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The speaker rosters at the Brookings Institution's annual Doha conferences read like a veritable Who's Who of international leaders.
Featured guests include influential American policymakers such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, and former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad.
Their international counterparts include former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmad bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, and many, many others from the highest echelons of global political power.
The luminaries consider questions such as the following three from the 2006 conference: "With the five year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming up, what is the state of relations between the U.S. and broader Muslim world? Where do we want to be five years from now? What are the key challenges that we must solve to reach this vision?"
Brookings introduces these leaders to – and therefore legitimizes – unsavory figures like Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guide Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda Party.
Brookings claims to offer "a platform to policy experts and world leaders, bringing expertise and informed debate to the public discussion of policy choices."
However, the commitment of some of its Qatari associates to the global peace and stability that Brookings claims to foster is, at the very least, questionable.
Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi
Brookings grants a platform to numerous Islamists and supporters of jihad terror through its association with Qatar, as in the case of Muslim Brotherhood intellectual and spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi, who enjoys close ties with its government.
Qaradawi, whose presence in Qatar dates back to the 1970s, has described the Holocaust as "divine punishment on the Jews," sanctioned killing Shiite Muslims and declared that no innocent Jews exist in Israel. His views led American officials to prevent him from visiting the U.S. in 1999 and British officials to prevent him from entering the U.K. in 2008.
But his popular program on Al Jazeera gives Qaradawi a global reach, making him among the world's most influential Sunni clerics.
Qaradawi also heads the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which lists former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as a member, sanctioned the killing of U.S. troops in Iraq, praised Palestinian terrorists as heroes, and issued repeated calls for Israel's destruction.
A State Department cable disclosed by Wikileaks demonstrates that the connection between Qaradawi and Qatar's financial sector concerned the Obama administration in 2009. U.S. Treasury officials admonished Qatar concerning Qaradawi's role as chairman of the shariah advisory board of the Qatar Islamic Bank– headed by Sheik Jassim Bin Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, a member of Qatar's royal family – due to fears that he leveraged his position to steer money to Hamas.
Qatar rebuffed American efforts to exclude Qaradawi from his involvement in the emirate's banking sector, which he has manipulated to fund terrorist groups. Qaradawi sat on the Qatar Islamic Bank's shariah advisory board, which is responsible for "channeling contributions of Zakat," until 2010, according to the bank's 2013 governance report.
Qaradawi influences Qatar's charitable sector, including Qatar Charity – formerly the Qatar Charitable Foundation – and the Qatar Foundation. The former belongs to Qaradawi's Union of Good, an alliance of 57 Islamic charities in 21 countries. In its designating the Union of Good, the U.S. Treasury Department officials describe it as "a broker for Hamas" that facilitates financial transfers between its member charities in a November 2008 press release. Union of Good issued the Istanbul Declaration in July 2010 calling for "jihad and resistance against the occupation until the liberation of all Palestine."
Another indication of Qaradawi's closeness to Qatar's leadership came in 2008 when the Qatar Foundation established the Al-Qaradawi Centre for Research in Moderate Thought. A January 2009 Gulf News report stated that the center would "serve as a think tank on a wide range of issues concerning Islamic studies and will highlight the middle path propagated by Qaradawi."
Qaradawi has repeatedly endorsed suicide bombings, including those against U.S. troops in Iraq, and claims that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were not engaged in terrorism due to Israel's universal conscription policy in 1996. Six months before the 2002 Doha conference, the Qatari newspaper Ar-Raayah quoted Qaradawi petitioning Arab governments to arm Palestinian terror groups to "bring about victory to the Intifada" and saying that Palestinian suicide bombers are "heroic martyrs."
During Brookings' 2002 Doha Conference on U.S. Relations With the Islamic World, Qaradawi joined UCLA Law Professor Khaled Abou Fadl on a panel titled "Martyrs of Murderers? Terrorism and Suicide Bombings." Qaradawi launched into an invective defending Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Brigades and suicide bombing.
"If we are talking about people who are our brothers and our sons in Palestine who are defending their country, people like Hamas and Jihad and al-Aqsa brigades, they are not murderers, they are not killers and it's a transgression against them to call them so and label them so …They have every right to defend themselves and to stick their necks out for the sake of their freedom," Qaradawi said. "People who call them suicides are committing a transgression against them. This is a wrongful description. They are not suicides.
