The Roots of CAIR’s Intimidation Campaign

by Andrew C. McCarthy
Brandeis sides with a spawn of Hamas over a champion of women’s rights.

Author’s Note: This week, capitulating to Islamic-supremacist agitation led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Brandeis University reneged on its announced plan to present an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the heroic human-rights activist. In my 2010 book, The Grand Jihad, I devoted a chapter to the origins and purposes of CAIR, its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hamas-support network, and its aim to silence critics of Islamic supremacism. In light of the continuing success of this campaign — despite a federal terrorism-financing prosecution that exposed CAIR’s unsavory background — it is worth revisiting that history. What follows is an adapted excerpt from that chapter.

In January 1993, a new, left-leaning U.S. administration, inclined to be more sympathetic to the Islamist clause, came to power. But before he could bat an eye, President Bill Clinton was confronted by the murder and depraved mutilation of American soldiers in Somalia. A few weeks later, on February 26, jihadists bombed the World Trade Center. The public was angry and appeasing Islamists would have to wait.

Yasser Arafat, however, sensed opportunity. The terrorist intifada launched at the end of 1987 had been a successful gambit for the Palestine Liberation Organization chief. Within a year, even as the body count mounted, the weak-kneed “international community” was granting the PLO the right to participate (though not to vote) in U.N. General Assembly sessions. And when Arafat made the usual show of “renouncing” terrorism — even as he was orchestrating terrorist attacks in conjunction with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other Islamist factions — the United States recognized him as the Palestinians’ legitimate leader, just as the Europeans had done. Arafat blundered in 1991, throwing in his lot with Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, and that seemed to bury him with the Bush 41 administration. But Clinton’s election was a new lease on life.

Anxious to chase the holy grail of Middle East peace and suddenly in need of demonstrating toughness against jihadist terror, the new “progressive” president was made to order for the wily Marxist terror master. If Arafat could resell his “I renounce terrorism” carpet yet again, chances were he could cash in. And so he did, purporting to commit the Palestinians to the 1993 Oslo Accords — an empty promise of peaceful coexistence exchanged for hundreds of millions in aid (much of which he pocketed), an open invitation to the Clinton White House (where he became a regular visitor), international recognition (as a statesman, no less!), and a ludicrous Nobel Peace Prize (forever degrading a once prestigious honor into a punch line). 

The Muslim Brotherhood, for one, was not amused. Islamists had murdered Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 for striking a peace pact with Israel. Sure, they knew Arafat and understood what chicanery he was up to. But acceptance of the Zionist entity’s right to exist was utterly unacceptable, even if done as a ploy.

Israel, the Brotherhood also realized, would not be the only thing squeezed by Clinton at Arafat’s urging. After a shaky start, the new president was winning global plaudits for his Orwellian “peace process.” Clinton must have known that Arafat was stringing him along, but with the theater of negotiation and ostensible progress drawing rave reviews, that was a problem for another day. The immediate concern was that Hamas jihadists could spoil the show with their implacable jihad, their blunt insistence that nothing less than Israel’s obliteration would satisfy them. That gave the fledgling administration a powerful incentive to crack down on them. Arafat would be the beneficiary as the Americans squeezed his rivals for power.

A ‘Media Twinkle’ in Philadelphia
Though the United States had been a cash cow for Hamas, it was thus a perilous time for the organization when 25 of its members and supporters gathered at a Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia on October 27, 1993. They were unaware that the FBI was monitoring their deliberations. The confab was a brainstorming exercise: How best to back Hamas and derail Oslo while concealing these activities from the American government? 

A little more background to the Philadelphia meeting: For nearly two decades until his extradition in 1997, Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook was the most consequential Muslim Brotherhood operative in the United States. Now living in Egypt, he remains to this day deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau. In the early Nineties, he actually ran the terrorist organization from his home in Virginia.

During his time in the U.S., Marzook formed several organizations to promote the Palestinian jihad against Israel. In 1981, for public-relations purposes, he established the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) in conjunction with two other jihadists: future Hamas chief Khalid al-Mishal and Sami al-Arian (the latter was eventually convicted of conspiring to support Palestinian Islamic Jihad).

