Islamophobes add AIC to their “ideal Muslim leaders” pool - updated 5/29/13

Sheila Musaji

Posted May 29, 2013      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Islamophobes add AIC to their “ideal Muslim leaders” pool

by Sheila Musaji

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) has been around for awhile, and its leaders are invited to attend international conferences.  However, within the American Muslim community it has a very low profile.

After the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Nasser Weddady of the AIC was brought in at the last minute to replace Imam Suhaib Webb as the representative of the Muslim community at a national interfaith service, there were many asking “who is Nasser Weddady” and why was Imam Suhaib replaced with him?  Imam Suhaib is very well known in the American Muslim community, and is an Imam and religious scholar - Weddady was none of these.  The Jewish News Service among others reported that Imam Suhaib’s invitation to participate in the interfaith service was rescinded by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s office.  They further make claims about issues with his current mosque’s “Muslim broherhood founded” mosque which is managed by the Muslim American Society. 

Max Blumenthal was the first to do an in-depth investigation into the AIC, its founder Zainab Al-Suwaij, and Nasser Weddady.  Weddady’s Free Arabs, American Islamic Congress and the pro-Israel funders who helped them rise.  He turned up a great deal of information about their financing and supporters.  Blumenthal turned up connections to Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, Charles Jacobs of the David Project, Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, and a veritable who’s who of Islamophobes.  Read his full article for in-depth information on AIC, Zainab Al-Suwaij, and Nasser Weddady.

Blumenthal also reported that the funding for AIC comes from some very troublesome sources.  Some of these are Donors Capital Fund (identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.”), the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sheldon Adelson’s Adelson Family Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation (which funds the Israel Project).

Blumenthal notes that:

The AIC is not the only putatively Muslim group funded by Klarman. In 2011, Klarman made his first donation to the American Islamic Forum for Democracy AIFD, the shell organization that serves as the personal platform for Zuhdi Jasser. The previously unknown Jasser, a physician from Arizona with no academic or theological credentials, is one of the country’s most outspoken Muslim proponents of law enforcement surveillance of Muslim communities.  Two years earlier, Jasser was welcomed onto AIC’s board of directors, joining a host of like-minded neoconservatives.

This struck me as particularly ominous, as I have noted previously in the article Zuhdi Jasser-AIFD/AILC - Identified by Rep. King as Ideal American Muslim Leadership that there seemed to be an organized effort to elevate “chosen” Muslim individuals and organizations to the status of “official representatives” of the American Muslim community, without any input from the community.  The article has a great deal of information on Jasser and AIFD/AILC.  A few key points from that article:

... Jasser has been positioning himself as THE moderate Muslim for many years, and his testimony was almost an appeal to consider AIFD as the new organizational face of American Muslims and to help them financially (that sounds like using our tax dollars) - which Jasser thinks wouldn’t be in conflict with the first amendment. The champion of freedom wants to tear down the wall of separation between church and state and have the government support and encourage particular Muslim voices.

... During the hearing, Jasser made a remarkable statement that encouraging Muslims to have an attorney present when they speak to law enforcement is enabling “political Islam”. This showed the level of his expertise. Fortunately Rep. Sanchez corrected him about this important right of all citizens.

... Summing up:
— A GOP backer has pumped a great deal of money into Jasser’s organization.
— Jasser has a seal of approval from Glenn Beck, Frank Gaffney, David Horowitz, Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes and lots of other Islamophobes.
— Newt Gingrich (who may run for President of the U.S.) included Jasser in his anti-Muslim film and identified Jasser as a “courageous, moderate Muslim”.
— Rep. Peter King thinks that AIFD (Jasser’s organization) would be an ideal organization to “better” represent the American Muslim Community.

There are a number of these Muslim “Islamophobia enablers” that are being promoted as representatives of the American Muslim community.  They are very much intertwined with each other and with the Islamophobia Network/Industry (CAP Fear Inc. Report on the Islamophobia Industry — TAM Who’s Who of the Islamophobia Industry).  Here are some of those connections:

Center for Islamic Pluralism (Stephen Schwartz’ organization - TAM backgrounder on Schwartz & CIP) published an article by Steven Vincent of the Neocon Thinktank American Enterprise Institute AEI (Right Wing Watch backgrounder on AEI ) Where Are the Moderate Muslims?.  That article noted:  ”“We realize we are in competition with extremists for the soul of Islam.” So says AEI scholar Hedieh Mirahmadi, an American Muslim woman of Iranian descent, who organized a recent conference in Jakarta described as “a chance for moderate Muslims to meet and discuss ways of moving forward.”

