Confronting a Year in Radical Islam

FrontPageMagazine.com | February 16, 2007

Introduction

In a recent issue of Frontpagemag.com (Jan. 31, 2007), we ran an interview with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross discussing his new book, My Year Inside Radical Islam, which documents his time working with the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, an international Wahhabi charity that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross argues was an al-Qaeda financier.

Al Haramain has voiced its displeasure with Gartenstein-Ross and one of its directors has sent in a response to Frontpage to voice its disagreement with Gartenstein Ross’s presentation of the facts. 

Thus, Frontpage has arranged an exchange between:

Soliman al-Buthi, one of the former directors of Al-Haramain, in Ashland, Oregon, who is now based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al-Buthi is currently living as a fugitive in Saudi Arabia, as he has been indicted in U.S. court for his role in a money-laundering scheme that the indictment alleges was designed to finance the mujahideen in Chechnya. Al-Buthi has also been named a specially-designated global terrorist by the Treasury Department; the designation alleges "direct links between the U.S. branch [of Al Haramain] and Usama bin Laden."

 

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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam.

 

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We begin first with al-Buthi's response to our interview and Gartenstein's book, which is followed by Gartenstein-Ross’s rejoinder. Soliman al-Buthi: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross worked with Al Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., an Oregon charity, in 1999 for less than a year, first as a volunteer and then as a salaried employee.  He was good at his work, sharp, and capable of making decisions then executing them effectively. He helped us develop a questionnaire for prisoners who had requested Islamic literature. The questionnaire helped us improve our services and better determine the recipients’ needs prior to shipping Islamic materials.  In addition, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross helped write a draft version of informational literature about Islam and was a strong voice in developing and implementing strategies.  
 
He had positive relationships with other staff members and several of our members had friendly relationships with his parents.  His girlfriend and his parents were welcomed to our center and to participate in our gatherings and his parents seemed to be quite happy their son had found purpose in working with a credible charity. Both Daveed and his parents were loved by the community.

AHIF Inc.’s purpose and objective has always been to foster an understanding of Islam through the distribution of Islamic educational materials; we believe that this understanding serves the interests of peace.  
 
We distributed our materials to anyone who requested them, and a vast spectrum of organizations, from U.S. federal and state governments, to military and law enforcement bodies, as well as schools, libraries, temples, churches, missionaries, and synagogues sent us written thank-you letters for the materials and presentations provided.  Over time the requests for our resources became enormous and we had to struggle to meet the enormous demand.   

In his book, written almost eight years after his experience with the charity, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross consistently paints AHIF Inc. and those associated with it in a negative light.  In so doing he strategically leaves out any information that demonstrates AHIF Inc.’s true mission of peace through understanding. Several examples follow.

First, in his book Mr. Gartenstein-Ross suggested that some of the materials distributed by AHIF Inc. were inappropriate.  He singles out for criticism an essay about "jihad," or religious struggle, that was appended to an English translation of the Qur'an commonly known as "The Noble Qur'an." The essay itself is not a part of the Qur’an.  The particular version of the Noble Qur’an that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross refers to had been donated to the charity and indeed included the essay on jihad. During his time with the charity Mr. Gartenstein-Ross never raised any objection to the essay or its contents.  
 
Soon after Mr. Gartenstein-Ross left AHIF Inc., however, the charity itself objected to the confrontational tone of the essay and requested that it be excluded in future printings of the Noble Qur'an.  Al-Haramain also requested that potentially offensive references to Christians and Jews (not mentioned in Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’ book) be removed.  As a result of our actions the essay has not appeared in any editions printed after 2003 and the potentially offensive references to Christians and Jews have also been eliminated from all current editions of the Noble Qur’an.
 
This all happened before we knew that the federal government was targeting our charity. We took these actions independent of any outside concerns or pressures because we believed that the essay, and potentially offensive references, could create unnecessary tensions between religions and cultures and thus hinder understanding.  
 
In this regard it should be known that the United States government without condition or restriction recently released to representatives of the charity all religious materials that it had impounded when it froze the charity’s assets in February 2004.

Second, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross suggests several times that the Oregon charity has links to terrorism.  This sensational allegation is simply untrue.  The charity has not been found guilty of supporting, encouraging, or funding terrorism or any other terrorism related charges.
 
The only criminal charges ever brought against the charity related to reporting of expenditures; when those charges were handed up by the grand jury in Eugene, Oregon, the assistant attorney general responsible for the prosecution admitted that there was insufficient evidence to charge, let alone convict, Al-Haramain of terrorist activities.  Then, when faced with a demand for a speedy trial, the U.S. Government cut its losses and dismissed the case.  
 
