For more than two decades, the Islamic Center of South Florida (ICOSF) has operated quietly in an upscale area of Pompano Beach, just east of Interstate 95. But last year when the religious center announced plans to move two miles northwest across the freeway into a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood, community protest broke out.
City Commissioner E. Pat Larkins, representative of the district where the new mosque would be located, delivered an inflammatory public condemnation of Muslims: "They don't contribute a nickel to any cause in terms of improving the community. Most black folks see them as people that come in to rape the community and go away."
That remark sparked outrage from Muslim leaders but did little to alter their building plans. A group of Christians now hopes litigation will prove more effective.
Rodney Wright, a citizen activist and member of a nearby church, filed suit against ICOSF to halt construction last month, alleging the facility would pose "substantial harm to the well-being, safety and health of the community." The lawsuit, which also names the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its South Florida chapter as codefendants, accuses ICOSF imam Hassan Sabri of close ties to known jihadists and terrorist organizations.
The primary indictment against CAIR is similar, alleging links between the country's leading Islamic public-relations firm and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. Wright charges that such terrorist connections underlie a conspiracy between CAIR and ICOSF "to spread radical Islam throughout the United States through the use of the Islamic mosque."
Accusations of a hidden radical agenda are nothing new for CAIR, which often takes heat for supporting questionable Islamic charities and causes but has largely managed to exonerate itself in the public eye. Larry Klayman, a Florida attorney representing Wright, told WORLD that the evidence he'll present for CAIR's terrorist links is very strong: "CAIR is a radical organization, and everybody knows it. They're just very clever at disguising it. They're smooth."
Klayman also, at times, has proved a smooth operator with less than kosher objectives. The Jewish evangelical and founder of conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch has fielded charges of abusing the court system with endless and sometimes frivolous lawsuits against the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, Osama bin Laden, Fidel Castro, his own Judicial Watch organization, and his own mother. Multiple judges have banned Klayman from their courtrooms for life.
Altaf Ali, executive director of CAIR's South Florida chapter, says this lawsuit fits squarely within Klayman's track record of litigious publicity stunts with little legal merit. "If CAIR had any ties with any terrorist group, we would not be in existence. The government would have locked us up," he said. "This is a very common tactic that many people use today to garnish attention."
Far less common is the attempt of private citizens to block construction of a mosque absent any government proof or investigations into wrongdoing. Reverend O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the nearby Worldwide Christian Center and outspoken critic of Islam, insists the case is a matter of national security.
But some elements of the lawsuit suggest cultural and social factors also serve as motives for the opposition. The suit describes the area of Northwest Pompano Beach as a "black Christian neighborhood" and suggests Islamic religious services are not welcome in such a community. "They're going to be praying five times a day. That kind of prayer can be very disruptive in a non-Muslim area," Klayman said. "I'm not saying they shouldn't be allowed to pray that way, but in this particular area it could create a lot of commotion."
Dozier has publicly expressed his concern that an influx of Muslims into the neighborhood could have a negative influence on impressionable black youth. Ali contends that the influence would only be positive in a rundown area ravaged by crime and blight. "Many people in the area welcome the mosque because it will provide services to the community," he told WORLD. "If this complaint prevails, it will be a dark moment in the history of America."