I was invited by the Center for Security Policy to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday. The topic was our government’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and why concerns about Brotherhood infiltration, raised by five conservative House members, are very real. The speech ran nearly an hour, and there was a little over a half-hour of Q&A afterwards. The event was carried by CSPAN, and for those interested, the link is here. Below is the prepared text of my speech:
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario.
A candidate for a high position in an executive branch agency — a position that entails a great deal of influence over public policy, a position that requires access to highly classified national security information — comes in for an interview by the FBI.
This is a routine background investigation. Even people being considered for low-level positions in the executive branch are subjected to them. It is not because we question their patriotism or suspect that they are bad people. It is just common sense — in addition to being the subject of a good deal of statutory law and federal regulation.
Naturally, as government positions get higher, more important, and more sensitive, the background investigations get more detailed — probing not only a candidate’s background, experiences, finances and associations, but those of the candidate’s close family members.
One matter that is of particular importance is connections to foreign countries, organizations, persons and movements. There’s an entire section devoted to these concerns in Form 86, the form that all candidates for national security positions in the federal government are required to complete.
Let’s assume that our candidate truthfully completes the form. What do you suppose our FBI agent is thinking as he flips through the form, asks some follow up questions, and gets the following story from the candidate:
“I’ve worked the last dozen years at an institute that was founded by a wealthy, influential Saudi who is intimately involved in the financing of terrorism.”
“Are you just speculating about that?” the candidate is asked.
“Speculating? Oh, no, no, I’m not speculating. You see, this Saudi guy actually started an ostensible ‘charity’ that the United States government has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It is a designated terrorist because it lavishly funded al Qaeda — you know, the jihadist network that we’re at war with. As a matter of fact, one of the men this Saudi guy brought in to help him run the specially designated terrorist organization, was so close to Osama bin Laden, that he actually helped bin Laden start al Qaeda.”
The agent figures, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess you didn’t know this Saudi guy who was funding al Qaeda, right?”
“Well,” our candidate responds, “as a matter of fact, we overlapped for seven years at that institute I worked at. Remember I told you that he’s the one who started it and I eventually worked there for twelve years? Well, turns out he stayed involved in it for decades — it was his baby … he gave the institution its mission and its vision. He was still there advising it and shaping it for my first seven years there. Then they took him off the masthead … right around the time he became a defendant in the civil lawsuit filed by the victims of the 9/11 attacks.”
The agent is stunned. All he can think to ask is: “Why did you leave the institute?”
“Oh,” our candidate replies, “I got offered a full-time job at the State Department, helping the secretary of State make U.S. foreign policy.”
I really wish that was a farfetched story.
Now let me back up for a moment. First, thank you all for coming here today.
I came to Washington at the suggestion of my friends at the Center for Security Policy. They asked me to address the controversy stirred by five conservative members of the House of Representatives who’ve raised concerns about Islamist influence on American policy — specifically, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist governments, organizations and affiliates with which it works.
I guess I was asked, in part, because I’ve been writing about this subject: I’ve been writing about the Muslim Brotherhood for a number of years. And for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about the specific topic that we’re here to talk about this morning: the Brotherhood’s influence on our government, and the slings and arrows these five House members have been catching for having the temerity to notice it.
I was also asked to come here, I believe, because I worked in the Justice Department for about 25 years — first at the U.S. Marshals Service, where I worked as a deputy marshal in the Witness Protection Program; then as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. I was a prosecutor for almost 20 years, and during that time I handled or supervised a number of cases involving national security — meaning terrorism cases, all of which involved attacks plotted by violent jihadists. I was also involved in many other investigations of national and international organized crime groups, many of which were violent in nature.
Based on that experience, I have to confess that the controversy here baffles me. I don’t understand why more people in Washington, from both parties, have not rallied to the support of Congresswoman Bachmann and Congressmen Gohmert, Franks, Westmoreland and Rooney.