From the very beginning – years before 9/11 – Al-Haramain Oregon took a foursquare stance against terrorism. Article II of its 1998 Articles of Incorporation states:

“[The] Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., stands against terrorism, injustice, or subversive activities in any form, and shall oppose any statement or acts of terrorism. Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., believes such conduct is contrary to Islamic principles.”
 
The above are just a few examples of the many facts that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross chose not to disclose in his book.

In these polarized times, those formerly affiliated with the Oregon charity to this day are actively engaged in promoting peaceful dialogue between all people. We continue to address the misunderstandings of Islam in order to build relationships and encourage peaceful co-existence among all people.

Finally, we are profoundly disappointed with Mr. Gartenstein-Ross.  When he left to pursue his education he left on good terms, and those he left behind considered him a strong friend. He then turned on an organization that he knew all along was trying only to promote Islamic charity and understanding among peoples and religions, a charity that never forcefully or deceitfully recruited anyone to Islam and that explicitly and emphatically rejected and rejects terrorism in any form.  Most important, we are saddened that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross engaged in deeply hurtful personal attacks, slander, and innuendo against individuals who consistently and in good faith attempted to nurture him along the path that he chose of his own free will.  
 
In his book Mr. Gartenstein-Ross admits his close cooperation with federal officials after leaving Al-Haramain, and it may be that his attacks on the organization and on the persons affiliated with it were solicited and encouraged by the current Administration – an administration that, in the opinion of the directors, has been doing all it can to whip up anti-Islamic hysteria for its own political gain.  Or it may be simply a crass desire to exploit prior personal relationships for significant pecuniary gain.

In sum, notwithstanding the catchy title of Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’ book, it is both shallow and deceptive, obviously intended to promote Islamophobia.  The writings appear to be of a person who never really understood the fundamental tenets of the religion he once claimed was his own.  We expected more of Daveed.
  
 
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: My Year Inside Radical Islam is about my time working for the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Wahhabi charity organization with radical teachings.
Over time, I became persuaded by these teachings, until I started praying for the mujahideen, stateless Islamic warriors who were fighting to topple secular governments and replace them with Islamic states throughout the world.
I decided to write the book because a large part of the global war on terror is ideological, and I thought my book could shed light on the process by which people are drawn to radical Islam. 
Mr. Al-Buthi now argues that my book distorts Al Haramain’s “true mission of peace through understanding.” If peace were Al Haramain’s mission, the charity has a truly bizarre way of promoting it. My book chronicles at length the literature and teachings that drew me toward the hateful ideology of radical Islam, but al-Buthi claims that the only objectionable material was an essay about jihad in the back of the translation of the Qur’an that we distributed (known as the Noble Qur’an).
The essay was entitled “The Call to Jihad (Holy Fighting in Allah’s Cause) in the Qur’an.” The parenthetical phrase is not an addition: it appeared in the essay’s title. Al-Buthi states that Al Haramain distributed that essay only because “[t]he particular version of the Noble Qur’an that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross refers to had been donated to the charity.”

This is untrue. During my time at Al Haramain we distributed numerous editions of the Qur’an that included this essay, ranging from large hardbound volumes to pocket-sized versions. In fact, Al Haramain had a pocket-sized version of the Noble Qur’an printed in late 1999 that included Al Haramain’s logo and the Ashland office’s address on the cover.

This edition, with Al Haramain’s logo and address, included the essay on jihad. At this point, it’s important to understand why “The Call to Jihad” is so objectionable.

The problem isn’t limited to what al-Buthi describes as a “confrontational tone.” Rather, the 22-page essay, written by former Saudi Arabian chief justice Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, is nothing short of an exhortation to violence. Bin Humaid argues at length that Muslims are obligated to wage war against non-Muslims who have not submitted to Islamic rule.

He explains, Allah . . . commanded the Muslims to fight against all the Mushrikun as well as against the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) if they do not embrace Islam, till they pay the Jizyzah (a tax levied on the non-Muslims who do not embrace Islam and are under the protection of an Islamic government) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued. 

Mushrikun refers to non-Muslims who are not classified as people of the Scriptures. In other words, bin Humaid advocates war with the entire non-Muslim world. And he appeals to the reader to volunteer for jihad: Jihad is a great deed indeed and there is no deed whose reward or blessing is as that of it, and for this reason, it is the best thing that one can volunteer for. . . . [I]t (Jihad) shows one’s patience, one’s devotion to Islam, one’s remembrance to Allah and there are other kinds of good deeds which are present in Jihad and are not present in any other act of worship. 

As previously stated, this essay didn’t simply appear in one edition of the Qur’an that was donated to Al Haramain. The organization distributed multiple printings with this essay; the version with Al Haramain’s logo and address on the cover featured the essay; and, as my book documents, an Al Haramain employee even recommended bin Humaid’s piece to me as “a good essay on jihad.”