In December 1987, the intifada was launched and Hamas was born. Marzook immediately formed the “Palestine Committee” to serve as an umbrella organization, directing the various pro-Hamas initiatives that were developing. He brought under its wing both the IAP (which concentrated on “the political and media fronts”) and a fundraising entity he had established. That entity would eventually be called the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) — though it was then known as the “Occupied Land Committee.” The reorganization would better enable the Palestine Committee to comply with the Muslim Brotherhood’s instructions to “increase the financial and the moral support for Hamas,” to “fight surrendering solutions” (like Oslo), and to publicize “the savagery of the Jews.”

It was under the auspices of the Palestine Committee that the 1993 Philadelphia meeting was convened. It was clear even then that Marzook’s Hamas network was anticipating the birth of yet another organization. The Palestine Committee’s amended by-laws declared that an as-yet-unnamed entity was already in the larval stage, “operat[ing] through” the IAP, and soon to “become an official organization for political work, and its headquarters will be in Washington, insha Allah.”

In the United States, the “political work” was crucial. The overarching mission, of course, was quite clear. As the IAP had explained in a December 1988 edition of its Arabic magazine, Ila Filastin, “The call for jihad in the name of Allah is the only path for liberation of Palestine and all the Muslim lands. We promise Allah, continuing the jihad way and the martyrdom’s way.” But while blatant summonses to jihad might stir the faithful in Islamic countries openly hostile to Jews, they were not going to fly in America — and even less so in an America whose financial heart had just been shaken by the jihadist bombing of the World Trade Center. The Brotherhood’s approach in the U.S. would have to be more subtle.

That was where the new organization would come in, as those gathered in Philadelphia — including Marzook’s brother-in-law and HLF co-founder Ghassan Elashi — explained. Although the Brotherhood had ideological depth and impressive fundraising mechanisms, Marzook had long been concerned that his network lacked the media and political savvy needed to advance an agenda in modern America. Now more than ever, they needed what HLF’s Shukri Abu Baker called “a media twinkle.”

In the U.S., Hamas was now perceived as the principal enemy of the popular “peace process.” After all, its charter explicitly called (and continues to call) for Israel’s annihilation by violent jihad. Therefore, its known supporters — the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, the IAP, and the others — were tainted in the American mind as terror-abettors, hostile to U.S. interests. As one attendee urged in Philadelphia, “We must form a new organization for activism which will be neutral, because we are placed in a corner. . . . It is known who we are. We are marked.” The new entity, by contrast, would have a clean slate. Maybe it could steal a page out of Arafat’s “hear what I say, don’t watch what I do” playbook. The new entity’s Islamism and Hamas promotion would have to be less “conspicuous.” It would need to couch its rhetoric in sweet nothings like “social justice,” “due process,” and “resistance.” If it did those things, though, it might be more attractive . . . and effective. A Muslim organization posing as a civil-rights activist while soft-pedaling its jihadist sympathies might be able to snow the American political class, the courts, the media, and the academy. It might make real inroads with the transnational progressives who dominated the Clinton administration. 

‘The American . . . doesn’t know anything’
The then-unnamed and still evolving new entity was a project of the IAP, which was well represented at the Philadelphia conference. Omar Ahmed, the IAP’s president, was among the surveillance-conscious attendees who carefully avoided saying the word “Hamas” out loud, using the inversion “Samah” instead. Ahmed even referred to himself as “Omar Yahya,” the better to conceal his true identity from any hidden microphones. The codes apparently wreaked havoc on his memory: Ahmad would later testify that he couldn’t recall being in Philadelphia. In fact, the tapes showed he was not only there but called the meeting to order.

Ahmad also gave his confederates thoughtful advice that underscored the extent to which communications strategy was weighing on his mind. It would be better, he counseled, to say, “I want to restore the ’48 land” (i.e., return Israel to its original, indefensible 1948 boundaries) than to make crude (i.e., honest) statements like, “I want to destroy Israel.” In the same vein, he warned that a new organization in the U.S. could not afford to admit publicly that “We represent Samah [i.e., Hamas],” or to tell a congressman that, say, “I am Omar Yahya . . . and Yasser Arafat doesn’t represent me but [Hamas founder] Ahmed Yassin does.”