At a time when government policy is being radically harmonized with the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood — meaning, policy has shifted in the direction of avowed enemies of the United States — what ought to shock people is that there is any controversy over a commonsense request. The five House members are simply asking that the inspectors general in pertinent government agencies conduct internal inquiries and report back to Congress about potential Islamist influences at those agencies.
Now, let me be clear about what I said and what I didn’t say. I said Islamist influences, I did not say Muslims.
I don’t know how many Muslims work in the U.S. government, but I feel pretty safe saying there are thousands. As a federal prosecutor on terrorism cases, I had the privilege of working with several of them. These were patriotic American Muslims, and a number of Muslims who may not be Americans but who have embraced America and the West. Without them, we could not have infiltrated jihadist cells in New York and stopped terrorists from killing thousands of people.
Without them, we could not have translated, understood and processed our evidence so it could be presented to a jury as a compelling narrative. Pro-American Muslims serve honorably in government, in our military, in our intelligence services, and in our major institutions.
We are lucky to have them because they have embraced the culture of individual liberty that is the beating heart of Western civilization. They have accepted the premise of our society that everyone has a right to freedom of conscience and equality before the law. They have accepted our foundational principle that free people are at liberty to make law for themselves, irrespective of the rules of any belief system or ideology. They construe Islam’s spiritual elements and its laws as a matter of private conscience, not as a mandatory framework for society.
Those Muslims are not Islamists.
When we talk about the influence of Islamists, we are referring to Muslims who are beholden to Islamic supremacism. Islamic supremacism is an ideology, not a religion. It is a totalitarian social system that would govern every aspect of life down to the granular level — economic, financial, social, political, military, familial, dietary, issues of crime-and-punishment, even matters of hygiene.
That is the sharia system. As interpreted by many of Islam’s most influential thinkers — including organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and academics like the faculty of ancient al-Azhar University in Cairo — classical sharia rejects basic principles of American constitutional democracy.
In fact, it rejects first and foremost our foundational premise that people are free to determine their own destiny and their own laws — regardless of what sharia holds. Classical sharia rejects freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, economic liberty, equality between men and women, equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, and Western notions of personal liberty and privacy.
It is the goal of all Islamists to impose sharia. That is why there is no such thing as a “moderate Islamist.” If you want to replace the American Constitution with sharia, and Western civilization with the Islam of the Middle East, you are not a moderate — however grateful we may be that you’re not looking to blow up a bridge in order to impose your desires.
Whether they are violent or non-violent, whether they work incrementally toward their goal or work at warp speed, the mission of Islamists is always and everywhere to impose sharia. In Islamist ideology, the implementation of the sharia system is the necessary precondition for turning non-Islamic societies into Islamic societies. And that is what Islamists believe they are under a divine injunction to do.
When I talk about Islamists and Islamist influences, that is what I mean.
It is essential to understand that Islamic supremacism is not a fringe ideology. And with due respect to the trendy, bipartisan diagnosis of it that has become so popular here in Washington, Islamic supremacism — and the extreme forms of behavior it inspires — are not a psychiatric problem.
We like to portray the lethal threat against us as “violent extremism.” But “violent extremism” does not combust spontaneously. It is caused by Islamic supremacist ideology. Violent extremism, as well as non-violent extremism, are effects — they are not causes. They are not irrational and wanton, there is a logic to them … I should say, an ideologic.
This ideology is based on a classical interpretation of Islam that has a rich history. We sound really ignorant to the people we’re trying to persuade when we pretend that this is not the case.
Islamic supremacism has been developed over the centuries by many of Islam’s most respected thinkers — thinkers who are better understood as “jurists” than “clerics.” Their specialty is sharia, which is a societal system, not a mere set of religious principles.
Islamic supremacism is the dynamic ideology of the Middle East at this moment in history. There have been times when it has been dormant, and when its worst tendencies have been cabined or suppressed by force, by law, or by cultural pressures. But at this historic moment, it is once again in its ascendancy.
That is a big problem for us. Islamic supremacists mean us grave harm. We are understandably preoccupied with the fact that violent jihadists are taking aim at our lives. But we should not let the immediacy and horror of that threat obscure the fact that the Islamist movement is taking aim at our way of life.
