Extremists Among Us?

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Dallas Morning News
December 11, 2005

Each Islamic terror attack inevitably prompts calls for Muslim groups to speak out against the killers. And many do, to the relief of non-Muslims of good will eager to be reassured that mainstream Muslims reject violence in the name of their religion. However, a recent case shows that you can’t always take the word of these organizations at face value.

This past summer, the Muslim American Society (MAS) announced that, prompted by the second wave of bombings to rock London in two weeks, it would launch a campaign to combat terrorism. The group issued a news release explaining that it planned to build youth centers to keep young Muslims “away from the voices of extremism” and to work with imams and Islamic centers to promote a moderate interpretation of the faith.

In October, MAS petitioned the Richardson City Council for a special permit to build one of these youth centers, which it likened to a YMCA, in an area zoned for industrial use. After the council said it would need to learn more about the organization first, MAS withdrew the petition.

Islamic YMCAs to steer young Muslims away from extremism sound great, right? This past July, Mahdi Bray, the executive director of MAS’ Freedom Foundation, appeared on Fox News and stated that MAS wanted to “inoculate our young people by making sure they’re actively and constructively engaged in positive activities that reflect the main views of their faith tradition, as opposed to someone who would want to influence them into extremist points.” Given the radical indoctrination that occurs even in the United States, this kind of work is necessary – and one would naturally like to believe that MAS can play a constructive role.

Unfortunately, a look beneath MAS’ current rhetoric into the organization’s connections, teachings and prior public statements reveals that extremists founded MAS and that, despite efforts to clean up its public image, the core of its teachings remains unchanged.

A 2004 Chicago Tribune investigation revealed that, after a contentious debate, U.S. leaders of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood decided in 1993 to begin calling themselves the Muslim American Society. The Muslim Brotherhood is an international Islamist group that largely operates underground. The Brotherhood’s goal is to spread the rule of Islamic law throughout the world. Key Muslim Brotherhood ideologues, including founder Hassan al-Banna, have endorsed violence as a means of doing so.

Today, MAS’ leaders admit that the group was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, but claim that MAS has evolved since then. For example, former MAS Secretary General Shaker Elsayed told the Tribune, “Ikhwan [Brotherhood] members founded MAS, but MAS went way beyond that point of conception.” If true, perhaps MAS could help counter extremism, despite its radical origins.

However, the available evidence suggests that MAS has not moved away from the Brotherhood’s extremist principles. MAS has an internal educational curriculum consisting of literature that Muslims must read in order to advance to a higher membership class – a syllabus that gives the group’s game away.

MAS’ national Web site does not outline this curriculum, but it was posted on the Minnesota chapter’s Web site until an article I wrote for the Weekly Standard exposed it. According to the Web site, goals for “active” members include “building the correct unified comprehension of Islam as outlined in Message of the Teachings by Imam al-Banna.”

Message of the Teachings is a theological tome written by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna. While MAS claims in its current anti-terror campaign to eschew “the dualistic concept of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ” this duality lies at the heart of the late Mr. al-Banna’s teachings. Not only does he think that all governments must become Islamic, but he also implores his followers to “completely boycott non-Islamic courts and judicial systems” and to “dissociate yourself from organizations, newspapers, committees, schools and institutions which oppose your Islamic ideology.”

Message of the Teachings also endorses violence as a means of spreading Islamic rule. In the book, Mr. al-Banna encourages his readers to “always intend to go for jihad and desire martyrdom. Prepare for it as much as you can.”

In addition to Mr. al-Banna, all MAS members – even adjunct members, the lowest membership class – are required to read prominent Muslim Brotherhood theoretician Sayyid Qutb’s book Milestones. Mr. Qutb is discussed at length in the 9-11 Commission Report because he is one of Osama bin Laden’s theological inspirations. Fully embracing the “us vs. them” duality, Mr. Qutb, who was hanged as a revolutionary by the Egyptian government in 1966, argued that Islam and disbelief were locked in a mortal struggle, that all people must choose between the two and that Muslims must take up arms to fight this battle.

In Milestones, Mr. Qutb writes that jihad is not purely defensive, as some Muslim scholars have argued, but instead that a legitimate goal of the jihad is “to establish God’s authority on earth” or to “arrange human affairs according to the true guidance provided by God.” In other words, violence is an acceptable means of spreading Islam.

Mr. Qutb is also praised in MAS’ magazine, The American Muslim, in which an article described him as a “martyr” and expressed its hope that he will “live in eternal happiness in the heaven he deserves.”

Indeed, The American Muslim provides a snapshot of where MAS really stands on terrorism. The March 2002 issue includes a fatwa endorsing suicide bombings against Israelis, which states that “martyr operations are not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one’s life.” The fatwa goes on to say that in suicide bombings, “the Muslim sacrifices his own life for the sake of performing a religious duty, which is jihad against the enemy.”

MAS’ founding, teachings and public statements about terrorism stand in marked contrast to its conciliatory statements about its new anti-terrorism mission. In the end, MAS is right that extremist ideology matters and that young Muslims should be shielded from radicals who wish to turn their faith into an instrument of hate. Unfortunately, MAS has a track record of trying to clean up its image without cleaning up its act – particularly when it believes that non-Muslims aren’t looking.

For years, groups like MAS have felt confident that the American public wouldn’t look beyond their moderate face to see what they actually represent. MAS’ anti-terrorism plan is to serve as the watchman of Islamic ideology. But MAS’ own words and teachings show that this watchman must be watched.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Washington, D.C., counterterrorism consultant and attorney.

See the original article here.