A Disturbing Event: The American Conservative Union Embraces an Islamist
by Raymond Ibrahim
The conservative movement appears to be at a crossroads in its approach to the threat of Islamic supremacism—not only abroad but at home. Does the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as the dominant force of the “Arab Spring” bode ill for America? Or is the Brotherhood merely another “political actor” as the Obama administration would have us believe? Is Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, a potential security risk worth investigating, as Representative Michele Bachmann and four conservative congressmen have suggested? Or is the mere raising of this question a witch-hunt, as Senator John McCain and Speaker John Boehner and numerous Democrats maintain?
A few months ago, these questions reached another flashpoint in an unlikely setting. The incident took place at an irregular board meeting of the American Conservative Union, an organization usually intent on keeping wobbly Republicans honest. The rump group in attendance — several key board members told Frontpage they were not even aware the meeting had been called – voted “unanimously” to dismiss long-standing accusations against two ACU board members. The accusations had been made by Center for Security Policy head, Frank Gaffney. Their focus was on the activities of Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan, two prominent ACU board members, whom Gaffney claims are influential agents of Islamist agendas. The ACU’s dismissal of Gaffney’s claims was contained in a memo written by attorney Cleta Mitchell, who called them “reprehensible” — terms no less damning than McCain’s slap down of Michele Bachmann.
Frank Gaffney is a former defense official in the Reagan administration and first made these claims public in 2003 in an article, “A Troubling Influence,” which was published on this site. In introducing the article, Frontpage editor David Horowitz acknowledged that Norquist had played an important role in the conservative movement, but also described Gaffney’s claims as “the most disturbing that we at frontpagemag.com have ever published.” He further characterized them as “the most complete documentation extant of Grover Norquist’s activities on behalf of the Islamist Fifth Column.”
The Frontpage article documented Norquist’s links to supporters of Hamas and other Islamist organizations dedicated to “destroying the American civilization from within” in the words of a Muslim Brotherhood document. These figures included Abdurahman Alamoudi—who is currently serving a lengthy sentence for his involvement in a terrorist plot—and Sami Al-Arian, who was the finance head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a terrorist organization responsible for over a hundred suicide bombings in the Middle East. Before Alamoudi and Al-Arian were arrested, Norquist and Khan served as key facilitators between them and the Bush White House. Now that both have been convicted of terrorist activities, there can no longer be any doubt that they were working on behalf of America’s terrorist enemies.
Among the Norquist-sponsored initiatives furthering the Islamist agenda, according to Gaffney, was his effort to abolish the use of classified national defense intelligence evidence in terrorism cases. Islamist organizations and Norquist himself typically refer to this as “secret” evidence and suggest that the use of it offends the Constitution. But as former U.S. attorney Andrew McCarthy explains, the cases in which it is normally used are immigration proceedings, not criminal prosecutions. Unlike American citizens, aliens do not have the right to be in the United States in the first place, and should not be able to force disclosure of the nation’s defense secrets as the price tag for demanding that they leave. Sami Al-Arian was the prime-mover of the “secret evidence” campaign, which he launched to protect his brother-in-law, a member of his terror network, from a pending deportation.
In addition, Gaffney charges, Norquist used his own organization, Americans for Tax Reform, to circulate and promote a letter from Republican Muslims attacking conservatives opposed to the controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” He also campaigned to protect the Iranian regime from sanctions, from its domestic opposition, and from military action against its nuclear program—all the while demanding draconian cuts in U.S. defense spending.
The other subject of Gaffney’s concerns is Suhail Khan, a Norquist protégé with longstanding personal and professional ties to a variety of Islamist movements. Khan’s father, the late Mahboob Khan, was a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of the founders, in the 1960s, of the Muslim Students Association, the cornerstone of the Brotherhood’s American infrastructure. As Daniel Greenfield documents in his pamphlet, Muslim Hate Groups on Campus, the Muslim Students Association has been instrumental in indoctrinating young Muslims in Islamist ideology, and has an alarming legacy of senior members—Anwar Awlaki most prominent among them—graduating to positions of prominence in al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks. In the 1980s, Mahboob Khan was instrumental in creating an MSA spinoff, the Islamic Society of North America or ISNA. ISNA became so deeply enmeshed in the funding of Hamas that it was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation. [For more information on how the Muslim Brotherhood has targeted the United States for subversion, see Robert Spencer’s pamphlet, Muslim Brotherhood in America.]
