The Center for Security Policy Occasional Paper Series
DEBATING THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN AMERICA
An Interview with DHS Advisor Mohamed Elibiary
Ryan Mauro, The Clarion Project
Made possible through the Institute for Religion & Democracy
The Center for Security Policy is pleased to publish this important interview with adviser to the Department of Homeland Security Mohamed Elibiary, one of the government’s most vocal advocates of two exceedingly dangerous policies: to normalize relations with domestic and foreign Islamist groups, and to severely curb material support for terrorism prosecutions.
As the Egyptian military dismantles the infrastructure of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country (including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party), this is an opportune time to examine Elibiary’s career as a Texas-based terrorism consultant and founder of his now-defunct Freedom and Justice Foundation. Elibiary has been the focus of media attention for his controversial associations with leading American Islamists, including the radical Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America and convicted Hamas fundraiser Shukri Abu Baker.
More than being alarmed about these troubling connections, though, policymakers should understand the consequences of the thorough change in strategy Elibiary advocates in the War on Terror. In his advocacy of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists as “moderates,” Elibiary’s hazardous prescriptions coincide with the Obama administration’s blindness to the continuum between Brotherhood and al Qaeda ideology. In order to rationalize this about-face in the War on Terror, Elibiary would have even the most basic doctrinal drivers of jihadist terror whitewashed. Following this program, even quoting the Brotherhood’s written statements amounts to “Islamophobia.”
It is crucial for American citizens and their representatives to become engaged in this policy discussion. We hope this substantive interview—annotated with commentary by interviewer Ryan Mauro—will clarify the differences in the two approaches, not just to America’s homeland security policy, but to foreign policy as well.
Vice-President for Strategic Communications
Center for Security Policy
The conflict that the West finds itself in is not about a single organization like al-Qaeda or a single tactic like terrorism. These are merely the symptoms of the Islamist ideology; it is a political-religious belief system that views shariah as the Allah-approved form of governance for humanity, with its implementation throughout the globe as a divine, legal imperative.
Since 9/11, though, Islamists—most prominently, the Muslim Brotherhood—have sought to narrow the scope of the conflict. In their telling, “moderate” and “mainstream” Islamism becomes the solution to the al-Qaeda application of Islamism.
In order to accomplish this, the Brotherhood needs a Western-friendly makeover over the objections of its critics. The Brotherhood and its apologists depict their opponents as “Islamophobes,” even when the case is based on the Brotherhood’s own statements and internal documents.
The Brotherhood’s apologists have had far-reaching influence on US policy, domestic and foreign. The Administration’s friendly posture towards the Brotherhood in Egypt is a sign of their success.
Few of these Brotherhood apologists have been as successful as Mohamed Elibiary; his senior advisory position at the Department of Homeland Security has been a particular point of concern for anti-Islamists. Elibiary is a member of the Secretary’s Homeland Security Advisory Committee and founder of Lone Star Intelligence LLC. He also served on the Dept. of Homeland Security Countering Violent Extremism Working Group and the DHS Faith-Based Security and Communications Advisory Committee.
Elibiary is a Texas-based leader in the Muslim community and has been appointed as an advisor to government security agencies on the state and federal levels. He has testified before Congress on counter-terrorism policy. In September 2011, the FBI awarded him their highest public service award for his involvement with several field offices in countering Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE). He is an Associate Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), a member of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) and a member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
He also led the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a group that compared the Muslim Brotherhood to evangelicals and opposed attempts to confront the Islamist ideology as a problem.
In 2007, his organization made a presentation at the 4th Annual Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America Imam training conference held jointly with the North American Imams Federation in California. Both are hardline Islamist groups. The presentation states:
- “The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Jordan, Tunis, etc. is a social movement for religious revival that seeks to Islamicize the society through cultural changing Dawah and that includes the political system, sound familiar? Yup you’re right they are the Muslim world’s version of the Evangelical Christian Coalition/Moral Majority movement.”
- “We must always resist the temptation to force one group such as Islamists to reform by adopting ‘Liberalism’ for example. That would be denying them their self-determination to structure their societies according to their public will.”
- “We should remember that them [Islamists] ruling their countries with Shariah law doesn’t mean them coming to our country and using our planes to destroy our buildings.”
- It boasts of how his organization mobilized the Muslim community in Texas to “build expansive interfaith partnerships that include all of civic and political society in order to clarify the language used in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in order to accurately define the enemy.”