Nihad Awad, then the IAP’s public-relations director, was also a Philadelphia conferee. Indeed, the FBI’s recordings showed him to be an active participant, though he, too, later testified to a bout of amnesia about the meeting. No wonder: He had ardently concurred in Ahmad’s suggestions about adopting “different but parallel types of address.” “When I speak with the American,” he elaborated, “I speak with someone who doesn’t know anything. As for the Palestinian who has a martyr brother or something, I know how to address him, you see?” Shukri Abu Baker, the head of HLF (who was eventually convicted of financing Hamas), concurred in that sentiment. The Islamists were at war, he reminded his confederates, and, as the prophet Mohammed counseled, “War is deception.”

CAIR Is Born
In 1994, less than a year after the Philadelphia Hamas meeting, the Islamists unleashed their new organization: the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Just as the Palestine Committee by-laws had foretold, CAIR sprang from the womb of IAP and set up its headquarters in the nation’s capital. 

Actually, CAIR was already in existence and firmly in the Brotherhood fold even before its incorporation was announced. We know that because, in preparing for a meeting held on July 30, 1994, the Palestine Committee prepared a written agenda that was later seized by the FBI. It stated that a top discussion topic would be “suggestions to develop work” for several named “organizations.” Included among these was “CAIR,” in addition to the IAP and HLF, among others. The agenda elucidated that “complete coordination” was sought among the various groups. Critically, it stressed that the effort was under Brotherhood direction: “This is not a separate movement from the mother Group.”

The principal aim of that Palestine Committee meeting was the development of a plan to counter efforts by Israel and American Jewish groups to normalize relations between Jews and Muslims. According to the Committee, such normalization would break what Edward Said, the late Islamist academic, called the “psychological barrier” — the mindset that prevents Muslims from accepting Israel’s right to exist. 

The Committee was determined to fortify this barrier. The meeting agenda explains some of its plans toward that end. It would form “an internal Brotherhood committee to fight the normalization of relations and monitor brotherhood organizations.” It would activate the “MAS” [i.e., the Muslim-American Society -- the Brotherhood’s quasi-official presence in the U.S.] to conduct education programs in “all work centers, mosques, and organizations on the necessity of stopping any contacts with the Zionist organizations and the rejection of any future contacts.” And, relying on Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna’s strategy of using “Islamic Centers in major cities” as the axis of the Islamist movement, imams and administrators in these centers would “activate their role in confronting the [Jewish] infiltration of their organizations.” 

The role of CAIR was already coming into focus: The last element of the Committee’s “Confrontation Work Plan” was “activating the role of the Association [IAP] . . . to take up its media role in this area.” Six weeks later, CAIR was incorporated and began appearing publicly as a new Muslim “civil rights” organization.

CAIR’s official founders were three IAP leaders: the aforementioned Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad (who eventually succeeded Ahmad as CAIR’s executive director), and Rafeeq Jaber, who had been IAP president before Ahmad. Another former IAP employee and television producer, Douglas Hooper, who became known as “Ibrahim Hooper” after converting to Islam, also came along as CAIR’s communications director. Hooper remains CAIR’s ubiquitous mouthpiece. (See, e.g., his contentious interviews just this week with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, here and here.) Ghassan Elashi — Marzook’s aforementioned brother-in-law who was eventually convicted of funding Hamas in the Holy Land Foundation case — came aboard as the founding director of CAIR’s Texas chapter.

As Steve Emerson has shown, $5,000 in seed money for CAIR came from the HLF — whose assets were finally frozen in 2001 based on the U.S. Treasury Department’s conclusion that it provided “millions of dollars annually that is used by HAMAS.” Interestingly, in September 2003, by which time he was CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad indignantly denied Emerson’s claim of a CAIR/HLF funding connection. He called the seed-money claim an “outright lie” and insisted, “Our organization did not receive any seed money from HLFRD. CAIR raises its own funds and we challenge Mr. Emerson to provide even a shred of evidence to support his ridiculous claim.” Emerson promptly produced some pretty good shreds — like the documentation showing a $5,000 wire transfer from HLF to CAIR, and the required IRS form on which HLF disclosed the contribution. Duly shredded, Awad was forced to concede, in later Senate testimony, that “the amount in question was a donation like any other.” 

