The Chosen One

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"Again, though," Bray adds, "in this business, you find yourself sucked into stuff you wish you didn't have to deal with."

Abboud says she's found herself unwittingly embroiled in the controversy locally. But at the same time, Abboud's been welcoming, if not looking for, a fight over the cartoons.

She's quarreled with a columnist for the East Valley Tribune who advocated that U.S. papers should run the cartoons, and her February 9 e-mail was published in the Arizona Republic.

When ASU's Center for Conflict and Religion hosted a round-table discussion on February 15 -- "The Danish Cartoon Crisis: Perspectives on the Global Controversy" -- Abboud was upset that just one Muslim was on the panel, and appeared to be even angrier that she, as the director of Arizona's MAS, wasn't personally invited. (The panel was all ASU faculty, which Abboud is not.) After e-mailing ASU to voice her displeasure, she showed up at the discussion, but had nothing but positive things to say to and about the panel.

She's also drawn the ire of Bill Straus, the regional director of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League, who believes many Muslims are being hypocrites on the current topic.

"The irony is unbelievable," Straus says at his office in central Phoenix. "For years, the U.S. and various organizations have appealed to the Muslim leadership to do something about the hate and anti-Semitism smeared every day in Middle Eastern and Arab newspapers. And you know what the defense has been? 'We don't interfere with the freedom of the press.'

"Now, for Muslims to be outraged?" Straus asks. "It's hard to escape the irony."

Surprisingly, Abboud agrees.

"Bill's right," she says. "It is hypocritical."

Even more surprising -- as Muslim protesters in Turkey, Libya and Syria torch American, Danish and Italian embassies in response to the cartoons -- Abboud says she's indifferent.

"I really don't care about this whole thing," she says. "There are so many more important things for us to do in Washington, D.C., than have to hold a press conference about cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be unto him.

"I'm offended, yes," she adds. "I'm just not as outraged as everyone else seems to be."

But Straus believes she should be, just as much about anti-Muslim cartoons as those he believes are anti-Semitic -- like the one of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, Ariel Sharon eating a bowl of bloody Palestinian children, and a Hasidic Jew helping an Israeli soldier desecrate the Koran.

"I've been disappointed in Deedra when the chips were down," Straus says. "And I think that's because I've seen her being very careful about where she comes down on some issues. I mean, is she anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, anti-American?

"I'd really like to know. Hopefully, I'll get those answers someday," Straus says. "Deedra is rather enigmatic to me. Not many people are."

The Muslim American Society, Abboud contends, goes beyond "just defending Muslims."

"We have Cub Scout troops and Girl Scouts," she says. "We try to educate Muslim youth about what the Koran really says, to make sure they interpret the Koran the right way."

It's a point Abboud emphasizes as often as possible, given that critics of both CAIR and MAS have labeled the organizations as apologists for terrorists.

The Chicago Tribune, in a September 2004 exposé of the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly founded by fundamentalist Muslim clerics, linked the organization to MAS as its precursor, and reported that the goal of the organization -- which operated in secrecy throughout most of the 1990s -- was to found an Islamic state.

Abboud says that while there may have been members of the Muslim Brotherhood involved in MAS' beginnings, there are none today, and she herself isn't in cahoots with the Brotherhood, either.

"All that is just stuff to scare people," she says.

Nevertheless, local critics like the ADL's Straus and Zuhdi Jasser, a local Muslim doctor and chairman of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, don't trust Abboud or the organizations she represents.

"I've seen Deedra as a very methodical, very deliberate person in her behavior," Straus says. "With that said, Deedra has always been very cordial to me. I don't think we've ever spoken a harsh word to one another.

"But I find myself often wondering on whose side she stands."

Straus says he first began to wonder around September 11, 2001.

Shortly after the attacks, Jasser, a more hawkish Muslim who frequently writes columns for the Arizona Republic's editorial pages and is close with Straus, organized a "Muslims Against Terror" rally in downtown Phoenix.

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Joe Watson