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Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part WND report by Sherrie Gossett, who went inside a recent “mainstream” Muslim conference in Florida to expose the true attitudes and ideas of the leaders of the movement in the U.S. Gossett attended portions of the conference after all other media representatives had packed up and left the event.
In Part 1, Gossett analyzed the words and backgrounds of some of the keynote speakers at the conference – imams and sheiks who openly voice their disdain for America, Jews and “unbelievers” in general, and who defend the practice of suicide bombing.
In Part 2, Gossett further explains the vast network of Islamists who headline Muslim conferences and reports how funds from the movement make their way to terrorist organizations.
Today’s installment shows how Islamists silence the media and true moderate Muslims while posing as “mainstream.”
The Islamic Circle of North America, or ICNA, along with the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, and representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, are mainstays of the American Islamic conference circuit, which has featured radical clerics and ideology derived from its overseas forebears.
The conference circuit, which is used to recruit and educate Muslims and raise funds, works to portray itself as moderate.
It also provides a meeting place where new friends can be found.
At the Silver Spurs Arena in Orlando, elegantly dressed women shared meals and mingled with newfound friends from a variety of backgrounds, some with their roots as far away as Egypt and Indonesia. Meanwhile, their children played games together as vendors sold books, CDs, colorful prayer rugs, artwork and intricately detailed robes.
A repeated theme at such conferences is the “crisis,” “challenge” and “nightmare” that is everyday life for a Muslim in America.
Community leaders, terrorism experts and Middle East specialists say the groups are whitewashing their radicalism to get positive press, which they later parlay into community and political power. They say the groups are holding themselves out as moderates, that they play the race card at will, and exaggerate the climate for Muslims in the U.S.
With accusations of intolerance, prejudice or bigotry, these leaders present themselves to young Muslims as needed protectors in a scary world. A nervous press, meanwhile, plays the role of public-relations mouthpiece for them, frightened of being labeled intolerant, racist or bigoted. From the newly gained platform of mainstream media acceptance, they then bully critical moderate Muslim groups and individuals to intimidate them into silence as they insinuate themselves in to the power flow in America.
Critics also claim the groups routinely portray terrorism experts, moderate scholars, FBI counterintelligence veterans and anybody else criticizing them as individuals who slander Islam as a whole, despite copious evidence to the contrary.
Supporters of the groups say the critics are trying to divide the Muslim communities that the groups are trying to unite and that critics want only “good” (or “docile”) “moderate” Muslims around who are not desirous of effecting political and social change. They attribute almost all arrests to abuses of the Patriot Act and “set ups” by law enforcement.
The radicals routinely attribute criticism to “Zionist” entities or sympathizers, and bigots.
Critics, though, say the charge is meant to intimidate and silence.
Editor Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News cited attempts to silence legitimate questions about ISNA’s agenda through intimidation and misdirection, a charge also leveled by others at CAIR.
Taking over mosques?
One pattern that concerns critics is the pulling out of moderate clerics from mosques and replacing them with extremist ones. Some Muslim leaders complain that American mosques and institutions are now 80 percent owned by hard-liners who only represent a minority of Muslims in the U.S.
- The North American Islamic Trust, a sister organization set up for what its website calls the “protection and safeguarding” of the finances of ISNA and other groups owns between 20 percent and 27 percent of this country’s mosques and is said to be heavily funded by Saudi sources.
- ISNA board member Bassam Osman is the president of the North American Islamic Trust, or NAIT, which owns the Islamic Academy of Florida. That school was described as a criminal enterprise in the federal indictment handed down in February against school founder Sami al-Arian and others alleged to be Palestinian Islamic Jihad fund-raisers.
- Echoing similar reports from across the country, Dr. Khalid Duran, a moderate Muslim, and unnamed others like him told the St. Petersburg Times extremists try to take over American mosques and hand the titles over to NAIT. NAIT contends the opposite, saying they can protect mosques from false teachers.
- Last month’s Orlando conference invitees Abdullah Idris Ali, Siraj Wahhaj (the unindicted co-conspirator of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui have all served as a members on the Board of Trustees for ISNA’s North American Islamic Trust.
