US Islamists Facing Political Setbacks under Biden Administration

President Biden & EMGAGE’s Farooq Mitha

The May-June issue of ISNA’s newsletter Islamic Horizons carried an intriguing letter to the editor from Emgage CEO Wael Alzayat warning that “misinformation from within our community.” Alzayat was writing to protest “harmful and unsubstantiated claims” about Emgage is the previous edition of Islamic Horizons – an article that warned readers how to avoid “Political Scams under the Muslim Cover.”

This is the latest salvo in a major power struggle raging since for some time between Emgage, USCMO, and ISNA – with supporting props including Jewish groups, the Democratic Party, the 2020 Presidential election, and even Senate Judicial nominations. The struggle underlying these skirmishes is securing access to the Biden administration.

Back in September, Emgage (a grassroots voter mobilization and political advocacy group) was subjected to the equivalent of a botched character assassination attempt by the American Muslims For Palestine (AMP), which chided Emgage over some of its supposed connections to Jewish groups without naming specific organizations: 

“American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) is aware of and is addressing the grave allegations embroiling Emgage over its previous, and evidently ongoing, ties to Islamophobic and Zionist organizations..”

Then came a petition by various activists repeating very much of the same accusations. Finally, in October the USCMO (effectively the national steering committee of Ikhwani groups) issues a statement that aimed to be the coup de grace by finally naming names and officially kicking Emgage out of its coalition:

“In recent weeks, numerous Muslim and Palestinian Americans have expressed concern about reported ties between Emgage and Emgage leaders with anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian groups. Some of the specific concerns expressed to USCMO relate to:

Emgage board members participating in the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), an offensive program which seeks to undermine Muslim solidarity with the cause of Palestinian freedom.

Emgage directly partnering with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which weaponizes Islamophobia, lobbies to restrict the right to boycott for human rights, and regularly smears American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights, including elected officials like Rep. Ilhan Omar, among other unacceptable conduct.

Emgage and Emgage leadership directly working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has praised anti-Muslim bigots like Daniel Pipes and Ayaan Hirsi Ali while also targeting Muslim Americans who support Palestinian freedom, among other Islamophobic conduct.

EMGAGE promptly pushed back with its own statement effectively calling USCMO bigoted, power hungry, and conceited:

Over the course of several weeks, Emgage repeatedly requested USCMO to postpone the discussions on these issues, many of which are either not based in fact or have previously been answered by Emgage, until after the election so we could collectively focus on turning out the Muslim vote and not divide our community. USCMO refused.

Emgage is an engagement organization, and repeatedly asked USCMO to not force us or its membership to develop a public blacklist of organizations that we or any USCMO members would be prohibited to work with. While Emgage does NOT partner with organizations that are harmful to Muslim Americans, we also do not cede space or retreat from engagement when it can benefit the Muslim American community. USCMO refused.

USCMO on multiple occasions moved the goalposts” on Emgage as to the core issues of concern and the requested steps for Emgage to address these concerns to the satisfaction of USCMO. In the most recent meeting, USCMOs leadership added a new redline for Emgage to comply with, that Emgage PAC had to rescind the endorsement of a Virginia congressional candidate based on his faith. Not only is Emgage PAC not a member of USCMO, but even if it were, it does not base its support of any candidate based on their faith.

Amidst all the finger-pointing, no one mentioned the elephant in the room: the Muslim Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC), an active partnership (at the time) between ISNA and the American Jewish Committee. ISNA’s own President and co-founder Sayyid M. Syeed took part in the initiative, along with other ISNA officials. Yet somehow none of the “fire and brimstone” over ties to Zionist groups got directed at ISNA (the publisher of Islamic Horizons!).

Emgage seems, for now, to have won the larger battle against USCMO. Its own board member Farooq Mehta was the Biden campaign’s head of Muslim outreach. Islamist groups who invested heavily in the Sanders campaign realized they backed the losing horse. They panicked in September and tried to take out Emgage and Mitha in the hopes of placing their own people inside the Biden administration. As it was, Mitha was appointed by the Biden administration to a position in Department of Defense and most of his fellow Muslim appointees in the administration are fellow “liberal” South Asians not in the USCMO camp.

To add insult to injury for USCMO and member groups, Judge Zahid N. Quraishi of New Jersey was appointed as the nation’s first-ever Muslim Federal District Judge. CAIR worked aggressively to shoot down his nomination, but to no avail. Judge Quraishi’s main sin in their eyes is that he’s not one of them. CAIR’s California chapter complained: “Just because somebody is a Muslim doesn’t mean that they automatically get our endorsement. We need answers.”

Islamist movements in the US have failed to gain any significant inroads with the Biden administration. The Muslim groups who played their cards right, like Emgage, have earned the rewards, and those who lost their gamble are left with little to show. ISNA at least had the decency to public Alzayat’s letter – though perhaps that’s just a sign of their trying to have it both ways. They hosted Bernie Sanders at their 2019 convention, but may recognize that the road to the current administration inevitably goes via Emgage.

Furthermore, this blow up shows yet again that US ikhwanis despite all their noise and leadership pose are practically a negligible force in national politics. This perhaps is the one idea they work so hard to obscure from American Muslims.

This is to maintain the sham that only they can be a gateway to the system. They are not. Even worse, One can argue that these groups are actually  the main reason US Muslims do not have much political influence or punch. Thus, one cannot but feel sorry for all the well intentioned US Muslims who still donate money to these groups thinking their dollars will bring positive change. Therein lies the tragedy.