When the Syrian American community learned that the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) extended an invitation to Syria’s highest grand cleric, a staunch supporter and ally to President Bashar Al-Assad, to participate in a discussion on peace in Syria, they were quick to mobilize and express their desires for the invitation to be rescinded.
Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun was set to speak in Washington D.C. Thursday, June 28, at an FMEP event titled “Coexistence and Dialogue in Syria” along with Bishop Luka El Khoury, Syrian Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and Chairman of the Syrian American Forum, Dr. Nasser Ani, - both Assad supporters as well.
However, what enraged the Syrian American community was not based solely on the fact that Hassoun is an Assad loyalist and has since the beginning of the revolution blamed “terrorists” and “outside forces” for the bloodshed, but that he openly threatened the U.S. and propagated terrorism on a YouTube video should America decide to intervene in national affairs and attack Syria.
Hassoun was quoted as saying: “The moment the first missile hits Syria, all the sons and daughters of Lebanon and Syria will set out to become martyrdom-seekers in Europe and on Palestinian soil. I say to all of Europe and to the U.S.: We will prepare martyrdom-seekers who are already among you, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon. From now on, it will be ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and he who dealt the first blow is more unjust,’ and you are the ones who have done us an injustice.”
In a phone interview with the Muslim Link, FMEP President Philip Wilcox said that he was advised by people- whom he refused to name- to invite Mufti Hassoun thinking it would be a step in helping to resolve the conflict in Syria.
“When we learned he gave a sermon in which he threatened to send suicide bombers to the U.S., we were shocked and found it incompatible with the theme of the event…and that it would undermine our organization,” he said, “and so we decided to cancel the program.”
When asked about FMEP’s customary screening process of guests and speakers, Wilcox refused to give details however admitted to the right to be criticized. He also mentioned that no direct communication was conducted between FMEP and Hassoun.
In a press release condemning FMEP’s decision, the Syrian Expatriate Organization wrote that it “believes such inflammatory rhetoric is contrary to the fundamental principles of coexistence and dialogue…and to have Hassoun speak at such an event in the U.S. capital is a slap in the face to the principles of freedom, democracy, and tolerance.”
In another press release, the American Syrian Coalition thanked FMEP for canceling the event.