In 2003, TAM published RELIGION BUILDING: Daniel Pipes the New Voice of Moderate Islam?  and noted in that article.  A UPI article recently announced that Daniel Pipes and Stephen Schwartz are seeking major funding for their two organizations to speak on behalf of “REFORMED MUSLIMS”. “Pipes Forming Islamic Institute” . There we have it, the neo-con agenda discovered and described in Jim Lobe’s excellent article, “Neocons Seek Islamic Reform” .  That article goes into detail about all of the players in this religion building game.

In 2010, Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism IPT ( TAM backgrounder on Emerson and IPT) published Moderate Muslims on the Hill in which he praised Rep. Sue Myrick’s (TAM backgrounder on Sue Myrick) “Moderate Muslim Summit”.  Muslims who spoke at that hearing were Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy AIFD & Islamic Leadership Coalition AILC) ( TAM backgrounder on Zuhdi Jasser and AIFD & AILC; Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development & Education WORDE, Exec. Dir. of the Islamic Supreme Council of America ISC, American Enterprise Institute AEI scholar; Shadi Osier, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America ISC; and Abdur-Rahman Muhammad (who with Rep. Sue Myrick attended Jasser’s AILC’s first meeting in 2011.)  The Islamic Supreme Council of America is headed by Sheikh Hisham Kabbani, famous for the false claim that 80% of American Mosques are radicalized. 

The neo-con Hudson Institute ( Right Web backgrounder on Hudson Institute)  published a book  The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular, contributors to the book were Zeyno Baran, Zuhdi Jasser, and Hedieh Mirahmadi

There are many more connections between these individuals and organizations.  And, it is to be hoped that someone will be able to put all of the information together.

It seems that the Islamophobes are expanding their pool of “suitable” Muslim leaders and organizations to also include the American Islamic Congress AIC. And, as Max Blumenthal reports, such groups are actually not just wishing for but receiving U.S. government financing:

Despite having participated in a dubious mission that was widely criticized as right-wing political patronage, the AIC has maintained a steady stream of government funding since Barack Obama entered the White House. In 2009, the AIC received more than $433,000 from the State Department to conduct conflict resolution programs in Iraq, claiming to have “diffused 60 conflicts” in the country. Two years later, it reaped $1.28 million in government funding for Iraqi conflict resolution and to train “social entrepreneurs” in Tunisia; over $170,000 of the government money was earmarked for democracy promotion. Today, the AIC maintains offices in Tunis and Cairo, both apparently supported by State Department grants.

After Max Blumenthal’s expose came out, Ali Abunimah reported in the article Anti-Muslim group leaps to defense of American Islamic Congress after EI exposé that There have been some very interesting reactions to Max Blumenthal’s investigation that revealed the virulently anti-Muslim and pro-Israel donors behind the American Islamic Congress (AIC).  One of the most curious of these defenses of AIC that he reports on came from Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project.

Back in 2003, I wrote about the beginnings of this attempt at religion building, identifying and promoting chosen Muslim representatives and organizations (and even creating their own organizations like Daniel Pipes’ Center on Islamic Pluralism directed by Stephen Schwartz) by neocons and Islamophobes.  The same group of neocons and Islamophobes is at the same time involved in an attempt to marginalize American Muslim civic participation by any but their chosen ones. 

Promoting Nasser Weddady, and attempting to marginalize Imam Suhaib Webb is just the latest move in this attempt, and this is wrong on every possible level. 

UPDATE 5/29/2013

Stop Islamophobia Now has published “The Net Effect of Being an Islamophobia Industry Affiliate”

With two great recent investigative reports  – Max Blumenthal along with Electronic Intifada have unearthed the shadowy ecosystem of multimillion dollar foundations, nonprofit groups, and even some Muslim organizations in helping perpetuate “the Islamophobia Industry.”  By highlighting the influence of these dark-money sources, many eyes across the world were opened as to the nature of the shady, back-door dealings of the industry.

Even though the overwhelming response to the articles has been positive – there has also been a noticeable backlash as well.  Interestingly, one of the first defenses of the American Islamic Congress was the Sheldon Adelson funded, anti-Islam conspiracy site “The Clarion Project,” (formerly   Additionally, some critics and apologists are brushing off the links in funding as a stretch – asserting that these foundations are serving nothing more than the role of a bank in these cases.