Suhail Khan’s mother, Malika Khan, was a close partner in her late husband’s work, and is a long-time leader of another Brotherhood front, the Council on American Islamic Relations(CAIR), which was created out of the Brotherhood’s Hamas-support network. Its parent organization was also an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. Malika Khan currently serves on the Executive Committee of CAIR’s San Francisco chapter, which distinguished itself in 2011 by promoting a conference that urged Muslims not to co-operate with FBI investigations.
These familial activities are not incidental because Suhail has publicly embraced his parents’ “legacy,” and done so before Brotherhood audiences. Despite this background and thanks to Grover Norquist’s patronage, Suhail was able to gain access to the Bush 2000 campaign, and was then appointed to a position in the Bush administration. According to Gaffney, while working at the White House, Khan helped craft and disseminate deceptive notions such as “Islam means peace,” al-Qaeda “hijacked” Islam, and jihad is only a “personal struggle,” never a holy war against infidels.
In 2001, Khan appeared on a platform with about-to-be-convicted terrorist and top Muslim Brotherhood figure, Abdurahman Alamoudi. The setting was an American Muslim Council conference in Washington. Alamoudi is the founder of the Council, and once explained to a Brotherhood audience: “I think, if we are outside this country, we can say ‘O Allah, destroy America.’ But once we are here, our mission in this country is to change it….”
A video tape of the 2001 event shows Alamoudi heaping praise on Suhail and his father (see here from 5:38 on). At the time, Khan was serving as the Muslim gatekeeper in the White House Office of Public Liaison, a role he used to afford access to Muslim Brotherhood guests. Introducing him, Alamoudi expressed the hope that Khan was preparing for higher office:
We have with us a dear brother, a pioneer, somebody who really started political activism in the Muslim community …. When it was a taboo for the Muslim community, no doubt about it. When Suhail Khan started not too many people were aware that we had to do something…. Some of you saw him today in the White House, but inshallah soon you will see him in better places in the White House, inshallah. Maybe sometime as vice-president soon, inshallah. Allahu Akbar!
The terrorist, Alamoudi, also had praise for Suhail’s father:
Suhail Khan is the son of a dear, dear brother who was a pioneer of Islam work himself. Many of you know his late father … who was part of all kinds of work … Suhail inherited from his father not only being a Muslim and a Muslim activist, but also being a Muslim political activist. [emphasis added]
After effusively thanking Alamoudi for these words, Suhail said: “Many of you, of course, knew my father. He was someone who dedicated his life to the community and I’ve always felt that I have to work in the same—those footsteps.”
The footsteps of Mahboob Khan have been traced to some un-reassuring places. Shortly after 9/11, the Washington Post reported that Mahboob Khan had played host to Ayman Zawahiri, then second in command to Osama bin Laden, who had entered the U.S. in the mid-nineties to obtain funds and recruits for al-Qaeda. One of his stops was at the al-Noor Mosque in California, a mosque founded by Mahboob Khan.
After 9/11, Suhail Khan had to give up his role at the White House as a result of the fallout from his Brotherhood associations. Yet with the support of Norquist, he managed to land on his feet and was given a political appointment in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.
Aside from Khan’s multiple Islamist connections, Gaffney charges he has also been actively engaged in agendas championed by the Brotherhood, including trying to undo the statute making material support for terror a crime. That law was put into place in part because large sums of zakat—Islamic “charity” monies – were regularly going to fund the terrorist activities of Hamas and al-Qaeda.
