Islamising the West: Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-i-Islami

Islamising the West: Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-i-Islami

Event Report

Webinar No. 8

By Usanas Foundation

Scholars across the world came together for a discussion on the growing radicalisation in the West through radical Islamist outfits and charity organisations in a webinar on “Islamizing the West: Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-I-Islami, and Tablighi Jamaat”, organised under the aegis of Usanas Foundation. Speakers at the event were: Director of Research at the Investigative Project on Terrorism Abha Shankar; Director of the US-based think tank Washington Project - Middle East Forum Clifford Smith; and Director of the Islamist Watch - Middle East Forum Sam Westrop. Founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation Abhinav Pandya moderated the event.

Abha Shankar threw light on the functioning of radical Islamic organisations indulging in anti-India activities in the US. She said, “The first major organisation is the US Council of Muslim Organisations (USCMO) - an umbrella group of Islamist organisations across the US. It was launched in 2014 and has a political agenda. Every year it organises the National Muslim American Advocacy day that attracts young Muslim American activists to lobby policymakers on the Hill. IPT investigations have exposed close ties between USCMO and Turkey. After the abrogation of Article 370, a USCMO delegation met with Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) President Sardar Masood Khan and pledged their support for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It also met the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to "exert maximal pressure on the Indian government to lift its lockdown on Kashmir" and "commit to massive humanitarian assistance for the people of Kashmir." USCMO representatives also met with United Nations officials to spotlight the "dire humanitarian crisis" in J&K.  

The Islamist coalition described the Delhi riots earlier this year as a one-sided government- sponsored “pogrom” against Muslims. In fact, both Muslims and  Hindus were killed in the riots.

Another important group is the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) founded in 1994. The organisation operates under the guise of a civil rights group. It has roots in a Muslim Brotherhood-created, Hamas-support network called the Palestine Committee. The committee was set up to advance Hamas’ goals financially and politically in the U.S.

Hamas is a designated terrorist group that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and Israelis.

CAIR has spoken out in support of convicted terrorists such as the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The Holy Land Foundation was the charitable arm of the Palestine Committee. Five senior leaders belonging to the charity were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms for funneling over $12 million to Hamas.

CAIR has also spoken out in support of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative Sami Al-Arian and others. Al-Arian was convicted for providing material support to PIJ, another proscribed group that, like Hamas, is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Al-Arian was deported to Turkey in 2015, where he has set up the Centre for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) that routinely hosts conferences and other events on Palestine and Kashmir.

Last month, CAIR’s chapter in Philadelphia hosted a webinar featuring Hafsa Kanjwal, a rising star of the Kashmir separatist movement in the U.S. and co-founder of Stand with Kashmir, a group that defends violent Islamists and terrorists. Kanjwal has spoken at CIGA –sponsored events in Turkey.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is a top Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) group in the U.S. that was founded in the 1960s by Jamaatis who had emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Convicted Pakistani spy and lobbyist Ghulam Nabi Fai routinely speaks at ICNA events.

Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), which was formerly known as the Indian Muslim Council in the U.S. (IMC-USA), was founded by Shaik Mohammad Ubaid, an Indian American affiliated with other groups that allege “genocide” and “persecution” of Indian Muslims and compare the BJP government to Nazi Germany.

IAMC along with CAIR  were very active in pushing a biased one-sided narrative on the CAA at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Shankar concluded by saying, “If these efforts to change the narrative on Kashmir and push an anti-India agenda remain unchallenged, it will only embolden the Islamists and their allies to spread more lies and will come back to haunt India, its international stature, and US-India relations in the years to come.”

Sam Westrop highlighted that there are hundreds of Ismalist charities in Western countries. However, two are the most prominent ones: Islamic Relief - set up by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Muslim Aid - set up by Jamaat-e-Islami. Both these charities receive tens of thousands of dollars by the Western governments. Muslim Aid is not just funding proxies on Kashmir but is also directly funding Jihadis in Kashmir, Ghaza Strip, and all over the world.

He further said, “Charity is a key to advancing ideology. Helping Hands for Relief and Development has also organised events with LeT. India finds groups like Helping Hands and Muslim Aid not just on the Pakistani side of the LOC, but also within India itself. The key for the Indian government is to study what they have been doing and what they are doing in India. They must be proscribed and banned in India. Muslim Aid is directly linked with radical charitable organisations in India like the Zakat Foundation.

