The Muslim American Society-Islamic Circle of North America (MAS-ICNA) 2019 convention held in Chicago last month reveals the Illinois Islamists' ties with the autocratic Turkish regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and how Erdogan uses U.S. Islamists organizations as an arm of his foreign policy.
One of the main convention sponsors was the Zakat Foundation (ZF), a nonprofit organization, that was founded by the Turkish-American Halil Demir in 1981, in Bridgeview, Illinois, near Chicago. Demir previously worked as the public relations offices for the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), an organization which would be designated for supporting terrorism for allegedly funding Al Qaeda.
According to its mission statement, the Zakat Foundation is a "trusted zakat (alms-giving) and donations resource center for Muslim donors." Zakat is the third pillar of Islam.
In his report "Erdogan's Long Arm in the US: Turkish Influence Operations Among American Muslims" Ahmet S. Yayla identifies the Zakat Foundation as the main sponsor of the 13th MAS-ICNA conference in December 2014. In addition, ZF participated at the 2015 MAS-ICNA conference with a large booth, raising funds for its programs. Also, the Zakat Foundation was the platinum sponsor for the 2014 and 2015 American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group closely linked to the Hamas support network which held its annual convention in Chicago in November.
Turkish officials have been directly involved at the MAS-ICNA convention in Chicago for years. In 2016, Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar, daughter of President Erdogan and vice-chairperson of the Istanbul-based Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), spoke at the MAS-ICNA convention and stated that "Turkey serves as an inspiration for other Muslim nations." In 2017, Turkey was represented at MAS-ICNA convention by Mehdi Eker, the deputy chair of AKP.
Another speaker at the recent MAS-ICNA convention associated with Erdogan is the Chicago-based Oussama Jammal, who is MAS's director of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement as well as president of the Mosque Foundation (MF) board of directors, and secretary general of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO).
The Mosque Foundation and several of its leaders have a long history of ties to and support for Islamist organizations known to fund terror groups. In particular, Jammal had raised money for terror financer Sami al-Arian and has close ties to Erdogan.
Jammal founded the USCMO in 2014 with a mission to "open effective communication and coordination spectrums between all American Muslim organizations... help solidify mutually crucial relationships... create and sustain an urgent, collective sense of direction."
Since its inception, USCMO has acted as an umbrella group for Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim-American Society (MAS), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), all groups with identifiable ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Indeed, Jammal and his ilk have issued press releases, organized demonstrations, mobilized and indoctrinated Muslims in Illinois and other states, and appeared on the scene whenever Erdogan needed support.
In April, 2015, USCMO released a statement to support Turkey regarding the "1915 Turkish-Armenian Events," a Turkish euphemism for the Armenian genocide. In July, 2016, Jammal, with a group of Turkish and American Muslims, including Zakat Foundations' Demir, protested the coup attempt in Turkey in front of Turkey's Chicago Consulate General building. Jammal is a major figure in Erdogan's "domestic political meddling," and USCMO acts as a support and lobbying group for Erdogan's anti-American policies among U.S. Muslims.
Turkish operations in Illinois are just a small part of Turkey's bid to create a global network of Islamists culminating in a virtual "Ottoman Empire" that answers to Istanbul. In 2015 former AKP prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey "will re-found the Ottoman state."
This effort to place Turkey at the head of an Islamist coalition explains Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) providing various forms of support to the international Muslim Brotherhood, as well as U.S. Islamist organizations that support Hamas.
By meddling in U.S. politics, Turkish and Islamist nonprofit organizations have violated their mission statements as nonprofit entities, and in addition raise serious questions about their status as possibly unregistered foreign agents, particularly if the Turkish government has funded their efforts and rewarded them for their support. American Muslims need to stand up and make clear that groups like MAS-ICNA and the USCMO do not speak for them
Hesham Shehab is the Chicago Associate for the Counter Islamist Grid (CIG).