Sam Westrop, director of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch Project, and Benjamin Baird, director of the Middle East Forum's Islamism in Politics Project, discussed their recent essay about the growing partnership between increasing sections of the Right and American Islamists in a November 11th Middle East Forum Webinar (video).
Westrop said that over the past twenty years, Islamists in the West has forged alliances with America's left-wing, a partnership known as the "Red-Green Alliance." American Islamist groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS), worked with "leftist activists" to gain "legitimacy and access to political power," while the left strengthened their own political claims by courting a "minority." Although it is prominent today, Westrop pointed out that it was "not always the case" that alliance with the left was the primary or sole entry point of Islamism into western political life
Before the 9/11 attacks, Westrop noted as an example, Republicans actively sought Muslim support for George Bush in the 2000 election. To get out the vote, Sami al-Arian, a "prominent Islamist activist" in Florida, stumped for the party in area mosques. Just a few years later, al-Arian was arrested and convicted on terror finance charges and ultimately deported.
By 2003, following the 9/11 attacks, Islamists mostly abandoned the Right. Meanwhile, the European Left and the Islamists forged a mutually beneficial relationship which enabled the former to actively recruit Muslims and Middle Easterners for massive anti-war protests to counter the Bush administration's build-up for the invasion of Iraq.
Now, the pattern of alliances is changing once again. Westrop said that in recent years, officials of "radical" far right parties in France, Germany, Poland, and Hungary have increasingly voiced rhetoric which sees Islam as "a bulwark against the onslaughts of leftism and progressivism."
The so-called "alt-right" is also playing a role in this process. Westrop noted that as of late, Jordan Peterson, a prominent voice on the right, is engaging in webinar debates with Mohammed Hijab, a "British radical preacher" who incites violence against Jews and Hindus across the United Kingdom. Andrew Tate, a "social media influencer" criticized by both the left and some on the right for his violently "misogynistic ideas" recently converted to Islam, professing admiration for "the violence that Islamism" enacts to defend the faith from "attack ... critique ... and mockery." Tate rejects "weak Christians" in the West, Westrop said, and Tate believes that only Islam will take the necessary steps to "push back" against progressivism.
Though Westrop cited the examples of "fringe figures" like Hijab and Tate, he has also observed increasing changes taking place in the mainstream, in particular by American Republicans who court "not just Muslims on the conservative right, but also Islamists." Baird detailed the "political reshuffling" taking place as politically active Islamists infiltrate this "new partnership." Minnesota, with its concentration of conservative Somali Muslims, is but one example of the "outreach" between the Republican party and Muslim Americans. Super-Eid, a mass Islamic prayer session at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday, was attended by Minnesota's top GOP candidates for statewide office.
Baird noted that Republicans and Muslim communities share many similar priorities in wanting a "strong economy, minimal government involvement in their lives, religious freedom," and their children raised with moral values. Yet, as Republicans renew their outreach to the Muslim community, the candidates are repeating the major mistake made during the Bush years. This error is one that the Democrats share and have been making over the last two decades. Baird said, "They fail to properly vet their partners and they end up working with Islamists."
Super-Eid was also attended by a considerable number of notable Islamists and was "the high point" for Republican outreach. The event was sponsored by two Islamist charities the Middle East Forum has previously reported on: Islamic Relief USA and Helping Hand for Relief and Development. The Trump administration cut ties with the former, and the latter appeared at a conference in Pakistan with the South Asian terror group, Lashkar e-Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai massacre.
Westrop said that despite steps taken by the Trump administration to "stop radical Islam in its tracks," the Middle East Forum documented that his administration "moved millions of dollars" to U.S. Islamist groups, "four times as much as the Obama administration did."
Also at Minnesota's Super-Eid event, Scott Jensen, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, posed for photos with Waleed al-Meneese, a Salafist jurist and chancellor of the Islamic University of Minnesota, an Islamist institution the Investigative Project on Terrorism has exposed as a "hotbed of extremism." Al-Meneese has publicly made multiple antisemitic comments and has instructed Muslims in the West to disregard "man-made laws." Attendance by Republican candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state auditor offered Islamists the opportunity to gain legitimacy in their own communities by acting as spokespersons. Westrop and Baird agreed that most of the Republican candidates who ally with Islamists do so either out of ignorance, albeit sometimes willful, or simply for political expediency.
Minnesota's main Republican Party liaison to Somali Muslims, Imam Tawakal Ismail, does not speak English and personifies the language problem among unassimilated Somali Muslim communities. But Baird said there is a far greater problem with Imam Ismail. He is a graduate of the aforementioned Islamic University of Minnesota, whose instructors curse Jews, praise Hamas, and defend ISIS. One of the sermons posted on Ismail's Facebook page accused Israeli Jews of "massacring" Palestinians.
Baird said that Dearborn, Michigan, "a Muslim majority city," is another example of a confluence between Islamists and Republican candidates. Hundreds of Muslim parents, along with Republicans and conservative non-Muslims, attended a school board meeting in that city to protest "sexually explicit schoolbooks." Evidence demonstrates that local Islamist leaders encouraged their congregations to attend protests and oppose "pro-gay" schoolbooks. This includes Hassan Qazwini, a pro-Iran Islamist "in charge" of a local Shia mosque, and Dawud Walid, a CAIR employee known for his support of "black nationalism and violent criminals.". The "angry protests" were marked by objections to the schoolbooks but escalated into "anti-gay chants" and heckling of leftists in the audience. Islamists encouraged the chaos by providing religious justification for opposing "gays and lesbians in general."
Baird said that, like Republican candidates who attended the Super-Eid event in Minnesota, Republican candidate for attorney general Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo, candidate for secretary of state, appeared at the Dearborn school board meeting to "take advantage of the political unrest" as the demonstrations escalated. Baird is concerned the Republican party's outreach to Muslim communities will expand "nationwide" and, absent proper vetting, will result in greater "Republican and Islamist coordination in the future." He said that although these candidates take the opportunity to call out progressive policies, he thinks it is "counterproductive" for Republicans to ally with extremists.
Westrop supported Baird's concern by saying that as a result of this trend, "a new generation of clerics" has risen, one of whom the Middle East Forum featured in a webinar – Daniel Haqiqatjou. A prominent online preacher who has amassed "hundreds of thousands" of mainly Western Muslim followers, Haqiqatjou strategically attacks CAIR, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. He condemns them as leftists "who have betrayed and diluted Islam" with their advocacy for progressive positions. In a debate between Haqiqatjou and Mark Collett, a British neo-Nazi, the two "suddenly realized" they were in complete agreement over a shared "mutual hatred of Jews, of secularism, [and] of liberalism." Many of these new clerics promote radicalism by eschewing participation in the democratic process, but other Islamists see the benefit of conservative outreach and are responding in kind.
Despite examples of the far-right's seepage into the mainstream, Baird makes a distinction between the progressives and the conservatives in their respective alliances with Islamists. It is a distinction that makes the Republican/Islamist alliance "vulnerable." He pointed out that conservatives would not work with Islamists if there were "another large-scale terrorist attack in the U.S.," and Islamists would not work with the Right if there were a "U.S. foreign policy action in the Middle East ... targeting a Muslim majority country."
Baird cautions both conservatives and Democrats to look beyond any short-term gains when fostering Islamist alliances. While progressives and leftists are more likely to level accusations of "Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bias" when their alliances with extremists are exposed, Baird found that the right is more open to examining the evidence exposing Islamists. He said, "We should never miss an opportunity to inform lawmakers about the mistakes they're making when it comes to working with Islamists."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.