Highlighting the ongoing paradigm shift, he argued, “Clerics have previously underpinned Islamism, but have largely not led Islamist movements. But the trend is changing. In the West, groups like Salafis and Deobandis are are modernizing. In the last few years, we are seeing that they are getting actively involved in politics and promoting radical Islamist groups in the West. Some of those like Omar Suleiman has also been invited by Nancy Pelosi to address the US Congress. Salafis and Deobandis have the distinct advantage of grassroots power. They have a whole congregations to serve as activists.

On the growing anti-Indian activism in the United States, he noted: “In Texas, there is a considerable network that is pushing the Kashmir agenda. Not just politicians, but also the family members of Kashmiri terrorists are joining the events. These whole new groups are being set up to demonise India and provoke terrorism.”

On the upcoming US elections, he said, “We have one group named ‘Emgage’, working closely with the Joe Biden campaign, despite its connections to radical Islamist outfits. Officials tied to the outfit have also been involved in a lot of anti-India campaigns on Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Council on American Islamic Relations is actively supporting Biden. Across the country, Islamists are setting up donors clubs and Political Actions Committees (PACs) and sponsoring legislations not only in Congress but in state legislatures as well.

On the terror financing mechanism of Islamist charity organistaion, he said that these outfits fund through proxies and third parties. We have LeT and JeM, moving money through mosques and third parties. Across the West, there are so many stupid systems of charity accountability. For example, the UK Charity Commission provides a lot of scope for channeling money in whichever way you want. It is very difficult to track the channel. Even when they found evidence against Muslim Aid, they did not prosecute its members, but just warned and let them go. My dream is to have an army of researchers to study the enormous industry financing and subsidising terror through charity. There is also a need by India to Investigate these charities spending in Kashmir.

On cryptocurrency, he said, “The use of cryptocurrency to fund terrorism is a huge issue. It first emerged in the Middle East and is now being used elsewhere in the world. It is being used as it ensures anonymity and highly secure movement of money across the world, without the knowledge of governments. There is not a good way to stop this. The problem is going to be an ever-increasing danger in the future. “

On misinformation campaigns on India, he said, “Academics, Civil Servants, and Think Tanks - these three categories of stakeholders are responsible for most of the disinformation campaigns. There are certain think tanks in the US-funded by countries such as Qatar and the kind of information that they serve is not just bad research, but they have a naked extremist agenda. The organisations publishing anti-India stuff have a political agenda. India is an enemy for a lot of people in the world including the Islamists and the far-left. The amount of disinformation is nothing compared to what it could be in the future. If the demonisation campaign against India is going to increase with the ferocity experienced by Israel, the problem is going to be a huge problem for India. Like Israel, India should combat these lies and set up institutions to fight this ideological battle, and expose the source and agenda of the purveyors of fake news. You need to be proactive and not just hope that truth will win out in the end.

Anti-Hinduism lies at the heart of Islamist rhetoric. Today across the US, you can find evidences of Muslims involved in anti-India and anti-Hindu activities. The Left has been happy to adopt these anti-Modi sentiments. They try to suggest the Indian government represents fascism, Nazism – all the result of disinformation nurtured by Islamists.”

On the functioning of Islamists throughout the US, he argued that there are two ways to do this. “One is charity and the second is lobbying. On the first, India can take lead in challenging the charity groups operating in the West and helping the radical groups in India. As for the second, a lot of foreign Islamist groups are influencing domestic politics in the West. There is a need to check how Islamist PACs and lobby groups fundraise and operate.”

On the idea of reformist Muslims to tackle radical Islamists, he argued, “Fethullah Gulen is an enemy of our enemy. He is anti-Turkey and anti-Erdogan. Gulen, but just remember a few years ago was a friend of the Turkish regime. If you actually want to find Muslim allies, you should look towards reformist Islamist and reformist Muslims in the US. India is one of the first places outside the US where I could see the reformist Muslims growing. We should look towards them.”

