If basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon is guilty of supporting terrorism,
then I suppose I am, too.
For the record, Olajuwon has not been accused of doing anything wrong, nor
is he under investigation for any illegal activity. But his name has been
linked to organizations that the government says provided financial aid to
Olajuwon, a star center for the Houston Rockets for 17 seasons until he
retired in 2002, is a devout Muslim, a generous human being and one of the
most gentle spirits to walk this earth.
Unfortunately, he is living in a time when many Americans, implicitly
trusting government reports or actions, are quick to make negative
assumptions about individuals based on "associations" -- intimate or casual.
I once thought this country had gotten past that nonsense. After all, a
half-century has passed since Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the great defender of
America against communists and their sympathizers, was exposed as a
But the wretched acts of a handful of terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, scared
many Americans, including government agents, so much that they now rely on
suspicion, fear and prejudice in judging all people in certain groups.
Since 9-11, federal authorities have cast suspicion on many individuals and
groups as possible supporters of America's enemies in particular, and foes
of peace and freedom in general.
Numerous people have been detained or deported, and several nonprofit
organizations have been shut down or had their bank accounts frozen.
What does this have to do with Olajuwon -- or with me, for that matter?
Last week, The Associated Press reported that Olajuwon, through a Houston
mosque he established and funded, had given money to charities that the
government now says were fronts for groups such as al Qaeda and Hamas,
notorious terrorist organizations.
According to the AP and the tax records it consulted, the Islamic Da'Wah
Center in Houston "gave more than $60,000 in 2000 and $20,000 in 2002 to
the Islamic African Relief Agency," which the government shut down in
October, "saying it gave money and other support to Osama bin Laden and al
The AP report continued: Olajuwon "participated in a 1999 celebrity bowling
tournament for the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development, which the government shut down in 2001, accusing it of sending
money to Hamas. The Da'Wah Center gave more than $2,000 to Holy Land in
2000, according to its tax returns."
"All of the donations came before the government designated Holy Land and
the Islamic African Relief Agency as terrorist fronts."
Many people, including some North Texas politicians, also donated time and
money to the Holy Land Foundation.
I participated in that 1999 bowling tournament in Dallas, which included
Olajuwon and other "celebrities" who believed in the charitable work the
Holy Land Foundation said it was doing.
Olajuwon and I led teams that bowled on adjacent lanes.
I watched as the huge, real-life celebrity spent time with so-called common
people. He talked with eager children and adults. He never put on airs.
We were there for the same purpose: to raise money for a "good cause...