinton? We are all supporters of Hamas ... I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah. " (Both groups are on the State Department’s official list of terrorist organizations.)

In his September 20 address to a joint session of Congress, Bush laid down the law on terrorism: " Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. " Norquist’s own response to a question at an October 2, 1999, meeting of another Muslim group, the American Muslim Alliance, doesn’t look as good when examined in this new context. One questioner asked Norquist about then-candidate Bush’s " agenda to portray Muslims as peace-loving nice people instead of being terrorists. " Norquist condemned unfair labeling and told the group that Bush felt the same way: " Bush is very cognizant of the problems we’ve had in the past, where too many American politicians have taken dirty shots at Muslims and at Muslim countries. " But he was strangely silent on the question of real terrorism against the United States, some of which emanates from Islamic fringe groups. (This speech was delivered a little more than a year after the African embassy bombings, in which Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect.) Norquist even mentioned Afghanistan, but not in connection with that nation’s harboring of terrorist groups. " A lot of Republicans and conservatives watched the fight against the Soviet Union, and I think that changed some hearts, " he said. Neither Norquist nor Alamoudi would respond to repeated requests for comment.

As President Bush carries forward the war on terror, it will be interesting to see whether Norquist can persuade Alamoudi and others to condemn all terrorist groups — including Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

Issue Date: October 4 - 11, 2001