Last week's opening festivities at the Democrat National Convention in Denver began with an interfaith prayer. As the Democrat Party searches for its newfound interest in faith, it quickly called upon one of the lowest hanging fruit in the American Muslim community - the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Ingrid Mattson, the President of ISNA gave a speech along with Adbur-Rahim Ali of the Northeast Denver Islamic Center. Some may dismiss the selection of nine speakers of faith at the political shindig as irrelevant and simply part of the pomp and circumstance of the DNC Convention.
But propping up ISNA in today's environment is akin to propping up the Legal Guild (a ‘60s Communist front group) to address the convention during the Cold War. Our civil servants will verify that they have prevented over 30 attacks by militant Islamists upon our nation and our citizens since 9/11. The only ideology that unites the groups set upon our destruction is not violence. It is political Islam - their Islamism. Unless we identify both violent and non-violent political Islam as a root cause of terrorism we will never win this conflict. Militant Islamists, much as non-militant Islamists, seek some form of a transnational Muslim, political movement. They both seek various forms of the ascendancy of Islam with respect to other religions culminating in the establishment of Islamic states.
It is not enough to condemn terrorism for politically active Muslims to be "friends of American security interests" or pillars of the representation of ‘spiritual' Islam. If Muslim organizations are to be lifted up as ‘friends of government,' they, at the minimum, need to share a common vision of ideal governance - that of a secular liberal democracy. It is against American interests and certainly an obstacle in the work of all anti-Islamist Muslims for the American establishment to lift up Islamists, manifestations of political Islam, as representatives of Muslims and especially as representatives of "non-political" Islam. ISNA is without question patently political. I would defy anyone to find evidence of its rejection of the ideology of Islamism and similarly its defense of the ideology of the secular liberal democracy in the writings and public work of any of its leaders. To do this ISNA would have to sponsor and distribute intellectual work against the foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Al-Mawdudi, and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Not only do they not do this, the vast majority of the other imams, books, and tapes they promote all derive their ideology from the same Salafist political mindset.
If anyone had done their homework at the DNC they would have realized that the primary origin of political Islam in the early twentieth century is the Muslim Brotherhood - arguably the central nervous system of political Islam globally. Its imams and spiritual leaders over the past century from Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, to the current Godfather, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi are ultimately the seeds of thought which have sprouted the vast majority of Islamist movements in the world whether militant or not. The means employed by Islamists may vary from nation to nation but in the end their goals of establishing an Islamic state are almost universally the same.
ISNA has demonstrated repeatedly that its goals in the United States are no different from the Muslim Brotherhood's goals in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, or England for that matter. Its leadership is generally either an outgrowth of the MB salafist ideology in the Middle East or an outgrowth of the similar Deobandi ideology of the Indo-Pakistani region.
As others have also noted, the Department of Justice did not coincidentally list ISNA as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the federal Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas. All of the associated documentation and links to the MB's Project in the west and the implicated individuals who share the ideology of political Islam should cause great concern.
Ingrid Mattson, an articulate Canadian convert to Islam, comes across superficially as a benign figure for the purposes of a DNC prayer gathering. But if her years of presidency of ISNA thus far have demonstrated anything, it has shown publicly that her role is nothing more than window dressing for a political organization whose mission of political Islam remains quite unchanged. Note ISNA's continued participation in the intensely political American Muslim Political Coordination Committee. If she is as "modernized" and apolitical a Muslim leader as her public pronouncements and packaging would purport, I would have expected to see major work from this Hartford Seminary professor marginalizing political Islam and the transnational goal of Islamists. If ISNA is truly not Islamist or the same ISNA as the Wahhabis who formed it out of the MSA in the ‘60s and ‘70s, its ideology against Islamism would be at the forefront - it is not. As the first woman and first convert of an organization with deep Wahhabi and salafist origins, I would have expected Dr. Mattson to have provided major testimony to the necessary reform and the long overdue sea change against salafism necessary in her organization. Without this and with all the evidence linking them to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISNA clearly remains wedded to the Islamist and Wahhabi origins of its founders and its directors. As many have already done, a review of her public commentary demonstrates no such sea change. In fact a review of her public pronouncements seems to basically verify that she tows the Islamist line.
From Mattson there has been no condemnation of the Islamic state or central tenets of Islamism. No public defense of women's rights against the medieval laws enacted by Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia or taught by many of the texts distributed by her own ISNA (i.e. of Mawdudi or Qaradawi) and its affiliated bookstores and bizarres. No condemnation of the OIC and its promotion of blasphemy laws and its blind promotion of authoritarian regimes including any criticism of the 57 so-called Muslim nations nearly all of which are some form of despotic dictatorships and monarchies which oppress their minorities. Her commentaries have repeatedly rather been apologetics wrapped in victimology and false moral equivalency between terrorism and American security efforts.
