Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders recently appointed Fairfax County school board member Abrar Omeish as the co-chair of his Virginia campaign. As with another recently elected Virginia politician, State Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, Ms. Omeish has been associated with controversial Islamist organizations and hails from a terror-linked, jihadist family.
It was not long ago that the political establishment considered such theocratic beliefs beyond the pale. Yet, thanks to a complex public relations strategy, one which appropriates the language of civil rights and victimhood politics, Islamist organizations have succeeded in gradually recasting American Islamists as celebrated humanitarians and social reformers.
On February 4, the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) continued this rebranding project by circulating a newsletter glorifying the achievements of two terror-linked families: the Omeishes and Samirahs. The message encouraged the public to attend CAIR-Chicago's 16th annual banquet, where Ms. Omeish and State Delegate Samirah appeared on a panel to discuss their experiences as young Muslim politicians.
Ironically, CAIR-Chicago titled its newsletter: "Two Families - An American Muslim Saga," and described how the two Virginia politicians overcame the "destroyed reputations" and "Islamophobic smears" of their Hamas-linked fathers -- Dr. Sabri Samirah and Dr. Esam Omeish -- and made it to public office.
CAIR, a self-styled Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, survived a "saga" of its own in 2008, when it was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the nation's largest terrorism finance trial. On appeal, a federal judge ruled that there was "ample evidence" linking CAIR to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization.
CAIR-Chicago's Facebook posts promoting the event claimed that the Omeish and Samirah sagas are "multigenerational stories ... of our community's challenges and victories in the last few years." The Islamist group bragged that, through 12 years of activism and networking, Islamic organizations "have built strong alliances and learned from the work of other minorities."
Abrar Omeish is the daughter of Dr. Esam Omeish, who resigned from his position on a Virginia state immigration commission in 2007, after former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine became aware of a 2000 video where Omeish glorified violent Jihad, telling Muslims in Washington, D.C "that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land." In the same speech, Omeish accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians and arguing that the "Israeli agenda" controls Congress.
Dr. Omeish maintained "close ties" to the International Institute of Islamic Thought, which has fundraised for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition, a Libyan parliamentary committee included Dr. Omeish on a list of 75 "terrorists" for his affiliation with the Revolutionary Shura Council (RSC), an Islamist opposition group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
In the case of Abrar Omeish, like many other Islamist families, the apple did not fall far from the tree.
While Dr. Omeish formerly headed the Muslim American Society (MAS), his daughter was president of the Muslim Students Association at Yale University. Both organizations are known to be mere facades for the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2014, Ms. Omeish led a campaign to silence Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born American feminist who was the victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Somalia, and now advocates for women's and children's rights.
The second family featured in CAIR-Chicago's "American Muslim Saga;" the Samirahs, was represented by Delegate Ibraheem Samirah and his father, Dr. Sabri Samirah.
In its newsletter, CAIR-Chicago provided scant details explaining why the elder Samirah was banned in 2002 from entering the U.S. for 10 years: "All it took back then was an undisclosed 'security threat' label by the federal government to smear and banish Dr. Sabri for an entire decade from re-entry back to his adopted homeland."
In fact, Dr. Samirah was a senior leader of a now-defunct Hamas network in the U.S. called the "Palestine Committee," and also was chairman of the Palestine Committee's main propaganda arm, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). The IAP issued Hamas press releases and published the Hamas charter, which called for Israel's destruction and the murder of Jews, and held events that featured senior Hamas leaders as speakers.
In 1994, Dr. Samirah hosted the "Jerusalem Festival" in Chicago, where thousands of Palestinians and Jordanians live. Addressing the audience, Dr. Samirah referred to Chicago as "the Muslim capital of America" and gave tribute to "the martyrs who gave their blood for Palestine."
Even worse, the elder Samirah once led a youth retreat where children were recorded singing Arabic songs praising Hamas founder Ahmed Yasin and glorifying armed struggle against Jews, chanting: "With daggers in our hands we burst forth to strike ... our enemies."
As with the Omeish family, the younger Samirah has carried his father's legacy of religious extremism.
Delegate Samirah inherited his father's penchant for anti-Semitism and was involved with campus activism as a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, a key proponent of the global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In an August 3, 2014 Facebook post, the future Virginia state legislator agreed that "funding Israel is like 'Sending money to the KKK.'"
There can be no doubt that Delegate Samirah will seek to uphold the political objectives of his father, who remarked in 2014 that, "We are ready to sacrifice all we have for Palestine. Long live Palestine." A year later, Samirah Jr. lionized his father in a Facebook post, calling him a "role model" and admitting, "I would not have dedicated myself to the Palestinian human rights' (sic) cause without him."
With Islamist politicians holding local and federal office, and many others running in the 2020 elections, Islamist organizations such as CAIR feel confident in their ability to infiltrate the American political system and implement a theocratic agenda. But part of the rise of the Islamist political class includes an acute historical revisionism, one which necessitates turning perpetrators into victims, and terrorists into freedom fighters.
CAIR-Chicago's "American Muslim Saga" of two terror-linked families is nothing short of Islamist propaganda, an attempt to normalize extremist behavior, and vilify American justice. It is a complete fiction, and one that ignores the anti-Semitism and criminal exploits of its misbegotten protagonists. Such villain-worshipping can only be expected from CAIR, a terrorist-supporting front group which serves as a clearinghouse for hardline Islamist principles.
Hesham Shehab is the Chicago Counter-Islamist Grid Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum