Moderate Muslims and their radical leaders.


is a weekly columnist for The New Republic Online and the author of
The New Iraq.

Now a year and a half into Abdurahman Alamoudi's 23-year prison
sentence for violating anti-terrorism sanctions, it might seem hard
to remember why both the Clinton and Bush administrations used to
embrace him, for years, as a leader of Islam in America. It might
seem troubling that an FBI spokesman, as recently as 2002, had
dubbed Alamoudi's organization, the then-Washington-based American
Muslim Council, "the most mainstream Muslim group in the United
States." It might seem perplexing that the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops, in a statement praising Alamoudi's group as "the
premier, mainstream Muslim group in Washington," had dismissed
warnings about the organization and its long-serving director as
"Muslim-bashing."But the reasons Alamoudi enjoyed this status are not so difficult to
understand. He purported to represent millions of American Muslims,
who deserve a political voice in Washington. And, throughout his
public life, he spoke out against terrorist attacks in the United
States. In a typical speech to thousands of American Muslims at the
annual convention of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) in
Chicago in 1996, for instance, he told the audience, "Once we are
here, our mission in this country is to change it. ... There is no
way for Muslims to be violent in America, no way. We have other
means to do it."

To a large extent, his reputation as an influential moderate Muslim
became self-perpetuating, his stature enhanced each time he met
with a mainstream politician or clergyman. The pages of his
organization's newsletter and sympathetic publications reported
that he had held meetings with President Clinton, Vice President Al
Gore, and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake in the mid-'90s.
The State Department reportedly sent Alamoudi on diplomatic junkets
to Muslim countries in the late '90s. Bush administration officials
had picked up where their predecessors in the White House left off,
granting Alamoudi and his associates photo opportunities with the
president and an open- door policy with senior administration

What these mainstream politicians and government institutions
largely missed, however, was that, if you listened to Alamoudi
carefully, he stopped sounding so moderate. While he generally
advised against attacks in the United States, he enthusiastically
endorsed terrorism against Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets
abroad. In that very same 1996 address to the IAP, he said: "I think
if we are outside this country, we can say, `Oh, Allah, destroy
America'" and that "[y]ou can be violent anywhere else but in
America." During a conversation recorded shortly before his 2003
arrest, he again counseled against attacks in the United States,
but he called for strikes in Europe and Latin America. He expressed
the view in Arabic that the Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. Embassy in
Kenya had been "wrong," but only because "many African Muslims have
died and not a single American died," and he went on to say that "I
prefer to hit a Zionist target in America or Europe or
elsewhere.... I prefer, honestly, like what happened in
Argentina.... The [Buenos Aires] Jewish Community Center. It is a
worthy operation." In July 2004, Alamoudi pleaded guilty in an
Alexandria, Virginia, federal court to smuggling Libyan money into
the United States and concealing his financial transactions and
foreign bank accounts from the IRS. He also admitted to having
participated in a plot to kill the crown prince of Saudi
Arabia--the present King Abdullah--in consort with Al Qaeda
affiliates in London.

This picture of Alamoudi leads to a troubling conclusion: During the
time he was holding himself out as a spokesman for Islam in
America, Alamoudi's words and deeds amounted to a toxic moral
influence on American Muslims and a repugnant misrepresentation of
that community to the politicians and priests who embraced him.
Worse, Alamoudi is hardly one of a kind. Many of those recently
held out as moderate leaders of the American Muslim community--and
embraced as such by American politicians--are anything but. For over
a generation, supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah
have promoted their views and solicited support in numerous U.S.
mosques, Islamic centers, and convention halls--as journalists and
a litter of indictments and convictions in recent years have
documented for the public. The opportunistic acceptance of the
United States by Islamists like Alamoudi as "the dominion of
truce"--a concept that has been spelled out in detail by leaders of
the Muslim Brotherhood, both inside and outside the United
States--is inherently shaky. It is a truce that asks to be
breached--as recent cases of terrorist planning by American Muslims
in the United States suggest.