So what’s the real answer here?  Are the critics who are brushing off these developments right?  Are these findings truly insignificant?  To put it bluntly, the answer to both questions is:  NO.  These findings are EXTREMELY significant.  For those of us who have been impacted by and have been researching the epidemic that Islamophobia for years, the fact is that there is a huge measurable impact that has and continues to be felt by not only Muslims – but all Americans as well.

Sheldon Adelson – The Money Man

First, let’s ask this question:  Why would any Muslim or Muslim-group willingly take money or support from Adelson – the world’s 12th richest person, who famously said this?  Or what about the time he referred to Palestinians as “an invented people?”

In fact, Sheldon Adelson is infamous for being the single-largest purchaser of influence in American politics– and he readily admits as much.  It is a known fact that his key reason for donating eight-figures to Newt Gingrich was to influence the national conversation on Israel.  So, when people come to defend beneficiaries of the casino magnate’s money as some sort of glorified bank transaction – they are being disingenuous. Sheldon Adelson’s money ALWAYS comes with a price.

Not only does the billionaire channel his immense assets in the area of promoting pro-Israel policy, he also channels it toward spreading anti-Muslim paranoia.  This is done via his Clarion Fund – which has produced anti-Islam propaganda films such as “Obsession” – which was distributed widely in newspapers nationwide.  The Clarion Fund made a follow up a few years later entitled “The Third Jihad,” an agitprop piece that outlines a scheme for a “cultural jihad” being waged on American soil using “Muslim Brotherhood front organizations.”  We’ll talk about that film in just a bit – but let’s take a look at some of Adelson’s primary operatives for accomplishing his dirty work.

Frank Gaffney – The Beltway Insider

Even though the Islamophobia Network includes more media-savvy hate mongers such as Pam Geller or Robert Spencer – there is perhaps no more influential figure in the spread of anti-Islam hate in the U.S. than the highly-connected Center for Security Policy head, Frank Gaffney.  His influence stems from his position in the Reagan Administration, which he has parlayed into a network of wealthy, paranoid conservative donors who lap up his litany of conspiracy theories.

The primary conspiracy theory peddled by Gaffney –is that of “creeping Sharia” – the irrational fear that Islamic law (known in Arabic as sharia) is being implemented via a stealth conspiracy, which involves the Muslim Brotherhood along with any major American Islamic organization.  Aside from the absolute absurdity of the claim – Muslims represent a maximum of 1.5% of the American population, along with the fact that there is not a single group that is talking about/attempting to implement sharia – conservatives continue to take this theory and run with it.  As of 2012, 78 anti-sharia bills had been introduced across 31 state and local legislatures in the U.S.  In 2013, we have seen this trend continue with bills introduced in Florida, Missouri, Kansas, and most recently – North Carolina.

Read the talking points that legislators in states like NC parrot out such as:

“”I’ve always wanted to depend on our own constitution, but we have seen that document put in, frankly, grave danger” – Rep. John Blust (R-NC)

Behind each one of these panicked quotes, lies Frank Gaffney and his close ally and front-man for authoring the anti-Islam bills, attorney David Yerushalmi.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed between Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and Yerushalmi with the express purpose of spreading anti-Islam panic throughout the U.S.

He is also the source of the smear campaign against any Muslims who happen to be working or affiliated with the administration – labeling names like Huma Abedin, Sohail Khan, Eboo Patel among others as “Muslim Brotherhood Operatives.”

With his influence among elected officials, we have seen a step up in the Islamophobic rhetoric being spewed from elected officials – on a local, state, and national level.  Most famously amongst these examples – is the anti-Muslim witch-hunt led by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  From 2010-2012, Bachmann, Louie Gohmert (R-TX,) Joe Walsh (R-IL,) and Allen West (R-FL) made up what was known as the “Islamophobia Caucus.”  Who is their tutor, you ask?  Frank Gaffney, of course.  Only Bachmann and Gohmert remain in Congress today, but all are active in attending conferences geared to the anti-Islam industry.  Oh by the way, there’s one coming up in November sponsored by David Horowitz, featuring Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Bachman among others – in case you’re interested.

In fact, Gaffney’s viewpoints are so extreme in nature, that he has been disinvited from a number of Conservative circles – including the influential “Weyrich lunch.”

