The Blog

A Mosque Grows in Boston

. . . but not without multiple lawsuits. The strange story of the Islamic Society of Boston's new mosque.

11:00 PM, Dec 13, 2005 • By DEAN BARNETT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Virtually the entire case for showing negligence on the media outlets' part and malice on the private citizens' part rests on showing that the defendants should have known that, according to the ISB's complaint, "Emerson's research and findings have been routinely, publicly and severely criticized as both uninformed and biased against Muslims."

THE FACT that the ISB's suit depends on proving that Steve Emerson is widely known to be "discredited" is a fair measure of its frivolous nature. The complaint offers only two supporting sources for this key point. One is a negative review of an Emerson book from the May 19, 1991 edition of the New York Times. (The Times Book Review gave a positive review to Emerson's American Jihad in 2002.)

The other article the ISB complaint cites comes from a Weekly Planet piece from May of 1998, which says, "Emerson has no credibility left. He can't get on TV and most publications won't pick him up."

In the past year, Emerson has appeared on MSNBC 65 times, Fox News 78 times, and NBC 16 times including multiple appearances on The Today Show and The Nightly News.

BUT HANGING THEIR CASE on Emerson's credibility is the ISB's story and they're sticking to it. Their attorney, Howard Cooper, maintains that using Emerson for source materials irretrievably damns the defendants.

Cooper also laments that the ISB had been attacked by a cabal distinguished by "its extreme intolerance of Muslims." Which is a strange accusation.

One of the private citizens named in the suit is Dr. Charles Jacobs, the head of a group called the David Project (naturally also a defendant), which is dedicated to a "fair and honest understanding of the Middle East conflict."

But Jacobs is perhaps best known for his ongoing campaign against the human slave trade. Jacobs is the founder and chairman of the board of the American Anti-Slavery Group. Founded in 1993, Jacobs's organization is responsible for helping free over 80,000 slaves and receives support from across the political spectrum from the likes of Jesse Helms, Barney Frank, and Al Sharpton. He has also been a prominent advocate of calling attention to the genocide in Darfur--where many Muslims have recently been murdered.

In short, the ISB's lawsuit is nearly as contemptible as it is ludicrous

THE SECOND SUIT has more potential. Filed by Boston resident James Policastro against the BRA and the City of Boston, it alleges that the city provided an unconstitutional subsidy to the ISB by conveying the land for the mosque at a price below market value. What may make the Policastro suit incendiary is that the discovery process could uncover what went into the BRA's land grant to the ISB.

According to Evan Slavitt, Policastro's attorney, "any government subsidy to a religion is an implicit violation of the establishment clause." Because part of the purchase "price" for the land was a lecture series (along with other difficult-to-quantify considerations), the city may have trouble refuting the notion that the conveyance was unconstitutional.

But the city might face a bigger embarrassment still. Again, according to Slavitt, the details of how the city signed off on the deal with the ISB are unclear. These details will likely see the light of day thanks to the Policastro suit.

For this story, repeated inquiries were made to both the mayor's office and the BRA, asking (1) whether or not the BRA and/or the mayor's office were aware of the connections between the ISB and Abdurahman Alamoudi, Walid Fitaihi, and Yusaf al-Qaradawi; and (2) what due diligence went into qualifying the ISB before the land was conveyed to the organization.

The only response given was the following statement issued by the BRA:

In 1957 the BRA was established to carry out the federal government's Urban Renewal Program. As such, the BRA has certain powers to catalyze development within an urban renewal area. These powers are essential to government in a city constantly changing in light of demographic and economic pressures.

In 1997, the BRA Board approved the disposition of land that had been vacant for decades to the Islamic Society of Boston. This land conveyance, like multiple others before it and since, was motivated by the agency's core mission--to redevelop and revitalize the city in part by creating civic, cultural, and religious buildings around which communities thrive.

FORTUNATELY, not every Boston official has been so circumspect. City Councilor Jerry McDermott represents Boston's Alston and Brighton neighborhoods; the 38-year-old is also chairman of the City Council's Post Audit and Oversight Committee. In that capacity, McDermott has been aggressive in pursuing what seems like a waste of city resources in subsidizing the ISB's land purchase.

While McDermott began working on the issue from a "dollars and cents" perspective, he has become concerned with the allegations regarding the ISB. He has ordered a hearing to investigate the matter, to which he invited the ISB to testify. The ISB informed him that, given its pending litigations, it will not appear.

McDermott finds the BRA's statement dismaying. "It's unbelievable," he says. "Now that these issues have come to light, you'd think they'd be concerned."

As thanks for his efforts, McDermott says that the ISB has been trying to intimidate him by threatening legal action. He also says that he has received menacing phone calls at his home where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

For his part, Steve Emerson sees a larger lesson in the Boston contretemps. Extremists "are adept at getting a toe-hold" in America, he warns. But what's truly worrisome is that this time "it's happening at the behest and with the sanction of the government."

Dean Barnett writes about politics and other matters at