Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US Muslim head questions Bush over new terror label

AP , ROSEMONT, ILLINOIS

The newly elected head of the largest Muslim group in North America called US President George W. Bush's recasting of the war on terror as a "war against Islamic fascism" inaccurate and not helpful to people of her faith.

Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, said on Friday that labeling terrorism as "Islamic" only adds to a misunderstanding of the religion.

Mattson acknowledged that terrorist groups "do misuse and use Islamic concepts and terms to justify their violence."

"But I think that when we then bestow that term upon them we only make the situation worse and somehow give validity to their claims which we need to deny and reject," Mattson said at the opening of the group's 43rd annual convention.

Bush and other Republicans have been using the wording in recent speeches. White House aides and outside Republican strategists have said the new term is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups.

"I'm convinced that it is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful," she said. "If our major concern is security, security of this country, this is a term that has very bad resonance in the Muslim majority world and makes us feel uncomfortable here."

Mattson said her group would argue to eliminate the use of the phrase. US officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, were attending the four-day meeting.

"We're hoping that there can be some adjustment to this language and we're trying to voice that opinion to those who have been using this, circulating this term," she said.

England did not address the issue during a Friday afternoon panel, but said US Muslims will play an important role as the Pentagon improves its training of the military on Islamic culture.

"They understand their culture, obviously, much better than we do," England said. "We have not done a very good job in the past and we need to do better."

He also called on Muslim Americans to spread to the world the word about freedom, citing the success of Muslim businesspeople and professionals in the US.

The Islamic Society drew its own fire for inviting former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who was expected to address the convention yesterday.

"Khatami ... behaved as an enemy of America and our most cherished values," said Jay Tcath, vice president of the Chicago Jewish Federation, in a statement.

"It is disturbing that any American organization would honor him by providing such an important platform," he said.

Tcath said American Jews remember "the egregious 1999 imprisonment and circus trial of 13 Iranian Jews on trumped-up charges of espionage for Israel," which happened under Khatami's presidency.

Mattson said the group hopes to show Khatami "how the American Muslim community has dealt with issues of religious freedom and tolerance and perhaps he can carry some of that message back.''

Khatami, whose receipt of a visa was announced this week by the State Department, also plans to attend a UN conference in New York and to speak on religion's role in promoting peace at the Washington National Cathedral during his trip to the US.

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