Federal, state and local law enforcement officials are organizing a two-day conference starting Sunday in central California entitled, "Radicalization Conference 2010: Radicalization and Homegrown Violent Extremism."
The official program makes it immediately clear that the word "Islamic" is missing before the word "Radicalization" or before the words "Homegrown Violent Extremism." This politically correct self-censorship in avoiding the use of the word "Islamic" before "Radicalization" or "Extremism" follows the growing censorship adopted by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and even the White House.
Yet, sources knowledgeable about the conference say its aim is to focus on how to counter radicalization in the Islamic community. It is being organized by the LA Prison and Radicalization unit of the LA Joint Regional Terrorist Threat Assessment Center (LA-JRTTAC), which itself is part of the DHS-funded LA "Fusion Center." The Fusion Center is underwriting the conference. The Fusion Center includes representatives from LA FBI, LA Sheriff, and LA Police Department.
High-ranking officials from all of LA law enforcement agencies are scheduled to speak including Chief Michael Grossman of the LA Sheriff's office, LAPD Chief Michael Downing, a senior LA FBI official, several detectives of the LA Sheriff's office and investigators from the district attorney's office.
Most surprisingly, also appearing at this federally funded conference are two officials from an Islamist organization which has served at the forefront of impeding U.S. counterterrorism efforts, has issued statements in support of terrorist groups like Hizballah and, perhaps most significantly, has issued incendiary statements that actually cause Muslims to be radicalized.
The conference, organizers say, "will consist of 2 days of subject experts in Radicalization, Homegrown Extremists, and Terrorism, to educate the law enforcement community." The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, according to knowledgeable sources, played a key in helping the select speakers at this conference.
Salam al-Marayati and Edina Lekovic, leaders from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, will address a panel Monday on the "Muslim American Perspective on Radicalization." MPAC, however, is an organization that has followed a consistent pattern of opposing U.S. counterterrorism efforts and defending designated terrorist organizations and their supporters.
MPAC paints US Counterterrorism Efforts as a "War on Islam"
It is axiomatic that one of the biggest problems facing the United States today is the false Islamist narrative that the United States is engaged in a "war against Islam." This conspiratorial narrative is a leading cause of radicalization—portraying the US (and the West) as leading a conspiracy to subjugate Islam and to single out Muslims for terrorist prosecution simply because of their faith.
Some Muslims like Maajid Nawaz, have been leading the charge against that false narrative. After spending 14 years with the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group which advocates creating a global Islamic state, Nawaz re-evaluated his ideology while serving four years in an Egyptian prison and renounced his previous views.
He co-founded the Quilliam Foundation in London, a group dedicated to challenging extremist ideology in hopes of stemming the path from radical thought to violent action. "60 Minutes" recently profiled Nawaz, showing how he travels to radical strongholds to combat what he calls "the narrative." It's a potent mixture of Muslim supremacy, paranoia, conspiracy theories and religious fanaticism that fuels jihadists. As he told Lesley Stahl:
"In a nutshell, it's that the West is waging a war against Islam and Muslims to destroy Islam. And that the only way to stop this war is for Muslims to start fighting back on all fronts against the West."
Despite the importance of winning this ideological battle, instead of countering that false narrative, MPAC has taken aim at virtually all U.S. counter-terrorism policies, painting them as part of a broad-based "war on Islam."
In its February 2007 amicus brief in a civil suit by the Islamic Society of Boston against the Investigative Project on Terrorism, MPAC complained that Islamophobia was becoming normalized in the United States and that Muslims were being discriminated against and excluded:
"In the wake of the terrible tragedy of 9/11…the American Muslim community has fallen victim to McCarthyesque, guilt by attenuated and nonexistent association finger pointing….This Islamaphobia has left American Muslims fearful and confused about their place in American society. And it has left them vulnerable to bigotry."
In an April 2009 interview with al Watan al Arabi, al-Marayati continued the trend of claiming that all U.S. counterterrorism policies are representative of a broader "war on Islam." In an interview in Arabic that was translated in English, al-Marayati said:
"There is Islamophobia in the American government too, and this is a problem, since there are people in it spreading fear of Islam and distributing misleading generalizations against American Islamic organizations"
MPAC and its leadership has blamed Islamaphobia on "special interest groups" and "gangs bent on hatred and fanaticism." In a January 2009 speech at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Maher Hathout argued that responsibility for Islamaphobia lies with those groups:
"exploiting the fear of the country after 9/11, and the agitation of the previous administration to spread lies about Islam and about Muslims to intimidate, marginalize them to prevent Muslims from being part of the American discourse."