The American Muslim community and the U.S. political establishment
can and should do better than this. In contrast to various
governments in Western Europe, where official negotiations with
domestic Islamists have been deemed necessary, there is no need to
reach such accommodations here. Fortunately, given the largely
successful integration of Muslim immigrants in the United States,
there is reason to hope that the Alamoudis of America will be
superseded over time by more progressive Muslim voices. To some
degree, such changes have already begun. But this natural process
has been delayed and stifled by American political leaders'
unnatural selection of extremists to represent Islam and Islamic
aspirations in the United States.

Critiques of American Islamist leadership typically come with the
disclaimer that most Muslims in the United States do not call for
the death of Israelis or Jews, let alone anybody else. This
understatement does not begin to capture the disconnect between
most American Muslims and groups like Alamoudi's American Muslim
Council that have spoken and acted on their behalf. Islam in
America, a millions-strong religion, does not resemble a cross
section of the Muslim world, the Middle East, or any Muslim
country. Among immigrant Muslims to the United States, Shia--who
include nearly all of the country's Iranian Muslim immigrants and a
significant proportion of South Asians and Arabs--may well
outnumber Sunnis. Arab-American Christians outnumber Arab-American
Muslims--though demographics and shifting migration trends are
poised to taper if not invert this disparity. Black Muslims,
relative newcomers to mainstream Sunni Islam, easily represent one
of the largest waves of conversion in twentieth-century Islamic
history--as well as one of the most remote from the faith's
traditional heartlands. If all these disparate groups held a
contested election for a single American Muslim community leader,
wealth and demographics might easily induce a dead heat between an
Iranian Shia businessman in Los Angeles and a black Sunni cleric in

How strange, therefore, that the most prominent national Muslim
legations to Washington have, for decades, been headed mainly by
Sunni Arabs and Sunni Pakistanis, many of whom have baldly espoused
the tenets of Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood. Both of these
ideologies are as anti-Shia as they are anti- Jewish. And Muslim
Brotherhood architect Sayyid Qutb, whose teachings are frequently
cited in Saudi-subsidized books that have been distributed in
numerous American Sunni mosque libraries, was no fan of American
blacks, either. In his Arabic-language account of visiting the
United States in the late '40s, The America I Have Seen, he called
jazz "this music that the savage bushmen created to satisfy their
primitive desires, and their desire for noise on the one hand, and
the abundance of animal noises on the other."

Evidence of the radicalism lurking beneath the moderate veneer of
many of those who have headed prominent Islamic organizations is
not hard to find. Take the case of Sami Al Arian, a former
University of South Florida professor. To be sure, Arian shared
Alamoudi's opposition to terrorism on U.S. soil, leaving aside a
memorable speech about jihad in which he cried, "Let us damn
America," from which he subsequently distanced himself. But Arian
is currently facing nine counts in a Tampa terrorism
indictment--after a jury acquitted him in December of eight counts
and failed to reach a verdict on the rest of the 17 originally
included in the indictment--arising from the charge that he helped
finance and steer the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization.
Through his lawyer, Arian has conceded a close affiliation with the
Islamic Jihad leadership and extensive financial remittances to
individuals affiliated with the group. Arian does not deny having
publicly called for the death of Israelis, nor does anyone dispute
that a former colleague of his in Tampa, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah,
now heads the Islamic Jihad organization. Yet Arian's thinly veiled
activism did not lose him an invitation to the White House in 2001
or friends and supporters in the United States who have championed
his cause in the name of political freedom and Islam in America.

Whatever value judgment one places on Arian's strident anti-Israel
activism, one cannot help but notice that it indirectly promoted
killing projects beyond Israel, including in the United States.
Several conferences organized by Arian in Chicago featured Abdel
Aziz Odeh--a cleric subsequently listed by federal prosecutors as
an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center
bombing--as a guest speaker, and one conference gave a platform to
Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik now serving life in
prison for his central role in the 1993 bombing and subsequent
plots to attack New York City.

The natural connection between terrorism overseas and against the
United States lies in the enduring alliance between Israel and the
United States and the inherently transnational nature of the
militant ideology Arian and Shallah espoused. Though Islamic Jihad
is focused on Palestine, it is not a discrete national liberation
movement. The group posits the centrality of the Palestinian cause
within a broader armed struggle to reclaim all Muslim lands from
rulers deemed un-Islamic--and arguably, by extension, all those who
support them.

