Despite representing only about a tenth of its constituency, radical Muslim lobbyists have a lock on influence in Washington. How do they do it?
Only about 10% of American Muslims identify with organizations such as CAIR or MPAC • Yet these lobbyists have successfully gained the ear of Washington and the White House as representative of the Muslim community as a whole • Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser explains how they do it.
Some of the “hottest” recent Middle East news items – from the expulsion from Qatar of top Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas leaders to President Obama’s speech on US strategy for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – refocused the spotlight on the Global Muslim Brotherhood movement, whose affiliated organizations were so instrumental in organizing the worldwide “spontaneous” anti-Israel demonstrations during the recent war between Israel and the Brotherhood’s Palestinian franchise, Hamas.
Mida spoke to Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Syrian-American activist, who painted a stark picture of MB strategies in the US. Despite not representing US Muslim communities, stressed Jasser, the Muslim Brotherhood has been focusing its efforts in Washington on sophisticated political lobbying, aided by complacent mass media and academia, political correctness and generous support from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a “mafia of autocratic, monarchic or Islamist-based governments that enable Islamism and are obsessed with preventing any criticism of it.”
The OIC, comprised of 57 mostly Muslim-majority member states, is the largest voting bloc in the United Nations, a fact which contributes greatly to the “automatic majority” against Israel in the various UN bodies including the General Assembly and the infamous Human Rights Council. Lesser known is the OIC’s global campaign in the UN, EU (where preexisting blasphemy laws have been used to prosecute criticizers of Islam) and US (where the State Department under Secretary Clinton cooperated with the OIC to a degree) to enact international and national legislation that will prohibit “blasphemy” and “defamation of religion.” In other words, the goal is to limit freedom of expression and stifle any criticism of Islam, its prophet, Islamism or issues related to Islamic law or practice under the guise of battling “Islamophobia” and “religious intolerance.” Islamists have also been known to use a mix of bullying, political correctness and aggressive legal action, or “lawfare,” to prevent criticism, debate and research into their activities and positions.
Can you specify on the role of the media, academia, the OIC and political correctness?
“American media and academia use denial to enable many American Muslims to avoid countering their addiction to Islamism. As a result, it doesn’t allow reform, because it’s as if Islamism doesn’t exist, whereas in the Middle East you wouldn’t dream of telling a Muslim not to use the term ‘Islame’en’ in Arabic – that would be absurd, as everyone knows the Islamist parties, whether Ennahda in Tunisia or the Ikhwan in Egypt. But most US media and academics are ignorant or willfully cover up the existence of Islamism.
The first factor that enables that is the funding from the OIC: the endowed chairs at Harvard or Georgetown, and the intersection between Al-Jazeera, CNN and the Gulf States. Mostly, the OIC is not dedicated to helping Muslims worldwide but rather to depicting the West as anti-Islam, bigoted and Islamophobic, thus keeping it on the defensive and attempting to prevent any criticism of Islam and Islamism. While some of the OIC governments are not Islamist-based, they enable Islamism through universities such as al-Azhar, Saudi or Pakistani universities.
The second thing has to do with political correctness: the left-tilt of many universities has led to an obsession with the protection of minorities, and almost all other principles have been sacrificed in order to protect it. It doesn’t matter to them that women are at the back of the mosques or that they are not on the boards, or that they may tolerate female genital mutilation, abuse and marginalization of homosexuals and so many other phenomena that run contrary to their values. When it comes to Muslims, they say that they are a victimized minority and their rights need to be protected.
Universities and the media do not want to be perceived as bigoted – major announcers and politicians have had to resign after saying something bigoted. There has been much talk in the UK of the Islamist “Trojan Horse” in their educational system and PM Cameron has been very clear on Islamism, but in the US, we haven’t gotten that far and we’re not even discussing or targeting Islamism at all.”
The ethnically and racially diverse American Muslim communities, as opposed to their Western European counterparts, tend to be well integrated into American society and as well-educated and affluent as the rest of the population. Dr. Jasser stressed that “many American Muslims pray at home and are estranged from the organized Muslim community and the mosques,” yet while “numerically, these [Muslim Brotherhood-linked] organizations do not represent most American Muslims, they are influential due to other factors.”
If they do not represent US Muslim communities, how do the MB-related organizations gain influence?
“Well, it’s about budgets, first and foremost. The American Islamic Leadership Coalition, an umbrella groups of anti-Islamist, non-Brotherhood organizations such as the AIFD, has but a fraction of the budget of the [Brotherhood-linked] Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).” The generous funding, Jasser pointed out, originates from “the countries of the OIC which provide them with large budgets that enable them to set up fundraisers, dinners, functions, very large conventions – constant output which enables them to consolidate their support base. For example, ISNA brought in 50,000 Muslims to its annual convention, which is the largest of its kind, yet only 6% of American Muslims identified with it, and CAIR’s support is only around 10-12%. That’s what makes them influential: not the numbers but rather their extensive activism.”
