Bush Apologizes to Muslims for White House Fiasco

WASHINGTON, June 29 (iviews.com) - President Bush issued an apology Friday over an incident in which a Muslim American was ejected from a meeting at the Old Executive Building without an explanation.

About two dozen members of various Muslim organizations came to the building, which is part of the White House complex, to discuss President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative that calls for providing federal funds to religious organizations involved in charity and community work.

But in the middle of their discussion with presidential assistant Mark Scott, Secret Service agents entered the room and asked one of the delegates, Abdullah Al-Arian, an intern for House Democratic Minority Whip David Bonior, to leave the premises.

He complied. But the rest of the group refused to continue the meeting and walked out of the building.

Abdullah Arian, 20, a Duke University student, told the Washington Post a Secret Service agent said he did not have security clearance to be in the meeting.

"He told me my name checked out on some list," Arian said, "that he made a mistake in letting me in and that now he was rectifying that mistake."

The American Muslim Council, one of the groups that organized the meeting, said in a statement that Al-Arian was found suspicious "due to his father's political activities."

Sami Al Arian heads the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, a group that defended among others Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian who was jailed in Florida for three years on suspicion of association with so-called Middle Eastern "terrorism networks". However, the US government failed to substantiate such claims.

Last week, Sami Al Arian was among a group of Muslim leaders who attended a political briefing at the White House. But Muslim leaders said they were insulted at that meeting too, when Vice President Dick Cheney did not appear as scheduled.

Described as "very upset", Bush admitted the Secret Service made a mistake.

"The president is very concerned that an action was taken that was wrong, inappropriate and the president apologizes for it on behalf of the White House," press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

The service also apologized for the incident, saying its agents had acted in error.

"We regret the error and any inconvenience the individual or the group experienced," said Marc Connolly, a spokesman for the Secret Service.

In a written statement, Bonior said he was "troubled" by the incident.

"There have been too many instances where Muslims have been stopped, harassed or discriminated against for no apparent reason," Bonior said. "This administration says it wants to reach out and be inclusive; this is the wrong way to begin."

Meanwhile, in a letter sent to President Bush, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for a personal meeting with Muslim leaders to help "dispel the impression that Muslims are being excluded from policy-making circles." The letter from CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad also asked Bush to consider "establishing a position in the Office of Public Liaison that will work exclusively with the American Muslim community."

The incident puts additional pressure on an already strained relationship between Bush and many Muslim Americans who say their overwhelming support for him during the 2000 elections was a mistake.

Since then, Muslims have become increasingly critical of the Administration for its mishandling of the Palestinian-Israeli situation and for its support for the Macedonian government against Muslim Albanians.

Aslam Abdullah, editor of two prominent Muslim American newspapers, lashed out at Bush in a written statement issued Thursday.

"I offer my unconditional apology for asking the community to support Bush. From now on until the next election, I will keep repeating the message that the decision to support Bush was wrong," said Abdullah.


AFP contributed to this report.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, United States Of America, White House
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