Muslim Brotherhood’s papers detail plan to seize U.S.
The Dallas Morning News (Link) - Jason Trahan (September 17, 2007)
Amid the mountain of evidence released in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial, the most provocative has turned out to be a handful of previously classified evidence detailing Islamist extremists’ ambitious plans for a U.S. takeover.
A knot of terrorism researchers say the memos and audiotapes, many translated from Arabic and containing detailed strategies by the international Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, are proof that extremists have long sought to replace the Constitution with Shariah, or Islamic law.
But some academics and Muslim leaders say that the ideals contained in the documents were written by disgruntled foreign dissidents representing a tiny radical fringe. The documents also pre-date the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood is now either inactive or largely underground in America.
The documents - introduced in recent weeks as part of the prosecution’s case in the trial of the now defunct Holy Land Foundation and five of its organizers - lay out the Brotherhood’s plans in chillingly stark terms.
A 1991 strategy paper for the Brotherhood, often referred to as the Ikhwan in Arabic, found in the Virginia home of an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, describes the group’s U.S. goals, referred to as a “civilization-jihadist process.”
“The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions,” it states. This process requires a “mastery of the art of ‘coalitions,’ the art of ‘absorption’ and the principles of ‘cooperation.’”
Success in the U.S. “in establishing an observant Islamic base with power and effectiveness will be the best support and aid to the global movement,” it states.
A transcript of a Brotherhood orientation meeting recorded in the early 1980s includes discussions of the need for “securing the group” from infiltration by “Zionism, Masonry ... the CIA, FBI, etc. so that we find out if they are monitoring us” and “how can we get rid of them.” Discussions later turn to “weapons training at the Ikhwan’s camps” in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Closing arguments today
Many similar documents are among several hundred pieces of evidence that are part of the trial of Richardson-based Holy Land and the five defendants. They are accused of illegally raising money for Hamas, which was declared a terrorist group by the U.S. in 1995. The defendants are not accused of violent acts here or abroad.
After two months, jurors will hear closing arguments in the case today.
The evidence introduced in the Holy Land trial is “an unprecedented inside look into the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States,” said Douglas Farah, who spent two decades as a foreign correspondent for news outlets including the Washington Post and now consults with think tanks on counterterrorism issues.
Mr. Farah co-wrote the first comprehensive analysis of the Holy Land documents for the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation.
“The fundamental thing underlying the Brotherhood ideology is the need to establish the caliphate,” or the spread of Islamic law, Mr. Farah said. “That’s what the documents show: This was a structured, organized movement here.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of Hamas, formed in 1987 in the Palestinian territories to combat Israeli occupation. The Brotherhood remains active in many parts of the world, dedicated to increasing fundamentalist Islamic influence. A key goal is to place nations under Shariah.
Shariah is a Muslim system of rules and laws based on the Quran that govern all aspects of life, including food, dress and religious tithing, or zakat. In nations living under Shariah such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, there is little or no distinction between religion and state. In its most fundamental form, Shariah also mandates harsh criminal punishments, such as stonings and cutting off thieves’ hands.
In the U.S., the Brotherhood emerged as an immigrant student movement in the 1960s, but according to experts, there is no current discernible Muslim Brotherhood presence in the U.S. today, although most agree some of its adherents remain.
Esam Omeish, president of the Virginia-based Muslim American Society, or MAS, says the documents introduced in the Holy Land trial are full of “abhorrent statements and are in direct conflict of the very principles of our Islam.”
“The Muslim community in America wishes to contribute positively to the continued success and greatness of our civilization,” Dr. Omeish said. “The ethics of tolerance and inclusion are the very tenets that MAS was based on from its inception.”
His group, formed in 1993, is thought by many to be the Brotherhood’s current incarnation in the U.S., although he and other MAS leaders say their group formed as an alternative to radicalism.
“MAS is not the Muslim Brotherhood,” Dr. Omeish said. The society “grew out of a history of Islamic activism in the U.S. when the Muslim Brotherhood once existed but has a different intellectual paradigm and outlook.”