Is there validity, then, to Gaffney’s charges? In discussing Gaffney’s original article, David Horowitz told me:
What disturbed me most—and ultimately persuaded me that Frank was on to something—was the fact that Grover didn’t respond to Gaffney’s charges although I invited him to do so in Frontpage. Then when I caught up with Grover at a CPAC conference, and said he really needed to answer the charges, he brushed me off saying he didn’t have time—he was “too busy with the revolution,” were the words he used, a reference to his conservative crusades. Then I spoke to Suhail, who had called me to complain about the claims Frank had made about his father. In this conversation, Suhail flat out denied them, saying his father was only a member of the mosque rather than its founder, and that he couldn’t remember an event with Zawahiri When I asked Frank for his sources for these claims, he sent me the Washington Post article, which described Mahboob Khan’s role in founding the mosque and hosting Zawahiri. I sent this to Suhail for a reply, but never heard from him again. That made me realize there was something to be concerned about.
Khan was not so reticent—or in such denial—about his father’s Muslim Brotherhood activities when he appeared before audiences of the faithful, however. At a 1999 conference of the Islamic Society of North America, Suhail told those in attendance:
It is a special honor for me to be here before you today because I am always reminded of the legacy of my father, Dr. Mahboob Khan, an early founder of the Muslim Students Association in the mid-nineties and an active member of the organization through its growth and development in the Islamic Society of North America.
Despite these disturbing manifestations of Khan’s allegiances, Norquist sponsored Suhail to become a member of the board of the American Conservative Union in 2010. At this point, Gaffney’s concerns intensified. With Grover’s help, the Muslim Brotherhood was infiltrating the very heart of the conservative movement. By this time, however, Gaffney’s access to the ACU’s audiences was restricted. Because of his charges against Norquist, a very powerful member of the ACU Board, Gaffney had long since been barred from speaking at its annual CPAC gathering. But Horowitz, who was not a Washington insider like Gaffney, was a different story, and he was invited to keynote the 2011 CPAC conference. Horowitz used the occasion to address the issues raised by Norquist’s activities and Khan’s presence on the ACU Board, and to put them in historical context:
Over the last ten years, the influence of the Brotherhood has spread throughout our government. There is nothing new in this sad reality. In 1938, Whittaker Chambers attempted to warn President Roosevelt that one of his White House advisers, Alger Hiss, was a Soviet agent. When Roosevelt was given Chambers’ information, he laughed and disregarded it. Alger Hiss remained as the president’s adviser until the House Un-American Activities Committee flushed him out….
Frank Gaffney has been the courageous bringer of the bad news about Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan to the board of the American Conservative Union. Many good conservatives on the board have refused to believe the evidence of Suhail Khan’s Brotherhood allegiances and agendas. They are of the opinion that Suhail’s public appearances with Alamoudi and the Muslim Brotherhood fronts took place a decade ago, and that he doesn’t promote violent agendas. I understand this. My parents were Communists in the heyday of Stalin. The Party’s slogan was not “Bring on the dictatorship of the Proletariat” or “Revolution Now.” But that is what they believed. The slogan of the Communist Party was “Peace, Jobs and Democracy.”
The ACU’s response to Horowitz’s remarks was to withdraw his invitation to speak at CPAC events, although he had been a regular speaker over many years.
Earlier this year, Gaffney and his organization put together a ten-part video course called “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within.” Featured in the course were the roles played by Norquist (Parts 3-7) and Khan (Part 4) in promoting and enabling Brotherhood influence operations. The Khan segment includes a clip (starting at 4:28) from the speech that Khan gave at a 1999 ISNA conference. In the speech, Khan embraces the well-known Muslim Brotherhood ethos:
The earliest defenders of Islam would defend [against] their more numerous and better equipped oppressors, because the early Muslims loved death—dying for the sake of Allah Almighty—more than the oppressors of Muslims love life. This must be the case when we are fighting life’s other battles [i.e., politics]. What are our oppressors going to do with people like us? We are prepared to give our lives for the cause of Islam. I have pledged my life’s work, inspired by my dear father’s shining legacy, and inspired further by my mother’s loving protection and support, to work for the umma.
