Fortunately, the debate about Rashad Hussain seems to be winding down. His long-time friend Josh Goldberg has weighed in with a strong defense of Hussain’s character and ideas, and Marc Lynch has written an important piece on the matter for Foreign Policy. Plainly, this debate is no longer dominated by claims that Hussain is an extremist.
This will likely be the last piece I write about l’affaire Hussain, but for the record I wanted to address J.E. Tabler’s response to my earlier post arguing that Rashad Hussain did not lie about his 2004 comments. Several other commentators find Tabler’s response persuasive, including Scott Johnson and this rather polite blogger, who writes: “Just admit that you were wrong, DGR, because your name is really long and I am tired of typing the whole thing.” Tabler has two major arguments that I will briefly discuss.
First, he argues that I was incorrect in saying that Hussain called al-Arian the victim of “politically-motivated prosecutions” rather than “politically-motivated persecutions”:
Gartenstein-Ross then claims that Hussain was misquoted as saying that al-Arian was the victim of “politically motivated persecutions,” and that he actually said that al-Arian was the victim of “politically motivated prosecutions,” which is a valid distinction to make. Hussain, however, was absolutely not misquoted. He did say that al-Arian was the victim of “politically motivated prosecutions.” He said it twice, around the 36 second mark in the video below and around two minutes, thirty-six seconds. But he also said that he was the victim of “politically motivated persecutions” at the 56 second mark, in the same sentence as the first reference to “politically motivated prosecutions.”
Tabler usefully includes a recording of Hussain’s remarks, which makes clear that he did in fact use the term “prosecutions” rather than “persecutions,” which Tabler acknowledges as a “valid distinction.”
Quote 1, 0:36: Hussain describes the al-Arian case as one incident in “a common pattern … of politically-motivated prosecutions.”
Quote 2, 0:56: Hussain says that frequently there are huge DOJ press conferences “announcing that a person is a grave threat to American security, often timed at the same moment where something else … is going on, which I’ll discuss a little bit later when I get to the section of my talk on politically-motivated persecutions.” It is plain from the context that he says the section on “politically-motivated persecutions” will come later in his speech. These are not words he is using to describe the al-Arian case.
Quote 3, 2:36: He says that with a Kerry presidency, there is a “fairly strong possibility that the politically motivated prosecutions that are brought forth by the Justice Department” would cease. Again, no reference to al-Arian here: he is moving toward the core remarks that he came prepared to discuss.
Clearly Hussain’s quote about “politically-motivated persecutions” was not said about al-Arian. (Incidentally, I’m not certain that Hussain didn’t misspeak when he used the word “persecutions.” In the context of a legal speech, “prosecutions” makes more sense. At 2:45 he criticizes the Democratic National Convention when he clearly intends to refer to the Republican convention. Such things happen when one is speaking extemporaneously.)
Tabler’s second argument is that he believes Hussain did say that politically-motivated prosecutions were “used politically to squash dissent,” which the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs quoted him as saying. He writes: “Shereen Kandil, the author of the scrubbed Washington Report on Middle East Affairs article which quoted Hussain as making the controversial statements, was the only honest player in the whole ordeal before the tape was released.” But Hussain cannot, of course, be dubbed a liar because he claimed that he could not recall saying something that we do not even know he said.
The bottom line is that I believe Hussain. A careful inspection of the tape supports my understanding of the speech, and not Tabler’s. Moreover, the question we are arguing is not what Hussain said in 2004, but rather whether it was reasonable for him to not recall describing the al-Arian case as one of a number of “politically-motivated persecutions.” I believe that it is entirely reasonable, particularly because he quite literally did not say it.