Formed in Egypt
Peter Mandaville, an Islamic scholar and director of the Center for Global Studies at George Mason University, says that although the documents presented at the trial are important, it may be irresponsible to place too much emphasis on them.
“Those documents have to be read as internal communications that on some levels have elements of boasting and bravado,” he said. “The writer wants to tell impressive tales about the work they’re doing. Remember, these guys are affiliated with the most radical part of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in the 1920s by Islamists seeking to install a fundamentalist government there. Islamist radicals today still idolize the martyr Sayyid Qutb, the Brotherhood's most influential thinker.
While attending college in the U.S. in the late 1940s, Mr. Qutb was appalled by what he perceived as the nation’s lack of piousness and morality.
In the early 1950s, he was jailed in Egypt, where he had worked to overthrow the secular government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Before he was executed in 1966, he penned a scathing indictment of American culture that called for worldwide rejection of Western values.
His writings are still credited with radicalizing countless young Muslims, including Ayman al-Zawahiri. He became al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader and the spiritual guide to Osama bin Laden.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt says that it broke from its violent past in the 1970s and now favors backing Islamist candidates in the more than 70 countries where it has branches. However, the branches operate as independent groups with differing views on the role of violence, and experts say they frequently squabble over strategy, ideology and direction.
“Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are working toward the same goal, but the Brotherhood is willing to work through it politically and take their time,” said Mr. Farah, the counterterrorism consultant. “They want an Islamic state. Does that mean they’re going to pick up a gun and start shooting at the [ U.S.] president? No. They’re going to work the system.”
The U.S. is among the countries where the Brotherhood has sought to spread its message, according to Department of Justice prosecutors in the Holy Land case.
Prosecutors say that the Brotherhood was behind the Palestinian Committee, formed in the U.S. in the 1980s.
The Palestinian Committee was led by was Mousa Abu Marzook, former head of Hamas and now its No. 2 political chief. He has been designated as a terrorist by the U.S., and was closely tied to the Holy Land Foundation, according to evidence presented at the trial.
Mr. Marzook provided tens of thousands of dollars to the foundation, which also gave money back to charities that the government alleges are controlled by Hamas.
Mr. Marzook is also related by marriage to former Holy Land board chairman Ghassan Elashi, who along with his brothers has been convicted in prior trials of engaging in illegal business with Mr. Marzook.
The goal of the Palestinian Committee, which trial documents indicate existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was to raise money in the U.S. to fund Hamas.
This was to be accomplished by forming a complex network of seemingly benign Muslim organizations whose real job, according to the government, was to spread militant propaganda and raise money.
The Muslim Brotherhood created some American Muslim groups and sought influence in others, many of which are listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land case.
On the list are several prominent groups, including the Islamic Society of North America, the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. All have protested their inclusion on the list.
Holy Land’s organizers have long denied ties to Hamas. They say their foundation was concerned only with providing much-needed humanitarian aid to Palestinian families devastated by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Counterterrorism officials say that regardless of what anyone thinks of the Holy Land documents, the threat from radicals outside and inside the U.S. is real. A common belief among law enforcement and government officials is that after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and post-9/11, radicals have retreated underground.
“People who harbor the secret desire for the U.S. to become more Islamic are not going to announce themselves in the current climate,” said Jeff Breinholt, a 17-year Justice Department official who until June was deputy chief of the national Counterterrorism Section, where he oversaw the nationwide terrorist financing program.
“However, they may be willing to violate laws they view as unfair, which is what I think occurred in the Holy Land Foundation case.”
He cited a Pew study this year showing that of 1,050 American Muslims surveyed, most held moderate views. About 78 percent said suicide bombing is never justified.
But 8 percent of Muslims of all ages said that suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified in defense of Islam. Among those under 30, 15 percent said such acts can often or sometimes be justified. The percentage was higher among European Muslims.
“There are a lot of religious people in the U.S. who have strange geopolitical views and hopes,” Mr. Breinholt said. “I think they dig themselves deeper when they try to polish eccentric views in documents that we uncover.”