This is classic jihadist rhetoric. (“We love death, the U.S. loves life; that is the big difference between us,” explained Osama bin Laden in one of his fatwas.) In effect, Khan praised history’s earliest jihadists, portraying them as “defenders” and their victims as “oppressors,” just as al-Qaeda does in its present-day fatwas. Khan used the same language that glorifies “martyrdom” (or suicide-attacks) on behalf of Islam. (“Death in the service of Allah is our highest aspiration” is part of the Muslim Brotherhood motto.) Khan then praised his father’s Muslim Brotherhood “legacy,” and pledged his life’s work to the Muslim umma, which translated means the “Islamic nation.”
Are these remarks merely a “youthful” indiscretion? Horowitz, whose biography makes him something of an authority on second thoughts, answered the question during his keynote address at the 2011 CPAC event:
As for the question of whether Suhail Khan believes now what he openly said then, my answer is this: When an honest person has been a member of a destructive movement and leaves it, he will feel compelled to repudiate it publicly and to warn others of the dangers it poses. This is a sure test of whether someone has left the Muslim Brotherhood or not.
Suhail Khan has never repudiated his father’s Muslim Brotherhood legacy or the patronage of the convicted terrorist, Abdurahman Alamoudi. Nor has he disavowed his praise for Islamic martyrdom, nor has he taken steps to warn his fellow Americans of the Islamist threat posed by his past and present associates (part 4 of Gaffney’s videos documents Khan’s continuing involvement with Mohamed Magid, Muzammil Siddiqi, Nihad Awad and other top Muslim Brotherhood figures and organizations.) Instead, he has denied that the Muslim Brotherhood even operates in America.
On September 21, 2011, the ACU finally took up the issue of Gaffney’s charges. The occasion was an unusual meeting of the ACU board, which normally meets only twice a year—in Washington and via teleconference. This particular meeting took place in Orlando, Florida, where an ACU event was being held. Because of the unusual venue, far away from ACU headquarters, most of the ACU board members did not attend, including several whom Frontpage talked to who had not been informed of the meeting and who were not in sympathy with its result. When the rump board met, they voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that dismissed Gaffney’s charges out of hand, and declared their “complete confidence in the loyalty of Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist to the United States,” and “welcome[d] their continued participation in the work of ACU and of the American conservative movement.” In adopting this resolution, the board members also declared that they “profoundly regret and reject as unwarranted the past and on-going attacks upon their patriotism and character.”
In making its decision, the board appears to have relied entirely on a memorandum provided by one of its members, Cleta Mitchell, a well-known and widely admired conservative lawyer. Despite the sweeping conclusions of her memorandum, Mitchell addressed the specifics of only one of Gaffney’s many findings, while categorically dismissing them all, asserting that: “There is absolutely nothing contained in any of the materials [presented by Gaffney] that in any way linked Suhail (or Grover) to such [“Muslim extremist”] organizations or their activities.”
The one specific that Mitchell took issue with was an unlikely one given her categorical statement. This was the video of Khan’s 1999 address to the Islamic Society of North America featured in Gaffney’s video course. ISNA is the principal Muslim Brotherhood organization in the United States; it was founded by Suhail Khan’s own parents; and it was before this audience that Khan spoke in the ritualistic language of the Muslim Brotherhood about how Muslim warriors love death more than their opponents love life, about his devotion to the Muslim nation, and his readiness to die for Allah. Mitchell dismissed his comments in these words: “Yet, even in that speech, there is nothing that suggests Suhail is unpatriotic or subversive. The clip from the speech is simply (in my view) rhetoric that is, quite frankly, meaningless in terms of substantiating any of Mr. Gaffney’s allegations.”
But is it meaningless to paraphrase the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood to a meeting of the most important Muslim Brotherhood organization in the United States, and embrace it as one’s own aspiration?
Mitchell rests her case against Gaffney and in behalf of Khan on a single point: “Suhail was subject to FBI background checks and cleared to work directly for the President and Vice-President? How would the FBI have ‘missed’ ties to such groups if those ties existed?”