Alamoudi, Shallah, and Arian also appear to have had something in
common with scores of other American Islamists and Islamist
institutions subsequently charged by prosecutors with abetting
terrorism overseas. While they may have frowned upon attacks on
U.S. soil, their indictments suggest they had no qualms about
flagrantly transgressing the country's laws. The 42-count Texas
indictment against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development, an avowedly pro-Hamas organization whose supporters
were ubiquitous in Sunni American mosques and Islamic centers
throughout the '90s, does not merely allege

$12.4 million in material support to a terrorist group; it charges
conspiracy, tax evasion, and money-laundering. The 2002 North
Carolina conviction of Mohamed Hammoud on charges of materially
supporting Hezbollah and several associates on charges of
smuggling, racketeering, and money-laundering is stunning not
merely because of its gravity--the defendants had funneled over $1
million to the group and sent advanced military technology and
global- positioning systems--but also because their tactics are
reminiscent of other organized crime syndicates. Hammoud and his
co-defendants had organized an inventive cigarette-smuggling ring
from North Carolina to Michigan.

Unlike common criminals, these Islamists' crimes are the result not
of a moral lapse, but rather of a consistent moral position. Many
radical Islamists subscribe to a traditional Muslim legal
convention that divides the world into the "dominion of Islam" (Dar
Al Islam), where Islamic law prevails, and the "dominion of war"
(Dar Al Harb), where war prevails pending the country's
Islamization. A debate has been aired publicly in the Muslim
community as to which sphere the United States belongs. But, if the
United States is within the dominion of war, all kinds of
criminality may be permitted. As an article in Al Zaitounah, the
flagship publication of the IAP, reported in 1994, "Some Muslims
permit themselves to take money from non-Muslims in America,
whether individuals or companies, and avoid reimbursing them, on
the grounds that America is an infidel country."

Al Zaitounah interviewed three senior Muslim Brotherhood clerics on
the question of whether the United States was part of the dominion
of war. Their responses left a good deal of wiggle room as to the
answer. Qatar-based Youssef Al Qaradawi, at the time a star
attraction at well-attended Islamist conferences in the United
States, clarified at the outset that Israel was the dominion of war
and that "it must be dealt with on this basis until all rights and
lands are restored to their owners and justice takes the place of
the scum regime that is present there now." (It bears noting that
Yitzhak Rabin, then- prime minister of the "regime" to which
Qaradawi referred, had signed the Oslo accords with the Palestinian
Liberation Organization (PLO) a few months earlier. ) Asked whether
the United States belongs in a similar category, Qaradawi replied,
"The bifurcation of the world into two dominions, a dominion of war
and a dominion of Islam, does not necessarily mean that war must be
waged against every dominion that is not a dominion of Islam. Some
dominions should be fought, while other dominions could be affixed
to the dominion of Islam by pacts and truces, as has been the case
in Islamic history." Noting that one of the four schools of Sunni
Islamic law, the Shafii school, had allowed for a third
designation, "the dominion of truce" (Dar Al Ahd), Qaradawi
suggested, "It may be generally possible to classify America and
Western states as the dominion of truce, because they share
treaties, common interests, and embassies with Arab and Islamic
countries and do not--at least for the time being--pose a direct,
unveiled aggression to Muslims or Muslim countries." The other two
clerics did not substantively differ with Qaradawi.

A decade later, it would be difficult for any American follower of
Qaradawi to avoid concluding that the cleric's conditional
acceptance of the United States as "possibly" the "dominion of
truce" no longer applies--if it ever did-- based on its own logic.
Qaradawi himself has confirmed his view that America's invasion of
Iraq was a direct aggression against an Arab country and a Muslim
people--calling for armed jihad against the occupier. So did 26
Saudi clerics in a joint edict released in November 2004. In a
December sermon, he also called upon God to protect Iraq from "the
American Satans." Though Qaradawi has been banned from entering the
United States since 1999, he can still reach thousands of
Arabic-speaking U.S. homes via Al Jazeera, on which he hosts a
weekly program about Islamic life.

