No sooner had the New York Times launched its series on the Imam of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge than the phone rang at The New York Sun. It was Devorah Halberstam, the mother of Aaron "Ari" Halberstam, a 16-year-old rabbinical student gunned down on the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1, 1994. She was calling to say that Monday would be the 12th anniversary of the murder of her son and that the mosque the Times was extolling as a seat of peaceable Islam was the place from which Rashid Baz set out on the shooting spree that claimed her son.
As the Times ran out its series, we waited for some mention of this fact. We were interested to read that the Imam at the center of the reporter's story, Sheik Reda Shata, "is," as the Times reporter wrote, "neither a firebrand nor a ready advocate of progressive Islam. Some of his views would offend conservative Muslims; other beliefs would repel American liberals. He is in many ways a work in progress, mapping his own middle ground between two different worlds."
The second installment of the Times series related that "Imams like Mr. Shata - men who embrace American freedom and condemn the radicals they feel have tainted their faith - rarely make the news." Yet the Times also reported: "When Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, was killed by Israelis in March 2004, Mr. Shata told hundreds who gathered at a memorial service in Brooklyn that the 'lion of Palestine has been martyred.'" Further, the Times notes, "in another sermon, the imam exalted a young Palestinian mother, Reem Al-Reyashi, who blew herself up in 2004 at a crossing point between Gaza and Israel, killing four Israelis. Mr. Shata described the woman as a martyr." An aide to Mr. Shata told us that the Imam was unavailable for comment by our deadline.
In the third and last installment of the Times series, we searched yet again - but in vain - for a mention of Rashid Baz and the fact that on March 1, in 1994, Baz opened fire on a white van carrying rabbinical students, including Halberstam, onto the Brooklyn Bridge and that on March 5 Halberstam died from the shots. It was an act of terrorism that shocked the city as few events have. Baz was convicted of Halberstam's murder in December 1994, and the circumstances deserve to be remembered.
As the director of the Division on Middle East and International Terrorism at the American Jewish Committee, Yehudit Barsky, reported in a November 2000 review of the shooting, prior to the attack, on February 25, Baz went with a friend to the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge mosque, "where they heard a sermon relating to the incident in Hebron," where Baruch Goldstein had murdered Muslim worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. After the sermon, Ms. Barsky reports, Baz "took two of the guns that he usually kept in the trunk of his car and moved them to the front seat of his car.The two guns were the weapons that he used in the shooting."
In "testimony presented at Baz's trial in November 1994," Ms. Barsky reports, during the cross-examination of Baz's psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas Anderson, when asked "And then he [Baz] went to the mosque and according to Moufaq he heard the Imam say that 'this takes the mask off of the Jews. It shows them to be racist and fascist as bad as the Nazis. Palestinians are suffering from the occupation and it's time to end it.' Isn't that what Moufaq told you the Imam said while he and the defendant were in the audience in that mosque?" Mr. Anderson replied "yes." Ten days after the shooting, Ms. Barsky reports, "the Hamas movement in Gaza released a communique praising Rashid Baz's attack on the van," declaring him a martyr.
In Monday's article, the Times wrote that "while under scrutiny themselves, imams are often called upon to usher the authorities past the barriers of fear that surround their communities." The implication the Times makes - and continues to make through the series - is that the Muslim community in New York is under siege and only the Times reporter could break through. But one of the remarkable things about New York is that even after 3,000 New Yorkers were killed by Islamist terrorists on September 11, 2001, there has been no retaliation against the Muslim community. New Yorkers did not attack mosques. Political and law enforcement leaders in this city, like New Yorkers generally, have gone out of their way to signal that it is Islamist terror and incitement they oppose, not law abiding members of the Muslim community.
On Monday, the 12th anniversary of the attack on Ari Halberstam, his mother told us, she finally phoned the Times's reporter and asked why no mention was made of her son. The reporter, Mrs. Halberstam said, replied that she knew nothing about it. Mrs. Halberstam told the reporter where to find the details. But, again, in yesterday's article, there was no mention of Ari. No one suggests the current Imam in Bay Ridge is personally implicated in the killing of Ari Halberstam. He was not the Imam of the mosque 12 years ago. But Mrs. Halberstam wasn't the only one in New York who felt that in leaving out Rashid Baz the Times's articles were "telling everything but the story." She wondered whether the Times believes that if you "ignore it, it will go away."
Mr. Freedman is the online editor of The New York Sun and blogs at www.itshinesforall.com.