A few days ago we looked at some of the coverage of the American men arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of ties to terrorism. I thought one of the most interesting angles -- one I hoped we'd see more coverage of -- was that the Council on American-Islamic Relations said they'd put the families of the men in touch with the FBI. It wasn't that long ago that CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. That trial dealt with the funding of the Muslim Brotherhood's Hamas Party in Palestine. In that same vein, I was interested in this story from Agence France-Presse, about how the arrest of the American men is a wake-up call about radicalization:
And imam Mahdi Bray said his community in Virginia would hit back against viral Internet postings by militants with an online effort of its own.
Leaders of the Alexandria mosque attended by the five youngsters described them as normal, career-focused kids.
"This is indeed a wake up call," Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, told reporters outside the mosque.
"We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our young children through slick propaganda on the Internet," Bray added.
"We are sending a message loud and clear that those days are over when we don't respond... We are going to be active, proactive."
But he acknowledged that the emotions of young Muslims were stirred by "injustices" they see unfolding in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is engaged in wars to root out extremists.
This is certainly welcome news. But the article fails completely to provide any context for where the Muslim American Society sits along the spectrum of Muslim thought or even what relationship the group has to the men arrested in Pakistan. And that's some key information.
The Muslim American Society, as the Chicago Tribune reported five years ago, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood as well:
In recent years, the U.S. Brotherhood operated under the name Muslim American Society, according to documents and interviews. One of the nation's major Islamic groups, it was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 after a contentious debate among Brotherhood members.
Some wanted the Brotherhood to remain underground, while others thought a more public face would make the group more influential. Members from across the country drove to regional meeting sites to discuss the issue.
That lengthy investigative report is very interesting. It reports on internal memos that say that members should not reveal the group's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and that jihad can be used by a Muslim to defend himself and his people -- but also to spread Islam. According to that article, the "Brotherhood preaches that religion and politics cannot be separated and that governments eventually should be Islamic. The group also champions martyrdom and jihad, or holy war, as a means of self-defense and has provided the philosophical underpinnings for Muslim militants worldwide." And "many moderate Muslims in America are uncomfortable with the views preached at mosques influenced by the Brotherhood, scholars say."
For it's part, the Muslim American Society told the Chicago Tribune that it was independent of the Brotherhood, although a leader said that the group does believe that the teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna are "the closest reflection of how Islam should be in this life." While any Muslim can join the Muslim American Society, the highest membership class is reserved for people who, among other things, spend five years studying writings by al Banna and another well-known Brotherhood member named Sayyid Qutb, who urged Muslims to take up arms against non-Islamic governments. Qutb, who was apparently radicalized in part during his time at my parents' alma mater in Greeley, Colorado, is hugely influential in the Brotherhood. This New York Times article described him as the intellectual hero to terrorists across the globe, including one Osama bin Laden.
The Tribune reported that the Muslim American Society collected millions in dues and donations in 2003 and that spending is often aimed at youth. A correspondence school the group set up in America, for instance, was led by a prominent cleric of the Brotherhood who praised suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq. And:
At a summer camp last year in Wisconsin run by the Chicago chapter of MAS, teens received a 2-inch-thick packet of material that included a discussion of the Brotherhood's philosophy and detailed instructions on how to win converts.
Part of the Chicago chapter's Web site is devoted to teens. It includes reading materials that say Muslims have a duty to help form Islamic governments worldwide and should be prepared to take up arms to do so.
I bring up this five-year-old article in part because no one has done any similar investigative journalism into the Muslim Brotherhood since then but also because a story about the Muslim American Society saying that the arrests in Pakistan are a "wake-up call" should just have a bit more depth.
Does the group still encourage the study of al Banna and Qutb? Has it renounced any portion of them? If not, do the leaders think Qutb's teachings on jihad might have been misinterpreted by the young men who have been arrested? What, precisely, is wrong with the internet recruiting to which they refer? It's wonderful news that the Muslim American Society will be responding proactively against terrorist recruiting but it would be nice to know how the group handled teaching on Islamist activity in the past and what the group will do differently in the future.
Also, this should be a really interesting article to report on. I know that the Muslim American Society is very sensitive to the charge that it has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. So let's get to the bottom of this. Rather than have dueling accusations, let's get some good investigative journalism going. What do these groups teach? What do Muslim scholars -- of varying stripes -- think about what these groups teach?
What about the mosque affiliated with the Islamic Circle of North America, where these men worshiped? What do we know about this group? I see this 1997 interview with journalist Steve Emerson (which begins with his claim that Muslim radicals pose a threat to the United States):
The Islamic Circle of North America (or ICNA) proclaims in writing its support for jihad, or holy war, against the "enemies of Islam"; its U.S.-based conferences and publications are replete with the need to support the terrorist regime of the Sudan and the need to support "Islamic movements" in which category they include Hamas and the Islamic Salvation Front among others.
He says the group is allied with the militant movement of Jamaat-e-Islamiya in Pakistan, a group that is itself affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. (And Rod Dreher reports that an ICNA mosque co-sponsored a reading of Sayyid Qutb works in Dallas five years ago.) Emerson won an award for his PBS documentary "Jihad in America" but he's not well liked by the Muslim groups he criticizes and these claims are from many years ago. Still, there's no question that ICNA is not without controversy.
Either way, just from a journalistic standpoint, you have people who worship at a particular mosque who end up in Pakistan trying to join the jihad against America. Call me crazy, but maybe you should get some reporters digging into what is actually taught there. How does this mosque differ from other mosques? How might different attendees at this mosque interpret the teachings differently? Not everyone who worships there ended up in Pakistan, obviously. We need some religion reporters on these stories to dig deep and help explain and illuminate. If the Washington Post can devote teams of reporters to Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell's master's thesis and the ongoing saga of the world's most famous party-crashing couple, perhaps they can peel one or two off for some coverage of local Islamic terror ties.