AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Recently, news media reported that the Trump Administration was planning to refocus
the Obama program of "Countering Violent Extremism" (CVE) specifically on Islamist extremism.
This would make a welcome change from the previous policy, in which the fox was set to guard the henhouse. Case in point: in one of its final acts of the Obama era, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a $393,800 CVE grant to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
With ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, MPAC has a history of sanitizing jihad and portraying terrorists as noble. MPAC founder Maher Hathout described Hezbollah as "fighting to liberate their land" and exhibiting "an American value — freedom and liberty." MPAC president Salam Al-Marayati spoke of Hezbollah's "legitimate resistance" and maintained that "when Patrick Henry said, 'Give me liberty or give me death,' that statement epitomized jihad."
Longtime MPAC staffer Edina Lekovic previously worked at the UCLA publication Al-Talib and was listed as managing editor of its July 1999 "spirit of jihad" issue with Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden on the cover — a year after the embassy bombings in Africa. The text declares: "When we hear someone refer to the great Mujahid (someone who struggles in Allah's cause) Osama bin Laden as a 'terrorist,' we should defend our brother and refer to him as a freedom fighter." MPAC stood by Lekovic when these details came to light in 2007.
MPAC has also displayed a particular hostility toward the Jewish state. Al-Marayati embarrassed himself by fingering Israel as a potential suspect hours after the 9/11 attacks. In 2013, the Anti-Defamation League selected MPAC as one of the "top ten anti-Israel groups in the U.S.," observing that it has sponsored anti-Israel events and "helped propagate the notion that American foreign policy is directed by Israel." MPAC has also disseminated bogus stories accusing Israel of intentionally flooding Palestinian homes and murdering Palestinians to harvest their organs.
MPAC has also targeted Muslim reformers for criticism. When Zuhdi Jasser was named to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2012, MPAC called it "an affront to all Muslims" and characterized Jasser, who battles supremacist interpretations of Islam, as a threat to religious freedom. Interestingly, MPAC's outburst came not long after it hosted a dinner for Rachid Ghannouchi, a Tunisian Islamist who had blessed the mothers of suicide bombers and hoped that Arab nations would "get rid of the bacillus of Israel." MPAC celebrated him as "one of the most important figures in modern Islamic political thought and theory."
MPAC also feeds the lie that the war on terrorism is a "war on Islam," claiming that FBI sting operations entrap innocent Muslims and depicting investigations of terror-supporting charities as politicized witch hunts that marginalize the Muslim community and result in "taking food out of the mouths of Palestinian orphans." MPAC has not been an uncritical backer of government CVE efforts, but now it has 393,800 reasons to cheer them on.
Washington once knew better than to put its faith in MPAC. Al-Marayati's appointment to the National Commission on Terrorism was withdrawn in 1999 after his past raised concerns. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) blasted MPAC in 2008 when it protested a hearing focused on keeping foreign aid out of the hands of terror-linked groups. Furthermore, declassified internal emails indicate a degree of discomfort within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence regarding MPAC's Muslim Brotherhood ties.
For now, the MPAC grant persists; but for how long? Weeks before his inauguration, Reuters reported that Trump's transition team had asked the State Department and DHS for the names of those involved in CVE programs: "Some career officials said they feared the incoming administration may be looking to undo the work that the Obama administration has done on countering violent extremism."
Work that provides an Islamist organization with nearly $400,000 deserves undoing. If the new president truly intends to drain the swamp, Homeland Security would be an excellent place to start.
Oren Litwin is a writer at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.