A major American Islamist organization close to the Obama administration will host Tunisian Islamist Rachid Ghannouchi at its national conference in late August. The invitation is one of the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) most visible engagements with Islamist politics taking charge in the Middle East.
Despite ISNA's insistence that Ghannouchi is "an advocate of religious tolerance and freedom, women's rights, [and] non-violent leadership," the chief of Tunisia's Ennahda party has an extremist record.
Ghannouchi was denied a visa to the United States in the 1990s and much of this decade for a series of violently anti-American comments. He was only admitted into the country last year for a whirlwind tour, which included the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and several think tanks, after his party won power in Tunisian elections.
Since then, the Ennahda party won a plurality in Tunisian parliamentary elections, and Ghannouchi has hosted a visit by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and advocated for the repatriation of Tunisian al-Qaida members from prisons overseas.
He has also voiced support for Palestinian terrorism and the political legitimization of Hamas. The Arab Spring "will achieve positive results on the path to the Palestinian cause and threaten the extinction of Israel," he said in a May 2011 interview with the Al Arab Qatari website. "The liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation represents the biggest challenge facing the Umma [Muslim nation] and the Umma cannot have existence in light of the Israeli occupation."
In 2009 he stirred up controversy with calls to "strike terror" into the hearts of Israelis with Qassam rockets. In June 2001, he appeared in an al-Jazeerah panel discussion in which he blessed the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers:
"I would like to send my blessings to the mothers of those youth, those men who succeeded in creating a new balance of power…I bless the mothers who planted in the blessed land of Palestine the amazing seeds of these youths, who taught the international system and the Israel [sic] arrogance, supported by the US, an important lesson. The Palestinian woman, mother of the Shahids (martyrs), is a martyr herself, and she has created a new model of woman."
This week, Ghannouchi plays host to radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is influential with the Muslim Brotherhood and has expressed a desire to kill a Jew, hailing Qaradawi as "Sheikh of the revolutionaries" for support of Arab Spring uprisings.