DON’T COUNT ON THE LIBERALS. With some honorable exceptions, the mainstream liberal community in Boston was just as feckless as the mainstream press (there is a substantial overlapping of these two categories). This despite the fact that our opponents were about as far from “liberal” as it is possible to get, with their fixation on the crimes of the Jews, the liberation of women, the menace of modernity, and the necessity of religious law to the happiness of mankind. The American Civil Liberties Union was completely uninterested in the threat to free speech represented by libel and defamation suits against critics of Islamic groups; nor were they concerned about the mixing of mosque and state represented by the city’s subsidy to the ISB, or by the planned partnership between the ISB and Roxbury Community College, a state institution right across the street from the new mosque. The liberal bloc on the Boston City Council, which is now close to having a majority, was solidly on the side of the ISB, and no amount of evidence could shake their conviction that this was a case of a “vulnerable minority” being unfairly picked on by honkies.
DON’T COUNT ON THE JEWS. The Anti-Defamation League played a small role in exposing the anti-Semitic writings of Fitahi – but played no further role. The Jewish Community Relations Council issued supportive press releases. Other than these instances, the David Project was left to bear the whole burden of Jewish concern for Muslim radicalism and anti-Semitic incitement. The larger Jewish community, particularly in the liberal suburbs of Newton and Brookline, was sharply divided, many viewing the David Project as a group of dangerous anti-Muslim radicals. Political correctness is a powerful sentiment, able to trump both common sense and the instinct for self-preservation. For example, a liberal interfaith clergy group headquartered at Hebrew College in Newton kept offering its services as a “mediator,” as if this were a dispute between neighbors over a property line, despite heroic efforts on the part of our attorney, Jeff Robbins, to explain the facts of life.
DON’T COUNT ON THE CHRISTIANS. Liberal Christians were even less supportive of the defendants than liberal Jews; in fact, to the extent that the mainline Christians showed any awareness of this conflict at all, they tended to side with the ISB. When the ISB held a ceremony to mark the completion of the mosque portion of the Roxbury center (after the lawsuit had been dropped), the Catholic Archdiocese sent a representative, joined by some of the same liberal city councilors who had been so suspicious of the ISB’s critics in the past.
Don’t count on the moderate Muslims. Even though one of the defendants in this case was the highly regarded Egyptian scholar Ahmed Monsour, whose courageous efforts to reform the curriculum at al-Azhar University in Cairo landed him in prison, we got almost no support from local Muslims, even though anecdotal evidence suggests that many Boston-area Muslims are angry at the radicalization of local mosques at the hands of Saudi agents. There are simply too many pressures facing American Muslims, especially if they are immigrants. Some fear what might happen to relatives back home if they become associated with critics of Muslim leaders in America. Others are naturally reluctant to take sides against fellow Muslims, or are uncertain about how to carry out a public campaign against radicalism. The moderate Muslims are out there, but their willingness to engage in a political battle is not yet strong. Still, it is worth trying to cultivate them.
DON’T ASSUME THAT YOU AND YOUR LAWYERS ARE ON THE SAME PAGE. Lawyers work hard to win cases; that’s what good lawyers do. Experience and common sense tells them that it is best if defendants stay out of the news until they are out of the courtroom. At some point, however, this common sense perspective will bring politically active defendants into conflict with cautious attorneys. This is a problem that can be managed, but potential defendants need to be aware of it. Too much caution can effectively silence the defendants – which is precisely the goal sought by the plaintiffs. But too much unmediated public chatter can risk upending the defense team’s strategy. Get ready for some long meetings.
All of this may sound discouraging, but you will also, believe it or not, have some fun along the way – there is nothing like a good fight in a good cause. And you’ll make some new friends along with your new enemies. Just get ready for a bumpy ride.
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