Similarly, in June 2004, MPAC Vice Chairman Aslam Abdullah, criticizing the "war on terrorism," argued:
"there are three specific lobbies that are turning the ongoing war on terrorism against Islam. The Christian Evangelicals who want to see Muslims converted, the political Zionists who want to see Muslims politically obliterated, and the Hindu extremists who want to see Muslims humiliated. Those are the groups that want to make Islam and Muslims the new war frontier…They will do everything possible to serve their interests and they will use whatever means they have to ensure that Muslims are marginalized…Many members of these lobbies are in the administration and in the FBI, law enforcement, and even Congress"
The effect of this agitation, according to MPAC is that the "war on terrorism," is viewed as a de facto "war on Islam." As al-Marayati argued in a 2000 article titled Defining Terrorism for America: Jewish and Muslim Cases and their Readings by the American Public, U.S. policies encourage:
"double standards in opinion—and policymaking vis-à-vis counterterrorism; it also exacerbates tensions in interfaith relations…biases the Middle East peace process, and intensifies the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West."
MPAC has broadly condemned a wide-range of law enforcement tools, arguing in May 2001 that "domestic counterterrorism efforts, such as unconstitutional use of secret evidence, also disproportionately target Muslims." The organization has also criticized the use of profiling, fusion centers, and informants, amongst other tools.
In a March 2003 Los Angeles Times article discussing the FBI's relationship with Muslim American communities, al-Marayati said the law enforcement approach has not worked:
"[T]he FBI's policy of targeting people because of their race and religion…That's what they've been doing since the attacks, and we don't know of any case that has resulted in the arrest, indictment or prosecution of a terrorist."
Even though a fusion center is hosting this conference on radicalization, MPAC frequently criticized the creation and use of fusion centers, making the fact that a fusion center in California is involved in the planning of this conference all the more ironic. After the Obama Administration took office, MPAC immediately began its efforts to dismantle the national use of fusion centers. In April 2009, the organization supported a statement released by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) calling for their elimination:
"We are fully united in asking the Obama administration to address … use of McCarthy-era tactics, most notably dissemination of Islamophobic analysis by federally-funded 'fusion centers' to local law enforcement agencies."
Explaining their problem with the law enforcement tool in May 2009, MPAC complained that the information and intelligence shared between fusion centers was coming from dubious sources that would lead to "faulty" threat assessments:
"While not all fusion centers may be engaging in improper intelligence activities, MPAC and other privacy and civil liberties groups are concerned that the information gathered at fusion centers may be used in violation of Constitutionally protected civil liberties. Furthermore, nontraditional collectors of intelligence, such as private sector organizations who hold themselves out to be national security experts may be providing information that is inaccurate, biased and discriminatory. This could result in faulty threat assessments as it relates to American Muslims …"
Despite the FBI's participation in the Radicalization conference, a prime target of MPAC has been the FBI's use of informants and undercover officers whom MPAC alleges instigate terrorist plots. Despite the fact that informants are widely used including in drug, gang, and organized crime investigations, in an October 2006 interview with PBS, al-Marayati cast informants as opportunistic and unreliable:
"I think the question that has to be asked about them is, are they providing us valuable information about terrorism, or are they just instigating people to say stupid things and as their meal tickets to justify their salaries right now? I don't have much respect for informants, but if the FBI feels that they have to utilize informants, then I would like them to make the case to us on how they've been useful in their terrorist investigations. And if they have been involved in entrapment, then I would like that to be made clear as well."
In a February 2009 press release titled "FBI losing Partnership with American Muslim Community," MPAC argued "federal law enforcement cannot establish trust with American Muslim communities through meetings and town hall forums, while at the same time sending paid informants who instigate violent rhetoric in mosques. This mere act stigmatizes American mosques and casts a shadow of doubt and distrust between American Muslims and their neighbors. It has also led many mosques and community groups to reconsider their relationship with the FBI."
