(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
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
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