The following article was published in The Federalist on Aug. 3, 2022.
Serving as an imam of a mosque that was credibly accused of serving as a conduit for terror financing and as the leader of a national organization with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood should disqualify someone from serving on a commission charged with monitoring abuses of religious freedom. And downplaying the horrors of a well-documented genocide fueled by religious animosity should also be a deal breaker. But under the Biden administration, these types of Islamist affiliations are résumé builders and genocide denial is no big thing.
This was demonstrated last month when the White House appointed Mohamed Hag Magid, a prominent imam from Virginia, to serve on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last month. Established by Congress in 1998, USCIRF is charged with monitoring violations of the right to religious freedom throughout the world and makes recommendations on how to respond to these violations to the president, the U.S. State Department, and to Congress. According to its website, the nine-member commission is “appointed by either the President or Congressional leaders of each political party, supported by a non-partisan professional staff.”
In its announcement of Magid’s appointment, the White House highlighted his status as Executive Imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling, Virginia. In the early 2000s, the ADAMS center was named in a federal investigation as part of the SAAR network, an alleged terror finance organization funded by Saudi donors.
To further buttress Magid’s appointment, the White House invoked his tenure as president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) which was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1981. During his time as president, Magid gave an award to Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR-Michigan. Prior to receiving the ISNA reward, Walid declared, “Who are those who incurred the wrath of Allah? They are the Jews.” ISNA, by the way, was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Magid’s episode of genocide denial took place at a 2004 conference in Georgetown where he stated that reports about the mass-killings of Christians by the Islamist regime in Khartoum were “some kind of exaggeration,” and that “things escalated and people called it genocide.”
One of the groups that called what happened in Sudan “genocide” was USCIRF, the commission he now helps oversee. In 2001, USCIRF declared that religion was a major factor in Sudan’s civil war and that “the Sudanese government is committing genocidal atrocities against the civilian population in the south and the Nuba Mountains.”
This is not the first time a prominent Islamist activist has been appointed to USCIRF’s board. Kuwaiti-born Abou El Fadl, a professor from UCLA School of Law, served on the commission in the early 2000s after downplaying the aggressive expansionist agenda of Wahhabi extremists. In 2002, he declared that Wahhabis “do not seek to dominate — to attain supremacy in the world,” and that they “are more than happy living within the boundaries of Saudi Arabia.”
In the years since his time on USCIRF, El Fadl has been a vocal critic of specialists who raised the alarm over the Muslim Brotherhood, charging them with “Islamophobia.” This is not the behavior of someone intent on protecting religious freedom, but someone intent on weaponizing the principle to deflect scrutiny away from Islamist organizations.
Islamists have learned how to use USCIRF to harass their enemies. The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) has effectively lobbied the commission to condemn the mistreatment of Muslims in India. While inter-communal violence in India is a legitimate concern, the IAMC is simply not a credible source of commentary on religious freedom and peaceful interfaith relations.
In 2002, IAMC spokesperson Kaleem Kawaja lamented the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan asking his fellow Muslims if they could “spare a tear” for the organization. And on Sept. 11, 2021, IAMC had Islamist scholar Yasir Nadeem Al Wajidi spoke at its national retreat in Chicago, weeks after he celebrated the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, calling the event “an opportunity to present to the world an Islamic system based on justice and fairness.” The Taliban has subsequently evicted minority Shia Muslims from their homes in Afghanistan and denied girls their right to attend school.
And on August 15, 2020, IAMC celebrated 74 years of Indian independence with a webinar featuring Indian activist Harsh Mander, who was later reprimanded in India’s high court for instigating Muslim mobs to seek “justice on the streets.”
This is not to say that no Muslim can be trusted to promote the cause of religious freedom. The work of Rashad Hussain, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom for the Biden Administration, is a case in point. He has condemned blasphemy and apostasy laws used to justify Islamist violence. Hussain also condemned the murder of a Hindu tailor by Muslim extremists in India during his recent appearance on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
USCIRF is supposed to monitor abuses of religious freedom. Sadly, the commission itself needs monitoring.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), a publication established by the Middle East Forum in early 2022 to document and counter Islamist efforts to undermine Western democracies.