In Hollywood, playing an imaginary character is not a job limited to actors. It's an ethos that is visible going back to Raymond Chandler's 1930s and 1940s detective stories that depicted a particular culture of strangeness and cynicism in Southern California that persists today: Most people are not as they appear.
Such is the case with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), which plays the part of a supposed civil rights organization based in Los Angeles, supported by numerous entertainment and technology companies, yet has clear origins with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Back in April, MPAC held its annual "media awards" and chose to honor the late Jamal Khashoggi, a supposed Washington Post "journalist" and thus an alleged martyr for free speech. But the truth about Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia is more complicated: The desert kingdom has designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and Khashoggi has associated himself with the group for a long time, parroting its propaganda and even indulging in Islamism's frequent partner, anti-Semitism.
On November 23, at its 19th annual convention, MPAC honored another man of mystery who is not as he appears. The "Community Changemaker Award" went to Dr. Ahmed Soboh, chairman of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC), an organization he has led following the tenure of Muzammil Siddiqi, a prominent Islamist leader and longtime defender of sharia. Soboh works as a dentist at Soboh Liswi Dental in Pomona and has held numerous positions in the Southern California Islamist community over the last 15 years. One of his first roles was as an executive committee member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles chapter (CAIR-GLA), appearing at a March 2008 community forum.
He currently serves as Director of Religious Activities for the Chino Valley Islamic Center (CVIC), a mosque that has hosted such radical speakers as CAIR-GLA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush, Bayan Claremont Founder/President Jihad Turk, and Ahmed Billoo, who was recently criticized for anti-Semitic remarks. Soboh's support of CAIR continued further as CVIC hosted two CAIR-GLA events in July and an event in May with the L.A. chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS) — which, like CAIR, has also been labeled as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates.
So how significant is the role which Soboh now plays? What does the ISCSC actually do? The group seems to have three primary functions: (1) Radicalizing the Muslim community by sponsoring extreme speakers, (2) providing Islamist groups opportunities to coordinate their activism, and (3) creating a private space for Islamists to subvert transparency, airing groups' differences only behind closed doors rather than in public.
First, a brief rundown of the ISCSC's regular speakers makes clear the organization's support for radicalism: An April 14, 2018 banquet featured Yasir Qadhi; the March 4, 2017 banquet brought Suhaib Webb to town; the February 27, 2016 fundraiser banquet offered two radicals for the price of one with both former Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Siraj Wahhaj appearing; for the March 1, 2014 banquet, ISCSC chose Tariq Ramdan, a man now with multiple rape accusations against him. On March 9, 2013 ISCSC hosted a day-long conference featuring Jamal Badawi, Qadhi, Wahhaj, Siddiqi, and Muslema Purmu, with Soboh acting as a moderator.
Second, visit ISCSC's list of 74 members to see its unique role in the community. ISCSC acts as an "umbrella organization" and brings together Muslim groups — not all of which are clearly Islamist — of such types as mosques, K–12 schools, higher education, clinics, charities, and activist groups from the moderate-posing MPAC to the more openly radical CAIR and MAS. While MPAC, CAIR, and MAS have tactical differences and varied targets of influence, it's the role of ISCSC to try and get the three of them to get along and to influence Muslims to support all three groups. On October 25, ISCSC released a video with Soboh urging Muslims to attend the groups' upcoming November banquets and conventions.
Third, ISCSC's place in Southern California's Islamist community came into focus from its role in the Institute of Knowledge's (IOK) "Ilmspiration" conference on September 21, which was a one-day gathering of Islamist scholar-activists — including individuals from Omar Suleiman's Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and Abdul Nasir Jangda's Qalam Institute. ISCSC sponsored the event, Soboh gave the opening welcome, and at the day's final panel, Muslema Purmul offered a revealing explanation of how the group operates behind the scenes.
In his speech, Soboh explained how various Islamic organizations had been developing over decades and collaborating together. He began with a reference to the past: "Our Muslim community in America has been building its assets in America for the past 60 years. ... And now we have amazing organizations, amazing institutions, amazing properties, endowments, funds, and all that." What happened approximately 60 years ago? The Muslim Students Association was founded in 1963 and from it came such "amazing organizations" as the Islamic Society of North America, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and the North American Islamic Trust. "But for the past 20, 15 years, we started shifting our building of assets to something that's extremely important, which is building our base of Muslim scholars and intellectuals. ... Indeed, our institutions are also becoming an asset: IOK, Yaqeen, and Qalam Institute ... Shura Council is very proud to sponsor, to collaborate, to see the collaboration of these organizations. ..."
ISCSC would not receive mention again until Purmul brought it up: "Not every single thing that every organization does is agreed upon by every other organization within the Muslim community ... we have things like Shura Council that we can come together under one umbrella ... we do need to have private spaces where people can go up to each other and say, 'Look, this is really confusing. Why did you do this?'"
So congratulations to Dr. Soboh for this recognition. A downside of this exposure: The mask is now off and you're under the spotlight. Opponents of Islamism are now well aware of what until now had been a quiet influence operation.
David M. Swindle is the Southern California associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid and a fellow for Islamist Watch. He also works as the Director of Research for The Israel Group. Follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle.