ANALYSIS: DHS Memo Supports Muslim Brotherhood Influence Over U.S. Counter-Terrorism Language


A copy of the Department of Homeland Security memo urging employees not to use terms including ‘jihad,’ ‘jihadist’ or ‘Islamic terrorist’ in describing Islamic terrorists has been posted online. A previous post discussed this memo, along with a similar report from the National Counter Terrorism Center, and suggested that this proposed policy was in accord with global Muslim Brotherhood strategies attempting to control the use of language used in counter-terrorism efforts. Several passages in the DHS memo further support the connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the report, the memorandum is based on “recommendations from a wide variety of American Muslim leaders” and originated in a meeting with “influential Muslim Americans”:

On May 8, 2007, Secretary Chertoff met with a group of influential Muslim Americans to discuss ways the Department can work with their communities to protect the country, promote civic engagement, and prevent violent radicalization from taking root in the United States. Part of the discussion involved the terminology U. S. Government (USG) officials use to describe terrorists who invoke Islamic theology in planning, carrying out, and justifying their attacks. While there was a broad consensus that the terminology the USG uses impacts both national security and the ability to win hearts and minds, this discussion did not yield any specific recommendations. Secretary Chertoff requested that these leaders continue to reflect on the words and terms that, in their opinion, DHS and the broader USG should use. Based on this request, CRCL has consulted with some of the leading U. S.-based scholars and commentators on Islam to discuss the best terminology to use when describing the terrorist threat.

A June 2007 article in a San Francisco newspaper appears to identify the four Muslims Americans as:

  • Akbar Ahmed, former ambassador from Pakistan
  • Reza Aslan, author
  • M.J. Kahn, Houston City Councilman
  • Shahed Amanullah, Austin Texas blogger

The key influence here is likely Akbar Ahmed, a board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), an organization with many links to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.

It should also be noted that since 2004, DHS and Secretary Chertoff have enjoyed seemingly cordial relations with the Muslim Public Affair Council (MPAC), a part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. Examples include a meeting with MPAC leader Salman Al-Marayati, allowing DHS officials to appear with MPAC at various events, and a joint news conference following a foiled terror plot. MPAC also reports being a member of the DHS Incident Management Team. Only five weeks before the meeting in question, an MPAC foundation board member organized a dinner for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and 50 members of the Muslim and Arab American communities in the Detroit metropolitan area. Since its inception, MPAC has has taken the lead role among the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood organizations in attempting to control the use of language along the lines proposed in the DHS report.

Another passage in the DHS report hints at Muslim Brotherhood influence:

Hezbollah and Hamas are distinct in methods, motivations and goals from al-Qaeda. When possible, the experts recommend that USG terminology should make this clear.

Without addressing the accuracy of this assertion, it can be said that both Hamas and Hezbollah are strongly supported by the global Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas in particular had its origins in the Brotherhood and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Brotherhood group that also has tried to influence the use of counter-terrorism language, was created out of the Hamas support infrastructure in the U.S. Throughout the world, global Muslim Brotherhood organizations are actively fund-raising for Hamas under the direction of global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. The same organizations, including MPAC and CAIR, have long tried to separate Hamas and Hezbollah from anti-terrorism efforts, portraying both as indigenous “freedom-fighters.”

The DHS memo also provides further insight into the recommendation to avoid the use of terms such as “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamism”:

…it may be strategic to emphasize that many so-called “Islamic” terrorist groups twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence and to serve their own selfish political aims. The same is true of the moniker “Islamist” (or the related “Islamism”), which many have used to refer to individuals who view Islam as a political system in addition to a religion. The experts we consulted did not criticize this usage based on accuracy; indeed, they acknowledged that academics and commentators, including some in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, regularly use “Islamist” to describe people and movements. Nevertheless, they caution that it may not be strategic for USG officials to use the term because the general public, including overseas audiences, may not appreciate the academic distinction between Islamism and Islam. In the experts’ estimation, this may still be true, albeit to a lesser extent, even if government officials add qualifiers, e.g. “violent Islamists” or “radical Islamism. ”

The qualifier “so-called” in connection to Islamic terrorist groups reflects yet another aspect of U.S. Muslim Brotherhood strategy. Prior to the activities of Al Qaeda, MPAC and CAIR focused their efforts on defending the activities of Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas, arguing as noted above that they were motivated by suffering and oppression. Following the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, the Brotherhood groups were faced with a new issue- organized Islamic terrorists attacking the United States and killing civilians who were not party to any conflict involving Muslims. After initial denials that Muslims were involved in the attacks, the U.S Brotherhood groups began arguing that although the grievances were “legitimate”, the action were “un-Islamic.” In total, the U.S. Brotherhood effort is in accord with the larger Muslim Brotherhood notion of “defensive Jihad” which holds that Jihad is justified where Muslims or “Muslim honor” is under attack. Therefore, under this definition, Hamas/Hezbollah violence is not terrorism because it is justified and Al Qaeda violence is not “Islamic” because it is not justified.

Finally, the DHS report argues against the term “moderate” which is to be replaced in favor of “mainstream,” “ordinary,” and “traditional”:


……generally, “mainstream,” “ordinary,” and “traditional” are preferable to “moderate.” One can be deeply religious, strictly adhere to fundamental doctrines, and nevertheless abhor violence. In addition, “mainstream” is a useful foil to the “cult” terminology referenced above. By contrast, the term “moderate” has become offensive to many Muslims, who believe that it refers to individuals who the USG prefers to deal with, and who are only marginally religious. Notably, “mainstream” is a term that is emerging among Muslim American commentators.

Nothing would suit the purposes of the U.S. Brotherhood more than being designated “mainstream.” All global Muslim Brotherhood groups seek legitimacy above all else despite a seeing lack of interest on the origins, funding, affiliations, and aims of Brotherhood groups.

According to the DHS memo, the engagement of the U.S. government with the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood will continue to increase:

There is a good level of engagement between the Federal government and Muslim American communities, and it will continue to increase over the upcoming months and years. Indeed, we have the hope of seeing levels of engagement between the USG and Arab and Muslim Americans that have never been reached in the history of this country. For example, leading Arab, Muslim, and South Asian American groups have met multiple times with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, the Secretary of the Treasury, and senior officials at the State Department.

Numerous previous posts have identified past interaction of U.S. government agencies with the U.S. Brotherhood including State and the FBI. Should the DHS prediction of increased interaction prove accurate, it is likely that the Brotherhood will enjoy further influence over U.S. counter-terrorism policy.

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