Think about that for a second.   Frank Gaffney’s views are too extreme for the Republican Party.  In the aftermath of being shunned by the lunch, Gaffney then planted the rumor that tax reformer Grover Norquist (who’s married to an Arab-American) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.

Gaffney’s activities are narrowly focused upon degrading the public’s perception of Islam and Muslims in the U.S.  He has successfully peddled his influence among fringe lawmakers to help precipitate and foment anti-Islam hysteria in the U.S. – which as resulted in the absurd anti-Sharia bill movement across 60% of states in the union.  The introduction of these bills has effectively served as a “Trojan horse” for fostering a more hostile environment for Islam and Muslims within these states as well.  In Tennessee for example – the Muslim community is living under the persistent specter of Islamophobia in the aftermath of the bill’s introduction.  This includes a vitriolic attempt to block the establishment of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, to irrational fears about a mop-sink in the state legislature, to elected officials openly posting calls to violence against Muslims.

This has also resulted in the spewing of false allegations against individual Muslims and Muslim organizations, which has negatively impacted the lives of those affected.  One of Gaffney’s colleagues has been key in pushing forth this agenda.

Zuhdi Jasser – The Islamophobia Industry’s Favorite Muslim

As mentioned in Blumenthal’s article – Jasser is also affiliated with the American Islamic Congress – a group that has received immense funding from key members of the Islamophobia Industry – including Sheldon Adelson, the Klarman Foundation, and the Donor’s Capitol Fund.  He also sits on the Clarion Fund Board of Advisors alongside Gaffney, Walid Phares (former Ariel Sharon ally) – and the man known as the “Godfather of Islamophobia in the U.S.” – Daniel Pipes.  But even though critics of the investigation brush this off as “money changing hands” – the reality is that figures such as Jasser take a much more active role in the day to day activities of the “Islamophobia Industry.”

So how is it possible for someone who claims to be a devout Muslim to be an active participant in helping the promotion of anti-Islam sentiment?  Therein lies Dr. Jasser’s value to this multi-million dollar machine – to play the role of the “good Muslim.”  Conspiracy theorist and Islam-hater Glenn Beck terms Jasser as “the Muslim we have all been waiting for after 9/11.”  Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey (winner of Gaffney’s Freedom Flame Award) is also an admirer or Jasser.  Although seemingly unbecoming of a former AG, Mukasey subscribes to Gaffney’s Muslim Brotherhood takeover conspiracy theories – and takes every opportunity to highlight that Jasser is the only hope for American Muslims.  With glowing recommendations like these, it is no surprise that the Scottsdale physician is a frequent Fox contributor along with other conservative media.

In the 24 hour news-cycle, self-styled “experts” must forge a niche for themselves – Jasser has thrived off smearing and creating a shadowy narrative when it comes to the mainstream Muslim organizations in America.  Before Dr. Jasser’s emergence as the narrator of the Adelson funded propaganda film, “The Third Jihad” – the term “Islamist” was infrequently used in the media.   However, with the film’s extensive circulation, along with Jasser’s constant use of the word as an epithet in his interviews and writings – the word has jumped into the mainstream, almost becoming generic in nature.

Those who think the influence of such films is insignificant should think again.  The NYPD used “The Third Jihad” as a training video “on a continuous loop” for nearly 1,500 of its officers.  In fact, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly participated in the film – which only adds to the department’s horrendous record of spying on and mapping out innocent Muslims throughout the northeast.  In addition to Jasser’s active role in the film, he also held a pep rally alongside Rep. Peter King to support the NYPD’s invasive spying program on Muslims.

Smears Against Webb, MSA, CAIR, and other prominent Muslims

One of the most well known Muslim leaders in the U.S. – Suhaib Webb was slated to represent our community at the Boston interfaith service, featuring President Obama.  In reality, Webb likely the most recognizable Muslim cleric in the United States and his moderate perspective has gained a huge following among all segments of the Muslim community.  And although he was extremely gracious when the virtually unknown Weddady replaced him at the service – this was just the beginning of an attempt to defame and smear his good name.  As Jasser made the rounds in the aftermath of the tragedy, he also used this as an opportunity to deliberately cast shadows of doubt upon Webb – claiming “Up in Boston, this imam Webb has been linked to the (Muslim) Brotherhood”  – in addition to questioning the nature of the imam’s work.  It also completely ignores the fact that Webb has been a leading voice among Muslim clerics to condemn extremism for well over a decade.

