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Islam 101?

"Islam 101?" Continued...

Issue: "Safe haven," Sept. 15, 2007

Wiesenfeld said Stop the Madrassa is not opposed to offering Arabic as a language elective in public schools: "We need Arabic speakers. We should have thought about it before and we can still do it." Pipes said he believes KGIA can teach Arabic without proselytizing for Islam, but "it should have teachers who understand the restrictions in working for a taxpayer-funded institution, and it should be supervised by a board that is aware of the problems that tend to accompany Arabic-language instruction." New York Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein has promised to shut down the school if it promotes religion.

Stop the Madrassa has grown into a national organization-Citizens for American Values in Public Education-and the controversy is going national. In Hollywood, Fla., school officials ordered the Ben Gamla Charter School to suspend temporarily its Hebrew classes until they could determine whether or not teachers were advocating Judaism. Like KGIA, the charter school follows a state curriculum, but it also teaches Hebrew, serves kosher food, and has a rabbi for a director.

Meanwhile, mom Amal Hasne says of the whole controversy, "It's too much. It's too much. It's not the first school to open teaching Arabic." She said she will continue to send her daughter to KGIA because it is small, she believes it is safe, and her daughter will no longer be "segregated" from non-Arabic-speaking classmates.

'A veneer of moderation'

Federal prosecution is exposing the hidden agenda of some mainstream Muslim groups

By Mark Bergin

Under Suspicion: Mahdi Bray, executive director for the Muslim American Society, speaks to reporters outside a Dallas federal court building in support of HLF officials on trial.

When the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR; see WORLD, March 22, 2003) opened its Central Florida office in the spring of 2004, Muslim convert Roy Smith signed up to volunteer. The retired lawyer and Tampa resident wanted to help CAIR's local chapter further the national organization's stated mission-namely, "to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding."

Smith, 50, became a dues-paying member and even applied for the paid position of civil-rights director at one point. But he began to suspect that CAIR's agenda ran deeper than its slick public-relations statement. He watched the group routinely shun simple solutions to cultural misunderstandings in favor of legal action and press releases about civil-rights violations. He wondered whether the organization was more concerned with publicizing the supposed victimization of American Muslims than it was with helping that community assimilate.

In an interview with WORLD, Smith revealed that behind closed doors CAIR's façade of moderation quickly lifted. He heard statements like "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Smith's reaction: "People who fly planes into buildings are not freedom fighters." He still hoped that CAIR could serve an important purpose, until this past spring when he learned of the organization's listing as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal lawsuit against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a defunct American Muslim charity accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Smith promptly asked that his name be removed from CAIR's membership rolls. He was not alone. According to a Washington Times report in June, dues-paying members of CAIR have fled the organization by the thousands in recent years. Tax records show that CAIR's annual income from member dues has plummeted from $732,765 in 2000 to $58,750 last year. Last month a CAIR attorney admitted that membership has dropped and donations have dipped beneath the organization's monthly budget requirements.

That's good news to Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of six books on terrorism and national security. He has followed the HLF trial closely and told WORLD that the prosecution's evidence of connections between CAIR and Hamas has awakened some moderate Muslims to CAIR's true agenda: "Some of the chapters of CAIR are staffed by Muslims who are motivated by sincere beliefs about fighting discrimination and are not obsessed with Hamas. The unindicted co-conspirator designation was a shock to them."

Numerous other Muslim organizations, such as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust, also made the list of unindicted co-conspirators. But the potential impact of such revelations on the truly moderate Muslim American community has fallen short of Emerson's hopes due to sagging national press coverage. Most mainstream media outlets continue to take the quotes from leaders of CAIR and ISNA at face value.

Even segments within the Department of Justice have not heeded the implicit warnings emerging from the HLF trial. Last week, the DOJ co-sponsored ISNA's annual convention just outside Chicago, the largest such gathering of Muslims in the nation.

U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) attempted to dissuade DOJ officials from associating with an Islamic organization that U.S. attorneys have shown collaborates with the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Hoekstra's letter of protest charged the DOJ with making "a grave mistake to provide legitimacy to an organization with extremist origins, leadership and a radical agenda."

In a letter of response, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski defended the DOJ's presence at the ISNA conference as an attempt to engage the American Muslim community. He also noted the participation of a variety of government agencies, including the U.S. military, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and USAID.

Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told WORLD that such associations between government and Islamist organizations only serve to reinforce perceptions that groups like ISNA and CAIR represent the majority of American Muslims. He believes prosecuting such groups, not befriending them, is the proper strategy for reforming Islam in America: "If we're going to get a reformation process to happen, and what I would call a second enlightenment in Islam, it's going to take more pressure from the non-Muslim community to get Muslims to own up."

The Justice Department has typically applied such pressure. HLF is one of many Muslim charities federal authorities have shut down since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Others include the Islamic American Relief Agency, Global Relief Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, KindHearts USA, Global Charitable Organization, and Mabarrat.

Each of these organizations fell under suspicion for taking donations from American Muslims under the pretense of legitimate charity activity, while channeling some of their funds to known terrorist groups.

Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslims Coalition and a critic of Islamism, believes the exposure of such activity has pushed Muslims away from donating to mainstream Muslim groups. But he told WORLD that such financial retractions reflect only a general apprehension about getting into trouble, rather than any monumental awakening in the minds of American Muslims about the sinister aims of politicized Islamism: "On the grassroots level, the average Muslim is still completely oblivious to what's going on."

Both Nawash and Jasser hope to change that. Roy Smith is evidence that they can. "There's a veneer of moderation with CAIR, but it's just a veneer," Smith said. "You can't graft Islamist concepts into a democratic society. They are the antithesis of freedom, liberty, and due process."

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