Promoting peace, respect
Moderate Muslims are among those alarmed by the alleged acceptance of radical groups as moderate and their subsequent maneuver into the media forefront and institutional positions of power where critics say they now wield influence and control over the rank-and-file-Muslim moderates.
Citing the late Seif Ashmawi, a moderate Muslim-American newspaper publisher, Dreher recalls the cautionary warning: “Radical Islamic groups have now taken over leadership of the ‘mainstream’ Islamic institutions in the United States, and anyone who pretends otherwise is deliberately engaging in self-deception.”
Jamaluddin Hoffman, a Sufi and moderate, has characterized the situation as “a war for the heart and soul of our religion.”
Hoffman is the director of public affairs for the Islamic Supreme Council of America, a group numbering 8,000 which in addition to fostering scholarly work focuses on the “sublime spirituality” of Islam. The organization has a respected track record of working with other faith groups and promoting tolerance and moderation in Islam, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
The group’s website features information on Islamic extremism.
The Islamic Supreme Council of America has no complicated history of terrorism “skeletons” in its closet, nor does it agitate for the legal and public defense of suspected, indicted and convicted terrorists. It advocates for keeping politics out of the mosque and sees no conflict between following Islam and the U.S. Constitution.
“For the first time in America, we have tried to integrate traditional scholarship in resolving contemporary issues affecting the maintenance of Islamic beliefs in a modern, secular society,” ICSA says.
In July, Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, delivered the Friday sermon at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia – the world’s third largest mosque and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Speaking to a crowd of over 100,000, the sheikh urged all Muslims to return to the true understanding of Islam taught by Prophet Muhammad, the message of peace, tolerance and compassion for others.
In his message, broadcast on Indonesian television, the sheikh warned that Islam today is under a “grave threat” by self-appointed activists trained in a “disfigured understanding of the faith.”
The sheikh travels to deliver messages and services at Islamic centers across the U.S. as well as throughout the world. On recent trips to Thailand, Singapore, Cyprus and Malaysia, the sheikh met with citizens and government dignitaries in a quest to promote a pure spirituality and goodwill.
Despite ISCA’s scholarly and inter-faith credentials, and singular history of international relations with other faith groups and government leaders, a casual Google/news search suggests far more reporters flock to CAIR for the mandatory story quote than to ISCA.
CAIR’s odd pedigree
The Council on American-Islamic Relations presents itself as a civil-rights organization and often sends representatives to ICNA or ISNA conferences to teach about the role of the media in public opinion/policy formation and how Muslims can cultivate media influence.
But CAIR has had its own share of controversy as well.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, three CAIR figures have been arrested by U.S. federal authorities on terrorist-related charges: Ghassan Elashi, a founding board member of CAIR-Texas; Bassem K. Khafagi, the community affairs director for CAIR; and Randall Todd “Ismail” Royer, former communications specialist and civil-rights coordinator at CAIR.
CAIR also has been criticized for its links to Hamas by various terrorist experts and scholars, including Matthew Levitt, senior fellow in terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
On Sept. 19, Levitt gave testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism titled, “Subversion from Within.” Levitt addressed the issue of CAIR:
“For example, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which says it was ‘established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,’ was co-founded by Omar Ahmed, the same person who co-founded the Islamic Association for Palestine – the Hamas front organization which first published the Hamas charter in English – together with Hamas leader and Specially Designated Terrorist Mousa Abu Marzouk. CAIR’s pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah positions should not surprise, given that it regularly rises to the defense of terrorism suspects and openly supports designated terrorist groups.”
Similar testimony has been given by various experts, including Sheikh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi, who said the following during a February 2000 address to the International Conference on Countering Suicide Terrorism sponsored by the Institute for Counter-Terrorism of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlyia, Israel:
“The Council for American-Islamic Relations is a Muslim Brotherhood front organization. It works in the United States as a lobby against radio, television and print media journalists who dare to produce anything about Islam that is at variance with their fundamentalist agenda. CAIR opposes diversity in Islam: They are aggressive and closed-minded. Notwithstanding CAIR’s evident connection to Hamas, they are regarded by U.S. administrations as legitimate representatives of the Muslim American community.”
