Daniel Greenfield, Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, spoke to a January 28 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) hosted by Benjamin Baird, deputy director of Islamism in Politics (IIP), a project of Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch, about New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the Islamist members of his transition team.
According to Greenfield, two key post-9/11 issues sensitized New Yorkers. First, the debate about the Ground Zero mosque, and second, the New York Police Department's (NYPD's) surveillance of potential plotters in "terror mosques." Since then, Greenfield said, "key players on the Islamist side in those battles have become very entrenched in the political power structure in New York City." They played "key roles" in the administration of former NYC mayor Bill de Blasio and the "increasingly radical" New York City Council, and now they are doing so in the Adams administration.
Adams, former Brooklyn borough president, forged political success by appealing to multicultural groups that he coalesced into a "diverse coalition." One of those groups in Brooklyn contains "an estimated quarter to a fifth of the Muslim population of America" and "one of the largest concentrations of mosques in America." As a former NYPD captain who also "has ties to people in the correction system," Adams's transition team of some 800 members includes controversial Islamists. His ability to cobble together diverse groups shows that he is "very politically savvy" in building his political network. The question that remains, Greenfield said, is how committed he remains to extremists because "he was indeed associated with extremists."
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, with a "history of hateful views," was a once "untouchable" figure, but now sits on the Mayor's Civic Engagement Committee. Abdur-Rashid had to remove the "Muslim Brotherhood slogan" used in his mosque when it ignited controversy years ago. As part of a committee of black Muslim leaders who endorsed Adams, Rashid repeatedly attacked America and Israel. Another Islamist member of Adams transition team, Umar Abdul-Jalil, is a former drug dealer who converted to Islam in prison. Now a black Muslim imam, Jalil focuses on recruiting former prisoners and promoting radical, Islamist views.
Debbie Almontaser, yet another member of Adams's transition team, is referred to by some as "Jihad Debbie" because of her role in promoting "intifada shirts" in Khalil Gibran International Academy, a Brooklyn public school. Almontaser was ousted from the school for aggressively pushing an Islamist agenda, but resurfaced as an active member of the Muslim Democratic Club and the de Blasio administration.
These formerly marginalized Islamist figures who have infiltrated the political establishment and its power structure have garnered little attention from reporters. New Yorkers are largely oblivious to them because there hasn't been a recent Islamic terror attack in New York City. Greenfield also attributes this lack of attention to changing demographics, especially the large number of young people in the Muslim community, because there is a "very significant population of Muslim children in New York City schools." "If you look at the size of the underage population, the under ten population in particular, you're seeing where the real growth is coming from," Greenfield noted. This growing Muslim population will eventually become a "powerful political block" with influence. Whereas in the past mayors would politically distance themselves from Islamist groups, they can no longer afford politically to ignore them.
Adams's ties to Turkish businessmen have given Erdoğan's regime significant influence.
Another of Adams's Islamist alliances came about via his relationship to Turkish businessmen with ties to the regime of Turkey's Islamist, authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They held fundraisers for him, and he has "talked up Turkey quite a bit," said Greenfield. Erdoğan's regime even paid for Adams to tour Turkey. "He decided he was going to sacrifice the Greek and Armenian votes," Greenfield said. With the financial and other support Adams received from the Turkish community, "he's entangled on a deeper level" than merely courting the Turkish community's vote. The Erdoğan regime has garnered "a good deal of influence there whenever they want it."
Greenfield expects more centers of influence to form with the "next wave of migration coming out of Afghanistan." Including Somalis, Syrians, and now Afghans, the Biden administration's immigration policy has fast-tracked the entrance of more Muslim refugees to the U.S. than Christians – and with little vetting.
There are serious consequences to this reckless policy. Biden is using "crises in the Muslim world, very often involving terrorism, often involving jihadist groups" to bring these populations to America, where "the crisis repeats itself, this time in the United States." Once you "create this crisis," said Greenfield, you spark demographic change to "create this new generation of political leaders who now have a great deal of influence."
The results of this demographic change are evidenced by "the fact that in the past [NYC] mayors always attempted to distance themselves" from Islamist groups, but now fear the political consequences of doing so. "The growing Muslim population is a powerful political block the way it's been in Michigan," and it's becoming this way "in various parts of the country," Greenfield warns.
Greenfield: "We are very much sleepwalking into a major crisis."
He believes "we are very much sleepwalking into a major crisis" by reconciling ourselves to working with Islamist groups that will be "setting policy" by representing Muslims in New York. As a result, Islamists enjoy growing influence nationally, while moderate Muslim groups are marginalized, as demonstrated by their exclusion from Adams's transition team.
The coalitions playing significant roles in New York City politics extend far beyond black Muslims who are former inmates to include multiethnic groups comprised of Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. Although Adams was also supported by the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn whose members were victims of a crime wave under the de Blasio administration, their population has been "broken up into districts where they can't elect their own people as part of a larger gerrymandering strategy," said Greenfield.
Islamist groups were able to accelerate their "transition from being marginalized to being at the center of politics" by forming alliances with progressive groups. As part of an "intersectional coalition," their target was "NYPD surveillance of mosques." Greenfield is concerned that the growing political influence of Islamist groups "will basically cripple counterterrorism, it will lead to violence, particularly antisemitic violence as part of the process."
As an example, Greenfield noted that "the NYPD once upon a time was the gold standard for the police surveillance for counterterrorism operations." Yet, under de Blasio these operations were "very much trashed" and many NYPD intelligence professionals, frustrated at being prevented from doing their jobs, left the force. Contrasting the pre-de Blasio era with the post-de Blasio era of today, Greenfield said "The NYPD is not allowed to do the kind of serious terrorism prevention that it was able to do in the past."
If you want to understand where September 11 came from, it is because we are importing the terrorist problems.
"If you want to understand . . . where September 11 came from, where so many of these terror plots are coming from," said Greenfield, "it is because we are importing the terrorist problems, these civil and religious conflicts of the Muslim world, into America." To avoid going the way of Europe, with its large Muslim populations and systemic Islamism, "we need to rethink immigration."
Returning to New York City, Greenfield sees a parallel between the Islamist infiltration of its politics and the recent history of London, which is "a very good model for what's happening in New York City." Within the next decade, he thinks, New York is likely to have a Muslim mayor who will be "tied to various Islamist groups." He sees New York City "increasingly moving to a European kind of situation where there is a growing population that harbors violence, yet at the same time is very politically involved, politically engaged."