If you don't believe this commentary here, just check into the ISNA convention this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. Their bazaars, attended by thousands, will be full of political Islamist literature. Rest assured, anti-Islamist literature against the formation of the Islamic state or public implementation of sharia will be nonexistent.
The DNC and so many in the media continue to sadly miss how Mattson is simply window dressing to an organization whose mission remains at serious odds with the core values of liberty and our secular liberal democracy which are classically American.
My own experience with ISNA solidified in my mind long ago that it was a political and an Islamist organization which covered itself in the spiritual language of Islam for the political promotion of its leadership. For example, in 1994 when I was on leave from the U.S. Navy, I naively attended an Islamic Medical Association (IMA) event with a U.S. Navy professor and mentor in order to present some research. We happened to attend the first day of the ISNA meeting which ran in succession with the IMA that September of 1994. The keynote address to open the ISNA meeting was given by none other than, Siraj Wahhaj, a long time ISNA and CAIR leader until today. Wahhaj most recently gained notoriety for his subway advertisements about Islam in New York City and was himself an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center who provided testimony in court defending the character of the blind sheikh- Omar Abdel-Rahman.
During his speech that year in ISNA, Siraj Wahhaj held up a Koran and stated clearly that it is his goal as it should be for every Muslim to replace the Constitution with the Koran and bring Islamic governance to the West. During question and answer I stood up and reminded the entire audience of thousands of Muslims of the seditious nature of his comments and admonished all military members to dissociate from ISNA immediately as I did. Until this day there is no ideological evidence whatsoever that ISNA does not remain on track with that mission vis-à-vis the Islamic state and a "soft Jihad."
Groups like the DNC can choose all they want to ignore the political mission of ISNA and all of its associated Islamist organizations. But at the end of the day ISNA is not simply a ‘faith-based' organization. It is an obvious manifestation of Islamism - political Islam.
Make no mistake. ISNA has a large membership and is linked to the funding of over half of the mosques in the United States through their North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). Their annual convention this weekend in Columbus will bring in tens of thousands of Muslims. Many Muslim members of these organizations get swept in by various publications, meetings, verbiage, and tribal techniques which take on a very Islamic and seemingly spiritual tone. But in reality, the core mission beneath the false veneer is political. This false veneer changes only based upon the particular setting. Mattson serves her purpose well for the Salafists running the organization as long as their core Islamist ideologies remain unwavering and her public projection gives the image of women's rights and modernity when in fact virtually no work is being done by ISNA to promote such needed changes toward modernity in the Muslim community. Attendees at ISNA's national convention last September noted that the panels on women's rights and domestic abuse were poorly attended while the panels on Islamophobia and victimization were standing room only. Look at Mattson's writings - slim pickings on anti-Islamist reform and strong suggestions of Islamism. Again, more window dressing with no real leadership.
Is it enough for the American establishment to engage Muslims who simply condemn the act of terror? Not only is the answer a resounding, "no," but it is actually dangerous and gives a false sense of security against the ideologies we are countering. The elevation of ISNA by the DNC is a clear demonstration that they really have no idea whatsoever about the political ideology which that organization represents.
It's time to afford leaders of the Muslim community the same scrutiny we give any other political organization in the United States. Look at Dr. Mattson's own words and that of ISNA's and make an assessment for yourself about where she falls in the continuum between Islamism and liberty. What did Dr. Mattson for example mean when she said, "People of faith have a certain kind of solidarity with others of their faith community that transcends the basic rights and duties of citizenship." Sounds like a central tenet of political Islam to me.
As our nation faces a continued threat of radical Islamists, where is the wisdom in the elevation of Islamist organizations? In a written statement Fox News reported that the DNCC said,
"She (Mattson) is part of an organization that has met with leaders like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and key Bush Administration adviser Karen Hughes. Under her tenure, ISNA has worked to build understanding and has been supported by the National Council of Churches and the Union for Reform Judaism which hosted Mattson at its biennial conference last year."
One can begin to see how ISNA gains its legitimacy not from any review of its core ideologies which remain wholly unchecked, but rather from the misguided associations of other parts of the American governmental, religious, and media establishment. One endorsement leads to another, leads to another and they all become mutually dependent on the endorsement of the other with no one doing any homework on ISNA's real core ideologies.
It may be the easiest short cut to placate the loudest arm of Islamism in the United States, but it does our efforts against the dangerous ideology of political Islam and the stranglehold of Islamists over the Muslim community no good whatsoever. Our own leading politicians are unable to clearly articulate and understand the central ideologies at stake in this global battle of ideas between political Islam and the West. So, it should not be a surprise when Islamist organizations continue to gain influence and legitimacy.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist. He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org.