The House Appropriations Committee published the draft of its 2023 Homeland Security funding bill on June 15, providing over $85 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and its various agencies.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a leading U.S. Islamist umbrella organization, has welcomed the news, pointing in particular to $360 million allocated to the government’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) – an increase of $110 million from 2022. The NSGP was established in 2004 to provide “security enhancements” to “nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack.” It is managed by DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Islamists have good reason to welcome the news. For a number of radical groups with established terror ties and long-held extremist ideals, the NSGP has, for many years, been an important source of hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal funding as well as the all-important legitimacy of a government contract.
Indeed, it was through the NSGP that America’s most notorious Islamist group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), came in from the cold. In 2015 and 2019, the federal government handed CAIR over $70,000 and $150,000 respectively under the program.
Just two years before the first grant, in 2013, the Department of Justice issued a report warning against partnerships with CAIR, noting that the FBI had blacklisted the organization after evidence at a major terror financing trial “linked CAIR leaders to Hamas, a specially designated terrorist organization, and CAIR was named as unindicted co-conspirator in the case.”
CAIR is hardly the only problem. In 2019, $100,000 was given to Dar Al Hijrah, a Virginia mosque with a dark history. Serving both as a base for both hardline Salafi and Hamas activists, the mosque’s most famous graduate is its former imam, Anwar Al-Awlaki, who later became leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before his death in a 2011 U.S. drone strike.
Other imams at the mosque have called for Muslims to be “ready for the jihad.” Meanwhile, the mosque’s current imam, Shaker Elsayed, is an apologist for the terrorist group Hamas, and has defended practices such as female genital mutilation.
Also in 2019, $100,000 was handed out to the Washington branch of the Rahmat-e-Alam Foundation, a leading U.S. component of the Deobandi sect. A key institution run by the Foundation is the Shariah Board of America. Its rulings include instructions that Muslims may not marry Jews or Ismailis.
More alarmingly, in one fatwa, when asked if it is permissible for teachers to hit students, and told of Islamic schools where students were beaten so brutally they were left with permanent damage, “ruptured eardrums” and “profuse bleeding,” the Rahmat-e-Alam Foundation cleric responded that “it is permissible to beat them three times by hand.” It is noteworthy that the Rahmat-e-Alam Foundation runs several prominent schools in the United States.
Other beneficiaries of FEMA’s NSGP include the Islamic Society of New Tampa, which received $75,000 in 2016. The mosque works closely with Young Muslims, the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian Islamist movement.
From 2015 to 2017, three grants each worth $75,000 were given to the Islamic Center of Maryland, which has run events with a number of extremist preachers such as Yusuf Islahi, the late leading official of Jamaat-e-Islami’s branch in India. Islahi claimed that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks, as part of a conspiracy to defame Islam.
These are just a few examples. Yet in spite of these recipients, the program is enormously popular among religious nonprofit groups of all stripes in the United States. And there is no reason to doubt that the majority of the money ends up in the pockets of non-extremist, deserving organizations.
A glance at federal spending data suggests that, of over 4600 nonprofit recipients over the years thus far disclosed by the government, a plurality appear to be Jewish groups. Muslim organizations, meanwhile, receive a relatively small proportion of the funds, and of those groups, only a dozen have clear Islamist connections.
But notwithstanding, the danger is still clear. By handing out enormous sums of taxpayers’ money to religious nonprofits, some extremists will benefit.
It is little wonder, then, that radical groups such as USCMO have celebrated the increase in funding. In fact, it is claiming credit for the announcement. In partnership with clueless Jewish and Christian organizations, the USCMO had written to legislators in 2020 and 2022, requesting greater funding in the face of the threat “posed by domestic violent extremists.”
USCMO is run by Oussama Jammal, a prominent Islamist figure who raised money for convicted terror financer Sami al-Arian. The USCMO’s membership comprises a collection of leading American Muslim organizations that are almost exclusively Islamist. USCMO members include groups such as Hamas-linked American Muslims for Palestine as well as Helping Hand for Relief and Development, which has openly collaborated with the designated terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Tellingly, NSGP recipients are also leading members of the USCMO, including Dar Al Hijrah and CAIR (CAIR, in fact, is a founding member of the umbrella group).
For many years, the USCMO has focused on advancing Islamist interests in D.C. The NSGP announcement accompanies clear efforts by Jammal and the USCMO to influence U.S. executive and legislative agendas, to the benefit of Islamists, more generally.
On June 13, the USCMO organized its seventh “Muslim Advocacy Day” in the U.S. Capitol. And on June 17, MEMRI reports, Jammal gave a sermon at the terror-tied Mosque Foundation in Illinois, at which he urged American Muslims to make it their “jihad” to stop the “chaos and destruction” of U.S. foreign policy.
But of all USCMO’s claimed successes, the NSGP is perhaps the most immediately dangerous. By funding organizations that justify the beating of children, express support for terror and contribute to the threat of extremism and radicalization across the United States, the federal government is helping to secure Islamist control over the leadership of American Muslim communities for many years in the future.
There seems little general appetite to simply shut down the NSGP program. Too many religious nonprofits are too heavily invested in its success. And recent judicial rulings suggest an increased willingness in general for government to deputize and finance religious organizations to provide necessary community services.
For instance, the recent Supreme Court ruling that states cannot exclude private religious schools from government subsidy will likely contribute yet additional taxpayer monies to the coffers of the child-beating enthusiasts at Rahmat-e-Alam.
But unless a clear means for excluding supporters of violence from government subsidy is introduced, the power and danger posed by Islamist radicals will only continue to grow.
Indeed, the USCMO clearly sees an opportunity. In its press release, Jammal “urges all American Muslim charities to apply for NSGP funds through FEMA without delay.”
Practical minded policymakers and legal minds will of course note the difficulties of excluding some religious organizations over others. But it must be done. There has to be some way in which a democratic government can exercise a prerogative not to fund extremism and terror with taxpayers’ money.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum