Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Canceled: California Assembly Deletes Praise for Radical Islamist Groups Following MEF Campaign

ResearchIslamism in PoliticsCanceled: California Assembly Deletes Praise for Radical Islamist Groups Following MEF Campaign

Last month, the California Assembly struck entire passages from a resolution that was introduced to honor American Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month in August 2023, saturating the bill with red ink after it was amended to remove paragraphs praising three radical Islamist organizations. 

The State Assembly’s decision to blacklist prominent extremist groups that claim to represent Muslim American interests is a watershed moment in a progressive state where Islamists often receive special recognition from elected officials

Facing mounting pressure from constituents and counter-extremist groups, lawmakers were unable to pass House Resolution 52 (HR 52) during the month of August, as intended. Instead, the State Assembly passed a watered-down version on September 1 by way of a voice vote from the floor. A call for co-sponsors produced several notable abstentions, including from Rep. Bill Essayli (R-63), the first and only Muslim assemblymember in California history. 

HR 52’s amendments come after MEF Action, an activism project of the Middle East Forum, coordinated an aggressive, multi-level advocacy campaign calling on California legislators to remove extremist organizations from the bill and replace them with moderate and reform Muslim institutions. (Note: the author is director of MEF Action). The project coordinated an online letter-writing campaign, mobilized partner organizations, and met behind-the-scenes with key elected officials in an effort to encourage amendments. 

The final version of the resolution no longer includes complimentary text describing the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the Institute of Knowledge (IOK) — three California-based organizations representing three ideologically distinct strains of radical Islam.  

The most prominent of these, MAS, amounts to an American outpost for the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist movement that seeks to establish Islamic governments around the world. MAS’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood, with its many violent spin-offs, prompted the United Arab Emirates to designate the American nonprofit as a terrorist organization in 2014. 

A 2004 investigation from the Chicago Tribune revealed how under MAS, the “secretive” U.S. Brotherhood was responsible for “fueling the often bitter struggle between moderate and conservative Muslims.” In letters to the California Assembly, local opponents of the resolution told their elected officials that they “stand against any legislation that encourages extremism and undermines moderate and minority faith communities.” 

In a 2019 video that captured a children’s performance at an MAS academy, adolescent boys and girls were recorded gleefully singing about beheading Jews and subjecting them to “eternal torture.” MAS denied responsibility and agreed to engage instructors in “sensitivity training” — taught by another radical group with an equally abhorrent history of anti-Semitism. 

A close cousin to the Muslim Brotherhood, South Asia’s Jamaat-e-Islami (literally translated: Society of Islam) is a revolutionary Islamist movement founded in British India by the theocratic philosopher Syed Abul Ala Maududi. With branches currently concentrated in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, Maududi’s followers have sought to impose the strict, illiberal principles of Shari’a law over democratic societies — even in the Western world. 

ICNA is widely regarded as Jamaat-e-Islami’s representative in North America, proclaiming its devotion to Maududi’s teachings in various in-house publications. ICNA’s loyalty extends to Jamaat-e-Islami leaders responsible for the massacre of secular intellectuals in Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence, and ICNA has publicly mourned the deaths of convicted war criminals responsible for genocide, rape, and arson. 

In fact, ICNA even harbored a mass murderer of its own, hiring ICNA-New York director Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who was later convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for his role as “chief executor” of a killing squad that rounded up and executed Bangladeshi doctors, professors, and journalists. 

Yet, a draft version of HR 52 lauded ICNA’s charitable wing for bringing “crucial assistance to Afghan families throughout California.”

A third group, the Institute of Knowledge, is an Islamic seminary situated in Diamond Bar, California. The school’s curriculum is based on Deobandi Islam, a deeply orthodox, revivalist sect that spread during the 1990s through the proliferation of hardline Pakistani seminaries  These schools eventually gave birth to the Taliban. 

Furhan Zubairi, IOK’s dean of academics, once justified slavery under Islamic law, arguing that “our understanding of freedom has to be the understanding that is given to us by Allah…” IOK instructor Ahmed Billoo has endorsed Palestinian suicide bombings and once prayed that Allah would “exterminate” the Jews he encountered at an Israeli airport, until there was “not a single one alive!”

Press inquiries to MAS, ICNA Relief, and IOK went unanswered.  

On August 17, MEF Action submitted a formal position letter intended for HR 52’s permanent record, documenting MEF’s opposition to the bill and pressing for amendments. The correspondence laid out evidence of bigotry, religious extremism, and ties to terrorism collectively found among the resolution’s honorees, including from a group that survived the bill’s amendments – the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). 

Following the August 23 rewriting of HR 52, the office of Assemblymember Eloise Reyes (D-50), who wrote the bill, contacted MEF to inquire if it was satisfied with the amendments. MEF agreed to withdraw its opposition letter as an act of reconciliation, but expressed dissatisfaction with CAIR’s continued inclusion in the resolution. 

Despite knowing that CAIR was implicated in a 2007 terror finance trial, and that seven senior CAIR officials were convicted or deported for terrorism-related offenses, Reyes insisted on keeping the most disreputable Muslim American group on the resolution.  Meanwhile, CAIR did not protest the removal of fellow Islamists from the bill, although it regularly partners with MAS and ICNA. 

Zuhdi Jasser is a member of the CLARITy Coalition, a pro-democracy and Islamic reform organization that publicly opposed HR 52. Jasser theorized that the resolution was introduced to heap praise on CAIR, as much as it was drafted to celebrate Muslim achievements. 

“HR 52 was always going to be a love letter to CAIR, a group that Reyes knows very well,” Jasser wrote in an email to Focus on Western Islamism (FWI). “In the end, CAIR was apparently happy to throw its partners under the bus and accept the resolution on behalf of California’s Muslim community. 

“Unfortunately,” he added, “CAIR’s California chapters are among the most extreme within a nationwide Islamist organization known for spouting anti-Semitic views and sympathizing with terrorists.”

Indeed, when HR 52 finally made it to the Assembly floor, CAIR officials were present to accept the resolution. Reyes remarked on her long-standing relationship with CAIR and called it “a staple of our state.”

Nevertheless, counter-Islamists who spoke to FWI are optimistic regarding the State Assembly’s amendments. Typically, warnings about the participation of hardline Islamist groups in local politics are ignored or answered with accusations of “Islamophobia.”

In this instance, it is difficult to tell if California legislators listened to reason, or if they were merely concerned with shielding CAIR from public condemnation. Next year, Californians should remember this outcome and refuse to compromise. Extremism should never be tolerated from any group, regardless of its political connections or status as a minority. 

Benjamin Baird is the director of MEF Action, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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