Beaming under her thick head scarf, congenial-looking Muslim convert Ingrid Mattson makes a great photo.
And it is not only because the white, ex-Catholic Canadian woman from Kitchener, Ontario, could be the poster child for the new face of Islam in North America. The former atheist, who converted to the world's fastest growing religion after a summer in Paris and a marriage to an Egyptian engineer she met in a refugee camp in Pakistan, is also the first female and first non-immigrant president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization on this continent. The former Catholic high school student, who now teaches Islam at a non-denominational Christian institute in Connecticut, was elected to the position last month.
According to a story that appeared in the leftist Toronto Star, with her profile Muslims hope the accent-free Mattson, who holds a PhD in Islamic studies from the University of Chicago and does not wear a veil, can help the image of Islam, which has suffered since 9/11 in North America. In her new position, the novice president will now oversee an organization which the New York Times says serves as an umbrella for about 300 Muslim groups and a third of the mosques in the United States.
But while Mattson confers on the ISNA a more agreeable appearance, it is going to take more than a smiling, white North American convert to dispel her organization's previous image problems. There have been accusations, for example, that the ISNA serves as a front for the spread of the extreme fundamentalist Wahhabi brand of Islam in the United States, having received large donations from Saudi Arabia in the past. Accuracy In The Media columnist Sherrie Gossett cited a story in the St. Petersburg Times, which described ISNA as being "subsidized by the Saudi government" and the "main clearinghouse for Wahhabism in the U.S."
Moreover, WTHR-TV, a television station in Indianapolis close to which ISNA headquarters is located in Plainfield, Indiana, said it had found "about a dozen charities, organizations and individuals under federal scrutiny for possible ties to terrorism that are in some way linked to ISNA." Terrorism expert Steven Emerson, who has testified before Congress more than a dozen times about this deadly, modern blight, told the station: "I think ISNA has been an umbrella, also a promoter of groups that have been involved in terrorism. I am not going to accuse the ISNA of being directly involved in terrorism. I will say ISNA has sponsored extremists, racists, people who call for Jihad against the United States."
A list of these lovely people Emerson alludes to includes Sami Al Arian, the well-known University of South Florida computer science professor found guilty on a conspiracy charge to fund the terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad. Al Arian, according to the Department of Justice, was connected through Islamic Jihad with as many as one hundred deaths, including two those of Americans. At his sentencing, U.S. District Judge James Moody gave Al Arian the maximum 57 months to be followed by deportation, calling the terrorism facilitator a "master manipulator", whose "only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them."
ISNA's response to Al Arian's arrest, according to WHTR, was to issue a statement criticizing the government, a tactic that has been repeated over and over again when radical Muslims are arrested. There is never anything wrong with the sweet and innocent arrestees who want to blow the infidel to smithereens, you see, but rather with the evil, Islamic-bashing Western society and security forces that unfairly target them.
Another charming individual connected to ISNA, according to AIM columnist Gossett, is Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi was invited to speak at an ISNA conference, although he is known for having created "the theological justification for suicide bombing", an oxymoron if ever there was one. His justification, which appears on the Hamas website, is titled "Hamas Operations Are Jihad and Those Who [Carry It Out And] Are Killed Are Considered Martyrs." Which is really all one needs to know about the good sheikh.
ISNA's status as a charity itself caused it to be investigated by the Senate Committee on Finance in 2003 for terrorism links along with 24 other Islamic organizations. As well, the WTHR report stated ISNA has also allowed Islamic charities, later found connected with terrorism, to set up booths at its conventions and has even helped raise money for them, including for the now prohibited Holy Land Foundation. Moreover, the same report also said Hamas leader, Mousa Marzook, deported form America in 1997, also thanked ISNA in a letter for supporting his defense fund. Marzook's name can be found on the State Department's terrorist list, a distinction ISNA can certainly take pride in.
But while Mattson's smiling image may come to dominate the mainstream media in years to come, it is Gossett who caught perhaps the true face of ISNA. In her interview with the Islamic organization's spokesman, who called AIM's coverage of Islamic radicalism "scandalous" and "criminal", she was harshly told: "You will be hurt, you will be pained by this if you continue to write such things." Which is really nothing to smile about.