But there is more than hefty foreign funding at work, and “the bigger problem is, first of all, [Muslim-American] apathy. Secondly, American Muslim activists aren’t nearly as motivated to take ownership of their identity as Egyptian activists. The Brotherhood’s year running Egypt did more to defuse the Islamist ideology than 60 years of dictatorship; millions of Egyptian Muslims mobilized against the MB when the realized what it would be like to live under draconian, medieval, Islamist Sharia law and government, whereas most US Muslims aren’t inclined to battle Islamism as they live in a comfortable, free democracy that protects their rights.”
As within Muslim communities, MB influence in Washington DC is achieved by focused groundwork, advocacy and a lack of a viable alternative:
“There are no anti-Islamist Muslims who can influence the administration and hold sway within the [Washington DC] beltway. The Department of Homeland Security released declassified emails that discussed our Coalition and said that we had no legitimacy and could not be used as we were too “pro-military” and wouldn’t have any traction. So, even behind the scenes, the government demonstrates that it is guided by the Islamist narrative of what Muslims want or don’t want to hear.”
Can you attest to MB influence on domestic or foreign US policy?
I’m not aware of any openly-Islamist figure affecting foreign policy, but I believe these organizations hold sway within the Beltway through press releases, panels on the Hill, etc. If you look at the [foreign] policies and how they are playing out, they seem to be benefiting the Islamists. In Syria, we tried from the beginning, in 2011, before there was even Al-Qaida or ISIS in Syria, to tell the administration that they needed to state strongly that they would filter out Islamists and not let Brotherhood operatives affect the Syrian Revolution and especially the coalition with which the West was working. Sure enough, Luai Safi, who is a known Brotherhood operative, has now become one of its leaders.
When I accepted a bipartisan invitation to testify and give a briefing in Congress on Syria in 2011, MPAC made a behind-the-scene effort to prevent me from testifying by telling Congressmen’s offices that it would afford me too much legitimacy. At the same time, they held a briefing across town with many Brotherhood speakers, with the intention of guiding policy. Regarding Egypt, when Mohamed Morsi was elected in Egypt, MPAC scheduled a panel in Washington and invited Morsi’s assistant, chief of staff and others. The panel was cancelled after Congressmen inquired as to how these MB officials had obtained the visas, but MPAC did have the contacts to bring them in. If you look at US foreign policy at the time, there was significant US government support for the Brotherhood’s legitimacy simply because they were elected, as if democracy meant simply holding elections. That’s no different than fascist Hamas being democratically elected.”
Apart from actual policy, preventing use of certain terms in government policy documents and statements is indicative of successful Islamist lobbying: “There is no doubt, if you look at these organizations’ work, that they seem to be very close to the White House in terms of their verbiage ending up on Homeland Security and National Security documents – so there has to be some sort of influence. I believe you have to ask yourself not only to what degree Brotherhood-linked individuals influence the Administration, but also what it does not say. The president, even when talking about an organization as Islamist as ISIS/IS, whose very name epitomizes Islamism, won’t use the term ‘Islam.’ He’ll use the terms ‘violence,’ ‘barbarism’ and ‘extremism’ instead – that’s clearly coming from Islamists who want the American public to remain numb-minded about the threat of Islamism.”
What are some of the recent activities of these organizations?
“They were active on, but not limited to, the Hamas-Israel war – be it CAIR in demonstrations or the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) which campaigned to halt Congressional funding for the Iron Dome system. They have been cooperating with leftist organizations such as the ANSWER Coalition and Code Pink on the demonstrations and certain other issues of mutual interest and benefit, from local campaigns to protesting against the [anti-MB] Egyptian government under a-Sisi. In addition, they have been portraying themselves increasingly as American civil-rights organizations that champion minority causes, while using the Ferguson [Missouri shooting] events as a rallying point.”
Is there anything you would like to share with our readers in Israel?
“Yes. The Hamas question really points out the hypocrisy of the Islamist movements. If you look at the demonstrations, the fervor and emotion that erupted from the American Islamist groups after Hamas started the war, and you compare them, proportionally, to the Syrian issue, with almost 200,000 dead and five million displaced, there is a profound hypocrisy that belies reason. Their fervor is based more on Anti-Semitism and hate for the “other” – Israel and the US for defending Israel – which makes them act as if they are the victims, yet when Assad, the Egyptian Government or the Saudis kill Muslims, they don’t act. That demonstrates that they don’t really care about Muslims per se, but rather about ascending to power as Islamists by whatever means necessary, and the best way to do that is the Machiavellian way of creating foreign enemies.
That’s why it’s always easy to do it using the Palestinian question. In addition, there is a conflict between Islamo-patriotism, which fuels groups like Hamas or drives young Muslims from the UK and the US to join the jihad in in Syria and Iraq, and patriotism of a secular, Western nation. I believe you won’t be able to counter Islamism and terrorism successfully until we teach our Muslim youth how to bond, love and identify with their country in a patriotic way, in order to inoculate them against the pull of jihadism/Islamo-patriotism. Hamas will lose its ability to fuel hatred in Muslim populations around the world if Muslims abandon this Islamo-patriotism which exploits our religion in the name of this so-called “political Ummah.”