Over the last weeks there have been numerous signs of a new attitude at Foggy Bottom in relation to the international movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. While scores of moderate Muslims and Islamic scholars, the 9/11 Commission, and European security officials point to the Muslim Brothers as the forefathers of modern Islamist terrorism, the State Department is, in fact, flirting with them. As noted by Doug Farah here, last month the State Department sent its head of counterterrorism, Ambassador Hank Crumpton, to be the keynote speaker at a conference co-sponsored by the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), an infamous Brotherhood-linked Northern Virginia outfit. And in two weeks, as Rachel Ehrenfeld reported, the U.S. Embassy in Rome will co-sponsor a high-profile two-day symposium about immigration and integration where the highly controversial Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan has been invited as a keynote speaker.
Isolated blunders? Unfortunately not. Two weeks ago the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on Islamist Extremism in Europe where various government officials outlined their initiatives to reach out to European Muslims. Particularly interesting was the testimony of the US Ambassador to Belgium, Tom Korologos, who explained how, over the past few months, together with the State Department, has been promoting various seemingly laudable initiatives in which American and European Muslim organizations meet with US officials, opening a dialogue that, in the Ambassador's hopes, will "break stereotypes and foster networking opportunities."
Dialogue with Muslim leaders, both in the West and in the rest of the world, is a crucial aspect of America's war on terror, which, in the long run, is more important than any military or anti-terrorist operation. Yet Ambassador Korologos, and the State Department with him, seems to have completely missed the mark. The organizations that have been chosen to participate in his initiative, in fact, represent the gotha of the Muslim Brotherhood's network on both sides of the Atlantic, raising serious doubts as to whether a genuinely open and constructive dialogue is being fostered.
Ambassador Korologos' main European partner is FEMYSO, the youth branch of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), the umbrella organization for various groups that are closely linked to the Brotherhood. FEMYSO's cofounder is WAMY, a Saudi charity that has been widely suspected of links to terrorism (ironically, the US Senate itself solicited an inquiry into WAMY's terror ties just two years ago). And FEMYSO's long time president, Ibrahim El Zayat, came under investigation in Germany for having funneled more than $2 million to an al Qaeda-linked charity.
The American partners in the initiative are no less worthy of suspicion. One of them is the ubiquitous Council on American Islamic relations (CAIR), whose unrelenting apology of radical Islam has become known to most Americans (less known is the fact that several of its members have been convicted for terrorist activities). Less known, but equally ambiguous, is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a group that, in Senator Chuck Schumer's words, has "disturbing connections to Wahhabism and terrorism."
Considering its track record, State's decision to partner with these self-proclaimed moderates is not surprising. Among the many cases of its endorsement of radicals, the most famous example is its partnership with Abdulrahman Alamoudi, who in the 1990s served as State's goodwill ambassador to Muslim countries, despite complaints from moderate American Muslims. To the dismay of his sponsors in Foggy Bottom, in 2004 Alamoudi was sentenced to a 23-year prison sentence for violating anti-terrorism sanctions, including a plot to kill the Saudi ruler. Furthermore, his ties to terror groups such as Hamas and al Qaeda have since been publicly exposed.
Alamoudi, who also served as a representative of ISNA in Washington, personified the double face of the Brotherhood in the West. While cozying up to elites in Washington in English, he spread a different message in Arabic. In 1996, in fact, Alamoudi tellingly said at an Islamic conference in Chicago: "Once we are here, our mission in this country is to change it. ... There is no way for Muslims to be violent in America, no way. We have other means to do it… If we are outside this country, we can say, 'Oh, Allah, destroy America.'"
Ambassador Korologos in all likelihood means well. Yet these blunders only highlight the unpreparedness of the US government in dealing with, and even understanding, the threat of radical Islam. If Sun Tzu was right in saying that knowing one's enemy is key to winning a war, the War on Terror will likely be a bumpy ride.