This is nothing new for Jasser – who takes every opportunity to cast aspersions upon the major Muslim groups in America – such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA.)

Part of Jasser’s methodology of casting doubt upon individual organizations is utilizing whatever hyper-partisan, conspiracy-theory websites are available in this ultra-paranoid echo chamber in order to reinforce his viewpoint.  Here, he uses the birther-affiliated website “The Daily Caller” in order to create a false sense of causality between Dhzokhar Tsarnaev and the MSA.

In reality, the MSA is has been a great source of organizing and self-identity for American Muslim students for decades.  Students of all levels of religiosity utilize this platform to meet lifelong friends, compete in intramural sports, and organize events while exploring their own religious self-awareness.  And while every other religious and ethnic demographic are encouraged organizing in ways such as this – Jasser and his allies promote the falsehood that this is a “breeding ground for Islamism” and a “Muslim Brotherhood legacy group.”  By poisoning the well with discourse such as that of the Daily Caller article – the intent is to damage the reputation upon those law-abiding participants in these activities.  As mentioned earlier, the toxic law-enforcement environment actually resulted in an extensive spying program upon MSA’s, gathering information on their participants and events throughout the northeast.  The results of the investigation, you ask?  “Zero actionable intelligence.

Dr. Jasser, along with Gaffney take extra care to smear the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in America – CAIR.  You would be hard pressed to find an interview where he does not attempt to cast doubt upon CAIR (even though his father in law is also a Chapter President) and its chapters by labeling them with the buzzword “Islamist” or “Brotherhood front groups.”   As his media profile rose during the Boston devastation, his attacks on CAIR rose as well.  In an article for the Arizona Republic, Jasser claimed that CAIR was playing the victimization card – specifically cherry picking a single sentence quote by me, in order to frame his narrative that CAIR “was admonishing Americans not to seek retribution” against the Muslim community.  Let’s put aside the fact that there have been no less than half a dozen reports of violence and harassment reported against Muslims and those who appeared to be Muslim in the aftermath of the Boston tragedy.  Let’s also put aside the fact that in the last year, there was a sharp increase in attacks on mosques – including the arson that destroyed a mosque in Joplin, MO and nearly destroyed a mosque in Toledo, OH.  Let’s ignore the fact that the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric is so high, that it has resulted in violent backlash against or even murder of Sikh and  Hindu individuals.  Aside from these facts, let’s look at the reality of what was really said.

You want to know what CAIR spokespersons were really saying in the Boston aftermath?  Click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.  Sometimes, reality doesn’t conveniently fit into the pre-fabricated narratives that the Jasser’s, Gaffney’s and their allies attempt to present about American Muslims.  However – these guys are making a living selling their ideas to an audience (Fox News, WND, Daily Caller) who are known to be the least informed among the American public – even less informed than those who watch absolutely no news.

In the end, it is unsurprising that those such as Jasser ignore the good that the mainstream Muslim orgs are doing – and are focusing on reinforcing a false narrative of the Islamophobia industry.  In reality, they are linked inextricably with one another – as in the case with Jasser appearing in Steven Emerson’s “Grand Deception”, or sharing a stage and with known hate-group leader Robert Spencer at one of the aforementioned David Horowitz-funded retreats.  The pull, the power and the influence of the money provided by these foundations and shell organizations prove to be too tempting to pass up, apparently.

In the end, it is highly significant when ties to the key players in the Islamophobia Industry are uncovered –as in the case of Blumenthal’s expose.  When money and influence start making their way into legislative circles, we start seeing bitter fruits being harvested.  Some of these examples include a draconian spying program at the behest of the NYPD against segments of the Muslim community, specifically MSA members.  We see officers and homeland security personnel being trained by propaganda films such as “The Third Jihad” – which can create a monstrous view of Islam in the eyes of those who are there to protect and serve.  We have seen witch-hunts on Capitol Hill – such as the Gaffney-inspired Bachmann and Gohmert, along with the formation of the “Islamophobia Caucus.”  Finally, we have seen a sharp increase in the amount of bias related crimes targeting Muslims, Sikhs and persons of color since the influx of this dark money into the political and media sphere.  For those who think that the money and influence outlined in the previous EI articles is somehow insignificant – it is time to think again.


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