If CAIR is a front group, then how did they become the most frequently looked to source for authoritative commentary on Muslim affairs in the U.S.?
“CAIR has been very effective at seducing the media into believing it is the go-to voice for Muslims in America,” Bill Gralnick told WND.
Gralnick is director of the American Jewish Committee of Palm Beach County.
“That effort is aided by lazy or overworked journalists whose deadlines keep them from seeking out the less-known, less-accessible voices in the community,” he said.
“Also, they have been the most oft-heard voice in the Muslim community. Since in a work-a-day world most folks are followers, it concerns me that CAIR is becoming the shepherd most likely to be followed. If CAIR didn’t have the formative roots it had, I’d be less concerned. ”
CAIR: what controversy?
WND asked CAIR-Florida Director Altaf Ali to comment on the controversy surrounding the Orlando conference, which was titled, “Islam for Humanity.” Ali was scheduled to appear on the conference podium during the same session as suicide-bombing supporter Imam Abdul Malik, but missed the conference due to an “emergency.”
Ali told WND he saw no controversy at all surrounding the conference and its speakers. He suggested one sole local Jewish activist who sent out a press release about the conference was responsible for the coverage, which included a report by the Los Angeles Times.
Ali also seemed to be eager to interject the names “Daniel Pipes” and “Steve Emerson” as scapegoats for any controversy reported by the Orlando Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times.
WND did not interview or receive background from Pipes or Emerson for this story, nor were Pipes or Emerson interviewed by the other media.
Mobilizing protest against critics Pipes and Emerson has been a CAIR priority via action e-mails sent to members and by the issuing of press releases that suggest the men slander all of Islam, despite evidence to the contrary. Both Pipes and Emerson have persistently reported questionable links of Muslim groups, including CAIR.
When asked to comment on testimony that CAIR was founded by two individuals from a Hamas front group, Ali said, “I don’t know very much about the founders.”
When WND asked Ali what his opinion was of Hamas and whether he supported the group, he declined to answer, saying he doesn’t comment on international affairs.
He also attributed any controversy generated around the Orlando conference to a post-9-11 eagerness to target Muslims in general, especially those connected to mosques.
The comment was nearly identical to one he gave the Associated Press before the conference, when he attributed controversy over the sheikh who prayed to God to “terminate the Jews” to it being “open season” on Muslims since 9-11.
In addition to heading up the Florida CAIR chapter, Ali was invited to be in class XXII as a part of the prestigious Leadership Broward group, a premier leadership-development program that puts participants in touch with the inner workings of Broward County.
Ali was tapped earlier this year by the School Board of Broward County’s Diversity Committee to produce a video teaching diversity awareness. The video was aired on the Broward County public-school TV network and also featured another Orlando conference speaker – the spiritual leader of Darul Aloom, Maulana Shafayat Mohamed.
(Darul Aloom is the Pembroke Pines, Fla., madrassa [or Islamic learning center] previously in media as the place where Jose Padilla, the alleged al-Qaida ‘dirty bomber,’ had worshipped and where two individuals were said to have plotted attacks on a National Guard Armory and South Florida electrical power stations.)
Mohamed spoke at the Orlando conference on raising children to live moral lives and sat on the stage during Malik’s speech. The two exchanged a warm embrace after Malik’s speech.
Gralnick of the American Jewish Committee of Palm Beach County expressed concerns to WND over recent events, including the Orlando conference.
“While circumstantial, the al-Arian case and its connections, Abu Sway and his connection to Hamas and the extremism reported by the Boston Herald about the mosque in Boston, the things found out about 9-11 preparations including money laundering in Palm Beach County, and the conference in Orlando all seem to add up to more activity than can be coincidental,” he said.
“It is worrisome to me that there have been so many connections, stemming from before 9-11, to Islamic extremism in so many different parts of the state. I would speculate that lines connect the dots, and that is of great concern.”