I do not know if Al Haramain eventually had the essay removed from the translation that it distributed, as al-Buthi claims. But if it did so, this was not for any ideological reason: rather, Al Haramain may have realized that such an essay would be inconvenient in the post-9/11 world. How do we know that Al Haramain wouldn’t remove this essay because the charity disagreed with it?

Because the essay is substantively indistinguishable from the translation of the Qur’an that the group used and distributed. Al Haramain used and distributed the Wahhabi translation of the Qur’an, translated by Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan. This translation is known for the insertion of “explanatory” bracketed material and footnotes that are not part of the Arabic Qur’anic text.

These insertions uniformly guide readers in a radical direction. The “explanatory” material, among other things, touches on jihad. An early footnote states:Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, . . . and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.This footnote thus rules out nonmilitary interpretations of jihad by insisting on “full force of numbers and weaponry,” endorses jihad as a means of propagating Islam, and specifies that this fighting is required of “every Muslim.”

This is no different from the supposedly objectionable “Call to Jihad” essay. The al-Hilali and Khan translation was favored by every Al Haramain employee with whom I discussed it. They felt it reflected “true Islam.”Indeed, it is difficult to find a single volume of Al Haramain literature that reflected the “mission of peace” that al-Buthi speaks of. Muhammad bin Jamil Zino’s Islamic Guidelines for Individual and Social Reform, a book to which I was frequently referred by coworkers attempting to offer me guidance, also has jihad as a theme.

As early as page two, Zino states that Islam “commends the Halal [lawful] money in possession of a pious person who pays a share of it in charity and for Jihad (fighting in the way of Allah).” Zino thus forthrightly states that jihad entails fighting, and encourages readers to use their money to finance the jihad.Zino also instructs his readers that children should be indoctrinated in the glories of jihad from an early age:Teach your children the love of justice and revenge from the unjust like the Jews and the tyrants. Consequently our youth would know that Palestine should be freed and Jerusalem must be of the Muslims.

They have to learn about Islam and Jihad as per the Qur’an and that the holy fighting for justice is supported by Allah the Almighty.He further specifies the objects and means of jihad: “The Jihad against the disbelievers, communists and the aggressors from Jewish-Christian nations can be either by spending on Jihad or by participating in it in person.” Indeed, the “Jewish-Christian nations” are special objects of ire throughout Al Haramain’s literature, as virulent anti-Semitism and hatred of non-Muslim governments are recurring themes.On a page titled “Act upon these Ahadith,” the ahadith being sayings and traditions attributed to Muhammad, Zino’s very first injunction shockingly reads: “The Last Hour will not appear unless the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”

Zino also imputes conspiracies to the Jews. In a passage denouncing fortunetellers, he writes, “If they know the Unseen, let them talk about the secret schemes of the Jews so that we combat them.”Zino calls for the killing of those who convert from Islam to another religion, favorably quoting a hadith that states: “Whoever apostatizes from Islam should be killed.”

Zino also writes that belief in secularism nullifies an individual’s adherence to Islam. This is in keeping with the views of another writer whose works Al Haramain distributed, and whom Al Haramain employees were fond of: Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. In The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism), Philips writes that non-Islamic government “must be sincerely hated and despised for the pleasure of God.”

In other words, those who favor Western liberal democracy have compromised their belief in Islam.There are many more examples of radicalism in Al Haramain’s literature, and my book documents that these radical teachings were not confined to the literature. They were also reflected in internal teachings.It is true that I never objected to this literature while working at Al Haramain.

That is because a combination of factors, including peer pressure and intellectual persuasion, convinced me of the truth of these teachings. I now see them for the hateful propaganda that they are. I have quoted at length from Al Haramain’s literature in order to show how pernicious the group’s teachings are, and to show that al-Buthi’s claim that Al Haramain had a “true mission of peace” would be truly laughable were it not for the fact that the charity has done so much harm throughout the world.As for Al Haramain’s involvement in terrorism, it is virtually indisputable that Al Haramain’s international operations were a major sponsor of terrorism, as I claim in my book.

I will go into more detail about the international operations below. As for links between the Oregon charity and terrorism, al-Buthi obviously has not yet read my book, as my allegations do not extend beyond the claims in the criminal indictment.

The book states that two Al Haramain directors (al-Buthi and Pete Seda) were indicted for their roles in a money-laundering scheme that federal investigators believe financed the Chechen mujahideen. In fact, page seven of the indictment states that al-Buthi and Seda “intend[ed] that the funds be delivered to the Chechen mujahideen.”It is important to understand al-Buthi’s manipulation of the facts of the criminal case.