This strand within American Islamist culture, however thin, is
relevant to the rash of initiatives by some Muslims in America to
assist Al Qaeda, which federal prosecutors have brought to light
since September 11. It was through a predominantly Arab-American
mosque outside Buffalo, New York, that six American- born Yemeni
ethnics--mostly employed, married, and college-educated, all
registered Democrats--met a pair of preachers who lured them to an
Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and a meeting with Osama bin
Laden. A journalist who visited the young men's hometown of
Lackawanna, New York, described the Al Qaeda trainees as "the cool,
assimilated guys in the community." The FBI agent who elicited
their first confession--from a member of the group who had been
intercepted in Bahrain--recalled in a "Frontline" interview, "[W]hen
we got on the plane on our way to the States, and he met the case
agents from Buffalo, one of his biggest concerns [was], `How are
the Buffalo Bills doing?' That tells me that he really likes what
he has here." These youths had experienced an integrated, American
Islamic cultural environment that condoned suicide bombings in
Israel as surely as it cheered the home football team. When a local
Al Qaeda preacher and his Saudi colleague sought to recruit them,
they apparently did so by building on the moral foundation that
formed the bedrock of their religious environment--by asking them
to take a short walk from the dominion of truce to the dominion of

Other members of the community, to be sure, took issue with the
preachers' arguments. The apprehension of the so-called "Lackawanna
Six," in fact, was reportedly the result of information provided to
the FBI by the Yemeni-American community--and the Saudi preacher
had not lasted long in the local mosque. But the case may have been
as much a learning experience for Al Qaeda and its affiliates as it
was for the United States: It demonstrates that some number of
second-generation American Muslims can be lured into American
killing projects within the framework of their indigenous religious
milieu--provided the recruitment is carried out discreetly, outside
the purview of other American Muslims who disagree with Al Qaeda.
Effective recruitment in the United States may be tricky and
time-consuming, but it is doable--and some of the blame for this
state of affairs rests on the failings of America's Islamist

Further evidence of the pernicious effect the radicalism of these
so-called moderate Muslim leaders have on their flocks can be seen
in several other recent terrorism cases. Consider the businessman
in Brooklyn who allegedly helped Sheik Mohammed Al Hasan Al Moayad
channel money to Hamas and Al Qaeda (part of the
multimillion-dollar total that the sheik allegedly raised and
remitted). Before Moayad's conviction last spring in a Brooklyn
federal court for conspiring to support both organizations, jurors
were treated to a taste of the cleric's flamboyant personal style
through clandestine recordings of his meetings. Moayad not only
celebrated a suicide bombing in Israel, he also bragged that Osama
bin Laden held him in the highest esteem and had called him "my
sheik." On the basis of his many explicit recorded comments, it's
hard to imagine anyone who partnered with Moayad being deluded into
thinking he wished to kill only Israelis or support only Hamas. As
for the studious distinction between Israelis and American Jews, it
was plainly confused by 34-year-old Ahmed Hassan Al Uqaily, an
Iraqi-born resident of the United States for over a decade who
worked for a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Nashville, Tennessee. In
October 2004, he paid an undercover agent

$1,000 for two M-16 machine guns, four hand grenades, and several
hundred rounds of ammunition. A Tennessee judge sentenced him in
October 2005 to four years and nine months in prison for illegally
possessing the weapons, which he had planned to use to attack two
Jewish facilities--in the Nashville area.

Of course, law-abiding American Muslim leaders do not bear
responsibility for the crimes of some misguided souls in
Lackawanna, Brooklyn, Nashville, Washington, Richardson, Chicago,
Charlotte, and a handful of other cities where Islamist killing
projects and terrorism financiers have been busted since September
2001. But they do owe their flocks, and all Americans, a firm moral
stand against the global murder fetish that aroused some of their
jailed and far-flung counterparts. They should consistently
repudiate Islamist civilian carnage--whether in Tel Aviv and New
Delhi or New York and Riyadh--and relentlessly counter the set of
teachings that sanction it. Such leadership has been too slow in
coming--a tragedy for which some of the blame extends beyond the
Muslim community.