Middle East specialist and terrorism expert Yehudit Barsky also expressed concern.
“For 20 years, these organizations realized they could come to the U.S. very freely and have conferences,” she said, “They take advantage of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to distribute materials.”
Considered an authoritative source on terrorism, Barsky is in demand to give briefings to law-enforcement organizations across the U.S. on the history, development and activity of such groups. She has delivered such briefings in Florida as well.
Barsky said that using terms like “inter-faith” and promoting peace and unity in written materials was an obfuscation of true intent, and part of an effort to gain legitimacy before the public.
“These groups that are promoting ideas – this is the indoctrination part of it. The goal is to promote an extremist brand of Islam and convince Muslims in this country that it’s the only way.
“We don’t want to lose our freedoms. We as Americans have this challenge of what to do with these guys, and it’s a serious challenge.”
She added, “We’ve been aware of it for a long time, but now more people are paying attention. Now there are real implications. These groups are masquerading as mainstream groups, yet after taking a closer look you see they are the most extreme.”
‘We want to be free’
Malik has a sharp word for those who say “Muslim terrorists are going after your way of life” and “freedoms.”
In a speech called “American Dream or Nightmare,” Malik explains that the target of “Muslim terrorists” really is the imperialist way of life, not “your personal freedoms.”
“No, its not the freedoms we’re going after. It’s the fact that you control our countries. We’ve got these kings here that you want in. We want to be free; that’s what it is.”
Malik says that the Quran divides non-Muslims into three categories: those who will help and are friendly, those who are neutral, and category three who “want to kill us. They want to take us out!”
In terms of the argument that terrorists are going after Americans’ freedoms, Malik says: “That’s the third category talking to the first and second category of non-Muslims. And then they use these ayats [verses], ‘Slay them wherever you find them and kill them.’ That’s for the third category [laughter in audience], but they make it sound like it’s for the first and second category.”
The verses in the Quran about fighting, Malik says, are only for those who “hate us or want to kill us.” He advises followers to ask people concerned about the ayats, “Are you taking up for oppressors? That’s what it’s talking about,” or “You’re not in that third category are you?”
Malik says if Americans understood the imperialist nature of their government, they would not support its imperialist actions, and he predicts Islam will become vastly more popular due to a disenchantment of the American people with widespread corruption.
Constrained by spiritual beliefs that dictate what is recognized as authentic, Malik has told followers, “We are obligated to live under an Islamic state.”
“The mujahedeen fight with the sword and the word,” Malik says. “At least we can use the word in America.”
A ‘malignant ideology’
The Dallas Morning News’ Dreher, meanwhile, points a finger at apathy.
“Silence and a lack of curiosity, however well meaning or unwitting, are allowing a malignant ideology to grow unchecked in this country,” he says.
“They must not get away with it,” says Dreher. “As benign as they sometimes sound, Dr. Syeed and his ilk are no friends of moderation and tolerance.
“American Muslims who want no part of Islamo-fascist ideology are its first victims. They won’t be its last.”
Sheik Palazzi advises those who oppose fundamentalism and suicide bombings to persevere.
“We are forbidden to lose hope. As the Quran says: ‘How oft, by God’s will, hath a small force vanquished a big one? Verily, God is with those who steadfastly persevere.'”
‘Passing the torch’
As the battle continues for the future of Islam in America, in Orlando, Imam Malik teaches the importance of “passing the torch” to Muslim youth and warns about the lack of “real” leaders and the rise of false ones who would corrupt the minds of young Muslims.
And he has a chilling prophecy for corrupt leaders:
“In the final chapter of your death and resurrection, on the Day of Judgment, Shatan [Satan] will say: ‘I called you and you came … Don’t blame me; blame yourself.'”
Editor’s note: WND thanks the counterterrorism department of the American Jewish Committee for sharing open-source research on Islamic Jihad and Hamas for this report.
Read Part 1: “WND goes inside ‘mainstream’ Muslim conference”
Read Part 2: “How U.S. extremists fund terror”