"They are the furthest away from the concept of suicide. The psychology of a suicide is totally different. A suicide is someone who is desperate and gives up hope on life and God and does not believe in the mercy of God. They are totally against that. These are people who can never be called murderers."
Abou Fadl politely disagreed with Qaradawi.
"I fully recognize the right of Palestinians to defend themselves against violence, and I do not have any idealized visions of Israeli policy towards Palestinians," Abou Fadl said. "But when, as an intellectual living in the United States, I hear about a group that goes in during a bar mitzvah and slaughters a group of religious practitioners, I cannot fit it with-in my readings in Islamic ethics or Islamic law. I find a very difficult time deferring to such political paradigms, because it offends me to the core as a Muslim and as a Muslim intellectual."
Qaradawi's unequivocal defense of suicide bombings was not enough to stop Brookings from inviting back in 2007. Ambassador Martin Indyk, head of Brookings' Saban Center for Middle East Policy, sat next to Qaradawi onstage. Qaradawi delivered an anti-American, pro-Palestinian terrorist speech:
"So what I want to say is that it is America who is antagonizing us, it took Islam as a surrogate enemy, and accuses Islam of being the source of violence and terrorism, while it forbids our occupied peoples from resisting the occupiers. It does not want the Iraqi people to resist the American occupation, nor does it want the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation. Whoever does this is accused of terrorism. Hamas and the Palestinian resistance factions are all accused of resisting the occupiers. Because I oppose the Palestinian occupation, I am categorized by our American brothers as a terrorist, as calling for terrorism. Does this make people love America? They are double standards."
Qaradawi complained that, "America, which forbids the resistance from defending its country, does not say a single word condemning Israel's daily acts of slaughter, torture, displacement, starvation, destruction, and siege. It does not say a single honorable word. On the contrary, Israel runs amok in the region with all this violence, supported by American money, American weapons, and the American veto. This is why people are against America." He concluded by acknowledging the influence of the Brookings Institution, saying: "I conclude my speech with some advice that I hope Brother Indyk passes on to the decision makers in America." His advice? "My advice is that America should give up the idea of controlling the world by force."
Brookings' engagement with Qaradawi failed to make a dent in his extremist views, as he reiterated his support for suicide bombings a year later in a February 2008 interview carried by the London-based Al-Hiwar and Al-Jazeera. Qaradawi said: "[British authorities] focused on the issue of martyrdom operations (suicide bombings), as if this was something new. I have (supported) this for more than 20 years. I am not the only one to support this. More than 300 Muslim scholars supported it."
Qaradawi's comments also clarify that semantics determine whether or not an act of violence qualifies as terror for all too many Muslims.
He became the first in a long list of pro-Hamas, anti-American, anti-Israeli speakers invited to attend the Doha-based conferences, all of which Indyk moderated.
Sheik Rachid Ghannouchi
Sheik Rachid Ghannouchi's decades-long defense of Hamas and calls for Israel's violent destruction taxes Brookings' engagement with him.
Ghannouchi blessed the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers during an al-Jazeera panel discussion in 2001, saying: "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."
As far back as a December 1990 speech delivered at the First Islamic Palestine Conference in Tehran, Ghannouchi promoted creating financial institutions to "finance the Islamic liberation jihad with funds donated by Muslims." Ghannouchi claimed that they would fund the creation of an "Islamic army" to "liberate" Palestine and other "occupied" Muslim lands.
Ghannouchi advocated "an Islamic civilizational project that spans all humanity" that would stoke the flames of "rebellion and Islamic resistance everywhere." He also called for the "destruction of the Jews."
"We [are] here back with all our force the call to jihad made by His Excellency Ali Khamenei, who called the Muslim world community to jihad in order to drive out the Great Satan," Ghannouchi said. "The allies of Zionism are the allies of Satan."
Ghannouchi's name appears in the phone book of Al-Taqwa Bank founder Youssef Nada. The bank fulfilled many of the aims in Ghannouchi's 1990 speech, and U.S. Treasury officials implicated it as an al-Qaida and Hamas funding source.
Such support for Hamas and Israel's destruction led the Clinton administration to ban Ghannouchi from entering the U.S. in 1994. The Obama administration rescinded that ban in 2011.
