The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 has raised delicate questions about the ties of American Islamic organizations to groups that support or condone terrorism.
The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 25) reports that the attempt by President George W. Bush to trace and freeze the funding of terrorism has not only turned up actual terrorist organizations, such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but also “some of the thousands of Islamic charities in the U.S. and around the globe.” It is believed that these organizations may have served as fronts that funded terrorist groups, but proving that and then determining how such funding took place is difficult.
These charitable organizations often display two faces. For instance, one of the group’s named Al-Rashid Trust is a welfare organization feeding some 300,000 people in Afghanistan. Yet the group also supports the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and uses extremist language on its web site, such as charging that “Jews and anti-Islam powers challenge” the world’s Muslims.
Those groups being investigated included the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas, the Islamic Association of Palestine in Illinois, and Human Concern International in Canada. Although officials from these groups say they are being unfairly targeted, law-enforcement officials say there are links between some of their chapters and terrorist groups.
For instance, International Islamic Relief Organization, with offices in Canada and the U.S., was at the center of an immigration case in Canada when one of its workers was a suspected Osama Bin Laden lieutenant. The investigation and targeting of these groups may trigger fears among Muslims of a witch hunt. Charitable giving is a pillar of Muslim practice, and the crackdown on charities could also may cause a chill on giving among Muslims
The whole issue of U.S. Islamic groups sympathetic or tolerant of terrorism has been a growing concern since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The issue has even divided American Muslims. A case study of this conflict surrounds the Islamic Supreme Council, a small Sufi-influenced educational group. The council has long taken the position that Islamic leaders need to speak out against terrorism and those American groups and individuals who condone it. Head of the council, Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, testified before the U.S. State Department in 1999 on the threat of Islamic extremism to national security [see February ’99 RW for more coverage on this topic].
At the time, Kabbani even warned of thousands of “suicide bombers being trained by Bin Laden in Afghanistan who are ready to move to any part of the world and explode themselves.” The overwhelming response of American Islamic leaders and groups, such as the American Muslim Council, was to censure Kabbani, issuing a statement condemning him and the council for encouraging “Islamophobia.”
The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 28) reports that a coalition of “progressive pastors” is telling U.S. Muslims not to “talk to the FBI.” Meanwhile Kabbani has toured the country on a media blitz, calling for Muslims and others to cooperate with authorities in order to apprehend the people and groups who have defamed the Islamic faith.