by Andrew Walden
Muslims planning a mosque and other Islamic facilities for North Kona have threatened to sue HawaiiReporter.com. At issue: At issue: A September 3, 2007 article by this writer reporting allegations of “fraud” in mosque-related fundraising efforts by the Masjid al-Baqi Project of Hawaii, Inc. In an April 30, 2008 letter to HawaiiReporter, project head, Kailua-Kona resident Kamal S Majid, calls the article “defamatory.” Majid’s fundraising letter identified a specific house in the Kona Highlands subdivision and claimed that “there is a very good opportunity to purchase this property.” But the seller and listing agent pointed out that in fact the property was already in escrow to another person.
The demands made by Majid and his attorneys with the assistance of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are little more than an attempt at censorship. But shortly after receiving a second demand letter, this one dated June 3, 2008 and signed by attorneys William S. Hunt and Lerisa L. Heroldt of Honolulu law firm Alston, Hunt, Floyd & Ing, HawaiiReporter.com removed the article from its website.
In spite of telephone and email requests from this reporter, Majid has not made himself available to discuss the mosque fundraising efforts. Even the demand letters were not sent to this reporter. In addition to sending them to HawaiiReporter.com, copies of an April 30, 2008 demand letter were also forwarded to Rep Kym Pine (R-Ewa) and to two Republican political appointees. The appointees, having a very good understanding of press freedom, forwarded their copies to Hawai`i Free Press. Rep. Pine took a different approach. She contacted this reporter by telephone in an unsuccessful effort to get the article retracted.
Investigating Majid’s claims contained in the two letters we were able to identify and correct only one error. The original article pointed out: “An Aug. 11 (2007) article in DesiConnect, an Indian-oriented Internet magazine, claims Majid worked in the New York-New Jersey area from 1996 to 2001 for ‘Optima Resources.’” After a good faith investigation, the September, 2007 article incorrectly identified this as referring to “Optima Resources” of northern New Jersey— a firm widely criticized on the Internet as disreputable and reported to focus its efforts on recruitment of H1-B visa applicants from India.
With the information from Majid’s demand letters we were able to conduct an extensive search of New York State corporation records, and obtain documentation supporting the existence of a very obscure company with no website named “Optima Resources” on Long Island in Minneola, New York. This company has nothing to do with H1-B visas. We regret the error.
Having re-researched the article, www.HawaiiFreePress.com is now posting on-line the deleted September 3, 2007 article--minus any reference to Optima Resources. We stand by the article as edited.
Majid and his attorneys claim he is a victim of “false light invasion of privacy.” This argument holds an attraction for Majid. He writes, “With the tort of false light, I would not even have to prove that the statements in Walden’s article were false….”
Interestingly, in the letter from Majid’s attorneys, they state that Kona Realtor Rebecca Morton is prepared to testify on behalf of Majid. According to the attorneys: “Morton will testify”… that “she and Mr. Majid looked at the property once, but they were aware that it was in escrow….”
This is quite an admission since it seems to contradict Majid’s fundraising letter which asserted: “There is a very good opportunity to purchase this property.”
The original article quoted from the website of the Hawaii Islamic Information Office:
“According to the Web site, there are big plans for Kona’s Islamic future. As part of the ‘Masjid Al-Baqi Project,’ Majid is soliciting donations to ‘…purchase property for a Masjid as well as land for a cemetery.
“‘Our plans include a Masjid, Islamic School, Cultural Center, Library, Community Outreach, Soup Kitchen and more. May Allah (swt) reward you for your efforts.’”
Clearly any development of that scope would require review and approval by several state and county government bodies--likely including public hearings. West Hawai`i is famous for decades-long battles over proposed developments. If Majid’s claim were upheld, the right to speak out for or against proposed developments would be sharply curtailed.
In spite of this, Majid claims that the use of the phrase “big plans for Kona’s Islamic future” is “sarcastic and condescending” and therefore “defamatory.” Apparently free speech should be circumscribed by Majid’s sensitivities. If he were to prevail, West Hawai`i property developers could convert to Islam and gain an advantage over protesters by asserting what Majid describes as “the religious rights of Muslims in America.”
The original article includes the following: “Residents of the Kona Highlands area have a long history of chasing away developments. In 2003 and 2004, community leaders blocked a private high school from building a campus on a 30-acre parcel near Kona Highlands. While traffic, noise, zoning and ‘concurrency’ were issues, some claimed the school was connected to the ‘Moonie’ Unification Church.”
In response Majid’s attorneys argue: “Masjid Al-Baqi of Hawaii, Inc’s goal is not to create a cult-like compound, as the Article’s reference to Reverend Moon’s Unification Church suggests.”
Majid’s attorneys then proceed to complain about the use of the word “madrassah” to describe the “Islamic School” proposed in Majid’s solicitation. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines madrassah as “a muslim school, college, or university that is often part of a mosque.” The Nation Master online encyclopedia explains: “In Arabic, the word madrassah implies no sense other than that which the word school represents in the English language, such as private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim or secular.”
In spite of this, Majid’s attorneys complain that “the word Madrassah is regularly used by the media to describe schools that teach fanatical ideals about Islam.” They point to an October 13, 2001 report in which CNN’s Chritine Amanpour noted that, “anti-Semitic attitudes can be found at some of the thousands (sic) madrassas in Pakistan and throughout the Islamic world. Many of them have become breeding grounds for a political extremism that is framed in religious terms.”
The two views of “madrassah” are not mutually exclusive. Yet Majid’s attorneys imply that mention of a previous development battle involving the Unification Church somehow demeans Masjid al-Baqi.
Demands for the court-enforced elimination of such phrases shows lack of respect for the freedom of the press and freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Masjid al-Baqi must submit to US law and Hawai`i State law. Mosque builders must submit to the same type of treatment given other developers in Hawai`i. Muslims have no special “religious rights” in America.