The movement’s intellectual leader is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is not a “largely secular” umbrella organization. It is not “moderate.” It is the vanguard of a ground-up, revolutionary, ideological mass movement. It is sophisticated, patient, and determined. It has spent almost 90 years building its reserves and biding its time.
Increasingly over the last half-century, its efforts have been opulently underwritten by oil wealth, especially from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis follow a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, called Wahhabism. That is a close cousin of the Brotherhood’s interpretation, which is called Salafism. For our purposes, the two streams merge into the supremacist ideology that threatens us today.
The threat is very real, very aggressive, and much broader than terrorism. That is because the underlying threat is not terrorism but the rationale for terrorism: which is the gradual imposition of classical sharia — by both violence and non-violence.
We hear a lot of chatter trying to separate the two — violent and non-violent jihad. But they are never mutually exclusive. The non-violent jihad is called dawa, the aggressive proselytism of Islam. Dawa is leveraged by the threat of violence. The atmosphere of intimidation is what makes non-violent jihad so effective. It is what allows Islamist organizations to exercise such outsize influence on our policymakers even though Muslims barely register one percent of our population.
Not long ago, I wrote a book called The Grand Jihad. The title is not something I came up with. It was drawn out of an internal Muslim Brotherhood document seized by the FBI from a top Brotherhood operative in Virginia. It was dated 1991 and called the “explanatory memorandum.” In it, leading Brothers stationed in the United States explained to their global leadership how the Brothers saw their mission. “Civilization jihad,” they called it. Then they elaborated:
The Ikhwan [i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within, and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers, so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.
See, when Islamists speak among themselves, especially when they don’t expect that we’ll ever hear or see what they say, they are very clear about what they are trying to do. They are also very clear about whom they are doing it with. The explanatory memo actually listed 29 different organizations — many of the most influential Islamist groups in America. The Brotherhood identified those groups as the accomplices in their grand jihad.
And now that the Brotherhood is in the midst of a gradual triumph in Egypt and much of the Middle East, leading Brothers have become bolder in their public pronouncements.
For example, in October 2010, on the cusp of the revolt, the Brotherhood’s “supreme guide” in Egypt, a man named Mohammed Badi, gave a speech in which he expressly called for violent jihad against the United States.
Specifically, Badi urged his fellow Muslims to remember “Allah’s commandment to wage jihad for his sake with [their] money and lives, so that Allah’s word will reign supreme.”
Applying this injunction, Badi proclaimed that jihad “is the only solution” against what he called “the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny.” Not negotiation — jihad. Badi also took delight in noting that the United States had been badly wounded by jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that, he predicted that America “is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise.”
So, contrary to what increasingly seems to be popular belief here in Washington, Islamist influences are not benign. They are not something to yawn over. They are something we need to defend against.
We are talking about a very determined movement that pulls no punches in braying that it means to destroy our country. The most important sharia authority in the world, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief jurist — proclaims that Islam will “conquer America” and “conquer Europe.” And by the way, you’ll want to remember Sheikh Qaradawi’s name — we’ll be coming back to him shortly.
Islamists not only tell us that they intend to destroy us. They tell us, straight out, how they intend to do it: Not only by the intimidating, constant potential of violence, but by “sabotage” — their word, not mine. The will, they say, “destroy” us “from within.” They intend to insinuate themselves into our major institutions, including into the policy-making bodies of our government. They intend to compromise us from the inside, as well as from the outside.
Where I come from, when serious, competent, threatening people tell you what they are going to do to you and how they indend to do it, that is not something to be ignored. It is something to be taken very seriously.
The main way to take it very seriously when it comes to our government is to police our agencies so they are not penetrated by pernicious influences. That is what these five members of Congress have tried to do. What is shocking and demoralizing, what ought to outrage the American people, is that the five of them are standing alone.
To be clear, the five members have not made accusations of criminal wrongdoing. The critics who say they are relying on “guilt by association” are absurdly mixing apples and oranges.
