Mogahed's Excuses Don't Add Up
by Cinnamon Stillwell
October 30, 2009
As reported last week by Campus Watch, Dalia Mogahed, appointee to President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, executive director and senior analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and co-author, along with Georgetown University's John Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, appeared (by phone) earlier this month on the UK-based Islam Channel television program "Muslimah Dilemma" (view here and read the complete transcript here.) Ibtihal Bsis, the show's host, is a member of the Islamist group Hizb ut Tahrir; Mogahed's fellow guest, Nazreen Nawaz, is the group's national women's media representative. Given these affiliations, it's no surprise that the discussion included such extremist fare as the promotion of sharia law for—of all things—protecting women's rights, condemnation for secular pluralistic democracy, and the revival of a mythical caliphate as the answer to the Muslim world's woes.
Mogahed has been roundly criticized for appearing on the show and, in a transparent attempt at damage control, she told U.S. News & World Report last week she has experienced second thoughts about her decision. Stretching credulity, she claimed she "had no idea that the show's host or the other guest was affiliated with Hizb ut Tahrir," that she only "found out the affiliation on air, when the other guest was being introduced in the beginning," and that her staff "checked the show with a PR firm in Britain who told us there were no problems with it." Even if it's true that Mogahed herself was ignorant of the nature of the show, it's hard to imagine that her sophisticated vetting system missed what a simple Google search would have turned up in seconds. Moreover, if she was truly surprised to find herself among radicals, wouldn't she be more likely to speak up against them?
One has to wonder if this was a case of incompetence or fabrication.
When asked why she didn't just hang up the phone, Mogahed, demonstrating further ignorance about the availability of data in the age of the Internet (apparently, she's never heard of YouTube,) said:
"I assumed that very few people would watch this show but that doing something more dramatic would bring more attention."
But it was Mogahed's tepid response to and, at times, backhanded support for the objectionable opinions expressed on the show that brought attention.
To explain her reticence to speak out against such radicalism, Mogahed had another handy justification:
"As an analyst, I don't engage in ideological debates. I am always on programs to explain the views and opinions of others—in this case, Muslims around the world—not to discuss my own views. Being on a program with people who are representing ideological movements puts an analyst in a very awkward position, where they are unable to respond to objectionable comments because of the limits of our role as analysts."
This is unconvincing. What are analysts for other than to analyze what is said in discussions of which they are part? Was she invited on the show in order to "not discuss [her] own views"? In fact, she had plenty of opportunities to rebut the extremist statements of those with whom she appeared, or at least to state for the record that she—particularly as Obama's Muslim affairs advisor—disagreed. Yet she chose to remain silent. In doing so, she missed a monumental opportunity to publicly condemn Islamist ideology. Perhaps that was the point.
As for Mogahed's own endorsements of sharia law—delivered, she claimed, as the will of billions of surveyed Muslim women, not her own—she had only this to say:
"I don't feel that I have regrets about what I said. I did a fair job of reporting the data. My one regret is appearing on the show to begin with."
It's a little late for that.