Somebody has skulls in his closet?
By JEFF HORSEMAN
Mano Bakh has personal reasons for opposing a mosque planned in Temecula.
The 73-year-old from Murrieta said he barely escaped with his life when revolutionaries toppled Iran’s monarchy in 1979 and established an Islamic republic.
His self-published book, “Escaping Islam,” describes being arrested and interrogated. Now he fears his new home is treading down Iran’s path.
Bakh is one of the most vocal critics of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley’s plan to build a roughly 25,000-square-foot mosque in northeast Temecula. The Temecula Planning Commission will discuss the mosque Dec. 1.
Bakh, who said he went into hiding for his safety, insists he does not hate Muslims. The former Muslim said an expansionist Islamic ideology supports terrorism and seeks to repress liberty through religious-based Shariah law.
Center supporters, including a coalition of religious leaders, say Bakh and those like him are misguided at best and bigoted at worst. They say the majority of American Muslims are law-abiding.
“I can understand (Bakh’s) personal pain. My family suffered the same persecution,” said Salam Al-Marayati, an Iraqi and president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “But that’s not a reason to prevent people from worshiping freely in the United States …”
A married father of two and grandfather of four, Bakh said he grew up in Iran and studied overseas while rising through his country’s navy. He described the Iran of his youth as a moderate country.
“Prior to 1979, there were miniskirts on our women, the latest styles from Paris in our shops, frivolity among our people, and Western music in the air,” reads an online book excerpt.
Iran was ruled by Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had close ties to the West. While credited with modernizing Iran, the shah also cracked down on political dissent.
Protesters eventually demanded the shah’s ouster, and he fled Iran in 1979. Islamic revolutionaries took over and established a theocracy.
In the years before the revolution, Bakh said he noticed more mosques being built. He wasn’t concerned at first because the mosques kept kids off the street.
“Later, we learned the mosques were nodes in the revolutionary network,” he said.
During the revolution, Bakh said he was arrested, searched, blindfolded, interrogated and accused of helping the U.S. Navy build a spyhouse in Iran.
He said he was allowed to return home, where he had less than an hour to pack before he and his family fled for Great Britain and ultimately settled in the U.S.
Bakh sees Islam not as a religion, but a political movement seeking to take over the world.
He said there are signs of “deep penetration in all segments of society to implement the Islamic radicalization.”
As examples, he points to the incident last year at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 Army soldiers were killed — the suspect is a Muslim — and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric once based in San Diego described as a spiritual adviser and attack planner for terrorists.
Bakh speaks about Islam to churches and Republican assemblies across Southern California and is a member of Concerned American Citizens, which opposes the mosque.
The City Council will decide the mosque’s fate if the commission’s decision is appealed.
‘who is he …?’
Bakh wants Islamic center Imam Mahmoud Harmoush to disclose the mosque’s funding sources, denounce the militant Palestinian group Hamas and sign a “pledge of friendship” in which the imam would vow to denounce Shariah law and uphold the Constitution.
Harmoush said he shouldn’t have to answer to him.
“Who is he to ask me any of those questions?” Harmoush said, adding the center has been raising funds for the mosque for a decade and shouldn’t have to open its books. Harmoush has said there is only enough money to build a 4,000-square-foot first phase.
As for Hamas, Harmoush, who has publicly condemned violence and terror, said Middle East politics have nothing to do with his center.
Bakh was at the July 30 protest outside the Islamic center’s current building. He said he did not approve of protesters who brought dogs, a move decried as harassment by the center supporters.
‘i lost one country’
Besides Harmoush, Bakh said he’s concerned with the center’s backers, including Al-Marayati, whom Bakh said won’t denounce Islamic terrorists.
Al-Marayati said his group works with law enforcement to fight terrorism. Bakh “just parrots what he hears” on the Internet, Al-Marayati said, adding, “When you’re a critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East, then immediately opponents want to portray you as supporting terrorism.”
Al-Marayati tried to dispel what he calls false notions about Islam at a forum hosted by the Interfaith Council of Murrieta and Temecula Valley. He said the true ideals of Islamic law closely mirror the Constitution and that for Muslims, the Pledge of Allegiance is as sacred as a pledge to God.
Bakh said he’s resigned to never returning to his homeland.
“I lost one country,” he said. “I don’t want to lose a second one.”
Reach Jeff Horseman at 951-375-3727 or jhorseman@PE.com