Boston Globe reports:
Declining donations have stalled construction of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Scheduled to open in 2004, the Roxbury mosque is still far from completion. (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff/ File 2005)
Mosque lawsuit dismissal is sought
Project dissenters deny conspiracy
A lawyer, citing a state law that encourages open debate about development projects, is seeking dismissal of a suit that claims his clients conspired to stop construction of a large mosque and cultural center in Roxbury.
Boston lawyer Jeffrey S. Robbins declared in motions filed last Friday in Suffolk Superior Court that his clients had not made any false or defamatory statements about the Islamic Society of Boston, which is developing the $24.5 million project in Roxbury Crossing, or its leaders.
Also, Robbins, who represents a handful of the groups and individuals named in the suit, stated in his motions that whatever statements they had made were protected by a 1994 law -- the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation statute (known by its acronym SLAPP) -- which the Legislature approved to prevent major developers from suing dissenters to silence their opposition to projects.
In October, the Islamic Society filed a lawsuit against 16 individuals and entities, including the Boston Herald and Fox Television's Channel 25, alleging they had conspired to publish and broadcast false and defamatory information about mosque leaders in part to halt development of the project. Planned as the largest mosque in New England, the development, scheduled to open in November 2004, is still far from completion as donations have slowed to a trickle. The case expanded suits the society filed last February.
Robbins acknowledged that his clients had participated in research that revealed that some of the Islamic Society officials had made extremist statements in the past.
But he said his clients were covered by the law, which protects all written or oral statements made while petitioning public agencies to review a development project or when enlisting the public's participation to seek such a review.
''My clients were clearly engaged in speech and activity that is protected by the SLAPP statute," Robbins said yesterday. ''At every step of the way, they have been petitioning public officials and the public at large about their concerns with this project."
For example, Robbins said, Charles Jacobs, the president of the David Project, a Boston-based research group, met with Governor Mitt Romney in September to express his dismay about the development of the project. The David Project is one of the lawyer's clients.
But Eric Fehrnstrom, director of communications for the Romney administration, said that while Romney and Jacobs greeted one another in the governor's office that day, Jacobs spent most of the time discussing his concerns with Beth Myers, Romney's chief of staff.
David H. Rich, who represents the Islamic Society of Boston and its two top leaders, said he did not believe that Robbins's clients qualified for legal protection under the 1994 statute.
He cited a Sept. 2004 e-mail by Anna Kolodner, education director for the David Project, to other defendants.
In the e-mail, Kolodner discussed planning a media campaign and considering a lawsuit that would expose ''the radical fundamentalist underpinnings of the Mosque and its leaders."
''We look forward to arguing our case in court," Rich said.
Some of the ties between mosque leaders and extremist positions that Robbins listed in court filings were:
Abdurahman Alamoudi, one of several men who founded the Islamic Society of Boston in the early 1980s, was cited in a US Treasury Department directive in July for raising about $1 million for two affiliates of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. In response, the Islamic Society of Boston has stated that Alamoudi has not had any involvement with their organization for at least 15 years and that he had been regarded as a well-respected Muslim-American by the Clinton White House before he was arrested in a plot to kill the Saudi crown prince.
Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a former director and current trustee of the society, wrote an article for an Arabic-language newspaper that called Jews ''murderers of prophets" who should be punished. The society's board chairman apologized for Fitaihi's statements in a letter sent to religious and political leaders and said that the society had reprimanded Fitaihi.
Dr. Yusef al Qaradawi, a scholar and cleric now based in Qatar, was listed as one of the society's seven trustees in its filings with the Internal Revenue Service in 1998, 1999, and 2000 even though he had been barred by President Clinton in 2000 from entering the United States because of statements in support of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. The Islamic Society of Boston attributed Qaradawi's listing as a trustee as an ''administrative oversight," but the society's board chairman said he had sought the cleric's appearance on a video at a 2002 fund-raiser.
posted by: jrtelegraph