EVERETT — Author Raymond Ibrahim says he wants to help Americans understand the true nature of Islam.
A local Muslim civil rights organization calls him a bigot and questions why a public college provided him a forum to spread what they describe as speech that “incites fear, hatred and violence.”
Ibrahim, who writes extensively on historical conflicts between Islam and the West, was the invited speaker at an Everett Community College forum Thursday afternoon, part of a yearlong “Islam in America” series.
“What I care about is truth,” Ibrahim said just before his talk Thursday. “I know the truth is sometimes ugly and can temporarily have negative consequences, but getting the truth out is good.”
Ibrahim’s talk focused on how the Western “liberal, secular, humanist” mindset makes it difficult for Americans to understand Muslims.
Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank based in Philadelphia. He told the Everett crowd that Islam is not simply a religion but a “legalistic way of life” grounded in the divine. He talked about how religious texts instruct Muslims to be distrustful of non-Muslims and to bring Islam to nonbelievers, even if it requires force.
“I can see why people don’t like listening to this, and it’s incendiary,” he said. “I’m just the messenger.”
The timing of his talk, just days after a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, coupled with Ibrahim’s reputation in some American Muslim circles, generated far more attention than college administrators expected.
“This somewhat blindsided me,” said Craig Lewis, an Everett Community College dean. “I believed it would be controversial, but I didn’t expect the attention we’ve gotten.”
The “Islam in America” series, Lewis, said, has included an Arabic class, presentations in Islamic art and calligraphy, and a discussion of what it’s like to be a Muslim in the United States.
Lewis said the college considered canceling the event but ultimately decided it’s important for students to be exposed to all kinds of viewpoints.
“People tend to only listen to the things they agree with, and that doesn’t develop critical thinking or reflective thought,” Lewis said.
The college received about 75 calls and 45 emails Thursday morning, evenly split regarding Ibrahim, said John Olson, vice president for college advancement.
The lecture packed the room with students, people from the community and the media. It also got the attention of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and some local religious leaders, who sent a letter to the college asking that the event be canceled.
“Our concerns are that he has a consistent pattern of putting out conspiracy theories that Muslims are taught to lie and can’t be trusted and are militarily aligned,” said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the civil rights organization.
Bukhari, who is based in Seattle, said a staff member at the college suggested the school bring Ibrahim in as a speaker. Now his organization plans to file a public records request, looking for evidence that somebody at the college may have had a personal agenda in bringing Ibrahim to speak.
Ibrahim was paid $1,500 from student activity fees to speak in Everett.
Ibrahim is a Coptic Christian, born in America to Egyptian parents. He was raised in a bilingual environment and is fluent in Arabic. He worked previously at the Library of Congress, and it was there, he said, that he came across al-Qaida treatises written in Arabic. He translated them into the book, “Al Qaeda Reader.”
He said the texts prove that radical Islam’s war with the West is not finite and limited to political grievances, but is deeply rooted in faith.
Reporter Bill Sheets contributed to this reporter. Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.