(CNSNews.com) – The Muslim cleric at the center of the controversy over the mosque near Ground Zero was quoted as saying four years ago that economic sanctions impacting civilians amounted to an act of terrorism.
“We must understand, terrorism is any act of violence which is waged on non-combatants or civilians with a political objective,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of a meeting on human rights in Islam, Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency reported on May 18, 2006.
Rauf was speaking in the context of Iraq, saying that according to the United Nations, more than one million Iraqis had died as a result of sanctions imposed by the U.N. against Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1990.
Half of those were children who did not have enough food and medical supplies, Rauf said.
Because economic sanctions cause the deaths of innocent civilians they only fuel hatred and anger, the Bernama report cited him as saying.
Rauf’s past statements have come under fresh scrutiny in recent weeks because of growing opposition to his plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero.
The comments in Malaysia came during a gathering co-hosted by the Malaysian and Saudi governments, in which experts for five days discussed issues of human rights as understood and applied in the Muslim world.
Rauf was not quoted by Bernama as directly accusing the United States of driving those sanctions, although in statements made a year earlier, he did.
“We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” he said during a July 2005 dialogue session in Adelaide, Australia.
“You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq lead to the death of over half a million Iraqi children,” he said. “This has been documented by the United Nations.”
Rauf was responding to a question from an audience member asking why the broader Muslim community did not do more to stand against those who encourage young Muslims to carry out atrocities like the Bali bombings “in the name of Islam.”
In his response, he said “the broader community is in fact criticizing and condemning actions of terrorism that are being done in the name of Islam.”
“What complicates the discussion, intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issues of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world,” Rauf said.
As early as October 2001, Rauf was citing the Iraq sanctions in discussing what motivated terrorists.
In an NBC “Today” interview less than a month after 9/11, he told Katie Couric that Osama bin Laden primarily focused on issues including “the innocent victims in Palestine, the innocent victims, the women and children are being killed as a result of sanctions against Iraq or as a result of American bombing of … Iraq.”
Asked by Couric whether he agreed with bin Laden’s “political goals, but not his methods,” Rauf replied that innocent people dying in Iraq was “ not necessarily an Islamic issue, it is a human issue – a humanitarian issue.”
“I have a friend of mine, for example, an American friend working for a center, an American center funded by the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, that believes sanctions against Iraq are wrong because many innocent victims are dying.”
U.N. Security Council sanctions were imposed against Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait in 1990, and were later extended to put pressure on Baghdad over its weapons programs. They remained in place until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 toppled the regime.
Reuters in July 2000 quoted the Iraq country director for the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Anupama Rao Singh, as saying an estimated half a million Iraqi children under five had died since sanctions were imposed a decade earlier.
“Nutrition was not a public health problem in Iraq in the 80s,” she said. “It emerged as a major problem in the 90s and it increased steadily till about 1996.”
In 1996 the U.N. set up the “oil-for-food program” which, in a bid to ease hardships faced by ordinary Iraqis, allowed the regime to sell specified quantities of oil in return for food and medicines.
The program was later found to have been riddled with fraud and corruption.