From left, Esam Omeish and Nihad Awad huddle near Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday in New York. (Facebook photo)
Top U.S. Islamists effusively praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting Sunday in New York.
"You give us a sense of pride, an honor to meet a president and a leader and ... a wonderful human-being with patience, love, worries and cares for Muslim ummah ...," said Oussama Jammal, secretary general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO). "You have revived our hope and fueled our glory, Mr. President."
Erdogan is in New York for this week's United Nations General Assembly meeting. While the American Islamists hailed him for his values, a Turkish court sentenced a man to 12 years in prison for insulting Erdogan on social media.
This marked the third such gathering sponsored by the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC), whose co-chairperson, Halil Mutlu, is Erdogan's cousin. FBI agents interviewed TASC leaders in 2016 on suspicion they were engaged in political espionage on behalf of the Turkish government.
TASC called Erdogan a defender of the "oppressed" and a "strong voice for the future of humanity" in a propaganda video that announced the event. In fact, Erdogan has been blasted as the world's leading jailer of journalists. The UN's Special Rapporteur on torture last year expressed concern over Turkey's increased use of torture, including "severe beatings, electrical shocks, exposure to icy water, sleep deprivation, threats, insults and sexual assault."
But that didn't give pause to Nihad Awad, the co-founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), or to former Muslim American Society President Esam Omeish, Brooklyn imam Siraj Wahhaj and Helping Hand for Relief and Development Chairman Mohsin Ansari.
"[It was] a wonderful powerful meeting with the Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, and leaders from the Muslim American community today in New York on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly," Omeish wrote on Facebook. "We had a tremendous exchange with a leader of the Islamic world and a great nation about our vision and aspirations as Muslims and Americans.
"We asserted our role in building our American society with the virtues of Islam, defending the issues of the greater ummah and facing the challenges of Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism. We also reaffirmed our role as civilizational bridge builders between East and West."
Omeish praised Erdogan for his stances on Palestine, Kashmir, Syria and other places.
Erdogan has allowed Hamas to operate on Turkish soil, and it has become a central hub for Hamas financing, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center.
Documents from a Turkish prosecutor's office, obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) earlier this year, showed that Turkey's New York consulate spied on a group it thought to be connected with Erdogan nemesis Fethullah Gülen.
Erdogan blames Gülen, who lives in the United States, for a failed 2016 coup attempt. A resulting crackdown in Turkey led to the arrests of more than 96,000 people, and the country's judicial system has been purged of 4,400 judges and prosecutors who don't toe Erdogan's line. Another 6,000 academics have been fired, 319 journalists have been arrested and 189 independent media outlets have been shut down, according to TurkeyPurge.com. Independent media critical of the Erdogan regime no longer exists.
During Sunday's meeting, Wahhaj ignored Erdogan's human rights record, praising him and calling for a strong Turkish hand in the Muslim world.
"We need a centralized leadership," Wahhaj said of Turkey's role in the Muslim world to thunderous applause. "I have a feeling that the leadership is coming from Turkey."
"We love you here in New York," he continued.
Other U.S. Islamists have also referred to Erdogan's Turkey as the leader of the Muslim world.
Last year, Omeish called Erdogan's Turkey a continuation of the Ottoman caliphate and complained about the territory Turkey lost following the 1923 Lausanne treaty.
Erdogan vowed to pursue Gülen and his supporters in the United States, which Erdogan calls the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO). He also promised to continue pressuring the Trump administration to extradite Gülen to Turkey.
"The biggest feature of FETO is that it has no sacred value, [it has a] principle to abuse. [Telling] Lies, slander, [and] hypocrisy are their characteristics," Erdogan said, according to an English language article posted to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) website.
"Together with you, we will unmask in the entire world this terror group, which martyred 251 people on July 15 night," he said about the 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan also promised not to abandon his support for the Palestinians against Israel.
"[The] Jerusalem cause is not only the cause of a handful of Muslims in Palestine, but the dignity of the 1.7-billion Islamic world," Erdogan said.