Wednesday, August 31, 2005

One of President Bush’s closest confidants,Karen Hughes, this weekend is scheduled to address the annual conference of an organization whose primary purpose is the promotion of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabist Islam — and whose president has publicly denied that al Qaeda was behind September 11, and whose Web site to this day sells a book that lavishes praise on Osama bin Laden.

Not only is Mrs. Hughes publicly endorsing the Islamic Society of North America with her mere presence, but this is the first major public address in her new role leading public diplomacy with the Muslim world.

Asked whether the woman who was instrumental in Mr. Bush winning the White House knew the true nature of the group she is speaking to in Chicago this weekend, State Department spokes-man Noel Clay responded, “Karen Hughes has been briefed on the organization.”

Somehow, it just doesn’t seem likely that Mrs. Hughes has been fully briefed on ISNA. If she had, she almost certainly wouldn’t be headlining its annual conference — let alone as her first major appearance in her new post.

Of all the Muslim groups claiming to be moderate in this country, ISNA is perhaps the easiest to expose as anything but. Spun off of the Saudi-created and funded Muslim Students Association more than 20 years ago, ISNA is likely the largest single provider of Islamic materials to mosques in America.

For a sampling of what might be contained in Saudi-sponsored pamphlets and literature, one need look no further than the Freedom House report issued earlier this year. Using moderate Muslim volunteers to gather Saudi-published or sponsored materials in more than a dozen prominent mosques across the country, Freedom House found shocking intolerance, anti-Semitism and even advocacy of violence.

Though the Freedom House report does not specify if ISNA was responsible for funneling any of the most offensive literature into mosques, ISNA’s own track record suggests that it would do so willingly.

At the 39th annual ISNA conference, held in Washington, several speakers on a panel agreed emphatically that there was no proof that Osama bin Laden was behind September 11 — and this occurred just shy of the one-year anniversary of the attacks.

During a session dedicated to the aftermath of September 11 — not how Islam needs to be reformed to strip the religious justification of future such terrorism, but rather on how to fight back against attacks on Islam — a questioner expressed his anger that the Muslim leadership in the United States had “asked [Muslims] to accept the blame for 9/11.”

The three prominent members of the panel all rushed to assure the questioner that, in fact, they weren’t really sure that al Qaeda was behind September 11, or if any Muslim was at all. According to a transcript provided by the Investigative Project, panel moderator Jamal Barzinji, the then-director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, responded, “It is not only that we don’t have any proof, but the FBI doesn’t have any proof. They are still looking.”

Former ISNA President Muzammil H. Siddiqi, who was still on the board, added, “We cannot say in surety whoever did it or not.” Rounding out the bizarre denials of al Qaeda’s culpability for September 11, the then-president of Muslim-American Society, Suhail al Ganouchi, opined, “Probably we’ll never know who actually did it, or who, what, or what groups.”

But ISNA does more than just provide a forum for September 11 deniers. For sale on its online bookstore is a tome by former Illinois Rep. Paul Findley, published in the summer of 2001, which lavishes praise on Osama bin Laden.

The book, “Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Image of Islam,” contained the following description of someone who had already orchestrated the murder of Americans in the East Africa embassy bombings and the USS. Cole: “Outsiders do not seem to recognize that bin Laden is one of the pre-eminent heroes of Afghans, occupying a role similar to the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought at the side of the Colonials during America’s Revolutionary War.”

When asked about much of the above, the State Department’s Mr. Clay seemed uninterested. He defended the appearance before ISNA by noting, “They do not support terrorism.” Except when they do. In a January 2000 press release, ISNA declared, “In order to honor the Shaheeds and the Mujahideen of Chechnia, ISNA has decided to dedicate Shawwal 1, 1420, the day of Eid al Fitr as ‘Solidarity with Chechnia Day’ throughout North America.”

“Shaheeds” is unmistakable: It is the term used by jihadists for glorification of suicide bombers. U.S. law officials think that the “shaheeds” and “Mujahideen” in Chechnya are terrorists; many of the most high-profile terror cases since September 11 have involved support for those forces.

Even giving Mr. Clay the benefit of the doubt that he did not know of the Chechnya statement, is lack of support for terrorism the only bar which an organization must clear? Assuming Mrs. Hughes goes forward and addresses ISNA this weekend, she deserves the benefit of the doubt — this time.

But if groups like ISNA keep getting courted, the question must be asked: Is this embrace happening out of ignorance or out of some cunning — and dangerous — strategy?

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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