If Joseph Kaufman is correct, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) must be blacklisted immediately.
Kaufman, chairman of Americans Against Hate (AAH), has claimed that ICNA "is the American arm," or stateside mirror, of the main Islamist organization of Pakistan, the Jamaat-e Islami (JI). To make his point, Kaufman rallied a group of protestors outside ICNA's 32nd annual convention in Hartford last month, demanding that the U.S. government freeze the group's accounts and place JI on the State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).
Charges of this sort are nothing new: As recently as 2004, the Senate Finance Committee requested the IRS provide information on ICNA and another two dozen Muslim organizations as an investigation into "terrorist financing networks." But committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) reported he had found nothing "alarming enough" to warrant further investigation, and the government closed its investigation in November 2005.
ICNA, founded in 1971, is headquartered in Queens, New York, and calls itself "a leading grass-roots organization which seeks to obtain the pleasure of Allah (SWT) through working for the establishment of Islam in all spheres of life." This includes "[inviting] mankind to submit to the Creator" and "[motivating] Muslims to perform their duty of being witnesses unto mankind." This year's convention, which was titled "Muhammad (SWT): Mercy to Humanity and Beyond…", concerned witness and predication, especially, and welcomed over 10,000 guests.
Naeem Baig, its secretary-general, responded to Kaufman by calling him "obviously misinformed" and wishing he had attended ICNA's first-ever program for non-Muslims, called "Window to Islam."
Well, I did attend "Window to Islam"—and I also visited several "members only" events. Additionally, I spoke with speakers, conventioneers, and vendors. (The latter hawked products ranging from hair restoratives and fashion accessories to halal Rice Krispies treats and expensive Arabian oils.)
Among the books I browsed were selections (in English, Arabic, and Urdu) on families and marriage—and Qur'an commentaries by Ibn Taymiyyah (whom Bin Laden often cites to promote violent jihad), and Muslim Brotherhood scholar Sayyid Qutb (dubbed by PBS "the man whose ideas would shape al-Qaeda").
Offerings like these are noteworthy, but fail to prove radical intent on the part of convention co-sponsors ICNA and MAS. (I searched for a copy of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"—or a similarly rotten book, in any language—but walked away empty-handed.)
My introduction to radicalism came later, as I attended a session addressing "Islamophobia" and the "media onslaught."
I chose this event, not only for an interest in the subject matter, but to hear former journalist Yvonne Ridley address a "members only" crowd.
Ms. Ridley had animated a humorous, if strident, Window session earlier in the day, where she told of her "respectful" (her words) "detention" (moderator's words) by the Taliban in September 2001—her release from which was conditioned on her promise to read the Qur'an.
But her afternoon remarks were something different.
These were consistent with her earlier cry, upon receiving an award from the Muslim Weekly Readers' Club at the 2005 convention, of "Victory to the Intifada!"
In the morning she had addressed diversity within the Muslim faith; now she condemned the "Zionists," whose "trick," now, is to "bog you down in very expensive legal, um, issues—and they're very effective at it, as well."
She then praised "the magnificent resistance of the brothers," whom she failed to explain or identify.
On the subject of jihad she intoned: "Well, if [journalists] are taking notes, I'll say it slowly so they get it right: The actions of the Jihadists overseas pose absolutely no threat to the West or western lifestyles. And their resistance in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in Chechnya, is not only justified, but it is embraced and encouraged by international law."
As for "Islamophobia," she claimed the ordination of Sir Salman Rushdie ("that failed Muslim") was "simply designed to insult and offend every single Muslim—not just in Britain, but around the world," warning that "things are going to get a lot worse for Muslims."
"I think that we are actually standing at the top of the same street that the Jews were dragged down in the 1930s," she continued, asking that Muslim community leaders consider the example of those Jewish community leaders who "cooperated" with Nazi Germany.
She then closed her remarks, to takbirs ("Allahu akbar!") and great applause, with the admonition that "we're not pacifists; if anybody comes and whacks me, I promise, I will whack you back."
ICNA has severed obvious ties to radical formations; the fact that the Islamic Circle's website no longer shares a registry with the Jamaat-e Islami is an important example.
But it troubles me that ICNA invited so predictable a quantity as Yvonne Ridley, whose passions are manifest, to address the faithful.
Outside the convention center, former Navy prison chaplain James Yee told reporters: "If the [Islamic Circle of North America] is in any way connected to terrorists, the U.S. government would have obviously cracked down against them."
They already have, we know.
But what if, instead, they only encourage hate, glorify "resistance," and indulge a climate of fear?
R. John Matthies is assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He can be contacted at Matthies@MEForum.org