In April 2009, after federal authorities disrupted an alleged plot to bomb synagogues and fire missiles at American military aircraft, Al-Marayati continued his attacks against law enforcement. Asked in an interview whether it was useful to have informants in mosques, Al-Marayati replied by suggesting that the investigation was a waste of money:
"These were individuals who were either petty criminals or gullible people who were guilty of stupidity. They were not imminent threats to our country, as the FBI has stated," Al-Marayati told Fox News. "We want those tax dollars to be used to fight al Qaeda, not to entrap people who are just gullible."
The men were subsequently convicted of plotting to detonate explosives and to shoot military planes down.
Even more incendiary has been the group's double-speak on cooperation with law enforcement. While publicly calling upon its members to remain vigilant and assist U.S. law enforcement officials, that message is undercut by the group's casting informants as agents provocateurs. At a July 2005 conference in Dallas sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America, al-Marayati said that Muslims should not become informants for the federal government. He cited a case in Lodi, Calif., in which two Islamic extremists were convicted of providing material support to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. Without the work of informants, the defendants may have successfully carried out terrorist acts within the United States.
Following the arrests, al-Marayati told his Dallas audience:
"Counter-terrorism and counter-violence should be defined by us. We should define how an effective counter-terrorism policy should be pursued in this country. So, number one, we reject any effort, notion, and suggestion that Muslims should start spying on one another. In fact if you look at the Lodi case, the disaster of Lodi is that Muslims were reporting each other to the authorities saying, 'Oh, this person is an extremist. ' And the other camp said the same thing, so both of them got into trouble. So, this is the model not to follow. The model to follow in terms of counter-terrorism is a healthy partnership between our community and law enforcement. Law enforcement is going to come to your mosque; it already has as far as I can tell. Everywhere I go either somebody tells me that officials have met with them publicly or they tell me that they know who those folks are that are representing law enforcement. So we know they have communicated one way or the other with the Muslim community. The question is how do you deal with it in a healthy, open, transparent manner. That is why we are saying have them come in community forums, in open-dialogues, so they come through the front door and you prevent them having to come from the back door."
Most recently, MPAC criticized the FBI for investigating a domestic support structure for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in Minneapolis and Chicago. MPAC attacked the searches as "a fishing expedition" and claimed the U.S. government showed "no regard for nonviolent work." The organization said that, absent evidence that the targeted groups were "planning terrorist operations," the justification offered for the raids is "absurd."
As the Investigative Project on Terrorism noted at the time, MPAC officials' comments show they either don't know what activity is barred under U.S. law or don't care. It isn't necessary for the government to show that someone was "planning terrorist operations" to demonstrate that the suspect is providing material support to terrorists.
This recent example is the latest in a long string of similar statements that should make any law enforcement officer question whether or not MPAC is an appropriate voice in a discussion about homegrown terrorism
MPAC downplays the threat posed by Islamic terrorists
Rather than simply impeding the investigation of terrorism-related activities in the United States, one of the speakers at the Radicalization conference, Edina Lekovic, has also demonstrated a willingness to defend terrorist organizations as "freedom fighters."
One early example of this comes directly from Lekovic, who in the late 1990s was managing editor of Al-Talib, an Islamist student newspaper at UCLA. The July 1999 issue included an editorial which described Osama bin Laden as a "great Mujahid" and as a "freedom fighter and philanthropist."
By the time of publication of this editorial, the leader of al-Qaida had issued a world-wide declaration of war against the United States and a fatwa declaring it to be "an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it" to kill Americans and their allies. Lest there be any question that Bin Laden was a confirmed terrorist way before Lekovic's publication lionized bin Laden in 1999, al-Qaida had carried out the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing hundreds of civilians.
Nonetheless, the Al-Talib editorial stated, "When we hear someone refer to the great Mujahid Osama bin Laden as a 'terrorist,' we should defend our brother and refer to him as a freedom fighter; someone who has forsaken wealth and power to fight in Allah's cause and speaks out against oppressors."
When I confronted Lekovic with her role as managing editor for this publication on CNBC's Kudlow & Company in May 2007, she flagrantly denied being the managing editor of al-Talib saying that Emerson's research was "sloppy." Hours later, I released a copy of the Al-Talib issue listing her as the managing editor . Lekovic then wrote me an email claiming that her listing as managing editor was a "typographical error."