Right. Meanwhile, donations turned out to be a two-way street: CAIR helped HLF raise money, too. In fact, after the 9/11 attacks, those perusing CAIR’s website found themselves encouraged to “Donate to the NY/DC Disaster Relief Fund” — and when they clicked on the link, they were taken to the HLF website. Small wonder, then, that when HLF officials were indicted in 2004, in the most significant terrorism-support prosecution the Justice Department has ever brought, CAIR was identified by the government as an unindicted coconspirator — along with Hamas, the IAP, and others.

CAIR’s Legacy
Numerous CAIR figures have been convicted of federal felonies, including terrorism offenses. For example, when the aforementioned Elashi, the founder of CAIR’s Texas chapter, was found guilty in the HLF case, it marked his third time around the block. He’d been convicted in 2006 for funneling money to Marzook and Hamas, and in 2005 for illegal transactions with Libya and Syria. Randall Royer, a CAIR communications specialist and civil-rights coordinator whose sideline was recruiting would-be jihadists for terrorist training in Pakistan, is now serving a 20-year prison sentence after his conviction on explosives and firearms charges in the “Virginia Jihad” case. Bassem Khafagi, CAIR’s community-affairs director (and a founder of the Saudi-subsidized, al-Qaeda-promoting Islamic Assembly of North America), also makes this dishonor roll: He was deported to Egypt after convictions for visa and bank fraud. And then there’s Rabih Haddad, a fundraiser for CAIR’s Ann Arbor chapter who was deported to Lebanon after a “charity” he founded, the Global Relief Foundation, was designated as a terrorist facilitator by the Treasury Department for providing support to al-Qaeda.

Despite its Hamas roots and terror ties, the most disturbing aspect of CAIR is its accomplishment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s precise aspiration for it. Thanks to its media savvy and the credulousness of government officials and press outlets, which have treated it as the “civil rights” group it purports to be rather than the Islamist spearhead that it is, CAIR has been a constant thorn in the side of American national defense. As Daniel Pipes has observed, CAIR’s unique role has been well summarized by lawyers for the estate of the former FBI counterterrorism official John P. O’Neill, who was killed on 9/11 — shortly after becoming security chief at the World Trade Center. In a class-action lawsuit that named CAIR and its Canadian affiliate as members of a criminal conspiracy to promote “radical Islamic terrorism,” they state:

both organizations have actively sought to hamper governmental anti-terrorism efforts by direct propaganda activities aimed at police, first-responders, and intelligence agencies through so-called sensitivity training. Their goal is to create as much self-doubt, hesitation, fear of name-calling, and litigation within police departments and intelligence agencies as possible so as to render such authorities ineffective in pursuing international and domestic terrorist entities.

The invaluable Dr. Pipes further recounts that CAIR has consistently defended indicted terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. Hooper, for example, rationalized al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as the unfortunate result of “misunderstandings of both sides.” CAIR also refused to condemn bin Laden for 9/11 until finally embarrassed into it by bin Laden’s own public boast that he had directed the attacks. The organization called the convictions of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers “a travesty of justice”; labeled the 1995 extradition of Marzook as “anti-Islamic”; tirelessly defended al-Arian and slimed his accusers until he finally pled guilty to terror promotion; and squawked relentlessly when the government shuttered the HLF.

Moreover, CAIR vigorously opposes all efforts to improve and maintain the capacity of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent and prosecute Islamist terrorism. It was a leading opponent of the Patriot Act — which, for the most part, merely extended to national-security agents the same powers prosecutors and police had been using for years in run-of-the-mill criminal investigations. It teamed with the ACLU to sue the National Security Agency over the Bush administration’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” — a successful effort to monitor al-Qaeda communications into and out of the United States. And it has distributed a “Muslim Community Safety Kit” that advises Muslims to bear in mind, whenever American law-enforcement seeks their cooperation, that “you have no obligation to talk to the FBI, even if you are not a citizen. . . . You do not have to permit them to enter your home. . . . [And] ALWAYS have an attorney present when answering questions.”

With a network of organizations and CAIR as its public-relations face, Islamic supremacists have the foundation in America they have always craved. No matter how much care went into its construction, even they must be shocked at how well it has worked.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.

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