In February 2009, Ghannouchi praised Hamas's rocket attacks against Israel as an essential opportunity to "create intimidation and balance in power" and to "strike terror" into the hearts of the Israelis. He also signed the Istanbul Declaration that month, which advocated a "jihad and Resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine." Ghannouchi also Hamas' Qassam rockets as a way to "create intimidation and balance in power" and to "strike terror" into the hearts of the Israelis during an interview with London-based Al-Hiwar TV.
Considerable evidence exists showing his positions had not changed when the Obama administration allowed him to obtain a visa permitting him to travel to the United States. His 2011 biography from IUMS's Arabic website quoted him saying that the "approach of Hamas in Resistance restored hope to the Islamic Ummah." He still supported jihad, saying in 2011 that Muslims "wherever there is occupation, there is an answer: Jihad. It is an action to liberate Muslim homelands remaining in foreign occupation."
In a May 2011 interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Arab, Ghannouchi declared that the Arab Spring would "achieve positive results on the path to the Palestinian cause and threaten the extinction of Israel….The liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation represents the biggest challenge facing the Umma [global Muslim community] and the Umma cannot have existence in light of the Israeli occupation….I give you the good news that the Arab region will get rid of the bacillus of Israel. Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, said that Israel will disappear by the year 2027. I say that this date may be too far away, and Israel may disappear before this."
His outlook on world affairs reflects that of the Ennahda platform, which declares that the group "struggles to achieve the following goals … To struggle for the liberation of Palestine and consider it as a central mission and a duty required by the need to challenge the Zionist colonial attack which planted in the heart of the homeland an alien entity which constitutes a [sic] obstacle to unity and reflects the image of the conflict between our civilization and its enemies."
Brookings rewarded Ghannouchi with an audience at its US-Islamic World Forum in 2012. Despite Ghannouchi's support for Palestinian terror, Indyk invoked him as "a great Muslim thinker" during his May 2013 visit to Washington. Indyk praised Ghannouchi's commitment to democracy in Tunisia while ignoring his extremist rhetoric in support of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Mouaz Al Khatib
Mouaz Al Khatib is the former president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary & Opposition Forces. A November 2012 Foreign Policy expose revealed that: "Khatib's website features numerous instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric. In one of his own articles, he writes that one of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's positive legacies was 'terrifying the Jews.' He has also published others' anti-Semitic observations on his site: In one article, written by Abdul Salam Basiouni, Jews are described as 'gold worshipers.' Finally, in an obituary of a Gaza sheik copied from IslamSyria, Jews are dubbed 'the enemies of God.'" Khatib has also praised Qaradawi as "our great imam.'"
Given the high regard for Qaradawi, it comes as no surprise that Brookings featured Khatib at the 2014 US-Islamic World Forum.
Sheik Abdullah Bin Bayyah
Abdullah Bin Bayyah, IUMS vice president at the time of his appearances at the 2010 and 2012 Doha conferences, as well as the 2011 U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, strongly supports Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups. Bin Bayyah resigned from the organization in 2013 in the wake of criticism following an Investigative Project on Terrorism expose on his extremist views and his work with the Obama White House.
Bin Bayyah's statements illustrate that his views do not reflect the moderation he prefers the public to believe about him. His participation in three consecutive Brookings Doha conferences failed to diminish his extremism in the interest of peace, telling Muslim rulers to lend their "financial, military and diplomatic support" to Palestinian terrorist groups to "unite all resistance movements into one entity" to stop what he called the "terrible, ongoing massacre in Gaza" in a 2013 fatwa.
He condemns the West for comparing Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups with al-Qaida.
"[P]lacing the Palestinian resistance, which defends internationally recognized rights, on an equal footing with intercontinental terrorist organizations (al-Qaida) is not based on any moral principle and would be detrimental to the cause of the fight against terrorism and mix the cards and raises questions to the world conscience and serves terrorists," Bin Bayyah wrote in a 2011 fatwa.
Restoring the caliphate is another of Bin Bayyah's ambitions. He argues that "the ummah (Muslim world) ought to be under one banner and one ruler," calling it a basic "principle prescribed by Islam." Bin Bayyah contends that its disappearance in 1924 led to the decline of the Muslim world.
Arguably, none of these people and perspectives would have ever accessed an audience of respected world dignitaries at Brookings were it not for the influence of their Qatari brethren.