The Grand Mufti of Syria is a known Assad supporter and regime loyalist and yet as Assad’s forces are blamed for the killing of women and children, he has been invited to speak about Middle East peace in Washington.
Ahmad Hassoun is a controversial figure internationally and although he is considered a moderate in religious terms, he has refused to condemn the regime in Syria and blames conspiring ‘foreign influences’ for the chaos.
So it came as a surprise for many to hear that he had been invited by the Foundation for Middle East Peace  to speak at their ‘Coexistence and Dialogue’ event in Washington DC on June 28.
Opposition groups, including the Syrian Expatriates Organization  have condemned the invitation, citing Hassoun’s comments on suicide bombers as evidence that he does not want peace for the region.
Last year, as part of a eulogy he gave for his murdered son Saria, Hassoun threatened to produce ‘martyrs’ in their masses if Syria or Lebanon were bombed by Europe or the US:
“From now on, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” he said.
Critics say inviting someone with such views to a peace event makes a mockery of the conference. Hassoun has also denied that uprisings in Syria are evidence of people’s desire for regime change.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in August last yea r, he said he did not believe democracy could come to Syria through violent means:
“There is destruction in the name of democratic change but democratic change cannot be achieved by violence against the government or opposition,” he said.
However, despite his support for Bashar al Assad, Hassoun claims he is a peacemaker for the region. Talking to Der Spiegel last year, he said: 
“The bloodshed has to stop! If I could manage to bring about peace, I'd be happy to let my enemies kill me -- I'd be happy to give my life for that!”
Mr Oubab Khalil, Board member for the Syrian Expatriate Organization, said he believes Hassoun’s presence at the peace conference would be contrary to the fundamental principles of coexistence and dialogue, given his fiery rhetoric in the past.
The Organization has now put in a formal request for the Foundation for Middle East to withdraw its invitation and for the US to ban Hassoun’s entry into the country.
By Helen Brooks
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