Barack Obama isn't wasting any time making an impression: he has selected the leader of a group that has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case to present a prayer during his inauguration festivities. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), will offer a prayer at the National Cathedral Tuesday.
Superficially, Obama's choice is understandable: Ingrid Mattson is a Canadian convert to Islam who has carefully cultivated the image of a moderate spokesperson. Yet her organization's record is not entirely clean. Federal prosecutors last summer rejected claims that ISNA was unfairly named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terror funding case. And ISNA has even admitted ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complaining only that the government's evidence for those ties came from old documents, but offering no proof that the organization had reversed course. In a memorandum on the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy in the United States, a Muslim Brotherhood operative named ISNA as an allied organization in what it called "a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
What's more, in a CNN chat room on October 18, 2001, Mattson offered a subtle defense of Osama bin Laden. She avowed that "only a small number of Muslims throughout the world would support Osama bin Laden's tactics." (Emphasis added.) Tactics alone? Is that the only problem with Osama? Does she, then, hold to his goals? Mattson even suggested that "a larger number" of Muslims share bin Laden's grievances, and that he was popular because the leaders of Islamic countries had failed their people: Muslims, she said, "turned to Osama bin Laden as a spokesperson…because they feel that no one else, including their own leaders, has spoken for them." This disquietingly echoes the jihadist critique of secular regimes in Muslim countries such as Egypt and Pakistan: jihadists label such regimes illegitimate and apostate because they do not implement Islamic law in its fullness.
In 2002 she even asserted that in countries that were not functioning democracies, "‘extremism' might seem to be the only rational choice, because extreme actions are the only actions that seem to have an effect." This again gives the impression that bin Laden's goals were laudable, and that he was driven by desperation to illegitimate actions in pursuit of a legitimate goal.
Mattson explained during the CNN chat that "Islam allows force to be used by legitimate authorities, to protect people, and to protect Muslim states, just as all nation states in the world permit themselves to use force to protect their security and interests. Again, the problem of individual Muslims taking up arms, becoming vigilantes, in a way, is related to their frustration with the lack of leadership on the part of their own government." This implies that if the governments of Muslim countries had been waging jihad to protect Muslim states, Osama bin Laden wouldn't have had to do so. Here again she implies that bin Laden's goals are sound, only his means are questionable.
Mattson again reinforced the impression that she endorsed al-Qaeda's goals, if not its means, when she referred (also in the CNN chat) to the "overthrowing of the caliphate" in the 1920s as "a plan of European powers for many years," and claimed that "this deprived the Muslim world of a stable and centralized authority, and much of the chaos that we're living in today is the result of that." This does appear to be an endorsement of the jihadist goal of reestablishing the caliphate and uniting Muslims under its authority in a supranational state which could then, according to Islamic law, legitimately wage offensive jihad warfare against non-Muslim states.
Mattson also excused the virulent and violent Wahhabi movement in Islam, terming it "a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had acquired over the centuries." Mattson thus suggests that Wahhabism was a legitimate reform within Islam, asserting that "it really was analogous to the European Protestant Reformation" and noting that "the Saudi scholars who are Wahhabi have denounced terrorism and denounced in particular the acts of September 11" – but never mentioning the abundant evidence that high-placed Saudis have continued to support and finance global jihad terrorism.
Yet while curiously silent about the excesses and violence of Wahhabism, Mattson blamed the decline of the Islamic world on the West: "Well, the decline began with the colonization of the Muslim world by European powers. One of the first things the colonialists did was to dismantle the institutions of what we could call civil society. The Muslim world has until now not recovered from that dismemberment of its society."
In reality, the colonial period did not begin until the 18th and 19th centuries, and would not have been able to begin at all had the Islamic world not already been in a period of steep cultural and military decline. Historian Philip K. Hitti describes the decline of Islamic thought as beginning far earlier than the era of European colonialism, saying that "the whole Arab world had by the beginning of the thirteenth century lost the intellectual hegemony it had maintained since the eighth."
Mattson has also tried to set Jews and Christians against once another. Speaking at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in March 2007, Mattson said: "Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews, because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic. They do not like Jews." Yet Mattson would be hard-pressed to produce any anti-Semitic statement from Christians who support Israel – any statement, in other words, comparable to an article posted at IslamOnline, "Jews as Depicted In the Qur'an," which concludes:
After this clear explanation, we would like to note that these are but some of the most famous traits of the Jews as described in the Qur'an. They have revolted against the Divine ordinances, distorted what has been revealed to them and invented new teachings which, they claimed, were much more better than what has been recorded in the Torah. It was for these traits that they found no warm reception in all countries where they tried to reside. Rather, they would either be driven out or live in isolation. It was Almighty Allah who placed on them His Wrath and made them den of humiliation due to their transgression. Almighty Allah told us that He'd send to them people who'd pour on them rain of severe punishment that would last till the Day of Resurrection. All this gives us glad tidings of the coming victory of Muslims over them once Muslims stick to strong faith and belief in Allah and adopt the modern means of technology.
What is Mattson doing to combat these attitudes within the Islamic community? She never addresses them.
If Ingrid Mattson truly intends to be a voice for reform and moderation within the Islamic community in North America, and to reassure those who are justifiably alarmed by Obama's invitation to her, she should explain her troublesome statements – especially those that apparently portray Osama bin Laden in a favorable light. She should also explain ISNA's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and confront honestly the elements of Islamic teaching that jihadists use to justify violence and make recruits among peaceful Muslims. Unless and until she does these things and others that would conclusively demonstrate her moderation, non-Muslims are justified in being appalled at Obama's choice.
Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs.