Thursday, February 22, 2024

Exclusive: State Department Distances Itself from ISNA’s Islamist Agenda, Homeland Security Stays Quiet

NewsExclusive: State Department Distances Itself from ISNA’s Islamist Agenda, Homeland Security Stays Quiet

Note: Muqtedar Khan has responded to this article with a letter to the editor, which can be seen here.

The U.S. State Department has distanced itself from the Islamist agenda promoted by speakers who appeared at a convention held earlier this month by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

The agency issued its statement on September 21 in response to a query from FWI about the appearance of Rashad Hussain Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at ISNA’s annual convention. A spokesperson declared that the ambassador “rejects the use of rhetoric that promotes discrimination, harassment, and violence against people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

Hussain, who was appointed to his post by the Biden Administration in January 2021, spoke at the ISNA event in Rosemont, Illinois over Labor Day weekend. The convention featured speakers who have promoted anti-Hindu rhetoric, called for the release of convicted terror supporters and for the establishment of a caliphate.

At this year’s ISNA convention, some speakers presented progressive visions while others painted an Islamist future for the United States. One activist who spoke at the convention called convicted Hamas terror supporters, “the finest men.”

ISNA was founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It grew into one of the largest American-Muslim organizations in the U.S., attracting thousands of attendees to its annual conventions. In the early 2000s the U.S. government listed ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial regarding the Holy Land Foundation’s funding of Hamas. This led to an initial chilling of relations between ISNA and U.S. government officials. Time passed, and the current administration appears to have forgotten ISNA’s Islamist roots.

President Biden, who spoke at ISNA’s virtual conference in 2020, sent a letter to this year’s convention, thanking the organization for inviting him to participate. In his letter, Biden reminded attendees of all the Muslim appointees in his administration.

“When I came into office, I pledged that my Administration would reflect the diversity of the United States—and that’s what we have done, including appointing the first Muslim American to the federal bench and the first Muslim American to serve as the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom,” he wrote, referring to Hussain.

Another Biden appointee, Brenda Abdelall spoke at the convention. Abdelall works as Assistant Secretary of Partnership and Engagement for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Abdelall spoke at the convention on Friday afternoon with very few people in attendance. (The Department of Homeland Security has not responded to an inquiry about Abdelall’s presence at the convention.)

The appearance of Hussain and Abdelall at ISNA’s convention is troubling given the radical agenda promoted by other speakers at the event.

Sajid Khan, a public defender who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in Santa Clara County California earlier this year spoke at the conference. In 2016, Khan defended Gurminder Sekhon who was convicted of kidnapping and gang rape and sentenced 15-years to life imprisonment. After the trial, Khan argued for softening sentences for rape and murder in a since deleted blog post.

“In order to erode and deconstruct our deeply ingrained system of mass incarceration,” he wrote, “we must start by fighting the primal urge to lock up violent and sex offenders for life terms and the pervasive instinct to impose mandatory minimum prison terms for the most serious crimes.”

“We have to start at the top with crimes like murder and sexual assault; when we peel back commonly accepted notions of justice (life sentences, mandatory minimums, prison) for the ugliest crimes, the shift in mindset will trickle down and impact how we respond to lower level (sic) crimes like drug offenses, vehicle code violations, theft and vandalism,” he added.

Speaker Miko Peled, an Israeli Jew who supports boycotts against the country, called for the release of convicted terror supporters. Peled begged for the release of five men convicted in the U.S. for supporting the designated terror group, Hamas, saying “Five of the finest men you will ever meet received long, tortuous prison sentences in federal prison for being Muslim and Palestinian.”

In another session, Muqtedar Khan, a University of Delaware professor, implied establishing a caliphate is a given, “When we talk of establishing khilafah, justice is not enough.”

“When we talk of establishing khilafah, justice is not enough.”

—  Muqtedar Khan, Professor, University of Delaware

Remarks such as this likely played a role in prompting the State Department to issue a statement explaining Ambassador Hussain’s presence at the convention, declaring that he “has done the important work of promoting religious freedom, condemning the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws, and condemning violent extremism.”

The upshot is that while the State Department has appropriately distanced itself from ISNA’s extremist agenda, the Department of Homeland Security has not.

Susannah Johnston is FWI’s investigative reporter.

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