Sharing his observations on Tablighi Jamaat, he said, “I follow the activities of Tablighi Jamaat in the US and UK very closely. Their process of indoctrination is really amazing. In terms of membership, it is really the biggest Islamic group in the world. Unlike India, where it has recently become very famous, its name is only known by the law enforcement agencies in the US, as most of the terrorists rise through the ranks of Tablighi Jamaat. There are far too many terrorists coming from that ideology. In the US, they have a number of official mosques, especially in New York and Los Angeles. Their road is not to convert, but to make Muslims more Muslim. The problem with Tablighi Jamaat is that it is so shadowy and the inability to track who they are makes it difficult to work out how they operate. Countering its influence, the only people which can help the West are the Indians, as India is the place where they have all the infrastructure and base. So, as we deal with charity organisations for you, you need to deal with Tablighi Jamaat for us. It is a global ideology and requires a global stance.”

Clifford Smith argued that there are three broad categories of anti-India forces in the US. First, there are groups of Pakistani-sponsored anti-Indian forces. Second are the South Asian Islamist groups like Islamic Centre in North America and Helping Hands - they have an Islamist ideology. Third, you have the Middle Eastern Islamist groups, generally anti-Israel. The hard-left tends to align with all of the above groups.

All of these increasingly work together. However, the Middle Eastern origin Islamist groups are far ahead in numbers and machinery. And they are now taking anti-India stands in addition to anti-Israel stands. So it is not limited to South Asian based Islamist groups. The Middle East has largely and slowly been moving in a less Islamic direction. This is not going to suit Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organisations. In the past, Middle Eastern origin Islamists have used the Palestinian problem as a weapon. They still do, but now, as the Palestinian issue and the wider Middle East is not going their way, Kashmir is a new rallying point. Some of this is tactical, but it is also ideological. They share the same goal of increased Islamist rule.

This is not unique to American Islamists. Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan held a military rally where Palestinian flags were posted on Facebook with the caption - “We are all Hamas”. So this is not only in the US but all over the world. Islamists are increasingly coming together.

This has a real-world effect on Congress and in the US. The Islamist organizations have allies in Congress and a ready-made constituency for their years of work demonizing Israel. There is a reason why Ilhan Omar, known for her antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments, took the lead demonizing India and it’s defenders at a hearing on South Asian Human Rights - which was largely focused on the Kashmir problem.

On the idea of terror financing through Islamic charity organisations, he opined, “How does that matter if money is going directly to terrorism if a charity is being directed by groups with a theocratic agenda and has connections with terrorist outfits? The money would find a way to help their cause if the ideology is the driving force. If you help Hezbollah build homes, you help Hezbollah build bombs. The fundamental issue is to look at who you are giving money to. In this, neither America nor European countries have been quick to take action.”

On the question of resolutions filed in local governments of the US on CAA, he said, “There is no good reason for city councils to get involved in issues like CAA. Either members bringing forward these kinds of resolutions have hardcore ideologies, or are really don't know what they are doing and accept what they are told from the first person who talks to them about an issue. This highlights the influence of lobby that the Islamist have created. They are not going to change the US policies overnight, but they have got the power to change the terms of the debate.

In terms of how India is perceived in America, and America’s relationship with India, gloom is not necessary. You have to recognise the fact that China has a bad image in the US. Not all Americans are with the pro-Islamist agenda. An average American recognises India as a relatively decent country with respect to human rights and pluralistic democracy. What's going to happen if Democrats win, that is very tough to know. The Republican party is certainly much more supportive of pluralistic democratic countries and not much to the radical powers. Biden is not hostile, but part of his base is hostile. I feel that his career trajectory shows that he has been a left-leaning windsock. He will be to the right of people like Bernie Sanders. But I am not 100% sure where he will come down at the end.

On the US efforts to tackle radical Islamist charity organisations, he highlighted, “After 9/11, under the Bush Administration, there was an attempt to break up these charity networks. Under Obama, people in his Administration, particularly the hard left, opposed the prosecution of Muslim charity organisations, believing any prosecution to be based on Islamophobia. Under Trump, however, I have a source who has been in and around the intelligence community for some time that said, essentially, ‘In the Bush administration we were allowed to (go after terror-sponsoring charities), in the Obama administration we were restricted, and in the Trump administration the focus was on other things as their priorities are things like the condition on the Southern border. I don’t expect that to change. If Biden wins, at best, he will be perhaps somewhat better than Obama but is unlikely to fix the problem.”

The opinions expressed in the webinar belong to the panellists and not necessarily to the Usanas Foundation.