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Local Muslims dispute depiction as incubator of terrorist activity

By Tom McLaughlin, For NWF Daily News, On 01 February 2016, Read Original
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Security issues have arisen since a man named Dave Gaubatz published a blog portraying the Islamic Da'wah Center in Fort Walton Beach as an incubator of terrorist activity.

 The men sit on the floor but offer a stranger the most comfortable chair in the room. They speak quietly of everyday things while awaiting the arrival of their comrade, who is bringing dessert.

Basboosa, a flat cake sprinkled with coconut, and tea with honey are served and enjoyed before anyone gets down to business.

This is the way of Fort Walton Beach’s small Islamic community.

READ Dave Gaubatz's blog.

The local leadership have rules of engagement. No names, no photos and no descriptions of the small Hollywood Boulevard building they have called home for over 20 years.

Security issues have arisen, they say, since a man named Dave Gaubatz published a blog portraying this particular Muslim prayer center as an incubator of terrorist activity.

They have agreed to discuss the controversy the blog has created.

“We have absolutely nothing to hide,” the group’s primary spokesman said.

I welcomed him with open arms’

Gaubatz is a former Office of Special Investigations agent who for more than a decade has made it his business to investigate Muslim mosques.

He said he visited the Islamic Da’wah Center in Fort Walton Beach the day before speaking about “Islamic terrorist events” at a Jan. 9 event on Okaloosa Island titled “Understanding Refugee Resettlement.”

“My friends in Fort Walton and the surrounding area are surrounded by ISIS members/supporters who are living, working and spreading the very same ideology as ISIS advocates in Syria and around the world,” Gaubatz wrote in his blog following the visit.

“ISIS would be proud of the Imam of the Fort Walton Beach mosque.”

The primary spokesman for the prayer center said he arrived at the mosque early Jan. 8 to set up for an afternoon service. A man he now knows was Gaubatz, approached him, he said, and offered a greeting in Arabic.

“He said, ‘I am new to Islam and my son is on Eglin Air Force Base working and I thought I would spend some time with you,” the spokesman said. “I welcomed him with open arms.”

The spokesman said Gaubatz offered to pay for a couple of booklets kept at the center but was told he could have them. Gaubatz hung around until after a sermon was performed and quietly left as the rest of those attending the Friday service turned toward Mecca to pray.

Gaubatz said he spent about an hour inside the prayer center, “but it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes in reality because I’ve been doing it so long.”

He said he went in with no preconceptions, looking only for clues as to “how Sharia compliant are the members?”

The materials he saw at the Fort Walton Beach center were eye-opening, Gaubatz said.

“It was like walking into a Christian church and seeing a book on how to be a good Christian written by Timothy McVey,” he said. “I found a book written by a convicted terrorist telling how to practice religion.”

Gaubatz said in his blog that he found manuals at the Fort Walton Beach prayer center advocating sedition and treason against America, killing those who oppose Islam, child marriages, slavery, and abuse and rape of girls and women.

Gaubatz blog creates alarm locally

The men at the local center said they don’t know how Gaubatz gleaned what he did from their literature.

“I have no idea what he took from here,” the prayer center spokesman said. “We cannot think of any material he could conceivably have used to come to these conclusions.”

Shortly after his visit, Gaubatz’s blog hit the Internet.

In his post, Gaubatz listed the Fort Walton Beach prayer center as a 9 on the scale of 10 “threat level.”

“The more Sharia compliant they are the more likely some sort of violence will be coming out of that particular mosque,” he said in an interview.

The Gaubatz blog circulated quickly, and several local residents were alarmed enough by it to forward copies to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Fort Walton Beach’s Islamic community was disturbed by the blog’s content. The group’s leadership met to decide how to respond.

Their first step was to craft a statement and post it in the comment section of the Gaubatz blog. Friday, the statement was turned over to the Daily News.

“The blog is a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” it says. “Our desire to practice our religion has been misconstrued as an unpatriotic activity.”

The Muslim statement points out that ISIS is a fairly recent phenomenon, and most in the Fort Walton Beach Islamic community are well established in the city, the county and the country.

“Our community comprises of engineers, physicians, professors, contractors, businessmen and law enforcement officers, as well as active duty and retired military and civilian members,” the statement said.

Local law enforcement involved

Though in person local Muslims cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the Islamic State by name, in the written statement they condemn it and its activities.

“We consider ISIS to be a terrorist organization which is determined to destroy the world; Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and ISIS should be eliminated,” it said.

Also in response to Gaubatz and the sensation he has caused, the local Muslims have contacted local law enforcement. The Fort Walton Beach Police Department and Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office both confirmed being contacted.

The Sheriff’s Office said it had spoken to Gaubatz. Gaubatz also noted he has been contacted by federal investigative agencies.

“Contrary to the information being disseminated by David Gaubatz, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has absolutely no credible information or evidence in regards to any sort of criminal activity in connection to the Islamic Center in Fort Walton Beach,” the Sheriff’s Office said when asked to comment on the Gaubatz blog.

Friday afternoon, two off-duty Fort Walton Beach police officers stood at the back corner of the Islamic Da’wah Center as worshipers filed in for their weekly call to prayer.

The local Muslim leaders said the officers will be posted as long as it is believed their presence is needed.

‘We are Americans’

Wilfredo Ruiz, the Florida spokesman for the national Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said his group is aware of Gaubatz and many others like him. They spout what he termed “Islamophobic media.”

“This guy has an agenda against Islam,” Ruiz said.

CAIR filed suit against Gaubatz about five years ago after he used his son to pose as an intern for the group and then wrote the book “Muslim Mafia.” The lawsuit is yet to be resolved.

“Not everybody who puts out negative information about the Islamic community is an Islamaphobe,” Ruiz said. “But sometimes some of these people cross the lines that create a threat. They want to demonize the Muslim religion and eliminate the American-Muslim community.”

Ruiz compared Sharia law to Canonical law in the Catholic Church or Halakhah law in the Jewish faith.

“Sharia is the body of teachings of Islam — things like how fasting should be conducted during Ramadan and the times for the five daily prayers,” he said.

Only the most violent Muslim groups twist Sharia law to say that it authorizes killing those who shun Islam and Muslims who don’t agree with them, the local leaders said.

“Islam is the religion of peace, of equality and of justice,” the lead spokesman said, as he ushered a visitor out with a hug and an invitation to return.

“Maybe some overseas took this religion hostage by their terrible crimes,” he said. “We are Americans. This is our country. We have nothing to do with anything going on overseas.”