He says that the charity has never been found guilty, but neglects to mention that the reason for this is because the two individuals indicted—including al-Buthi himself—are fugitives who refuse to stand trial in U.S. court. He claims that “when faced with a demand for a speedy trial, the U.S. Government cut its losses and dismissed the case.”It is true that the criminal case against Al Haramain has been dismissed by the government for the time being—but the only reason is because the lawyers for al-Buthi and Seda insisted that the prosecution proceed against the shell corporation while the two human defendants remained safely overseas.

The Government’s motion to dismiss cogently explains the decision to drop the prosecution of the corporation:[I]t is the actions of the fugitive defendants [Seda] and Al-But’he which are at the core of the indictment. Those actions are also the legal and factual basis for AHIF [Al Haramain Islamic Foundation], Inc.’s status as a defendant in the indictment. Given the current state of affairs with respect to AHIF, Inc. and the fugitive defendants [Seda] and Al-But’he, expending the significant resources necessary to prosecute the shell corporation would be inefficient and wasteful, until at least one of the individual defendants are apprehended. Moreover, even were the government to prosecute the corporation, a conviction without the presence of one of the individual defendants would prove hollow.

The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc. has no currently available assets with which to pay a fine, and the only existing responsible corporate officers who could authorize the payment of a fine, or ensure that the corporation complies with any other type of remedial sanction in conducting its future affairs, are fugitives in the same criminal case. So, even were the government to obtain a conviction against the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Inc., there is no one before the Court, or even in the United States, who could truly represent the corporate defendant.

Expending the resources of the Court and prosecution to obtain this Pyrrhic victory would not be in the taxpayers’ best interests.It appears that the reason al-Buthi’s lawyers attempted to make the government continue its prosecution against the shell corporation while al-Buthi was at large was entirely strategic: they wanted to engage in discovery to learn what evidence the government had on their client.

The fact that the prosecution decided not to pursue the case against the shell corporation under these circumstances is understandable, and does not prove Al Haramain’s innocence.The fact is that the money-laundering operation that the Oregon office was involved in took place at a time when the head office’s web page featured prayers for the Chechen mujahideen, and at a time when an employee in the head office in Saudi Arabia was disseminating battlefield reports from the Chechen mujahideen.

It is no wonder that investigators believe the money that al-Buthi smuggled out of the country reached terrorists.And Al Haramain’s international operations?

The U.S. Treasury has designated Al Haramain offices in Kenya and Tanzania as sponsors of terrorism for their role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East African. The designation lists multiple connections between Al Haramain and the bombings, including the offices’ involvement in planning the attacks, funding by a wealthy Al Haramain official, and a former Tanzanian Al Haramain director’s role in making preparations for the advance party that planned the bombings.

The Comoros Islands office was also designated because it “was used as a staging area and exfiltration route for the perpetrators of the 1998 bombings.” The New York Times reported in 2003 that Al Haramain had provided funds to the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

The Indonesia office was later designated a terrorist entity by the Treasury Department because of this, as well as providing support to al-Qaeda in the region.Nor are these Al Haramain’s only international connections to terrorism.

The Afghanistan office was designated for supporting the bin Laden-financed Makhtab al-Khidemat terrorist group, and for its involvement with a group training to attack foreigners in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell. The Albania office was designated because of its ties to al-Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

The Bangladesh office was designated after an official sent an operative to conduct surveillance on U.S. consulates in India.

The Ethiopian branch was designated because of its support for al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, a terrorist group that carried out attacks on Ethiopian defense forces. The Pakistan office was designated for supporting the Taliban, Lashkar e-Taibah, and Makhtab al-Khidemat. Other designated offices include Bosnia, the Netherlands, and Somalia.

All of these actions speak much louder than the words contained in the Oregon chapter’s articles of incorporation that al-Buthi references.Al-Buthi’s various attempts to impugn my motivations are ridiculous, and almost entirely undeserving of a response.

My book was “solicited and encouraged by the current Administration”? Emphatically not.

Equally ridiculous is al-Buthi’s accusation that I may have “a crass desire to exploit prior personal relationships for significant pecuniary gain.”

If pecuniary gain were my goal, I would have remained a commercial litigator.Moreover, I hope that most Muslims would find al-Buthi’s accusations of Islamophobia to be ridiculous. Muslims do face real and serious discrimination today.

But for an organization responsible for the kind of hateful literature and linked to the kind of violent activity detailed above to try to deflect criticism by claiming “Islamophobia”? If my book is an example of Islamophobia, then the term truly has no meaning.

In sum, while al-Buthi states that he is profoundly disappointed with me, I wish I could say that I was disappointed with Al Haramain. However, I am not. I knew all about its ideology when I worked there. More than anything, as I continue to research Al Haramain’s international operations, I’m surprised at the degree to which the charity was willing to turn its ideological support for violence into actual violence.


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