Our bedrock principle against “guilt by association” has to do with criminal prosecutions — we won’t tolerate someone’s being convicted of a crime and having his freedom taken away just because of who his friends are, or what his associates have done.
But “guilt by association” has nothing to do with fitness for high public office. High public office is a privilege, not a right. Access to classified information is a privilege, not a right. You need not have done anything wrong to be deemed unfit for these privileges.
It is not a question of your patriotism or your trustworthiness. It is about whether you would be burdened by such obvious conflicts of interest that you would be tempted to act on those interests, rather than in the best interests of the United States. It is about whether the American people can have confidence that you are likely to act in the public interest rather than out of bias, favor, or intimidation. It is about whether there’s a reasonable chance you could be compromised — not whether you have been compromised.
To be more concrete about it, when I was a prosecutor, the Justice Department would never in a million years have let me handle an investigation that involved members of my family or their friends. That’s not because they didn’t trust me. It is because it would have been inappropriate.
When government acts, it needs to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The legitimacy of government action depends on the public integrity of government action. My DOJ bosses wouldn’t make me sit out the case because they thought I’d do something wrong. They’d make me sit it out because the public might believe I was acting on improper motives.
This anxiety about improper motives is a commonplace everywhere in government. Nothing sends the press and the public into a tizzy quite like the thought that government officials are letting lobbyists weigh in on the formulation of policy. We have rules against former government employees lobbying their old agencies. We have rules against representing both sides of a case. It is expected that government officials will recuse themselves from participating in decisions involving friends, relatives, or former clients.
Those rules flow from human nature. They are not an indictment about the trustworthiness or patriotism of the people involved. People who work in government, especially if they need security clearances, expect to have not only their own backgrounds but also the backgrounds of their family members and associates probed.
When FBI agents ask those routine questions, they are not just going through the motions. If disturbing facts are developed in the background check of a family member, that can be enough, by itself, to disqualify the candidate for the position. That is, it can be enough for us to draw the rational conclusion that the public would be better served having an unconflicted person in place.
If the FBI had asked me about my mother’s background, and I’d responded by tearing what little hair I had left out and scolding the agent for daring to question my patriotism, that would not just have been a good enough reason to deny me access to top secret intelligence. It would have been a good enough reason to tell me to go find another line of work.
With that as background, let me speak to the specific circumstances of Huma Abedin, the deputy chief of staff to secretary of state Clinton. It is worth stressing that the five members of Congress sent five different letters asking inspectors general at five different agencies to conduct internal investigations and report back to Congress. Ms. Abedin was far from the only government official whose name was raised. But she has gotten the most attention.
For our purposes today, that’s fine because her situation dramatically shows how badly out of kilter things have become.
We’ve heard all the caterwauling about “Islamophobia” and — my personal favorite, of course – “McCarthyism.” Two things about that.
First, Islamophobia is a term that was manufactured by the Muslim Brotherhood precisely for the purpose of browbeating people into silence about the activities and threat posed by Islamic supremacism.
Today, there is no worse public sin than to be called a bigot, even if the charge is utterly empty. It is intimidating. It is intended to paralyze people into silence when it is their duty to speak up. And it works: That’s why 13 Americans, some of our best and bravest, were killed in a jihadist atrocity at Fort Hood. It is also why the government would rather dismiss Fort Hood as a case of “workplace violence” than deal with the ideology that caused it.
Duty is calling us now, and it has to be done, even if the grievance industry grieves in overdrive.
As for “McCarthyism,” the truth is that all the demagoguery here has been on the other side. Contrary to claims that the five members of Congress have raised, as Sen. John McCain put it, “unspecified and unsubstantiated” concerns, they have actually posited very disturbing factual matters that are quite specific and quite substantial.
Rather than address those factual matters — matters that include connections not only to Muslim Brotherhood luminaries but to an al Qaeda financier — the response of the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, and their echo chamber in the Republican establishment has been to attack and smear the messengers.
Having now spent a good deal of time weighing the competing claims, I am compelled to say that, when it comes to Ms. Abedin’s background, the five House members have actually understated the case.
