Nina Shea: Open Letter to the Washington Post

Hudson Institute 11 June 2012
By Nina Shea

Recieved from Nina Shea for publication:

To the Editor of the Washington Post:

I am requesting that the Washington Post issue a correction of a serious factual error involving a misquotation of court documents. Michelle Boorstein’s post on the Washington Post blog site, on June 8, 2012, falsely attributes to me a quotation that is the plaintiff’s, as is clear in the court documents from the lawsuit of Safiya Ghori-Ahmad against the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Ms. Boorstein writes:

The suit quotes Shea as writing that "hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”

The first 13 words of this quote – as is clear in the legal complaint – are not mine even though Ms. Boorstein puts them in quotations marks and attributes them to me. What is especially problematic are the words "hiring a Muslim,” which imply that I am a religious bigot. I did not write those words and did not oppose giving Ms. Ghori-Ahmad a permanent contract as an USCIRF analyst because she is a Muslim.

I voiced opposition to Ms. Ghori-Ahmad because of the bias evident in some of her writings, for example, her analysis of the 2008 Mumbai bombings that included blaming the attacks of the terrorist group Lashkar i Taiba on America for failing to resolve the Kashmir crisis. As I wrote at the time, "her writings reflect MPAC activism and bias, not scholarship, which would not serve us well on the research staff.” MPAC is the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group where Ms. Ghori-Ahmad had been employed as a Washington lobbyist.

In both my positions as a USCIRF Commissioner and as a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, I have a long record of working with and on behalf of Muslims in the area of religious freedom. Some examples follow:

  • The late Abdurrahman Wahid authored the Foreword to the recent book I authored with Paul Marshall, Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide (Oxford University Press, 2011). Wahid was President of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, and headed Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic organization. Renowned Muslim scholars Prof. Abdullah Saeed and the late Prof. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd also contributed essays to our book, making a case for religious freedom within Islam. In addition, Silenced champions hundreds of Muslim cases.
  • On July 2, 2011, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA honoured me with its inaugural 'Ahmadiyya Muslim Humanitarian Award'.
  • For the past six years, Rebiya Kadeer, spokeswoman for the Uighur community of China, and Zainab al Suwaij, director of the American Islamic Congress, have served on the advisory board of the Center for Religious Freedom, of which I am the founding director.
  • Over the past six years, I have authored several studies on Saudi Arabia’s textbooks in conjunction with the Gulf Institute and its director Ali Al-Ahmed, who is a well known Muslim journalist.
  • I successfully pressed USCIRF to take up Muslim cases and provide platforms to Muslim speakers; for example, I proposed and arranged for a keynote presentation by Iranian author Azar Nafisi at the Folger Shakespeare Library for USCIRF in September 2004.
  • I supported the granting of USCIRF fellowships to Ali Al-Ahmed in 2010 and Sheikh Suby Mansour in 2009, and, over the years, I referred several Muslim candidates for Uscirf positions.
  • I supported and worked well with another Muslim on staff, and, with former Commissioner Imam Talal Eid, I co-authored an article for the Huffington Post, January 26, 2010.
  • In my capacity as director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, I have organized and sponsored briefings that provided a platform in Washington for many Muslim speakers, and I played a key role in bringing to Hudson Institute as a Visiting Fellow former Danish MP and Muslim leader Naser Khader.
  • Under my direction, the Center for Religious Freedom produced the book Radical Islam’s Rules, half of whose chapter authors are Muslim scholars and writers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).
  • Over many years I have repeatedly testified in Congress on behalf of Uighur Muslims in China, Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, and heterodox Muslims in several countries, and I initiated USCIRF action on these and other situations in which Muslims are persecuted.
  • The Hudson Institute, where I am currently employed as a senior fellow, along with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, were affirmatively described as "mainstream conservative foundations that are not Islamophobic,” in the 2011 study Fear, Inc., by the Center for American Progress (emphasis added).

I ask that a correction be issued and the false attribution of the quotation be removed.

Sincerely,

Nina Shea
Former Commissioner, US Commission on International Religious Freedom