Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy was due to visit the Sharon branch of the Islamic Center of New England (ICNE) last week, brushing aside serious concerns raised to his staff. My organization, Islamist Watch, has provided them with the pertinent information regarding the organization’s past links to terrorism and continuing association with extremists.
Fortunately, Rep. Kennedy was obliged to postpone the visit due to the chaos surrounding the proposed health care bill. He now has a second chance to do the right thing.
ICNE traces its origins to a group of Lebanese families who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. In 1934 they founded the Arab American Banner Club, a social organization; in the 1950s this organization commenced building a mosque, which was completed in 1962.
After relying on informal community leadership for years, in 1982 ICNE hired its first imam, Talal Eid. During the late 1990s, as Imam Eid later recalled, the leadership of ICNE became radicalized under the influence of prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s American wing: the Muslim American Society (MAS).
Chief among them was Dr. Abdulbadi Abousamra, president of the ICNE board, who was also vice-president of MAS-Boston. In 1998, Abousamra forced Eid to accept an assistant imam, Hafiz Masood. Masood commonly gave “fiery sermons easily interpreted as promoting violence.”
In 2005, Abousamra forced Eid out, replacing him with Masood.
Perhaps Abousamra knew then what Eid and the community at large did not: that Masood’s brother was the founder of two Pakistani terrorist groups: Jamaat ud-Dawa, and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba — the group that carried out the 2008 assault on Mumbai that killed 164 people.
Indian officials have accused Masood of using his position at ICNE to raise funds from Boston Muslims for his brother’s terror groups. Not surprisingly, after Masood was arrested for visa fraud and deported in 2006, he resurfaced in Pakistan as the spokesman for Jamaat ud-Dawa.
Meanwhile, Abousamra’s own son, Ahmed, left the U.S. in 2004 to join al-Qaeda, and is now on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for heading up ISIS’s social-media efforts. Abdulbadi Abousamra himself recently left behind a successful medical practice to move to Doha.
In recent years, ICNE has made visible efforts to present a more moderate image. Its current imams, Khalid Nasr at the Quincy branch and Abdur Rahman Ahmad at the Sharon branch, certainly talk the talk. Imam Ahmad made headlines in 2015 for sending a condolence letter to the Israeli town of Alon Shvut in the wake of a brutal terrorist attack there. Moreover, the organization has launched high-profile countering extremism programs designed, as ICNE youth committee member Nabeel Khudairi put it, to “protect young people from making bad decisions.”
But seeking to dissuade the sons and daughters of congregants from making the “bad decision” of joining ISIS isn’t the same thing as countering the extremist ideology that gives rise to ISIS. On this front, ICNE’s “reform” has been notably lacking.
Far from denouncing radical Islamism, ICNE continues to host extremist speakers.
These include Yahya Rhodus, an apologist for Osama bin Laden, in December 2015, and Abdul Nasir Jangda, who has defended the use of female sex slaves in Islam, in June 2016. Critics say that ICNE’s “counter-extremism” efforts are simply a fig leaf to excuse its propagation of more subtle brands of extremism.
Now that Congressman Kennedy has the opportunity to rethink his visit to ICNE, he should cancel it unless and until ICNE publicly rejects the extremism of radical preachers like Rhodus and Jangda and commits not to give them platforms in the future.
Blithely disregarding the issue constitutes tacit endorsement of their messages of hate and intolerance. That’s the last thing Massachusetts needs.