Mahdi Bray, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, which promotes Muslim civil rights, called the Holy Land documents “a throwback.” He has attended portions of the Holy Land trial.
“If those documents talk about the establishing of Shariah law in America, I’m saying that’s a lot of hype: wishful thinking from an immigrant perspective. ... It doesn’t reflect genuine American perspective in terms of where we’re heading,” Mr. Bray said.
He said members of MAS decided in 1993, when the organization was founded, that they would pursue political and nonviolent tactics.
“I wouldn’t be candid if I didn’t say there weren’t some old-timers who want to hold onto the old way, who say that this is the way the Ikhwan did it, this should be our model,” he said. “We said ‘So what? It doesn’t work here.’ We’ve been very adamant about that.”
Mr. Bray, an Islamic convert, has been criticized by some as being an apologist for terrorists, particularly for his condemnation of Israel’s 2004 missile strike in the Palestinian Gaza Strip that killed Hamas’ spiritual founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Mr. Bray says that although his politics are controversial, he’s not anti-American.
“Those on the right and many of those who I would classify as Islamophobes, many of them have failed to realize that there is an authentic American Muslim organization here and movement in America that wants to integrate,” he said. “We believe the ballot is an appropriate place to be.”
He said that he “liked the Bill of Rights” and didn’t want to see the Constitution replaced with Islamic law.
“There’s a maturation that’s taken place in the American Muslim community that’s either not understood, or understood but viewed as a threat to other interest groups in this country.”
To argue that the Holy Land documents are old and outdated is hardly an excuse for their content, said Mark Briskman, regional director of the Dallas Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Jewish organization.
“The Hamas charter is dated, but the terrorists have never renounced that document,” he said, adding that it calls for the destruction of Israel. “The Constitution is dated, but we still follow it.”
“We’ve never seen a document like this,” he said. “That’s their plan for taking over Western civilization. This is the smoking gun. We think this is a document that needs to be understood and seen widely in the U.S.”
Aside from polling, it’s difficult to determine how many Americans Muslims harbor extremist views.
A conservative nonprofit group, the Society of Americans for National Existence, has gone so far as to sponsor a project attempting to identify jihadist radicals by visiting every mosque and Islamic school in the country. Critics have likened the approach to racial profiling.
Dr. Mandaville, the Islamic scholar, said that although U.S. law enforcement, particularly the FBI, has been “fairly successful in analyzing and picking off the key figures in these networks in the U.S.” - they still exist.
“The people who hold these views today don’t really affiliate with any particular group,” Dr. Mandaville said. “They’re fluid in their social networking. They fade into the background and when necessary, produce a legitimate front to the activity they’re involved in.”
While the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders in Egypt claim to have broken from violent radicalism, choosing the ballot box over bullets, the Brotherhood’s English language Web site sends contradictory messages.
On one hand, several articles and statements indicate that the group wants to reform the West, not necessarily destroy it. It repeatedly accuses the U.S. of being “anti-Muslim” mostly for its historic backing of Israeli interests.
But a recent article analyzing the repercussions of 9/11 six years later says that al-Qaeda failed “to make Americans feel the lack of security because it failed to repeat the attacks throughout six years!”
In response to a poll on its site that asked, “Should the Muslim Brotherhood and the U.S. engage in direct dialogue?” 51 percent answered yes.
There are those in the U.S. government who believe that the Brotherhood is the Bush administration’s best chance for reaching out to moderate Islamists internationally.
The Brotherhood “works to dissuade the Muslims from violence, instead channeling them into politics and charitable activities,” said Robert S. Leiken, director of the Immigration and National Security Program at The Nixon Center in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, a publication of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.
While he has not studied the Holy Land documents, Dr. Leiken said that the U.S. discussion on Islamic thought tends to be polarized and that what passes for scholarship is often more selective than rigorous.
“The more you study it, the more distinctions and differences should emerge,” he said. “And scholars should see these distinctions. In Europe, these things are understood better, but in the U.S., they often get brushed aside in the heat of the debate.” †
“Be not overcome
of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
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