Their letter to the State Department’s inspector general stated that Ms. Abedin “has three family members — her late father, her mother and her brother — connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.” It turns out, however, that Huma Abedin herself is directly connected to Abdullah Omar Naseef, a major Muslim Brotherhood figure involved in the financing of al-Qaeda.
Ms. Abedin worked for a number of years at the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs as assistant editor of its journal. The Institute was founded by Naseef, who remained active in it for decades, overlapping for at least seven years with Ms. Abedin.
Naseef was also secretary general of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most significant Muslim Brotherhood organization in the world. Under the auspices of the Muslim World League, he founded the Rabita Trust, which is formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization under American law due to its support of al-Qaeda.
That is to say: Before you even start probing the extensive, alarming Brotherhood ties of her family members, Huma Abedin could easily have been disqualified from any significant government position requiring a high security clearance based on her own personal and longstanding connection to Naseef.
A little more background: At the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, Ms. Abedin was assistant editor of the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. The journal was the Institute’s main product. It promotes the fundamentalist version of sharia championed by the Muslim Brotherhood, by Abdullah Omar Naseef, and by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. Ms. Abedin was assistant editor from 1996 through 2008 — from the time she began working as an intern in the Clinton White House, until the time shortly before she took her current position as Secretary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.
The Institute was founded by Naseef in the late 1970s. He is a hugely influential Saudi who was then the vice president of the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. Naseef recruited an academic colleague, Zyed Abedin — Ms. Abedin’s late father — to be the journal’s managing editor.
Zyed Abedin thus moved his family to Saudi Arabia from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Ms. Abedin was about two at the time. Her mother, Dr. Saleha Mahmood Abedin, is also an academic and worked for the journal from its inception. She would eventually take the journal over after her husband died in 1993. She remains its editor to this day. Huma Abedin’s brother Hassan, another academic, is an associate editor at the journal.
Not long after the journal started, Naseef became the secretary general of the Muslim World League. As the Washington Post has noted, the MWL was launched by Muslim Brotherhood activists with the financial backing of the Saudi royal family. It is often referred to as a charity, but it is really a global propagation enterprise — exporting the Brotherhood’s virulently anti-Western brand of Islamist ideology throughout the world, very much including in the United States.
There are few positions in Muslim Brotherhood circles more critical than secretary general of the Muslim World League. In fact, one of the MWL’s founders was Sa’id Ramadan, the right-hand and son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s legendary founder. The MWL is part of the foundation of the grand jihad — what the Brotherhood also calls its “civilization jihad” against the West.
Nevertheless, the MWL has a long history of deep involvement in violent jihad as well. It was under the auspices of the MWL that, in 1988, Naseef created a charity called the Rabita Trust. To direct the Rabita Trust, Naseef selected Wael Hamza Jalaidan. Jalaidan is not just a member of al-Qaeda. He was a close associate of Osama bin Laden’s and actually helped establish the al Qaeda terror network.
According to Osama bin Laden himself, the Muslim World League was one of al-Qaeda’s three top funding sources. Consequently, after 9/11, Naseef’s Rabita Trust was formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law. So were branches of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the International Islamic Relief Organization, two other Saudi-backed “charities” spawned by the MWL.
Throughout the time that he ran the MWL and the Rabita Trust, Naseef kept his hand in at the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs, where the Abedin family continued to run his journal. In fact, Naseef continued to be listed on the masthead as a member of the “advisory editorial board” at the IMMA’s journal until 2003.
We might hazard a guess as to why his name suddenly disappeared after that: Naseef’s involvement in funding al Qaeda was so notorious that, in 2004, he was named as a defendant in the civil case brought by victims of the 9/11 atrocities. (In 2010, a federal court dropped him from the suit — not because he was found uninvolved, but because a judge reasoned the American court lacked personal jurisdiction over him.)
So to summarize, Ms. Abedin had a very lengthy affiliation with an institute founded by a top figure at the nexus between Saudi terror funding, Brotherhood ideology, and al Qaeda’s jihad against the United States. Even if the only pertinent information we had was her personal tie to Naseef, that would be extraordinarily disturbing. But as the five House members pointed out, there is much more.