I then released additional evidence showing that Lekovic was listed as an editor of Al Talib, or named for "special thanks" in 12 issues between 1997 and 2002. The Investigative Project on Terrorism has repeatedly called upon MPAC to condemn Hamas and Hizballah as the terrorist organizations that the United States and the international community have recognized them to be. Typically, MPAC has skirted the issue by condemning "terrorism and any act of violence against civilians, including suicide bombings," while refusing to associate Hamas or Hizballah as groups responsible for those actions.
A review of MPAC's website indicates nothing that condemns either Hamas or Hizballah.
During a June 1998 speech at the National Press Club, Maher Hathout, a senior leader of MPAC, attempted to cast Hizballah as misunderstood:
"the whole country keeps condemning Hizballah. I disagree with them on other issues, but on the issue of fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate, that is an American value—freedom and liberty."
Similarly, in a November 1999 interview titled "Muslims in America," on PBS, al-Marayati explained:
"If the Lebanese people are resisting Israeli intransigence on Lebanese soil, then that is the right of resistance and they have the right to target Israeli soldiers in this conflict. That is not terrorism. That is a legitimate resistance. That could be called a liberation movement, that could be called anything, but it's not terrorism."
More recently, in a 2003 counterterrorism paper, MPAC advocated the removal of Hamas, Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the government's list of terrorist groups. The organization argued that Washington's "preoccupation" with these groups "raises the question as to whether targeting Palestinian groups serves true national security interests or is based on political considerations."
MPAC consistently defends the domestic support structure of foreign terrorist groups
Opposing both counter-terrorism efforts and the U.S. designation of groups like Hamas, Hizballah, and their ilk as "terrorists," MPAC has consistently come to the defense of convicted Islamic terrorists, their supporting organizations and charitable fronts for Islamic terrorist groups. For example, MPAC condemned the arrest and conviction of officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) which was shut down by the US government in December 2001 as a front for Hamas.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill declared that HLF "masquerades as a charity, while its primary purpose is to fund Hamas…This organization exists to raise money in the United States to promote terror."
But MPAC had a far different take, arguing in a joint statement issued with seven other Islamic groups that the goals of cutting off funding for terrorism and achieving peace in the Middle East could not be achieved "by taking food out of the mouths of Palestinian orphans or by succumbing to politically-motivated smear campaigns by those who would perpetuate Israel's brutal occupation."
The statement termed the government's action "an unjust and counterproductive move that can only damage America's credibility with Muslims in this country and around the world and could create the impression that there has been a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam."
In 2008, jurors in Dallas convicted HLF and five former leaders on 108 counts related to their Hamas support.
MPAC's reaction was much the same after the government shut down the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in 2001, before being designated as a financier of terrorism the following year. In a column written for the New York Times, al-Marayati characterized the action as helping to propagate the false narrative that the US was engaged in a war against Islam. Al-Marayati wrote, "by effectively shutting down these charities, it has given Americans the false impression that American Muslims are supporting terrorists. It has also given the Muslim world a similarly false impression that America is intolerant of a religious minority."
Similarly, a July 2005 article penned by al-Marayati criticized the government freeze of assets belonging to three Muslim charities suspected of financing terror. "Selective justice is injustice," al-Marayati wrote. "It does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the U.S. is anti-Islam."
When 11 members of a "Virginia jihad" network linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban were indicted on a variety of conspiracy charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to provide material support to the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. MPAC suggested there was insufficient evidence to justify the action. The organization highlighted how "within a few days of the arrests, however, US District Judge T. Rawles Jones, Jr. cast doubt on the government's allegations and ordered five of the men released without bond." Six of the defendants later pled guilty, three were convicted at trial, and two were acquitted.
And in one of the most high profile cases, MPAC repeatedly went to bat for Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor arrested in 2003 for allegedly serving as North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a designated terrorist organization said to be responsible for the deaths of two Americans and more than 100 Israelis. Yet, despite all of this indisputable evidence showing Al- Arian to be an officer in a murderous Islamic terrorist organization, MPAC and al-Marayati defended Al-Arian when he was first arrested, protested that he was being put on trial and even defended him after he was convicted.
