Nowadays, it appears to have become commonplace for college activists to attempt to silence and de-platform those whose views they've deemed objectionable. In February, student activists at Colorado State University (CSU) protested an event organized by the conservative student organization Turning Point USA called "Smashing Socialism." The student protest escalated into a violent riot.
Later that month, the Federalist Society at another Colorado school—the University of Colorado, Boulder (UCB)—invited author and Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley to speak on the topic of "False Black Power?" Student activist groups, including the Black Law Students' Alliance, protested that event, too, calling it "highly problematic."
But where do such Colorado student activists draw the line as to which events or lectures they will accept on their campuses? Apparently, while conservative groups or speakers are taboo, the presence of an Islamist hate preacher with connections to a violent Islamist network and oppressive dictators in the Middle East is perfectly acceptable.
Indeed, in February, the Muslim Student Alliances (MSA)—at the University of Colorado, Denver; the University of Colorado, Boulder; the University of Denver; and Colorado State University—hosted a series of events featuring extremist imam Khalid Griggs and his sponsoring organization, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
Several decades ago, Griggs belonged to the now-defunct Islamic Party of North America (IPNA), whose foundational publication, Taking Islam to the Street: The Da'wah of the Islamic Party of North America, brags about bringing "the Revolutionary Islamic political and social thoughts of [Muslim-Brotherhood ideologue ] Sayyid Qutb, [Libyan dictator Muammar] Qaddafi, [Iranian Ayatollah] Khomeini, and [infamous south Asian Islamist Abul a'la] Maududi to the … streets of Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Cleveland and a dozen other cities."
In fact, according a history of the IPNA written by Griggs (which appears as a chapter of Muslim Minorities in the West: Visible and Invisible), in July 1976, Griggs and other IPNA organizers attended the "Zionism is Racism" conference in Tripoli. At the conference, Gaddafi's government provided IPNA with a $100,000 loan so that Griggs could open IPNA's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Griggs is also a friend and vocal supporter of Imam Jamil al Amin (AKA H. Rap Brown), a former Black Panther-turned-radical-imam who is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer in 2002. Though Amin was found guilty of all 13 charges against him, Griggs has pushed the popular conspiracy theory that the U.S. government has a vendetta against al-Amin because of his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. In December 2016, Griggs's organization, ICNA-CSJ, launched an online petition demanding al Amin's immediate release on this basis.
In a 2011 lecture at Georgia State University, Griggs (alongside Imam al Amin's wife) spoke glowingly of Imam Jamil al Amin's legacy. In front of a crowd of students, Griggs recalled a line from one of Al Amin's jail-time letters: "struggle is the price we pay for our soul."
Their correspondence from prison is no surprise, as their relationship spans decades. In 1997, Griggs appeared alongside al Amin at the annual ICNA convention, speaking to more than 3,000 attendees. Also on the panel was the New York Imam Siraj Wahhaj, whom prosecutors named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. Wahhaj carries a very long, accessible history of extremism.
Griggs serves as ICNA vice president and chairman of the ICNA Council for Social Justice (CSJ). ICNA has openly identified itself as an organization of the Pakistani-based Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent Islamist group that was complicit in the 1971 Bangladeshi genocide, and whose military wing, Hizbul Mujahideen, has been designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization.
ICNA's Council for Social Justice also closely follows Griggs' playbook by preaching radical extremism under the guise of tolerance. A recent Toyota advertisement designed by ICNA-CSJ, which appeared during last year's Super Bowl, paints a picture of unity and peace between a rabbi, a pastor and an imam attending a football game—delivering the message that they are "all on the same team." Such a message, progressive and desirable it may be, is bluntly contradicted by the much more telling actions of ICNA-CSJ, whose board members are quite keen on sympathizing with war criminals and vocally supporting senior Al Qaeda leaders.
In his speech at the University of Colorado, Denver (UCD), Griggs ostensibly argued for unity and resistance through faith, suggesting that the remedy to American political polarization can historically be found within Islam. But this surface-level progressive rhetoric is hardly aimed at mending the fabric of American society or wishing to improve upon it.
Indeed, Griggs has a much different view of America, which he described in his speech as a country rife with "neo-Nazis goose-stepping through the streets" and an "explosion in the membership of the Ku Klux Klan." Griggs's suggestion that an Islamic society is the path to social justice and harmony is an allusion to ICNA's true goal, as revealed in leaked internal training documents: replacing the "unjust" American society with an Islamic theocracy, ruled by Sharia law.
For these reasons, among a number of others, Griggs has run into controversy with universities in the past. At Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he was appointed in 2011 as the school's Muslim chaplain, a group of alumni staged a boycott of the university in light of Griggs's unconcealed history of extremism.
Alas, there were no protests or walk-outs at any of his recent appearances. Evidently, local student activists had done as little research on Griggs as they have done on organizations like Turning Point USA. Simply because he outwardly claims to be on the side of social justice, the activists have decided to take him at his word without a moment's skepticism. Student activists eager to protest and de-platform political organizations just for holding a view they dislike ought to be capable of identifying the true extremists like Imam Griggs—and showing the same eagerness to oppose such extremism.
Ahnaf Kalam is a student at the University of Colorado, Denver, and a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.