The Middle East Forum (MEF) is often defamed as an “anti-Muslim organization” — by Islamist and left-leaning groups alike. Most recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a report — co-authored by CAIR staffers Abbas Barzegar and Zainab Arain — about the evils of the American “Islamophobia Network,” in which MEF apparently occupies a prominent place.
So, what did MEF do to earn this distasteful moniker? CAIR’s report claims MEF “has spread malicious lies” but offers not a single example. The report also claims that MEF “pushes for mandatory anti-Muslim law enforcement training,” apparently referencing MEF’s argument that DHS officers should be trained to deal with jihadi threats. In fact, MEF works closely with Muslim organizations and has long argued that moderate Islam is the precise antidote to poisonous Islamism.
Nonetheless, Barzegar claims that MEF (along with other “anti-Muslim” groups) helps to spread a “hate-filled agenda.” CAIR accuses MEF of using “millions of dollars to attack American Muslim institutions like … the Islamic Circle of North American [sic] [ICNA], the Islamic Society of North America [ISNA] … [and] the Muslim American Society [MAS],” while the Southern Poverty Law Center — which arguably takes its anti-Muslim designation cues from CAIR — notes that the crimes of “anti-Muslim groups” include “constantly attacking Muslim civil rights groups and American Muslim leaders for their supposed connections to the [Muslim] Brotherhood.” Indeed, ICNA chapter leadership has complained of being “shocked by the allegations being made against ICNA. There were false claims … saying we support the Muslim Brotherhood … .”
Claiming that multiple American Muslim organizations such as CAIR and ICNA are all connected with the Brotherhood or other extremist groups might well have constituted bigotry — except that the claim is accurate, and these groups’ radical ties are blatant and numerous. Just last month, ICNA hosted its annual convention featuring CAIR’s Barzegar himself as a speaker, and co-sponsored the event with MAS — an organization described by federal prosecutors as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America”.
ICNA-MAS even jointly invited actual members of the Brotherhood to speak. One of these appears to have been Akram Kassab, the long-time office manager, researcher, website editor, and personal assistant to Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. A Brotherhood member himself (according to Egypt Today), Kassab became an imam at a MAS mosque in 2016 and has spoken for the group on numerous occasions. He co-founded the International Union of Muslim Scholars with Qaradawi, and has reportedly issued fatwas approving of the use of using bombs against Egyptian houses and calling the assassination of anti-Brotherhood judges a “duty.”
Another convention speaker was Ahmed Shehata, a prominent Islamist activist in America and an open lobbyist for the Muslim Brotherhood (he was even named by Egyptian newspaper El Watanas a Brotherhood operative). Shehata recently participated in an annual Egypt-focused congressional lobbying day to express support for deposed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. Shehata was accompanied in his lobbying efforts by Hani Elkadi, a New Jersey-based activist who is referred to in Arabic media as a Muslim Brotherhood “leader” in America; Amr Darraj, who is wanted by Egyptian authorities on charges of coordinating terrorist activity in Egypt from his home in Turkey; and Ayat Oraby, who openly supports the Brotherhood and has urged Egyptian Muslims to boycott the minority Egyptian Copts.
MAS claims on its website to have “no affiliation” with the Brotherhood, but given that ICNA and MAS themselves knowingly invited Brotherhood activists to speak at one of their biggest events of the year, it is not “anti-Muslim” of MEF to highlight the obvious role played by the Brotherhood in the ICNA-MAS network.
CAIR, meanwhile, has long employed Islamists who support, excuse, or have worked directly with the Brotherhood’s violent Palestinian-Arab offshoot, Hamas. Ghassan Elashi, the founder of CAIR’s Texas chapter, was convicted in April 2005 of knowingly doing business with Mousa Abu Marzook, a senior Hamas leader whom the U.S. State Department named a “specially designated terrorist” in 1995. Mustafa Carroll, a former CAIR-Texas executive director, defended Hamas in 2009, saying “I think you can only blame Hamas for so long” after Hamas terrorists fired more than 6,000 rockets at civilian targets in Israel. And Nihad Awad, CAIR co-founder and executive director, and former official for now-defunct Hamas-front Islamic Association for Palestine, once referred to the genocidal jihadist groups Hamas and Hezbollah simply as “liberation movements” in an interview.
Moreover, the Brotherhood is not the only extremist overseas groups to which organizations such as CAIR and other ICNA-MAS participants are connected. ICNA itself has openly admitted its connections with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), an extremist group that is well-known for its participation in Pakistani war crimes during the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence. (ICNA’s own former Vice President Ashraf Uzzaman Khan was convicted in absentia by Bangladesh in 2013 of being part of the Pakistan-backed Al-Badr death squad, and for having personally murdered seven professors and intellectuals.) Indeed, one of ICNA’s most consistent conference speakers is Yusuf Islahi, a prominent figure who is so open about his connection to JI that his ICNA conference biography lists his JI membership as a point of pride.
“Do not take the initiative in offering ‘Salam’ to the Jews or Christians. The Holy Qur’an affirms the fact that the Jews are the worst nation as regards their disbelief, denial of truth, tyranny and savagery, falsehood and deception … It is the same nation which assassinated the venerable Prophets sent by Allah. Hence the believer should eschew all such conduct which shows even the slightest trace of respect or esteem for the Jews.”
In its “Islamophobia report,” CAIR complains that MEF “attacks American Muslim institutions” and names ICNA and MAS as two of the institutions that have been undeserving victims of MEF’s ire. CAIR is correct on one point: MEF has indeed covered ICNA, MAS, and CAIR often — but MEF does so because of CAIR, ICNA, and MAS’s obvious connections (despite their denials) with overseas extremist movements and their apathy about their own speakers’ racism and anti-Semitism.
Our advice? If CAIR, MAS, and ICNA would rather MEF not attack their extremism, they should dispense with the extremists they currently support.