ISNA Annual Conference Focuses On Islamophobia; Turkey And Gaza Flotilla Important Themes


Local media has reported on the 47th annual convention held by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). According to a report in the Chicago SunTimes, one of the focuses of the conference was on “Islamophobia”:

Thousands of American Muslims — in Chicago this weekend for a mega convention — are being asked to detail hate directed at them because of their faith. “The survey will be asking about 3,000 respondents how Islamophobia has affected them and to identify where they see the most examples of it,” Amina Sharif, Chicago spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Thursday. “Chicago is a diverse metropolis, but that doesn’t mean we’re exempt from racial and ethic tensions.” Council officials will fan out across the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont to interview a random sampling of 30,000 Muslims registered for the 47th annual Islamic Society of North America Convention. Friday night, Gov. Quinn addressed the four-day conference, billed as the largest gathering of its kind. Panel discussions will touch on a wide variety of issues, from building alliances with members of the Jewish community to exploring the ethical implications of stem cell research. The variety of topics, said organizers, might counter the kind of stereotypes the council survey seeks to expose. The research effort comes on the heels of the pipe-bomb attack of a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque. About 60 worshippers were inside. None was injured. The FBI continues to investigate. Chicago has avoided that kind of incident. Still, the council points to 170 complaints of discrimination filed by area Muslims this year alone. “In one case, a man was verbally and then physically assaulted in the grocery store,” Sharif said. The survey aims to take a nationwide snapshot of the pressures facing Muslims nine years after the 9/11 attacks and as American military casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq climb.

Analysis of the ISNA conference program reveals some important developments in the organization. For example, for the second year there was a “Turkish Symposium” consisting of three sessions including:

-Characteristics of ottoman society: Lessons from the past to Form a Compassionate society

-Youth and Family issues: practical projects to raise righteous Children for immigrant Families in the usa

-Relationship of turkish americans with other muslim and Non-muslim Communities

In retrospect, the new attention paid to Turkish issues by ISNA likely reflects the growing importance of Turkey to the Global Muslim Brotherhood as seen in the recent Gaza flotilla affair.

Another important ISNA conference session centered on the flotilla itself and was titled “Humanitarian aid is not terrorism: Breaking the siege on Gaza” and was described as follows:

For years, humanitarian and civil resistance activists have been risking their lives to bring life-sustaining humanitarian and medical supplies to the 1.5 million occupied and besieged Palestinians of Gaza. Increasingly, Israel is meeting global scrutiny of its illegal occupation and blockade of Gaza by framing efforts to break the siege as acts of or support of terrorism. Survivors of the recent Freedom Flotilla, which Israel attacked on international waters, will speak about their experience. They will discuss how members of the global community can combat Israel’s misinformation campaign and why continued efforts to break the siege are so important.

Session speakers included three flotilla participants and moderated by University of California professor Hatem Bazian who has called for an “Intifada” in the US. The Investigative Project has posted a report on the anti-Israeli remarks make by these session participants who attempted to place Israel at the heart of the global terrorism problem. Previous posts have reported on the pivotal role played by the Global Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza flotilla.

Also scheduled to speak at another session on using interfaith coalitions to benefit the Palestinians was former far-left UK MP George Galloway whose Viva Palestina organization has been active in the anti Gaza blockage movement. However, given the lack of media reporting, it is likely that Mr. Galloway did not attend the conference. Also schedule to speak was Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Tariq Ramadan who also was probably not in attendance.

The US government was well-represented however with US OIC envoy Rashad Hussain giving a featured talk. For a short time, Mr. Hussain was embroiled in controversy after the GMBDW reported both his associations with the US Muslim Brotherhood and remarks that he had made in 2004 about the prosecution of convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian that were later deleted from the publication that reported them. Mr. Hussain at first denied remembering that he had made the remarks calling the prosecution “politically motivated persecution” but later, after an audio tape surfaced documenting the remarks, he acknowledged the comments but said that they had been “ill advised.” Mr. Hussain also admitted that he had complained to the publication about being misrepresented after the remarks were first reported but that the publication had deleted them on their own volition. The remarks did not appear to have been deleted until after Mr. Hussain had been appointed White House Counsel. (for an analysis of these events, go here)

Also scheduled to be at the ISNA convention were representatives from the White House, US Agency for International Development, US Department of State, US Department of Home- land Security, US Department of Health, Human Services and others who were supposed to hold a panel on working for the federal government.

Another individual who appears to be playing an increasingly important role at ISNA is Yaqub MIrza, who participated in two sessions relating to financial affairs and who was described as a member of the ISNA Endowment Committee. Dr. Mirza is a Pakistani native living in Virginia who was the former Vice-President of the now defunct SAAR Foundation, a network of Islamic organizations located in Northern Virginia that was raided by the Federal government in 2003. The SAAR foundation was established in 1983 by individuals who had also established some of the most important U.S, Muslim Brotherhood organizations including the Muslim Student Association, the Islamic Society of North America, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought. SAAR is generally thought to have been funded by the Al-Rajhi family of Saudi Arabia and until recently was the subject of an ongoing investigation into possible financing of terrorism. In August 2007, Mirza appeared on a panel at an Islamic Society of North America convention together with Zaki Barzinji, likely a relative of Jamal Barzinji, another important figure in the SAAR network.

Also playing an important role at the ISNA convention were representatives of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) who were scheduled to participate in a number of sessions.

As documented in a Hudson Institute report, ISNA grew directly out of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. The organization has a long history of fundamentalism, anti-semitism, and support for terrorism and during the recent Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial, ISNA was named as an unindicted co-conspirator as a result of what the government called “ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case.” Although it is true that recently ISNA has issued condemnations of terrorism which for the first time identify Hamas and Hezbollah by name, there is no indication that the organization has ever addressed or acknowledged its history of support for terrorism. Also, as the Hudson Institute report observes, almost all of the ISNA founders remain active in the organization and ISNA maintains close relations with all other components of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.

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