Islamist-Americans with a history of supporting Hamas rubbed shoulders with a bizarre mix of senior U.S. and European elites, at least one Taliban representative, and Iranian regime figures at a conference organized by one of the world’s leading terror sponsors.
The gathering of Islamists and their Western enablers took place at the Doha Forum held at the Sheraton in Qatar’s capital during the last weekend of March.
The forum, which was attended by luminaries such as Nobel Prize Winner and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafza, software mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, also featured a quartet of Islamist-Americans with histories of supporting Hamas and espousing antisemitism in the U.S.
Despite U.S. officials rubbing shoulders with representatives of regimes that have murdered scores of Americans, the Doha Forum event received little coverage in Western news outlets. Coverage focused mostly on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appearance at the event. John Kerry’s talk about global warming garnered some attention, but not much. The appearance of other high-ranking officials, such as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and Robert Malley, U.S. Special Envoy to Iran, generated even less coverage than Kerry’s appearance.
One of the most prominent American Islamists at the event, ostensibly devoted to promoting peace and human rights, was Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) an organization with a history of promoting antisemitism, isolating moderate Muslims in the U.S. and advocating for convicted terrorists.
He has also praised the current Turkish Islamist regime led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Awad, who did not respond to requests for comment, has said the Erdoğan regime, which routinely jails journalists and tortures dissidents, provides “a very impressive example of supporting the oppressed in the Islamic world.”
In the early 1990s, Awad was the public relations director of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP). In 2017, Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Tablet that when “Hamas wanted to set up shop in the U.S.,” it established “IAP as [its] communications and propaganda arm.” In 1994, Awad declared that he supported Hamas more than he did the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but has since backtracked from his explicit support for Hamas, declaring that CAIR does not support suicide bombings and that the organization represents “mainstream” Muslims in the U.S.
Awad remains a fervent advocate for the Palestinian cause. During a presentation by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Doha Forum, Nihad posted a tweet that posited an equivalence between the plight of the Ukrainian and Palestinian peoples: “We support your right to resist the illegal and brutal Russian occupation,” Awad wrote. “I hope you recognize the right of the Palestinians to resist the illegal and brutal Israeli occupation.”
According to the speakers list provided by the forum’s organizers, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) had two high profile staffers at the event — Osama Abuirshaid, who works as AMP’s executive director and Taher Herzallah, who serves as the organization’s director of outreach and grassroots organizing. Neither of the two responded to repeated attempts to confirm their presence at the forum.
Abuirshaid, has expressed his admiration for Hamas – a designated terrorist organization under U.S. law – for resisting (and not bargaining with) Israel and for avenging the “blood of its martyrs” in a 2014 Facebook post. In the post, Abuirshaid expressed contempt for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, describing the PA as spilling the blood of Palestinian martyrs “in the wine glasses of Israel.”
“Yes, there is a wide gap between those who hurt Israel and broke its arrogance and aggression in Gaza three times,” Abuirshaid wrote, “and between those who conspired with Israel and colluded with it, hoping to cover their evil with its shame.”
According to a Facebook post documented by NGO Monitor and the Investigative Project, Taher Herzallah, who serves as the organization’s director of outreach and grassroots organizing, declared in 2014 that “Hamas’ rockets are an oppressed people’s cry for help.”
Of the quartet of Islamist-American Hamas supporters who attended the forum, Omar Suleiman, a scholar at the Yaqeen Institute, an Islamic think-tank in Texas, played the most visible role. In addition to participating in a discussion surrounding the plight of young girls being denied access to education in Afghanistan, Suleiman, a prominent Islamist was also granted a half-hour softball “newsmaker” interview.
Suleiman’s appearance on stage at the Doha Forum is a coup for the imam who has, like the other Islamists at the event, provided cover for Hamas over the years. He has backtracked a bit and deleted posts as he has become more prominent on the American scene.
In 2014, for example, Suleiman wrote a now-deleted Facebook post that denied Hamas’s self-admitted use of human shields. That same year, Petra Marquardt-Bigman reported, Suleiman “repeatedly called for a new intifada inspired by religious fervor during Ramadan and in defense of the Al-Aqsa mosque. In another post, Suleiman cursed ‘Zionists’ as ‘the enemies of God, His Messengers, sincere followers of all religions, and humanity as a whole.’”
During his appearance on the Doha Forum panel about the plight of girls in Afghanistan, Suleiman took a shot at the anti-Islamist policies enacted by the French government in response to numerous jihadist massacres, such as the beheading of secondary school teacher Samuel Paty. Suleiman obliquely compared these French policies — which include an affirmation of the neutrality of the country’s civil service and efforts to combat online incitement — with those of the Taliban.
He asked people pressuring the Taliban to let girls attend school in Afghanistan: “What are you doing about France for its constant bigotry, which is getting more and more systematic as time goes on?”
Notably, Amir Khan Muttaqi, acting minister of foreign affairs for the Taliban regime, was listed as a speaker at the forum.
Omar Suleiman did not respond to an email asking for a comment about his participation.
The Doha Forum promised an event themed “Transforming for a New Era.” Certainly, it is a “new era” when Malala and the Taliban, Bill Gates and the Iranian regime, Western Hamas supporters and Biden administration officials come together to discuss “defense security” and human rights. All this took place against a backdrop of the Qatari regime’s well-documented history of distributing enormous sums to terrorist organizations around the world.
Jordan Cope, Qatari finance fellow for the Middle East Forum, reported in December 2020, for example, that since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late 2010, Qatar “has since funneled $1.1 billion to Hamas, a terrorist organization that has incited multiple wars while aspiring for Israel’s destruction.”
It seems reasonable to conclude that the Doha Forum is not an event where free-wheeling discussion about the challenges facing humanity can take place but is really just one grand forum where Islamists – as both hosts and attendees – can disguise their agenda behind the language of peace, justice and human rights.
The Doha Forum was the logical next step in an international effort by Islamists to distract from their violence and advance their interests using the accompanying legitimacy of Western statesmanship; benefiting not just the radical Qatari hosts, the Iranian regime or the murderous Taliban, but even their Islamist proxies in the West.
Dexter Van Zile is Managing Editor of Focus on Western Islamism, a project of the Middle East Forum (meforum.org).