Chicago Tribune: Township official fell for anti-Muslim hoax

When a Frankfort Township official pressed “forward” on an anti-Muslim missive earlier this summer, he might have done more than disclose his feelings about Islam. He might have made himself the butt of a joke. The message that township assessor Paul Ruff forwarded was a hoax.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Ruff did not apologize for circulating a message with anti-Islamic sentiments, claiming he did not write it and he didn’t know where it came from. He just hit “forward” from his personal e-mail account.

But he did take the opportunity at the news conference to repeat the e-mail’s criticism of Islam, saying the religion “institutionalizes discrimination against women and non-Muslims.”

“The e-mail’s basic message was that people coming to this country should adapt,” Ruff said in a statement. “This wasn’t a hateful e-mail, but one that touched upon a sentiment in this country and around the world that immigrants have to adapt to their new homes.”

Muslim activists are outraged.

“We in the Muslim-American community are part of the American fabric and these kinds of messages that speak to promote intolerance and suspicion are anti-American, not just anti-Muslim,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in a statement on the group’s Web site.

The e-mail pronounced that “America Needs a Leader Like This!” and proceeds to allege that “Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.”

Though statements in the e-mail were attributed to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Internet mythbusters say the e-mail melds comments by Howard and other Australian officials immediately after the 2005 bombings of the London Underground. The e-mail also includes statements from a 2001 editorial written by a U.S. Air Force veteran.

In reality, a month after the bombings and comments denouncing Muslim extremists, Howard convened a summit of moderate Muslim leaders to address intolerance. Many of the Muslim leaders in attendance wanted to combat the extremist voices that seemed to define them in the media. In other words, Howard’s summit sought to add nuance to messages such as that e-mail.

What do you think? Should Ruff apologize?