With the inclusion of Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), in the national prayer service obscure - need to indicate part of presidential inauguration this week, it seems it is again time to re-evaluate America's desire to forge alliances with "moderate" Muslims.
Various news sources report need link that Mattson's invitation raised criticism due to ISNA's alleged connections to terrorism. It is a fact that ISNA is a listed un-indicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case and one of a number of "individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood."
Yet, defenders of Ingrid Mattson, like Mark Pelavin, director of inter-religious affairs for the Union for Reform Judaism has called Mattson "a really important voice denouncing terrorism."
In a Fox News article, Palavin states, "Clearly, Dr. Mattson has been welcome throughout the government," he said. "I haven't found anyone anywhere who's found anything Dr. Mattson has said that's anything other than clearly denouncing terrorism in quite explicit Islamic terms."
By definition terrorism simply refers to the use of violence to achieve a political end. It includes no evaluation, let alone criticism of the political end desired. This is the real issue both the media and individuals like Pelavin have overlooked.
Islamist organizations like ISNA, are described as such not because they explicitly defend terrorism, recruit or fundraise for jihadis (though ISNA has allegedly done the latter), but because they prescribe to the same ideology that jihadis do - Islamism. The "war on terror" is an ideological conflict that the anti-western Islamist movement has initiated by positioning itself as a totalitarian system that does not want to co-exist with capitalism.
Today, the Islamist movement is an internally conflicted movement, where one side seeks to further the violence initiated by men like Osama bin Laden. While non-violent Islamists prefer to work legally through existing social and political institutions, civic engagement and lobbying to further the Islamist cause. This is in line with the teachings of the Muslim Student Association as well. ISNA was founded in 1981 by the Muslim Student's Association of the U.S. and Canada. The MSA is a Muslim Brotherhood creation meant to recruit Muslim youth to Islamism. As one past member stated:
"We are told America's foreign policy is based on racist neo-imperialism; we are taught that national security is a foul epithet to be reviled; we are told the Jews and Israel are to blame for the hatred against us". Moreover, ISNA co-founder and convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian acknowledges that he was a Muslim Brotherhood member in 1981.
It is shocking that the U.S. government continues to embrace ISNA despite a 1991 memorandum made available through discovery in the first HLF case that lists ISNA among a list of Islamist organizations supporting the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda in the US. (see a copy of the memorandum here. The English translation starts on page 15), whose motto remains: It's remains: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
If that isn't enough, consider terrorist expert Steven Emerson's commentary on ISNA:
"a radical group hiding under a false veneer of moderation"; "convenes annual conferences where Islamist militants have been given a platform to incite violence and promote hatred" (for instance, al Qaeda supporter and PLO official Yusuf Al-Qaradawi was invited to speak at an ISNA conference); has held fundraisers for terrorists (after Hamas leader Mousa Marzook was arrested and eventually deported in 1997, ISNA raised money for his defense); has condemned the U.S. government's post-9/11 seizure of Hamas' and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's financial assets; and publishes a bi-monthly magazine, Islamic Horizons, that "often champions militant Islamist doctrine."
ISNA has learned to tone down the violent rhetoric and Mattson's rise in the Islamist ranks might be intentional effort to add sophistication to its backwards ideology. As a female, white convert to Islam, ISNA looks almost progressive. Mattson became Vice-President of ISNA in 2001. The year of her initial participation with ISNA or other Islamist organizations is unknown.
Mattson's likely affinity towards Islamism is very likely considering the history of ISNA and some of her own statements. Like all Islamists, Mattson blames the West for the problems in the Muslim world today. Note her response to the following question during an interview with CNN: link needed
"CHAT PARTICIPANT: At what point in history, if known, did the Islamic nation turn from a philosophical and educated state comparable to the Greeks to the now third world state it is in?
MATTSON: 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".
And like other Islamists, Mattson prefers that Muslims live under Islamic law. She states in her work, "Stopping Oppression: An Islamic Obligation:"
"Before colonialism, authority was acquired by religious leaders in a much more subtle process, and religious leaders who advocated extreme hostility or aggression against the state were usually marginalized. After all, most Muslims did not want to be led into revolution, they simply wanted their lives to be better. In general, the most successful religious leaders were those who, in addition to serving the spiritual needs of the community, were able to moderate how state power was exercised on ordinary people, and in some sense, acted as intermediaries between the people and state." (emphasis added)
In the same article Mattson paints a picture of men like Osama bin Laden as charismatic revolutionaries who win the support of the oppressed masses. She argues that because oppressed masses have no one else to turn to, charismatic leaders like bin Laden become popular regardless of how unfounded their violent interpretations of Islam are. Again it is only the strategy of Islamists that Mattson objects to, not their grievances against the West or their end goal of changing US foreign policy to favor Islamist interests abroad.
In 2005, ISNA chose not to participate in the May 14 "Free Muslims March Against Terror," an event that supported the end to terrorism. ISNA has been accused of supporting Hamas and was investigated by US law enforcement for possible terrorist connections. Its tax records were requested in December 2003 by the Senate Finance Committee. U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Max Baucus of the Senate Committee on Finance listed ISNA as one of 25 American Muslim organizations that "finance terrorism and perpetuate violence."
There is no reason either Ingrid Mattson, or ISNA should have been the representative face of Islam at the national prayer service inaugurating President Obama's first days in office. As the President of ISNA in the United States and Canada, Mattson is responsible for the activities and statements of the organization. Under her watch, ISNA Canada invited a terrorist with Jamaat Islami connections to speak at their conference in 2008, and has featured Tariq Ramadan as a speaker, an Islamist who has been refused entry into the US.
Her presence challenges today's definition of what the elusive, yet desired "moderate" Muslim should look like. American-Muslims who do not politicize their faith, respect individuals of all other faiths or not faith at all are the real Americans. Muslims who defend the secular principles that unite American men and women on an equal footing are the individuals US. agencies should seek out. They do exist. Consider: Zuhdi Jasser, Stephen Schwartz, and Sheikh Kabbani.
Otherwise, we will continue to lose in this war on terror by relying on Americans whose loyalties lie elsewhere.
(Supna Zaidi is editor-in-chief of Muslim World Today and asst director of Islamist Watch at the Middle East Forum)