The State Department has collaborated with many radical Islamist organizations and individuals in its attempts to engage in outreach to the American Muslim community at large, Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) Executive Director Steven Emerson told a congressional panel Thursday. Many of the individuals in charge of these organizations, and the organizations themselves, have been convicted, indicted, or designated as unindicted co-conspirators in terrorism cases throughout the United States.
(For detailed examples, see Emerson's complete written testimony here.)
Emerson appeared before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade came despite the protests of some of the same Islamist organizations. Emerson urged Congress to review the State Department's interaction with these organizations in its attempts to reach out to the Muslim community.
Emerson outlined some of the more troubling aspects of participation with these groups: namely their ties to terrorist entities and promotion of radical Islamic ideology. A number of groups that the State Department has cooperated with have links to entities such as Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hizballah - which are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States government. The groups partnering with the State Department help to support an ideology that focuses on eliminating secular Western powers and promoting their stringent ideas of Sharia law, or law as governed by Islamic text.
In his testimony, Emerson argued that the State Department's actions in funding these programs only serves to legitimize fundamentalist voices who wish to promote a strict interpretation of Islam. This approach helps to increase support for terrorist groups and violence, which will help to aggrandize fundamentalist theology worldwide. The focus of the State Department's funding should promote genuinely moderate voices within the Muslim community, rather than reaching out to those who justify violence, support designated terrorist groups, and promote the funding and support of jihadist ideology globally.
While the outreach to the Muslim community by the State Department "is an honorable and worthwhile pursuit, the State Department has conducted outreach to the wrong groups, sending a terrible message to moderate Muslims who are thoroughly disenfranchised by the funding, hosting and embracing of radical groups that purport to be opposed to terrorism and extremism," Emerson wrote in his testimony further stressing the idea that the State Department's polices need to be reanalyzed in order to better select which Islamic organizations receive funding in order to promote peace and understanding.
Prior to Emerson's testimony, Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) both expressed their concerns over the State Department's funding and support of these organizations to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They collaborated on a letter in which they urge Secretary Rice to stop funding entities that support radical Islamic ideology. The senators' concerns are that despite these organizations' known connections to radical terrorism entities, the State Department has willingly participated in awarding grants of about $500,000 to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas fundraising trial with a long history of support for Hamas itself, and other radical Islamic organizations for programs that could help to promote or fund future terrorist ideology and violence.
In their letter, the senators write that they "are sure you would agree that Americans should not have to fund their enemies in the form of misguided ‘outreach' efforts." These sentiments are exactly in line with the expression of tribulation that Americans should be feeling due to the United States government supported funding of radical Islamist organizations. The evidence that Emerson presented before Congress further justifies the senators' concerns. Hopefully the combined effort of the two senators and Thursday's testimony will motivate Secretary Rice to expound upon the policies regarding which organizations and individuals in the Muslim community the State Department selects to receive grants.
Subcommittee Chairman Brad Sherman (D-CA) also was interested in ways to reform State Department outreach funding. He suggested creating a questionnaire for prospective grant recipients. Among the areas it would ask about are past connections to radical groups, whether the applicant condemns terrorist groups such as Hizballah and Hamas and whether their board members ever were connected to the Muslim Brotherhood or other radical groups.
Emerson endorsed the idea, saying such a questionnaire could be applied universally. But he cautioned that a written answer may not be truthful: "There has to be an independent due diligence conducted by State Department officials using the public record and if they have classified information -- which many of them have access to -- use that as well; that's the purpose of intelligence collection."
Sherman seemed to agree, saying earlier, "I don't think you can cleanse an organization just because they haven't sinned recently; it has to be a renunciation of support for terrorism."
Joining Emerson on the panel was Douglas Farah, a former Washington Post reporter who is senior investigator for the Nine Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA) Foundation. He spoke about ways to maximize foreign aid money in the fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups take root in failed nation states, he said, noting that nearly half of the 43 foreign terrorist organizations listed by the State Department are engaged in narcotics trafficking.
Terrorism can't be fought without trying to improve conditions in those failed states and thereby cutting off illicit funds that terrorist groups use to operate. He cited the case of international weapons smuggler Victor Bout, arrested in Thailand and awaiting extradition to the United States to face charges he conspired to kill Americans and provide material support to terrorists. U.S. officials properly followed protocols to execute the extradition, but it has been twice delayed, Farah noted. Russian officials are believed to be tempting Thai officials with oil and gas contracts in return for sending Bout there.
"We cannot and should not try to match different efforts to bribe or coerce the Thai judiciary. But it should be made amply clear that there will be significant consequences if Mr. Bout is not extradited," Farah said. "And, if possible, enhanced aid, particularly to the Thai police units that capably and willingly helped carry out the arrest, should be considered."
Several of the Islamist groups who have benefited from the State Department's short-sighted selection process have become agitated about Emerson's testimony and evidence highlighting their extremist positions and terrorist connections. In the week leading up to his testimony, two Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups, each with a lengthy record of support for terrorist entities such as Hizballah and Hamas, issued press releases, personally attacking Emerson and Rep. Sherman, the subcommittee chairman, in an attempt to block Emerson's testimony.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued two press releases over two days, in which the group "demands" that the Subcommittee include an expert of its liking "or cancel the panel." The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) also issued a press release titled, "Urgent Action Alert: Demand Responsible Testimony in Fight Against Terrorism," also demanding that unless an ISNA-approved "expert" is made to testify, then "the session be canceled."
ISNA, a known Muslim Brotherhood front organization, has received grants from the State Department in support of several programs that it runs in partnership with the National Peace Foundation. Furthermore, in a filing in federal court in Dallas last week, ISNA's lawyers conceded the organization's financial support of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook, through its affiliate organization, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT).
MPAC also has connections to and support for terrorist entities. The organization has repeatedly lobbied to remove Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizballah from the U.S. list of designated terrorist groups, claiming their inclusion is merely based on "political considerations," rather than their long, bloody and violent history of terrorist attacks against civilians. On top of this, MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati has engaged in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, infamously stating on a Los Angeles radio station in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks: "If we're going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list."
In response to the protests, Congressman Sherman issued a press release in which he stated, "This hearing will go on. We need to make sure that the State Department is not giving U.S. tax dollars to those on the other side in the war on terrorism." He added "The Muslim Public Affairs Council should apologize for the statements of its executive director on September 11, 2001."
MPAC, ISNA and a constellation of other radical groups and individuals have been supported by the State Department. Perhaps Thursday's testimony will signal a turning point, seeing the State Department implement stricter guidelines to avoid past mistakes and embarrassments, which have damaged America's national security.
It is encouraging to see someone in Sherman's position take the issue on so fearlessly and directly.
"I think one of the greatest fears of people in the United States is somebody may call you a racist...they may call you an Islamophobe," he said in the hearing. "And what we've seen with some of these organizations is their message is clear: ‘Give us money or we'll call you an Islamophobe'...that's what they say to the State Department. What they say to us in Congress is ‘Don't question the fact that we're getting money or we'll call you an Islamophobe.'"