Ms. Abedin’s parents were recruited by Naseef to head up the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs. They obviously had an extremely close relationship with Naseef over the last four decades.
Besides being the editor of the journal since her husband died in 1993, Ms. Abedin’s mother, Dr. Saleha Mahmood, has served as a member of the Muslim World League. She also directs an organization called the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child (IICWC or “committee”). This committee has been listed as a MWL organization.
A top advisor of Dr. Abedin’s committee is Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. He, along with several self described members of the Muslim Brotherhood, are authors of the committee’s charter. As I mentioned earlier, Sheikh Qaradawi is the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief jurist. He is a fierce supporter of Hamas and has issued fatwas supporting suicide bombing against Israel and against American military and support personnel serving in Iraq.
Dr. Abedin’s committee describes itself as part of an organization called the International Islamic Council for Dawa and Relief (IICDR or “council”). Both this council and Dr. Mahmood’s committee are components of an umbrella group run by Sheikh Qaradawi, called the Union for Good. The Union for Good funds and supports violent jihad. It is a designated terrorist organization under American law. Moreover, the IICDR is banned in Israel for its support of Hamas.
There is much that could be said about Dr. Saleha Mahmood Abedin’s work at the various Muslim Brotherhood affiliates. The overarching point, though, is this: She is an ardent champion of classical sharia law. Her committee’s website, for example, has called for the repeal of Mubarak-era Egyptian laws that ban female genital mutilation, child marriage, and marital rape. All of these noxious practices find support in sharia, so she objects to any prohibition of them.
Furthermore, as the Center for Security Policy has detailed, Dr. Mahmood published and edited a book called Women in Islam: Rights and Obligations. The book appears to have been written by a sister of Abdullah Omar Naseef. It is a sharia guide to women’s issues. It extensively cites Sayyid Qutb, who was the Brotherhood’s leading theorist after the death of its founder, Hassan al-Banna. Qutb was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966, and his writings continue to influence jihadist terror organizations, including al-Qaeda.
Women in Islam asserts that manmade laws “enslave women” and that sharia is women’s “only escape.” The book provides sharia justifications for such practices as the following: female genital mutilation; stoning and lashing as punishments for adultery; the participation of women in violent jihad; prohibiting social interaction between the sexes; requiring women to be veiled; restricting free speech to what benefits Islam; forbidding women to abstain from sexual intercourse on demand by their husbands; requiring women to bar entry of any person into their homes unless their husbands have granted permission; and forbidding the death penalty for the murder of apostates (that is because sharia prescribes the death penalty for apostasy from Islam).
Interestingly, about a year ago — a year before he took to the floor of the United States Senate to attack his House colleagues for raising questions about Ms. Abedin and others — Senator John McCain gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he pronounced himself “unalterably opposed” to any role for the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt. Senator McCain’s main objection to the Brotherhood was its promotion of sharia which, he observed, “is anti-democratic — at least as far as women are concerned.”
One last point on Ms. Abedin’s family members. As I mentioned earlier, her brother, Hassan Abedin, is also affiliated with the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs as an associate editor. In addition, he was a fellow at an Islamist Academic Institute in Great Britain — the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. During that time, the Oxford Center’s board members included Abdullah Omar Naseef and Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi.
Let me finally make a few closing observations.
In the end, our system is about political accountability more than legal remedies. I am not accusing anyone of committing a crime. But our national security and foreign policy have taken a dangerous turn. That needs to be a campaign issue, regardless of whether the two candidates are anxious to make it one.
The principal policymakers in the Obama administration are the president and the top members of his administration, in particular, Secretary Clinton on foreign policy. No one I know, least of all me, is contending that President Obama or Secretary Clinton needed Huma Abedin in order to develop Islamist sympathies. I’d be surprised if Ms. Abedin does not favor the administration’s decision to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood as a friend rather than as an enemy. But she is not the official responsible for that decision.