Washington's cozily intertwined Muslim advocacy groups tend to pool
personnel, ideals, and Saudi largesse and co-habit Qaradawi's
permanent floating dominion of truce. By the time Alamoudi was
indicted in 2003, the American Muslim Council's preeminent
mainstream status in Washington had been supplanted by the Council
on American-Islamic Relations (cair). Its long- serving executive
director, Nihad Awad, had been a prominent officer of the IAP,
whose conferences Alamoudi memorably addressed. In November 2004, a
federal judge declared the IAP civilly liable for the Hamas killing
of an American citizen in the West Bank. Awad left the association
to found cair in 1994--but, rather than try to distinguish himself
from his former colleagues, Awad has also declared his support for
Hamas in his new capacity and declined to denounce the movement's
bloody tactics. Furthermore, he has acknowledged that cair received
money from the Holy Land Foundation, the avowedly pro-Hamas charity
that now faces federal charges of supporting terrorism. The Holy
Land Foundation was co-founded by Mohammed El Mezain, who went on
to work for a new nonprofit entity, KindHearts for Charitable
Humanitarian Development. KindHearts has funneled money back to
some of the same groups as Holy Land. Its 2003 tax return shows

$77,571 was transferred to the IAP. Among its remittances to
overseas coffers in 2002, $100,000 went to the Sanabil Association
for Relief and Development in Lebanon, which the Treasury
Department designated a Hamas- supporting entity in August 2003.
Mezain has since been charged with aiding Hamas through the Holy
Land Foundation by federal prosecutors, and he has departed
KindHearts; but a veteran of at least one other Islamist charity
shut down by the government for providing support to terrorist
groups also works for the organization.

All these American Islamist leaders and organizations, in turn, have
maintained direct, public affiliations with the Plainfield,
Indiana-based Islamic Society of North America (isna), the largest
and oldest umbrella organization of Muslim groups in the United
States and Canada. Its numerous ties to Brotherhood and Hamas
activists do not amount to an indictment of isna as a whole or the
tens of thousands of predominantly Sunni Muslim Americans who
attend the group's annual convention. For that matter, nor does the
fact that alleged Islamic Jihad backer Arian, according to several
published conference proceedings, co-founded isna. These links do
not devalue the

$20,000 isna donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina in September or
the vaguely worded condemnation of "terrorism" that the group added
its name to back in July. (See Judea Pearl's insightful tnr Online
article on the document, "Word Choice," on September 13, 2005.) But
they do underscore the commonplace acceptance of Hamas and Islamic
Jihad within the culture of interlocking Islamist institutions that
have achieved the most prominence in America.

This gut-wrenching state of affairs poses a recurring dilemma for
outsiders whenever an Islamist leader in the United States seeks
the same status-boosting acknowledgement from elected officials
that other political interest groups do. When isna invited
President Bush to address its annual convention in Rosemont,
Illinois, last September, a total rebuff would have snubbed tens of
thousands of American Muslims in attendance--but an acceptance
would have elevated the mainstream communal esteem of their
questionable leadership and affiliates, as surely as Alamoudi had
been endowed a mainstream status he did not deserve. (Bush sent
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes as his

The circumstances under which some Sunni Islamists rose to
prominence in the United States are intimately linked to U.S.
government policy decisions: Isna's most radical affiliates,
including the IAP and the now-defunct Muslim Arab Youth Association
(maya), promoted militancy in support of the Afghan Jihad during
the later years of the cold war--when President Reagan himself
stood squarely behind the Afghan fighters they championed. In the
'80s, the IAP and maya jointly brought Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin
Laden's acknowledged spiritual mentor, on tours of American Islamic
centers from his base in Peshawar, Pakistan. Azzam's sojourns
across the Atlantic were truly within the borders of a "dominion of
truce" at the time, in the sense that the United States and Azzam's
Wahhabi backers in Saudi Arabia were aligned in support of Islamist
fighters in Afghanistan. Yet, even then, Azzam used the occasion of
his U.S. visits to push for attacks far beyond Afghanistan. In a
Brooklyn mosque, as has been widely reported, Azzam memorably
declared that the "jihad of the sword" was global, and he
explicitly called for its fulfillment inside the United States.
Camera pans of the sermon's audience in a video recording of the
event subsequently revealed the presence of a co-conspirator in the
1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mahmud Abouhalima, taking in the
cleric's message.