Elibiary received significant attention when Reps. Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Tom Rooney and Lynn Westmoreland wrote letters about the US Muslim Brotherhood to the Inspector-Generals of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Defense Department, State Department and Justice Department. The June 13, 2012 letter to the Department of Homeland Security specifically mentioned Elibiary, naming him as one of three DHS advisors with “extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamist organizations and causes.” It also mentioned reports by investigative reporter Patrick Poole that Elibiary allegedly tried to leak confidential information for political purposes. Elibiary says he was exonerated by the Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Elibiary granted the Clarion Project an extensive, substantive interview about the topic of the US Muslim Brotherhood and his personal associations and opinions. This is part one of Clarion Project analyst Ryan Mauro’s five-part interview with Mr. Elibiary. Elibiary speaks only for himself in this interview and not as a representative of the US government or any organization.
In this first part of the series, we see that Elibiary is a senior DHS advisor who:
- Began a tight friendship with a self-described Islamist as a teenager named Shukri Abu Baker, who later was convicted of financing Hamas through his US Muslim Brotherhood entity, the Holy Land Foundation;
- Donated to the Holy Land Foundation monthly since his first encounter with Baker until the Foundation was shut down by the US government;
- Defends the innocence of this Hamas financier and depicts his prosecution as a case of political persecution;
- Opposes the largest terrorism-financing prosecution in US history and the overall targeting of the US Muslim Brotherhood network;
- Admits knowing the Muslim Brotherhood “social network” (as he calls it) in a “much more personal manner than the Average White Guy…”
- Supports a partnership with Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in the US and abroad.
1. The Holy Land Foundation
We began by discussing the Holy Land Foundation, a US Muslim Brotherhood entity that was shut down for financing Hamas. Five of its officials, including its leader, Shukri Abu Baker, were convicted. This was the largest terrorism-financing trial in US history, making it central to any discussion of the US Muslim Brotherhood. It was during this trial that the 1991 US Muslim Brotherhood strategic memo was introduced into evidence, which included a list of almost 30 of the Brotherhood’s “organizations and the organizations of our friends.”
The Justice Department’s list of unindicted co-conspirators, including identified US Muslim Brotherhood entities, included many names and organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). A federal judge upheld these designations in 2009citing “ample” evidence linking them to Hamas, but ruled that it was an error to make the list of unindicted co-conspirators public.
Mauro: Do you have any connection to the Holy Land Foundation (HLF)?
Elibiary: For background, I grew up in Dallas prior to the building of the Dallas Central Mosque in Richardson, and well over a decade before any of the founders of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) or any other associated entity moved into the Dallas Muslim community. My only connection to HLF was as a donor, and I published an op-ed on November 1, 2007 in the Dallas Morning News, prior to HLF’s conviction, publicly outlining that experience.
It is necessary to understand the background of the Holy Land Foundation in order to understand the significance of Elibiary’s 2007 op-ed that he mentioned. In it, he describes the profound impact that Holy Land Foundation CEO Shukri Abu Baker, who is now in prison for financing Hamas, had on his life when he was a “carefree teenager.”
Shukri Abu Baker’s first conversation with Elibiary was political, focusing on the alleged mistreatment of Palestinian civilians by Israel. Elibiary was so impacted that he donated the first $50 he ever put into his bank account to the Holy Land Foundation and donated monthly until the US government shut it down in 2001. Remarkably, Elibiary goes on to admit his closeness with the US Muslim Brotherhood network:
“[O]ur government is playing a post-9/11 script it played in the 1960s against the Mafia, but this time against a social network it calls the ‘International Muslim Brotherhood.’ People like me know of the brotherhood group in a much more personal manner than the Average White Guy, who has no more insight than what’s available in the media,” Elibiary writes.
The influence of this “social network” was strong enough in Elibiary’s life to compel him to write a letter in 2006 defending Brotherhood theologian Sayyid Qutb, one of the main inspirers of Osama Bin Laden. He wrote, “I’d recommend everyone read Qutb, but read him with an eye to improving America not just to be jealous with malice in our hearts.”
In another statement, he agreed with the Islamist (specifically al-Qaeda) opinion that the West oppresses Muslims. In 2004, he wrote, “Just because I listen to Osama bin Laden’s tapes and agree that the West routinely insults Muslim dignity, that doesn’t make me al-Qaeda. By listening I gain a better understanding of a philosophy I wish to counter.”