In fact, as Gaffney observes—under the right circumstances, and with the right sponsors—it would have overlooked them quite easily: “The fact that Suhail Khan received a security clearance during his time in government is an indictment of the clearance process, not evidence that his background is problem-free: Ali Mohammad—Osama bin Laden’s ‘first trainer’ and longtime al-Qaeda operative—also went through a background check and received a security clearance to work with the federal government. Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood killer, not only obtained a clearance, he was even promoted from captain to major despite his monitored communications with al-Qaeda leader Anwar Awlaki, and the fact that in the course of his military education, he announced during a lecture that it was the duty of Muslims under Sharia to kill infidels preparing to attack other Muslims (i.e., U.S. soldiers awaiting deployment to Afghanistan).”
Horowitz agrees. He points to the fact that Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, has a top security clearance, notwithstanding the undisputed fact that her closest family members have been Muslim Brotherhood leaders and that for twelve years prior to being hired by the State Department, she worked for an Islamist organization founded and run by Abdullah Omar Naseef, a top funder of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, and a Muslim Brotherhood eminence.
Given these well-known facts, Khan’s security clearance seems a pretty thin reed on which to base so sweeping a dismissal of Gaffney’s concerns, let alone refer to them as “reprehensible.” To understand her position better, I tried to interview Mitchell, but she declined to comment, saying by email “I am precluded from talking to anyone about this because of the confidentiality provisions of the boards on which I serve which have been dealing with Frank Gaffney issues.”
That confidentiality, however, had been already breached when someone on the ACU board leaked the details of its Orlando meeting and the contents of Mitchell’s letter—and leaked them not to conservatives but to the left-wing organization “ThinkProgress.” One of the things I wanted to ask Mitchell was how she thought this letter might have been leaked and by whom (Norquist? Khan?). Accompanying ThinkProgress’s release of the Mitchell letter was this summary on its website of what had transpired:
Gaffney … was unanimously condemned by the one of the most powerful conservative organizations in America, as two documents obtained exclusively by ThinkProgress this week show. Last September, the board of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which puts on CPAC and includes top leaders of various factions of the conservative movement, unanimously passed a resolution (read it here) condemning the “false and unfounded” attacks Gaffney had made against Norquist and Khan, both board members, after having another board member, Cleta Mitchell, look into Gaffney’s serious charges of sedition and abetting an enemy. In a letter to the ACU board (read it here), Mitchell, a prominent and very conservative attorney, said that after reviewing the “evidence” Gaffney presented (including a lengthy PowerPoint presentation and DVDs video laying out the case against Norquist and Khan), she found his “ceaseless war” to be “reprehensible.”
Another issue I wanted to ask Mitchell about was what she thought of the fact that her sweeping memo along with the leak had given powerful ammunition to the Brotherhood and its agents in their campaign to silence critics of Islamism. ThinkProgress had previously published a “report” on “Islamophobia” (following an earlier one by CAIR on the same subject). As David Horowitz and Robert Spencer demonstrate in their pamphlet, Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future, Islamophobia is a term actually invented by the Muslim Brotherhood to silence its critics. The ThinkProgress report on Islamophobia attacked a dozen leading conservative critics of the Islamic jihad (also singled out by CAIR), including Frank Gaffney, as “bigots” and “racists.” Future editions of the report and future left-wing attacks will undoubtedly draw on the testimony of ACU board.
When asked about these events, Gaffney noted the irregular nature of the board meeting that condemned him, and deplored its lack of due-diligence that led to its categorical dismissal of the readily available evidence. He stated:
By acting solely on the basis of Mitchell’s defamatory and superficial memorandum, and then through the deliberate leak to a Soros-funded leftwing organization, the leadership of the American Conservative Union has discredited itself and given ammunition to those who want to prevent legitimate inquiries into Islamist influences in Washington.
This seems a more than reasonable concern. Since many prominent ACU board members were not present to conduct this auto-da-fé, there appears to be ample basis for it to seek a second opinion in regard to the case of Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan. Should it fail to do so, the ACU board will simply reinforce suspicions that it has been successfully infiltrated and subjected to an influence operation by those opposed to everything for which the conservative movement stands.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.