African American Muslims




T

he
grenade attack in Iraq by an African American muslim, Sgt. Asan
Akbar, that killed two and wounded several, set off a maelstrom
of right-wing criticism against black Muslims in the U.S. Right-wing
columnist Michelle Malkin saw the deadly jumble of political correctness
lurking behind the attack. Malkin wrote that “Sgt. Akbar is
not the only MSWA— Muslim soldier with attitude—suspected
of infiltrating our military, endangering our troops, and undermining
national security.” She concluded, “Not one more American,
soldier or civilian, must be sacrificed at the altar of multiculturalism,
diversity, open borders, and tolerance of the murderous ‘attitude’
of Jihad.”  


Frank
Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy,
wonders when and where Sgt. Akbar was radicalized. Was it through
“Wahhabi-backed Muslim Student’s Association, which has
a chapter” at the University of California, Davis, where Akbar
“reportedly went to school from 1988-1997.” Maybe it was
“at the mosque he attended in the South Central section of
Los Angeles, the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center [which]…received
funds from the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB), a Saudi-controlled
fund headquartered in Jeddah that claims to have capitalized $19
billion worth of projects around the world.” 


Gaffney
believes that Sgt. Akbar’s “murderous ideas about America,
its armed forces, and the Muslim world” may have come from
“a chaplain in the U.S. military.” According to Gaffney,
“As of June 2002, nine of the armed forces’ fourteen Muslim
chaplains received their religious training from another Saudi-supported
entity, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS)
in Leesburg, Virginia.” In March 2002, Operation Greenquest
“raided the offices of GSISS, along with twenty-three other
Muslim organizations. Agents also raided the homes of Iqbal Unus,
the Dean of Students at GSISS, and Taha Al-Alwani, the school’s
president. According to search warrants issued at the time, these
groups were raided for ‘potential money laundering and tax
evasion activities and their ties to terrorist groups such as…al
Qaeda as well as individual terrorists…(including) Osa- ma bin
Laden’.”  


Malkin
and Gaffney have jumped into the middle of a debate that has been
brewing in right-wing circles since 9/11. Notable right- wingers,
Watergate felon Charles Colson, columnist Cal Thomas, and pro-Israel
activist Daniel Pipes have long argued that Blacks who become Muslims—especially
for what they term “non-spiritual” reasons—may be
a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the U.S. 


Daniel
Pipes’s October 2001

New York Post

column takes direct
aim at the Nation of Islam: “To what extent does the rhetoric
and example set by prominent figures such as Louis Farrakhan and
Siraj Wahhaj influence followers like the alleged sniper to engage
in violence? If it does, given that this is wartime, do steps need
to be taken to curtail their rhetoric?” Not wanting to paint
Muslim converts with too broad a brush, Pipes concedes that “some
of the roughly 700,000 African-American converts to Islam are moderate
and patriotic citizens.” 


Pipes,
who directs the pro-Israel Middle East Forum, has written that it
is the “pattern of alienation, radicalism and violence among
black American converts to Islam,” particularly among those
in prison, that could lead to a swelling of the ranks of homegrown
terrorists. 


Charles
Colson expressed similar concerns about jailhouse conversions to
Islam in a late-June 2002,

Wall Street Journal

column. Colson,
who was special counsel to President Richard Nixon and served seven
months in prison in 1974 after pleading guilty to obstruction of
justice for Watergate related crimes, now runs the Prison Fellowship
Ministries. Colson pointed out that he has witnessed a “growing
Muslim presence” in prisons and these “alienated, disenfranchised
people are prime targets for radical Islamists who preach a religion
of violence, of overcoming oppression by jihad.” 


According
to Colson, al-Qaeda training manuals “specifically identify
America’s prisoners as candidates for conversion because they
may be ‘disenchanted with their country’s policies’.”
Colson claim- ed that “terrorism experts fear these angry young
recruits will become the next wave of terrorists. As U.S. citizens,
they will combine a desire for ‘payback’ with an ability
to blend easily into American culture.” 


Cal
Thomas cited Colson in his column, claiming that several hundred
African American

imams

have been trained in Saudi Arabia
to convert “large numbers of African- American inmates not
only to their religion, but to their political objectives, including
virulent anti- Americanism.” Colson (as did Roy Innis of CORE)
singled out confessed al-Qaeda shoe bomber Richard Reid, who converted
to Islam in a British prison, and dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla
as examples of jailhouse converts to Islam who turned to terrorism. 


Colson’s
Prison Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange Freedom Initiative
(IFI) receives government funding to operate projects aimed at reducing
recidivism rates in four states, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, and Texas.
According to the IFI website, the initiative “is a revolutionary,
Christ-centered, Bible- based prison program supporting prison inmates
through their spiritual and moral transformation beginning while
incarcerated and continuing after release.” One way to prevent
conversions to radical Islam claims Colson would be for prison officials
to “deny radical imams access to inmates.”  



Innis
On The Move 



R

oy
Innis, the national chairperson and chief executive officer of CORE
(the Congress of Racial Equality), has also signed on to this notion.
In interviews with several right-wing publications and conversations
with Justice Department officials, Innis has warned that African
American prisoners and college students are open vessels for terrorist
recruitment. 