Elibiary (cont’d): I disclosed how, as a 16-year old teenager, I was solicited to become a donor, and my journey investigating what happened after the government closed HLF. After sharing about my investigation, I concluded with a warning against the strategy being deployed against HLF and a broader Muslim Brotherhood (MB) network, in the eyes of the government, as if they were an organized criminal syndicate akin to the mafia.
I viewed this strategy in 2007 as counterproductive to our national interest and instead called for an honest dialogue between the US and Islamists to find common ground and turn the page on the past.
Elibiary opines in the 2007 article that the US government’s prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation is a mistake like believing that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “This global war on terror needs a new strategy, because we’re destroying ourselves more than al-Qaeda ever could,” he says. The fundamental error, in Elibiary’s view, is that the US government is treating Islamists as enemies (though he agrees that Hamas is a terrorist group).
“… Mr. Baker told me during our coffee the day before the jury verdict: ‘How does America expect to be able to reach a middle ground with overseas Islamists against the violent extremists when it can’t even dialogue with its own Islamists at home?’” Baker identifies himself as an Islamist. His illegal financing of Hamas is hidden, but his ideological orientation is not.
Elibiary writes that HLF CEO Baker is a victim of political persecution. “I found the Shukri Abu-Baker in whom I placed my trust 15 years ago to be an open book and not what has been fed to the media and the jury by our government. I found, much like the jury decided when presented with all the evidence, absolutely nothing ‘criminal’ and a case largely built on associations to convict First-Amendment-protected rights, whether we share those views or not,” he says.
In a separate editorial in 2010, he reacted to the guilty verdict in the Holy Land trial by again framing it as political persecution: He writes, “But using the law to force compliance with unjust foreign policies by our government will simply trigger civil disobedience.”
In the next section, Elibiary gets closer to making explicit his attack on the foundation of the war on terror—but it’s unclear that his employers at the Department of Homeland Security know it. At the heart of his critique is a desire to see Islamist organizations in America never face prosecution for material support for terrorism.
His comparison to the way the Justice Department prosecutes the Mafia purposefully sells the Muslim Brotherhood short; the two organizations are only similar in their secretive operations and illegal actions. The Muslim Brotherhood, unlike organized crime, is an ideological organization. The criminal acts of the Brotherhood involve either (a) material support for groups and individuals committing acts of terrorism, (b) working toward the desire to fundamentally change the nature of American government and society, or both.
In the below section of the interview, Elibiary stands by the side of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an innocent “community organization” on the basis that it is not involved in criminal activity. Again, Elibiary is arguing that the US government should not consider Islamist links or its beliefs in its policies.
CAIR’s predecessor, the Islamic Association for Palestine, was a known US Muslim Brotherhood entity with a pro-Hamas agenda. In 1993, the US Muslim Brotherhood’s secret Palestine Committee, a secret body set up to support Hamas, held a meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI. Participants included founders of CAIR, who explicitly discussed the need to create a new organization for the Islamist cause. CAIR was born the next year.
Federal prosecutors named CAIR an unindicted-conspirator in the Holy Land trial, specifically listing it as an entity of the US Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee. In a 2007 court filing, federal prosecutors said, “From its founding by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists…the conspirators agreed to use deception to conceal from the American public their connections to terrorists.”
Yet, here we have a senior DHS advisor actively defending and, as we will see, protecting the organization.
Mauro: Why did you disagree with the strategy deployed against the HLF and other Muslim Brotherhood front groups that the US government identified in 2007 court filings?
Elibiary: After the HLF was closed by President George W. Bush via an executive order in September 2001, I travelled to multiple states and met privately with a number of community leaders to understand what had been going on in order to figure out what the government’s concerns were.
Years ago, I even sat through presentations at the FBI by the HLF case’s investigative agents, reviewed myself thousands of pages of government evidence, discussed the matter privately at length with multiple HLF defendants, and as I mentioned in my 2010 congressional testimony,
even discussed the ramifications of these matters upon community organizations such as CAIR with multiple national security officials including with FBI Director Mueller on one of my visits to FBI-HQ’s Strategic Information and Operations Center.
Transcript from my 2010 Congressional testimony: “CAIR is a community organization…developed over the years by the community and does community civil rights work. Now, the founders, leaders, any individuals having association problems or have done anything criminal should be indicted. But the organization should exist. The organization should be left alone. We have a standard in this country for criminal activity, and that is the standard we should uphold for CAIR just like everybody else.”
