We haven't heard much about the Islamic Society of Boston's (ISB) lawsuits in a while. To refesh your memory, Ralph Nader's group Public Citizen filed a Friend of the Court brief in October 2006 calling upon the Massachusetts courts to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the ISB against various non-profit organizations and private citizens. In September 2006, Judge Janet Sanders ruled that "a lawsuit brought by the Islamic Society of Boston asserting that news media outlets and other individuals had conspired to publish false and defamatory information about mosque leaders could go forward." The defendants had argued for the court to dismiss the case, but the judge decided that the plaintiff's case should be heard in court (link to motion at end of blog).
The latest scoop is that The David Project, a non-profit educational initiative and one of the many defendants*, is calling for the ISB and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to reveal who paid for the expenses for BRA Deputy Director Muhammad Ali-Salaam's fundraising trips to the Middle East. Excerpts:
"Mr. Ali-Salaam, a public employee, was asked by the Islamic Society to travel to the Middle East to help it raise funds for the Islamic Society's mosque project. Deputy Director Ali-Salaam, the official responsible for overseeing the BRA's sale of publicly-owned property to the Islamic Society for construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center, has also been identified by the Islamic Society as one of its principal fundraisers in the Middle East for the mosque project, even as he was managing the sale of the public asset to the Islamic Society at a price dramatically below fair market value."
"Public records show that in December 1999 the Islamic Society of Boston paid Mr. Ali-Salaam's airfare for a 10-day trip to the United Arab Emirates to help it raise money to purchase the public property from the BRA and to develop the mosque on the property. However, the BRA and the Islamic Society have refused to disclose who paid for the other costs of the trip, including hotels, restaurants, entertainment and other expenses. The BRA and Islamic Society have also refused to identify who hosted the BRA official during this trip and the Middle Eastern donors with whom he met for the purpose of soliciting funds on behalf of the Islamic Society."
"A 10-day stay in the United Arab Emirates is not inexpensive," said Jacobs of the David Project. "The costs of hotels, restaurants and other expenses were likely in the thousands of dollars. The public is entitled to know who paid for the BRA Deputy Director to travel to the Middle East to raise money for the Islamic Society. The public is also entitled to know who the Middle Eastern donors are from whom the BRA Deputy Director solicited money on behalf of the Islamic Society while on the public payroll."
Ummm, so did the BRA (i.e., Massachusetts taxpayers) pay the thousands of dollars for Mr. Ali-Salaam to travel to the UAE to raise $$$ for the ISB?
"Mr. Ali-Salaam was successful in his attempts to raise funds for the Islamic Society, according to the newsletters published by the Society in early 2000. According to these newsletters, $3 million was raised for the mosque project. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ali-Salaam stated in writing that the estimated fair market value of the public land sought by the Islamic Society was $2,010,966, but the BRA agreed to treat the estimate as only $401,000. The BRA then proceeded to deed the property to the Islamic Society for only $175,000 in actual funds -- representing a 91 percent discount off the fair market value of the property. The BRA provided the discount to the Islamic Society even though the Society owned millions of dollars worth of properties encumbrance-free in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and even though the Society represented to the BRA that it could raise $24 million, principally in overseas funds, to construct the mosque on the land."
That was some deal.
The Memorandum of Decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the Motion to Dismiss Under the Anti-SLAPP Statute can be found here. Some interesting details in that. Part of the ISB land sale for the reduced cost of $175K was that the ISB would provide "public benefits" in lieu of money. Nice! These public benefits include "the collaboration with the College to provide a library and lecture series." The lectures would focus on "the historical development of Islam on the African continent, since this was of particular interest to the College's student population and the surrounding community." I don't know where to begin with that one..... Would the city think of selling property to an Evangelicals group at 90% off market value in exchange for a lecture series on the historical development of Christianity on the European continent? Nope. Should the taxpayers be funding dawah or Islamic missionary work? Nope. Do you suppose the lectures on Islam and the African continent would cover the enormous expansion of the African slave trade by Arab traders? Unlikely.
Boston Globe reporter Charles Radin covers the story here.
* The seventeen defendants include the Boston Herald;, WFXT-TV (Channel 25); terrorism specialist Steven Emerson; Ahmed Mansour, Steven Cohen and Dennis Hale of the Citizens for Peace and Tolerance; William R. Sapers of the Roxbury Community College. There are eight "media" defendants and nine "non-media" defendants.