Threat at Home

This holiday season, the U.S. government has been warning that foreign aircraft might be hijacked and used to attack American targets, leading to cancellations of some flights from France and demands that sky marshals be aboard certain other planes coming to this country.

Worrisome as the intelligence-intercepted “chatter” that prompted such actions might be, a much more ominous problem may not be getting the attention it deserves — the danger arising from radical Muslims (known as “Islamists”) already here in the United States.

On December 23rd, the Wall Street Journal rendered an important public service with a lengthy, front-page article offering insights into the nature and extent of the Islamist presence in America. Under the headline, “The Brotherhood: A Student Journeys Into a Secret Circle of Extremism,”

reporter Paul Barrett describes the personal experiences of Mustafa Saied, a young Muslim who became radicalized while studying at the University of Tennessee. His story is an object lesson in the way in which one of the most dangerous of the Islamist organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood, is indoctrinating and recruiting in our midst.

According to the Journal, before his embrace of extremist, intolerant Islam, Saied was someone whose parents “taught their children that Muslims weren't better; they were just people like Hindus and others.” As he fell under the radicals' sway, however, “Mr. Saied railed against Jews and Israel during Friday services. He attended meetings in Toledo and Chicago where radical sheiks glorified jihad. He raised money for Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya, some of which he later learned was funneled to mujahedeen fighters.”

During this period, Saied would give sermons at a mosque near campus that catered to students. He recalled that “Our view was that suicide bombings were fine. Israel is the oppressor; Israel does not have the right to exist. It must be destroyed.”

Saied recounts his recruitment into the Muslim Brotherhood — an organization that started in Egypt in the 1920s as a “social-reform and religious-revival movement,” but that has become a wellspring of violent Islamist activity around the world. Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, headed one wing of the Brotherhood, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, before merging it into Al Qaeda. The Journal notes that Brotherhood members “helped start the Muslim Students Association in 1963, as well as other Muslim social and financial groups.”

In the early 1990s, Saied participated in an Islamic study group that focused on the writings of Sheik Youssef Al Qaradawi, a prime mover in the Brotherhood who “endors[ed] 'martyrdom operations' against Israel and Jews.” During this period, Saied “sensed that his allegiance to radical Islam was being tested by members of his study group….Finally, a friend from the United Arab Emirates asked him to join the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Then, “Mr. Saied started meeting weekly with a handful of students — a subset of Muslim fundamentalists who were deemed hardcore enough for admission to the Brotherhood. They… discussed how to motivate Muslims to return to a way of life entirely shaped by the Quran and Islamic law. They talked of the need to keep the movement's existence secret.”

In December 1994, Saied participated in a Muslim Arab Youth Association convention in Chicago attended by some 6,000 people. “At one point, Mr. Saied says, the lights in a packed ballroom went dark…. Suddenly, six or seven masked young men dressed as Hamas militants ran down the aisles waving the organization's green flags and shouting 'Idhbaahal Yahood!'” (“Slaughter the Jews!”)

Barrett quotes Saied as saying, “Anti-American sentiment is usually reserved for closed-door discussions or expressed in languages that most Americans don't understand. While such rhetoric has been drastically reduced since 9/11, it is still prevalent enough to be a cause for concern.” He added that “pockets of 'venomous hatred toward Western society' persist on some campuses and in certain Islamic communities.”

Mustafa Saied's personal testament is deeply worrying for what it suggests about an enemy within: an Islamist Fifth Column operating inside our own country with the inherent capability to exploit the vulnerabilities — and the civil liberties — of our society with potentially murderous effect.

Saied's own story, however, also suggests our best antidote to the poisonous effects of those like the Muslim Brotherhood seeking to radicalize and otherwise to dominate their co-religionists around the world — and to subject the rest of us to “a way of life entirely shaped by the Quran and Islamic law.” According to Barrett, he has “gravitated back toward the more moderate values [he] learned growing up” and seeks to encourage others to become what he calls “progressive” Muslims.

No one should underestimate the difficulty of this task. National Public Radio reported on Monday that three teams of the “Southern California Muslim Football League” have called themselves “Intifada,” “Soldiers of Allah” and “Mujahedeen.” Still, every effort should be made — most especially by President Bush and his team — to reject the claims of pro-Islamist groups to lead and speak for Muslim-Americans. Instead, legitimacy and help must be extended to genuinely tolerant, peaceable and pro-American Muslims, who have as much as stake as the rest of us in defeating the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk, here and abroad.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times.

(This update courtesy of the Center for Security Policy.)

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