Some of the people highlighted in the letters by the five House members have very influential positions, and that is cause for concern because they have a lot to say about how policy gets shaped and executed. But no one is claiming that anyone other than the President is ultimately responsible for administration policy.
It is also true that presidents and cabinet officials get to consult and seek assistance from just about anyone they want. The old adage that elections have consequences is particularly apt here. Cabinet nominations and confirmations have consequences, too. If you don’t want people with disturbing connections to a deeply anti-American organization like the Brotherhood to have influential government offices, then the point is to avoid electing and confirming politicians who will put such people in those jobs.
Still, it is Congress’s responsibility to scrutinize executive branch policy, especially when the policy choices endanger the nation. Let’s consider just some of those policy choices in the last three-and-a-half years. Since 2009, the Obama administration has abandoned the federal government’s prior policy against dealing directly and formally with the Muslim Brotherhood. The State Department has not only been supportive of this dramatic shift; it has embraced a number of Muslim Brotherhood positions that undermine both American constitutional rights and our alliance with Israel. To name just a few manifestations of this policy sea change:
- The State Department has an emissary in Egypt who trains operatives of the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations in democracy procedures. We’re helping them get elected.
- The State Department announced that the Obama administration would be “satisfied” with the election of a Muslim Brotherhood–dominated government in Egypt.
- The State Department has collaborated with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of governments heavily influenced by the Brotherhood, in seeking to restrict American free-speech rights in deference to sharia prohibitions against examination and negative criticism of Islam.
- The State Department has excluded Israel, the world’s leading target of terrorism, from its “Global Counterterrorism Forum,” a group that brings the United States together with several Islamist governments, prominently including its co-chair, Turkey. By the way, the Erdogan regime in Turkey now finances the terrorist organization Hamas, which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. At the forum’s kickoff, Secretary Clinton decried various terrorist attacks and terrorist groups; but she did not mention Hamas or attacks against Israel. Transparently, this was in deference to the Islamist governments the administration has chosen to partner with — to the exclusion of Israel. Those government’s adhere to the Muslim Brotherhood’s position that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and that attacks against Israel are not terrorism.
- The State Department and the Obama administration waived congressional restrictions in order to transfer about $1.5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the parliamentary elections.
- The State Department and the Obama administration waived congressional restrictions in order to transfer millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian territories notwithstanding that Gaza is ruled by the Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization under American law — meaning that to provide it with material support is a serious federal crime.
- The State Department and the administration recently hosted a contingent from Egypt’s newly elected parliament that included not only Muslim Brotherhood members but a member of the Islamic Group (Gama’at al Islamia). The Islamic Group is the jihadist organization headed by the Blind Sheikh (Omar Abdel Rahman), who is serving a life sentence for his leading role in a terrorist campaign against the United States in the early Nineties. Like Hamas, the Islamic Group is a designated as a terrorist organization to which it is illegal to provide material support.
- On a just-completed trip to Egypt, Secretary Clinton pressured the ruling military junta to hand over power to the newly elected parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and to the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who is a top Brotherhood official. Secretary Clinton later met with Morsi, who has also been extended the honor of an invitation to visit the White House in September.
All this, despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s extensive record of hostility toward the United States, and despite the fact that Morsi, in his first public statement after being elected president, announced that one of his top priorities is to pressure the United States for the release of the Blind Sheikh.
One last thing. Government agencies are responsible to police themselves — to ensure that improper influences and conflicts of interest do not skew policy away from the public interest. Inspectors general are one way the agencies do that internally. And it is entirely appropriate for Congress to ask that inspectors general perform this role in a manner that informs Congress without unduly interfering in the agency’s performance of its mission.
Congress has an obligation to ask questions and conduct oversight over executive agencies. After all, the people’s representatives have created these agencies. It is Congress that funds these agencies with taxpayer dollars. What we are paying for dramatically affects our security, so Congress must examine the policies and the expenditures to protect the public interest.
Under the circumstances, there would be something terribly wrong if members of Congress were not asking questions about Islamist influence on our government. And there is something terribly wrong in the fact that these five members of the House are the only ones who have had the courage to step up to the plate.