2016-07-27
(RNS) -- About 25 representatives of American Muslim organizations walked out of a White House meeting Thursday (June 28) after the Secret Service asked a member of the delegation to leave. The meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with the Rev. Mark Scott -- associate director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives -- was interrupted when Abdullah Al-Arian, a college intern in the office of Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., was asked to leave. "About 15 or 20 minutes into the meeting a uniformed Secret Service officer came in and was trying to find Abdullah," Faisal Gill, of the American Muslim Council, told Religion News Service. "Abdullah and a couple of other representatives went out and talked and came back in and one of the representatives said they were asking Abdullah to leave. So at that point everybody said we were all going to leave if Abdullah had to leave, so we did." No official reason was given for the request, Gill said, but some suspect the incident was linked to the political activism of Al-Arian's father. Sami Al-Arian is president of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedoms, which has battled the U.S. government's use of "secret evidence" -- evidence never disclosed to a defense team -- in deportation proceedings to detain people suspected of terrorist activity. The college student is also the nephew of Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian professor whom the government recently freed after holding
him in custody for about three years on the basis of secret evidence. The government had claimed to possess evidence that connected the man to a terrorist group. "Sami has spearheaded the challenge to the secret evidence laws and his brother-in-law (Al-Najjar) was one of the secret evidence victims," said Margaret Zaknoen, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which organized the meeting. "They are very high profile figures on the issue of secret evidence. Neither one has ever been convicted of a crime, but their names raise alarms at the White House." Zaknoen said that White House security gave security clearance for Abdullah Al-Arian before the meeting began, and likewise last week raised no objections when the elder Al-Arian visited the White House with several other Muslim leaders for a briefing planned with Vice President Dick Cheney at which the vice president did not show up. Thursday's incident "is the latest in an unfortunate pattern of exclusion by the Bush administration," said a statement endorsed by several groups at the meeting, including American Muslims for Jerusalem; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the North American Council for Muslim Women; the Coalition for Good Government; Dar Al Hirjah; the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations; the Islamic Institute; the Muslim American Society Monitoring Team; and Karamah, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. "This sends a message to American Muslims that the White House will
engage only if it is allowed to dictate the terms and decide who is allowed at the table. American Muslims reject the notion that community members must pass a litmus test," the statement said. The groups have not received any formal apology, Zaknoen said. "About 45 minutes after everybody left and people were standing outside talking to the media, the Secret Service did come out and say that they removed the flag from Abdullah's name and if we wanted to we could all go back in and talk, but we decided to take a pass on that," she said. "You might consider that an apology, but we haven't received anything formal." Gill said he hoped an apology would be forthcoming but hoped the incident would not mar the groups' relationship with the White House.

"We still want to work with the White House," he said. "We're very supportive of the president -- we worked hard to get him elected and we still believe him when he says he wants to work with us. Now we're just asking him to prove it. We just want a regular dialogue with his administration."

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