Innis
has a different profile than the others. He was a well-respected
figure during the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Over the
past three decades, Innis’s CORE has evolved from the frontlines
of the civil rights movement to alignment with America’s religious
and secular right. Despite occasional appearances by Innis and his
son Niger on television’s talking head circuit—they are
especially favored guests at the Fox News Channel—the organization
has essentially been in a state of rigor mortis for decades. 


Innis
may be counting on the threat of terrorism for his group’s
revival. Since 9/11, CORE has dabbled in several “War On Terrorism”
related activities. It joined city, state, and federal agencies,
operating out of Pier 94 in Manhattan, “to provide direct assistance
to those individuals most affected by this disaster,” according
to its website, and it announced plans “to file a multi-billion
dollar class-action suit against known terrorist Osama Bin Laden…seek[ing]
to have Bin Laden declared liable for the deaths of thousands of
innocent people and responsible for the disruption of the lives
of millions more.” 


Late
last year,

NewsMax.com

, a right-wing online news magazine,
reported Innis had requested a meeting with the Bush administration’s
Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ash- croft,
and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in order to discuss
the “clear and present danger” posed to U.S. race relations
by the rising tide of “non-spiritual’ Muslim conversions.”
Innis told

NewsMax

, “Even before the Beltway sniper
attacks I anticipated a real problem for our country and for black
Americans in particular. And that is the large number of non-spiritually
based conversions to Islam—both inside and outside of jail.
It’s not going to take long for al-Qaeda to begin capitalizing
on this, if they haven’t already,” Innis said. 


Innis
pointed out that Osama bin Laden’s ability to sneak people
“into the country with visas and attack the country…won’t
be so easy to do anymore. But,” he added, “the guys coming
out of jail, the recent converts, the angry guys floating around
the country who are looking for a framework to express their hostility—they
don’t need visas.” 


Innis
also trained his sights on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahn
who he said “needs to clean his own house…to make sure that
he doesn’t have sociopaths and psychopaths and haters of other
sorts and al-Qaeda adherents floating into his organization.”
Innis suggested that Farrakhan “weed out his non-spiritually
based followers” and take care that “his rhetoric doesn’t
give aid and comfort and nurture” to al-Qaeda sympathizers. 


Innis’s
request met a quick response: the

Washington Times

reported
that, while he didn’t meet with top officials, he spoke with
DOJ representatives and “discuss[ed] the recruitment of black
American Muslims by terrorist organizations.” At the New York
City encounter Innis told officials that he was concerned about
the potential for a growing “alliance” between Middle
East-based terrorists and domestic black Islamists. 


“There
has been a fear because of racial and religious reasons,” Innis
said. “But [many federal officials] have been in denial but
this has become a very real danger. And there are signs all over
the place. If we want to ignore this danger then we are not doing
a good job to keep this country safe,” said Innis, who added
that the meeting with the DOJ was “informal” and he hoped
to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft at a later date. 


Innis is particularly
concerned with the recruitment of black prisoners and black college
students by Muslim organizations. “We can go to the Bureau
of Prisons, for example, and ask for a review of the various ministers,”
Innis said. “This is too important an issue for these kinds
of things to not be under review.” According to the

Washington
Times

, Innis hoped to establish a new project that would investigate
groups like the National Islamic Prison Foundation, “which
coordinates a campaign to convert inmates to Islam. Foundation officials
claim an average of 135,000 such conversions per year.” 


Innis’s
political metamorphosis has resulted in membership on the boards
of several conservative organizations, including the Hudson Institute,
a right-wing think tank, the Landmark Legal Foundation, one of former
President Bill Clinton’s most persistent critics, and the National
Rifle Association. In 1998, the

Libertarian Party News

reported
that Innis had joined the Libertarian Party, telling Party officials
“You have the kind of principles this country needs more of.”
Innis testified in support of the Supreme Court confirmation of
Judge Robert Bork, spoke in favor of Bernhard Goetz, aka the subway
vigilante, endorsed the far-right Alan Keyes for president, and
in August 2000, he was a featured speaker at the Christian Coalition’s
Faith and Freedom Celebration. 


In
the

NewsMax

interview, Innis expressed his concern that violent
actions by African American terrorists could set race relations
back in this country after decades of progress. He said more beltway
sniper- type incidents could destroy “all the years of civil
rights improvement in America. All the revolutionary gains of Dr.
Martin Luther King, of CORE and the NAACP and the others could be
washed away overnight if the phenomenon continues unchecked.” 


In
early February,

NewsMax

. com credited Innis with having Imam
Warith Deen Umar “banned from the New York State’s ten
correctional facilities” (he was also fired as a part-time
religious counselor for the federal prison system). 


Innis’s
anti-terrorism project may have a financial component as well: CORE
could be positioning itself to receive Bush’s faith-based grants
to establish a government- funded program similar to Colson’s,
but focused specifically on African American inmates. 





Bill
Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.