In a discouraging signal of the incoming administration's attitude toward Islamist lobby groups, Barack Obama's inaugural committee has announced that Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) president Ingrid Mattson will participate in a January 21 prayer service at the National Cathedral. Though the event aims to promote "tolerance, unity, and understanding," ISNA goes zero for three in these categories. Excellent critiques of Mattson have been offered by Win Myers and Robert Spencer; the following is a primer on the organization she heads.
Founded in 1981 as an offshoot of the Saudi-backed Muslim Students Association, ISNA is the largest Muslim group in the U.S. Furthermore, its subsidiary, the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), holds the deeds to many of the country's mosques, which gives ISNA a powerful role in shaping the tone of Islam being preached there. Because that tone often reflects the Wahhabi worldview, Islamic scholar Stephen Schwartz describes ISNA as "one of the chief conduits through which the radical Saudi form of Islam passes into the United States."
The group's conventions proceed along the same lines. Terrorism expert Steven Emerson has noted that one year after 9/11 — and back when Mattson was the organization's vice president — "speakers at ISNA's annual conference still refused to acknowledge bin Laden's role in the terrorist attacks." In addition, ISNA once extended an invitation to extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports suicide bombings and justifies the execution of homosexuals.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks global Islamic rule under a new caliph, recognizes ISNA's place in this master plan. In a 1991 document, the Brotherhood identifies ISNA as one of its allies that can help Muslims "understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands," thus clearing the way for Islam's ascendancy.
The U.S. government listed ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the recent trial and retrial of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a charity charged with covertly funding Hamas. Last November the defendants were convicted of all 108 counts. Prosecutors rejected ISNA's request to have the designation removed, citing "evidence establishing both ISNA's and NAIT's intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood … and the defendants. … They were intimately connected with the HLF and its assigned task of providing financial support to Hamas."
Obama's team might excuse its invitation to Mattson by pointing out that its predecessor likewise had friendly dealings with ISNA. Indeed, the record of the Bush White House is nothing to brag about in this regard. During the Bush years, senior State Department officials addressed ISNA's conventions and heaped praise upon Mattson in particular; the group also was permitted to exert influence in the Pentagon.
But after campaigning on the promise of change, Obama has picked an exceedingly poor area in which to stay the course.