In addition to several years ago hosting FBI Directorate of Intelligence officials in my living room for discussions with Muslim community leaders untangling the HLF’s legacy problems, I hosted in my home privately multiple prominent civic leaders like the Regional Anti-Defamation League Director to address concerns the Jewish community had stemming from HLF.
In his defense of the Holy Land Foundation, Elibiary and other opponents of material support for terrorism prosecutions allege a systematic government effort aimed at “destroying the American-Muslim community’s charitable nonprofit infrastructure.” This is a myth. Charitable organizations associated with any group are encouraged to operate freely, so long as they do not run afoul of US counter-terror laws. Of course, for Elibiary, that’s precisely the problem.
Elibiary (cont’d): I found that all the truly security-related concerns the US government or other American communities had stemming from counterterrorism trials like HLF were resolvable without destroying the American-Muslim community’s charitable nonprofit infrastructure.
Next, in discussing the reception his ideas have received with the Brotherhood itself, he uses the phrase, “Islamic movement leaders.” In their internal and external communications—most dramatically in their own “Explanatory Memorandum,” entered into evidence at the Holy Land Foundation trial—the Brotherhood and its offshoots like Hamas identify themselves as part of the “Islamic Movement.”
Mauro: What kind of reaction did you receive for voicing a different course of handling the US Muslim Brotherhood concerns stemming from the HLF trial?
Elibiary: Naturally, the alternative approach I outlined in my op-ed was welcomed by some and demonized by others as either too naïve of how truly evil the Muslim Brotherhood was or as too soft on fighting terror.
Those that welcomed it included many Islamic movement leaders and the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website itself, IkhwanWeb, republished my Dallas Morning News op-ed on their own without contacting me. Similarly there were folks, within different parts of the US government, who privately let me know they thought my recommended course was the best thing for the country.
There were also two protagonist constituencies who naturally did not welcome my middle-of-the-road compromise offer to turn the page. There were material support to terrorism prosecution hawks, both inside the US government and outside in conservative networks, who viewed my public messaging with suspicion.
Similarly, there was a camp within my own Muslim community that viewed my recognition, even if implicit, of wrongdoing by Muslim community members in an attempt to turn the page with the US government (which many viewed as at war with Islam and/or too pro-Zionist) as a betrayal of Islam and the Palestinian cause. With both camps I have, over the years, spent many hours privately discussing and working through their objections without ever polemically demonizing them in public as some of their supporters have done to me.
Elibiary appears here to be suggesting a compromise between those advocating a doctrinal analysis in the war on terror and Brotherhood-linked American Muslim groups, many of which would financially support designated terrorist organizations. In setting up such a dialectic, he equates those who wish to prosecute funding terrorist activity with those who would fund that activity. To appropriate his earlier Mafia example, Elibiary seems to posit a kind of equivalence between the FBI and the crime syndicates it chases. Of course, there are those whose views are outside his consideration. In a later section of this interview, Elibiary derides Muslim reformers who, as anti-Islamists, he views as an adversary.
Elibiary (cont’d): Non-Muslim critics of my approach raise concern about my work because they see me engaging broadly and very rarely marginalizing any American-Muslim group, but frankly if they ever spoke to me or reviewed my civic engagement history back when I ran the Freedom and Justice Foundation, then they’d see that I believe in a big-tent approach to civic engagement for the greater good and brotherhood amongst Muslims in the political space.
Elibiary goes on to attack the ‘frame’ through which we see the war on terror, decrying the idea of ideological battle at the root of both the Second World War and the Cold War. While the struggle we’re engaged in today is with neither Nazism nor communism, the people we fight in this war certainly have a cogent belief system that is at odds with America’s national security interests and wishes to destroy and replace its core constitutional system of government. Describing that system of belief or ideology is something Elibiary would prevent at all costs.
Elibiary (cont’d): In the rare opportunities when I speak to such skeptical audiences, I explain to them how political propaganda demonizing the Muslim community broadly as a front for something sinisterly subversive overseas or superimposing the Cold War or World War Two’s frame upon the Muslim-majority nations as if we’re re-fighting communism or Nazism is not working for us, and a better alternative way of strategically-engaging and modeling our founding constitutional values exists.
Part I: The Holy Land Foundation
Part V: US Policy (To be published tomorrow)