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LITWIN: Islamist Influence Can Hack Elections

On June 20th, Boston mayor Marty Walsh announced the appointment of Yusufi Vali as the city’s new head of the Office for Immigrant Advancement (OIA). Vali is the executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), a mosque that is notorious for its deep connections with the Muslim Brotherhood and several terror plotters. More recently, Vali himself oversaw the creation of ISB’s new project, the Boston Islamic Seminary; several members of the faculty are open anti-Semites, and one (Suheil Laher) was even the head of an al-Qaeda charity.

Ironically, it was the American public’s scrutiny of ISB after 9/11 that led indirectly to Vali’s ascension: ISB responded by building relationships with several community interfaith groups, including the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Vali worked as a community organizer with GBIO from 2009 to 2012 (when he became executive director of ISB), and that experience laid the groundwork for his deepening relationships with local politicians — which has now brought him to his current position.

Boston’s OIA has much to recommend it for Islamists. It oversees citizenship-application assistance, legal clinics, and classes in civic engagement — all useful resources for Islamists in their work to turn the Muslim community into a potent political force. Moreover, the previous head of the OIA stepped down in December in order to run for a seat on the Boston city council. The position is evidently a steppingstone to electoral office.

Vali is not the first Muslim-American official to be appointed to a government office that provides electoral advantages for the future. For example, City Councilman Alaa Abdel-Aziz, of Paterson, New Jersey, had lost his run for city council in 2016, but was appointed by the council to a vacant seat in September 2018; he then won the election in November. Mayor Sadaf Jaffer of Montgomery Township, Somerset County, New Jersey, had been elected to the township committee in 2017, but was appointed mayor in 2019.

Neither of these officials is overtly Islamist, though Vali’s role at ISB is cause for concern. More alarming is Assad Akhter, appointed to the Passaic County (New Jersey) Board of Freeholders in 2016 to fill a vacancy; he then won re-election in 2017 and 2018. A veteran staffer on Capitol Hill, Akhter was listed in 2012 as one of the founding leaders of the National Muslim Democratic Council (NMDC), a political-organizing group meant to help American Muslims gain influence within the Democratic Party. His fellow NMDC leaders included Islamists such as radical Linda Sarsour and CAIR-Sacramento director Basim Elkarra.

It is natural for well-meaning politicians to want to appoint Muslims to government posts, to be more inclusive to an embattled minority group — and perhaps more importantly, to claim political credit for such inclusiveness. The risk such politicians face is that politically prominent Muslims, the kind of people who are more likely to get such appointments, are typically the ones who sought out political prominence. For some, it may simply be a matter of civic responsibility or personal ambition; but others are motivated by Islamism, which sees political supremacy as a religious duty.

Worse, it appears that few politicians appear to understand the risk. An example of excellence was Esam Omeish, who was appointed to a Virginia immigration commission by then-Democratic Governor Tim Kaine in 2007. At the time, Omeish was president of the Muslim American Society (MAS), which is widely known to be a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Kaine was forced to withdraw his appointment after video surfaced of Omeish publicly calling for jihad against Israel, saying that Palestinian terrorists had “elevated their worship” of Allah, and continuing that “we need to share with them their hardships and their jihad.”

Mr. Kaine was apparently blindsided by Omeish’s extremism; but he shouldn’t have been. Omeish’s leadership of MAS should have been a massive warning sign, and should have triggered much more due diligence by Kaine’s team than was seemingly carried out.

As American Muslims increasingly participate in the civic arena, it is critical that politicians learn to distinguish Islamists and avoid giving them power — especially if government appointments end up short-circuiting the democratic process and giving Islamists all the advantages of incumbency. Islamism is a dangerous ideology that calls for using government power to implement religious goals. Let’s not make it any easier for the Islamists.

Dr. Oren Litwin is the associate director of the Islamism in Politics project of the Middle East Forum.

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