After Al-Arian's 2003 arrest, MPAC issued a press release in which MPAC Senior Advisor Maher Hathout demanded proof that the charges against Al-Arian were based on "concrete evidence of criminal activity and not guilt by association or political considerations." Hathout added that it was disturbing that Attorney General John Ashcroft inserted religious expressions like Jihad and martyrdom, words the defendant himself used, to a major federal investigation and indictment:
"Such ambiguous assertions and inflammatory language about religious terms does not help in clarifying the direction of the war on terrorism nor does it reassure Americans of the effectiveness in the government approach in rooting out terrorism."
During Al-Arian's 2005 trial, the government released numerous documents, audio and video tapes showing Al-Arian praising suicide bombers, yelling "Death to Israel" and "Damn America" at an Islamic Jihad rally held in Chicago, and congratulating Islamic Jihad leaders for killing Israelis.
The trial ended in a mix of acquittals and a hung jury on several key counts. MPAC issued a statement expressing their support for Al-Arian, overlooking the remaining charges:
"The acquittal … proves once again that everyone deserves their day in court, and that such cases should be fairly tried in the court of law not the court of public opinion."
Rather than face a retrial, Al Arian pled guilty in 2006 to one charge of making and receiving contributions of funds, goods, and services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A month earlier, , al-Marayati had lauded Al-Arian at a fundraising dinner as a man who "defied the odds in a system that is unfair," adding, "[T]here is no way that you can get a fair trial in view of any of these issues today The presiding judge at Al-Arian's trial saw things differently. At Al-Arian's sentencing, Judge James S. Moody, Jr., in a very uncharacteristic judicial dressing down of a defendant, said to Al-Arian:
"[…]you continue to lie to your friends and supporters, claiming to abhor violence and to seek only aid for widows and orphans. Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among the Palestinians; and you create them, not by sending your children to blow themselves out of existence. No. You exhort others to send their children."
MPAC has no place at a conference focused on countering Islamic radicalization
Despite this extensive record of opposing U.S. counterterrorism efforts, defending designated terrorist organizations and their supports, and pushing the false narrative that the US is engaged in a "war against Islam," organizers of the radicalization conference apparently felt that the leadership of MPAC would make for appropriate speakers.
A review of the list of organizers—the L.A. County Sheriff, the L.A. County Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center, and the L.A.P.D.—may explain the selection of MPAC officials. Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County has become a fixture at events sponsored by Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and frequently defends their radicalism.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department website's "Muslim Community Affairs" page features a link urging, "Read 500 Most Influential Muslims." It connects readers to a book by John Esposito, an apologist for CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Professor Ibrahim Kalim, an advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The book includes remarkably positive portraits of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader.
During a House committee hearing earlier this year, Baca took great umbrage at a question from U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., about Baca's close relationship with CAIR:
Souder: "And Sheriff Baca, you've been ten times to the fundraisers for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-which even the FBI has separated themselves from-
Baca: "And I'll be there 10 more times."
At the same hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported that Baca "called Souder's comments 'scary' and said they were an affront to all Muslim Americans. 'When you attack CAIR,' he said, 'you attack virtually every Muslim in America.'"
Souder then noted the testimony of an FBI agent identifying CAIR as a Hamas front. "I served in the United States Marine Corps," Baca shot back. "I put my life on the line for people to do what you just did to me, but I'm not going to let you do that here. My record is clear. CAIR is not a terrorist supporting organization. That is my experience, that is my interaction, and if you want to promote that, you're on your own."
The record indicates otherwise. CAIR was listed as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Hamas funding trial of HLF, been and had its relationship with the FBI severed based on exhibits which leave open the question "whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS."
In featuring MPAC officials, who claim to speak for all Muslims, as speakers before this prestigious law enforcement conference, the organizers and the participants confer respectability on an organization that has helped foster radicalization, not counter it. This action abets a deception deliberately perpetrated by MPAC that it is a "moderate" group that is opposed to Islamist terrorism. For a more extensive examination of MPAC's statements supporting terrorist groups, its record of issuing incendiary statements claiming that the FBI and USG are involved in "selective prosecution" of Muslims simply because of their religion (see the IPT's dossier on MPAC here.)
Conference organizers are ignoring available evidence of MPAC's radicalism, instead believing the organization to be an appropriate partner in countering radicalism. Now it's time to ask whether the other organizers of the event were aware of MPAC's history of radicalism and counter-productive "counter-terrorism" assistance. And if they were aware, or did not bother to ask questions since MPAC is so prominent in Southern California, what does that say about the ability of these law enforcement groups to truly detect threats to American society?