ISNA Convention 2019 Recap: Kashmir & Bernie

Labor Day weekend finally gave me a chance to scan and post some classic ISNA material from the organization’s founding. Enjoy Sayyid Syeed’s boys declaring their affection for the Ikhwan and Jamaat-e-Islami, promoting armed struggle, advocating for an Islamic State (alongside Hassan Turabi of all people!), and decreeing Sesame Street to be haram.

Labor Day weekend also gave me the chance to follow the ISNA convention virtually. (Sadly I couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Houston this year.) The changes shocked me.

No Erdogan Lapdog
Gulen Booth

Last year we wrote about the internal struggle among Islamists about the Turkish regime’s growing influence among US Islamists. Erdogan’s own daughter was the keynote at a recent MAS-ICNA convention. We noted that there was grumbling from the South Asian Deobandis, who were not happy about the Arab Ikhwanis embracing Turkey’s strongman (and his money). In case you wondered where Sayyid Syeed comes out on this one: the 2019 ISNA convention had a Gulen booth!

Imran Khan Speech To ISNA

ISNA the new Kashmir Liberation Front: Modi’s recent moves in Kashmir have ignited grassroots outrage, and ISNA is capitalizing on it. Bernie Sanders not only donned a Pakistani cap at ISNA (see photo) but also used his convention speech to blast India’s actions as “unacceptable.” That foreign policy line was no doubt music to Syeed’s ears. Then, it was reinforced by an address (via satellite) by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. ISNA has now gone all the way to the top.

Recently ridiculed online for acting as the Gulfies’ Uber driver, because of Pakistan’s current economic woes, Khan is no doubt looking for new ways to raise cash and political capital off the Kashmir crisis.


ISNA Now Focused on Opposing Hindu Nationalism: Looking through the old issues of Islamic Horizons, it’s clear that ISNA follows where the wind blows. In the early 1980s it was the jihad against the Soviets. Sayyid Syeed organized then conferences for American students and hosted Mujaheddin speakers in the US. Every time there is a major political shift, they shift with it. It’s how they stay relevant. I predict ISNA’s main objective for the next few years will be focused around Kashmir and opposing Hindu nationalism.

ISNA Putting American Muslims and Hindus on Collision Course

I’m no fan of Modi or his crackdown in Kashmir. But it’s one of the dozens of crises in the Muslim world, not something I define my identity around. The rise of Kashmir at ISNA 2019 risks changing that. Also, I’m very wary of being asked to fight the India-Pakistan war here in the US. I don’t want to be forced into a confrontation with my Indian American neighbors and colleagues at work. ISNA’s actions are creating a real risk of Muslim Americans getting dragged into this conflict. Kashmir is likely to become the new Palestine. The Islamist and Hindu extremists will be locking heads and us ordinary folks will pay the price.

Cordial Hostility

Last year, we wrote about the Wajahat Ali scandal; ISNA’s program committee formally dis-invited him from its 2018 convention. Ironically, the number one tweet on ISNA’s 2019 convention was by… Wajahat Ali. Was Mr. Ali condemning the organization for its narrow-minded bigotry and strong-arm enforcement of regressive “standards”? Nope. It was a tweet praising Bernie’s speech. His professional and foreign policy-oriented tweets glossed over ISNA’s true nature which he knows all too well.

It’s as if the whole dis-invitation scandal never happened. This attitude demonstrates ISNA’s stranglehold on South Asian Muslims. Wajahat surely hates ISNA for what it did it to him, but he hates Modi more. So he comes back to the fold, at least outwardly, preserving appearances. Even he couldn’t defy them, for a moment we had hoped he might be a profile in courage.

Uninformed Media

The American Media Has a One-Track Mind: ISNA has so many skeletons in its closet, and having Trevor Noah and Bernie Sanders show up to endorse the organization should have prompted political reporters to look into the organization. But crickets. Also, media missed Kashmir’s rise as a new rallying cry for US Islamists. I guess the American media doesn’t care about all this: it’s just inside baseball amongst a bunch of brown people. The only thing that matters is the US presidential political context: Sanders sticking it up to Trump and the impact of Muslim voters in swing states like Michigan and Florida.

It’s really a shame, because there are so many interesting and important dynamics going on. To quote the great American social theorist Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”