Zainab al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, spoke to participants in a February 22 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about the growth of U.S. Islamist organizations and their collaboration with leftists to further an anti-American agenda.
Al-Suwaij, a ritually observant, hijab-wearing Muslim, explained that the American Muslim community is "fragmented" along on ethnic, religious, and political lines, and above all between "radical" and "mainstream" agendas. Radicals "believe Islam is the solution" and share the same core ideology as organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, and ISIS. "The Islamist agenda basically is to radicalize the mainstream ... regular Muslims who are worshiping on a daily basis" and spread "hatred against different faiths, hatred against people who do not believe in what you believe in."
Al-Suwaij bemoaned the impact of Islamist organizations on mainstream American Muslims, particularly the next generation. It is "very difficult for young Muslims who are born and grew up in the United States to live a normal life without having [this] influence and radical agenda implemented in their mind."
U.S. Muslim community structures have been co-opted by these Islamist organizations "over the past six decades," said Al-Suwaij. As a result, they have "infiltrated our government offices" and had "a major say" about governmental policies regarding "foreign policy, religious affairs, and interfaith relations."
Islamist groups have learned to exploit opportunities provided by Western liberal freedoms and use insincere "open-minded" language to lull well-intentioned unaffected American Muslims into their midst. Islamists who are "charismatic, young ... [and] very savvy" have mastered the use of social media to "sell ... radical thoughts."
Non-Muslim leftists are just as easily duped. Eager to win votes and "show diversity" within their ranks, leftists "are taking for granted what [the Islamists] are telling them ... [without looking] deep inside." Although in the short-term leftists are courting Islamists, Al-Suwaij sees the connection between Islamists and the left as a tenuous one because their "principles are different."
Al-Suwaij has attended Islamist conferences and witnessed firsthand how Islamists' private beliefs differ dramatically from what they say publicly to curry favor with leftist and progressive organizations. She recalled one conference where she met a "very well respected" imam from the D.C. area, a man well-known in government circles as a "dove of love and peace." The imam greeted Al-Suwaij, but after an exchange of pleasantries he told her, "Your only problem is that you are too Americanized and you are too close to people of a certain faith." Taken aback, she replied, "You are too close to the Brotherhood."
Al-Suwaij would like to see more "strong leadership" by moderate Muslims challenging the spread of Islamism. "We have a responsibility as citizens of this country. We have to take an action. We have to stand strong and we have to project our voice strongly. We don't want our freedom or democracy to be taken by radical voices."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.