American groups like maya and the IAP, which hosted and boosted
Azzam in this country, are in some ways comparable to Islamist
groups in other pro- Western countries, once encouraged by their
host governments out of deference to their struggle against a
common, godless enemy: Egypt's late president, Anwar Sadat, gave
the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to flourish in his country, hoping
that the movement would serve as a counterweight to his communist
and socialist opposition--a policy that did not survive his
assassination by a radical Islamist. Israel's government, prior to
the first Palestinian intifada in 1987, used to engage Sunni
Islamists in Palestine, hoping that they would serve to challenge
the PLO's monopoly on Palestinian politics; it was in this manner
that Hamas was born. The fact that Hamas espouses suicide attacks
on civilian targets does not erase its social function as a
provider of some health and human services to Palestinians. But it
does--and should--undermine the movement as a moral voice on any
national or global stage. In a similar vein, both Alamoudi's
American Muslim Council and Nihad Awad's cair have fought for
Muslim civil rights in the United States, among other just causes.
But their avowed support for Hamas and other manifestations of
radicalism should call into question their pretext of speaking on
behalf of millions of American Muslims--and disqualify them as
interlocutors on behalf of American Muslims to the United States
government. This is not to preclude the possibility that they may
revise their views--or that true moderates may emerge from within
the ranks of organizations tinged by an older generation of poor
leadership. It is, in fact, to demand that such a transformation

If the United States were France--where a massive, ghettoized Arab
Muslim underclass encircles the capital city in an exurban wall of
rage--then sending politicians to build bridges with domestic
Islamist leaders might be a necessary measure, among other
necessary measures. During the bloody riots around Paris last fall,
the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Union of Islamic Organizations of France
(uoif) appears to have joined the government in calling for calm by
pitting religion against the rioters. Since 2003, the uoif has been
the largest constituent member of the French Interior Ministry's
French Council for the Muslim Religion--a body established to bring
French Islam into the mainstream by granting it official status. A
fatwa issued by the uoif declared, "It is not acceptable to express
feelings of desperation through damaging public properties and
carrying out arson.... Under Islam, one cannot get one of his or
her rights at the expense of others." Though some observers labeled
the riots an "intifada" or "jihad," Islamist voices in France that
extol jihad in Palestine and Iraq were successfully enlisted to try
to undermine that ideological conception when it came to French
terrain. Having achieved official recognition by the French
Interior Ministry, the Brotherhood group evidently found enough
common ground with the Republic to add its voice to calls for calm.
In doing so, the uoif issued the fatwa despite its grievances about
the country's foreign policy--which supports harsh crackdowns by
the Algerian regime on Algerian Islamists--and the second-class
status of Muslim immigrants to France. This dominion of truce-style
accommodation appears to be valuable to the French: The Muslim
Brotherhood movement may well command more popularity among
France's predominantly North African Arab Sunni Muslim immigrant
population than the Republic itself.

But the United States has succeeded where France and much of Europe
have failed. As Spencer Ackerman observed in these pages recently
(see "Religious Protection," December 12, 2005), American Muslims
enjoy social integration and acceptance, religious tolerance,
economic opportunity, and a higher standard of living than the
general population. These blessings mean that American imams,
unlike their French counterparts, are not in the position of
shepherding socially restive flocks. According to demographers,
Jews and Muslims in the United States overwhelmingly co-habit the
two coasts and a handful of urban areas in between. Nowhere since
Baghdad in the 1930s--where a plurality of Jewish urban elites
famously commingled with their Sunni and Shia counterparts in
business, the professions, civil service, and music--have the points
of intersection between the two faiths been so manifold, so
easygoing, and so fruitful. Nowhere else has the medieval
distinction between dominions of "war," "Islam," and "truce" been
so irrelevant, so anachronistic. For this reason, the United States
does not need to countenance Islamist interlocutors who endorse
militancy and radicalism abroad, even while calling for a truce at
home. It can find and promote true moderates more representative of
Islam in America. The United States owes this much to its Muslim
community, and its Muslim community owes this much to itself.

By joseph braude

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