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Few ideas induce more horror than the selling of human beings for sex against their will. But the slave markets of the Islamic State are not the only places on earth one can hear human trafficking rationalized. Numerous Islamist institutions in the West frequently provide platforms for speakers who defend this abominable practice by citing Islamic law. And for years they have worked to infiltrate the mainstream of philanthropy.
Since January, the Middle East Forum has worked – first in private and then in public – to persuade the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) to stop funding two such extremist organizations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Relief (IR), and instead support reformist Muslim groups.
A very common argument from IIIT-affiliated scholars is an effort to try and cast Sharia-sanctioned slavery as dramatically different from the slavery of the antebellum South. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Both CAIR and IR provide regular platforms to fundamentalist imams and activists who justify concubinage and other brutal practices. Georgetown academic and Islamist convert Jonathan Brown, who spoke
at a 2013 CAIR fundraiser, came under criticism in February for a speech defending Sharia-sanctioned rape and sex slavery
. Brown attended that CAIR event with Islamist activist Linda Sarsour, who has said
of authors Brigitte Gabriel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don't deserve to be women."
IR also has a history of hosting imams who call for a return to the 7th century. In 2016, Abdul Nasir Jangda spoke at an IR fundraising dinner in Austin, Texas. Jangda, according to notes taken by one of his students, defends the use of female sex slaves and claims, "Slavery in Islam... is vastly different and superior morally and spiritually to the atrocious, obscene, and vile Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade." One of Jangda's colleagues, Hussain Kamani, has also spoken at IR events. Kamani has said: "If a person wishes to fulfil his desires, his common desires, there are only two ways he can fulfill these desires where he will not be held responsible for it. ... The first thing is that he fulfills his desires with a spouse. The second thing is that he fulfills his desires with a female slave that belongs to him."
One would think that the SVCF, like most grant-making foundations, would do everything it could not to be associated with such offensive ideas. Yet our efforts to contact SVCF staff were stymied – vice president Manuel J. Santamaria refused to talk with us.
A mystery has hung over these pursuits: why has SVCF chosen to align itself so tightly with Islamist groups? When and how did the country's most well-funded community foundation – endowed with $7.3 billion — embrace the baseless narratives of Islamist activists at CAIR and IR?
While it's tempting to resort to ideological explanations, another angle might also shed some light: appeasing the desires of its donors. One high-dollar SVCF donor that may have helped to exert especially toxic influence is the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), which in 2015 provided SVCF with $500,000 in "program assistance" for a project called the "Global Policy Fund" according to its 990 form.
The IIIT has a long history of extremist links. In 2008, federal prosecutors in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial introduced evidence that included IIIT as one of the Muslim Brotherhood's "list of our organizations and organizations of our friends."
A US Senate committee in 2002 noted a connection between an IIIT employee and Al Qaeda's infamous leader: "Tarik Hamdi, an IIIT employee, personally provided [Osama] bin Laden with the battery for the satellite phone prosecutors at the New York trial of the East Africa Embassy bombers described as 'the phone bin Laden and other will use to carry out their war against the United States.'"
The IIIT also runs a religious training organization named the Fairfax Institute, where Brown serves as an "instructor." His speech defending slavery actually took place at an IIIT event.
The IIIT claims it is "dedicated to the revival and reform of Islamic thought and its methodology in order to enable the Ummah to deal effectively with present challenges..."
What this means in practice is that the IIIT and its "instructors" regard themselves as the theorists behind the growth of Islamism in the West, who work to intellectually and morally justify certain aspects of sharia law and their implementation. Brown speciously claims that "the Sharia understanding of slavery" is "not comparable at all" to slavery as it existed in America.
There is nothing mainstream or moderate about this rhetoric. The time has come for SVCF CEO Emmett D. Carson and the others on the foundation's leadership team to wake up to an unpleasant truth: under their stewardship the organization has both accepted money from and given money to groups that promote deeply hateful ideas.
SVCF must stop empowering the Islamists, and start working with moderate Muslims instead.
David M. Swindle is the coordinator for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.