The Syrian American Council (SAC) is a Syrian-American lobbying group advocating international support for the Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad. SAC, for example, posted advertisements in Washington, DC, metro cars in early November calling upon the international community to "Save Syria's Children" with intervention. SAC's senior political adviser, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, also penned a December 27, 2012, editorial in the Washington Post calling for international aid to Syria's rebels in order forestall the influence of Al Qaeda-linked "extremists." Yet analysis of SAC's membership calls into question this group's moderation, thereby raising further doubts about which groups in a conflict-ridden Syria the United States could support.
Investigation of SAC's board members reveals various troubling associations. SAC's chairman is Hussam Ayloush, a resident of Los Angeles. As Ayloush's own webpage announces, he is the southern California chapter leader for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a consistently radical organization with its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood and an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) terrorism financing trial. As the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) documents, the 2012 Democratic National Convention delegate Ayloush is no exception to CAIR's extensive history of Islamic militancy.
Similar to Ayloush is SAC board member and Florida CAIR chapter head Hassan Shibley of Tampa. Shibley has similarly merited his own IPT dossier documenting how he has often defended Hamas and Hezbollah as "resistance" movements against an Israel compared with apartheid South Africa and the Third Reich, and he has even expressed willingness to fight in the ranks of Hezbollah. Shibley has also favored implementing Islamic sharia as opposed to secular laws.
Another SAC board member not officially a member of CAIR but often in its company is Mo Idlibi in North Carolina. Idlibi was the lawyer for various Muslim imams charging airlines for discrimination. Terrorism concerns led to the Muslims' removal from boarded flights preparing for takeoff in May 2011.
Two of the imams, the Arabic language professor Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, boarded in Memphis an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight operated as a connector for Delta Air Lines. Another imam, Al Amin Abdul Latif, meanwhile, was met with refusal in boarding an American Airlines flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. His son, Abu Bakr Abdul Latif, had to leave the same plane after it returned to the gate. All of these individuals were bound for a Charlotte, North Carolina conference. The Memphis imams were able to take another flight eight hours after the initially planned departure, while Latif ultimately drove to Charlotte after being denied a seat the next day, although his son was able to resume his flight that day.
Claiming that these Muslims were victims of prejudicial suspicions due to their Muslim appearance, the civil rights complaint launched by Idlibi's United Firm of Carolina Law (UFC Law, whose flyer online once again shows Idlibi's picture) and a CAIR lawyer on behalf of Rahman and Zaghoul noted a certain irony in their case. The pair was seeking to board a May 6, 2011 flight in order "to attend a national conference about countering the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry" when they "came face-to-face with the discrimination they hoped" to combat.
As CNN reported at the time, the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) organized the conference. The program for the May 6-9, 2011 conference available online features the title "Islamophobia: Diagnosis and Treatment." An afternoon May 7 session on "Islamophobia: A Challenge to the Bill of Rights" lists as a participant the attorney Mojahid Idlibi, who also appears in the session "Islamophobia: US Attorney Western District of NC" the following day.
An online video of the May 7 session shows Idlibi addressed as "Mo" (at marks 4:35 and 21:52) by a co-panelist, a man addressed as Jim at the panel's end and presumably the lawyer listed in the program as James Gronquist. CAIR's spokesman Ibrahim Hooper then appears immediately following in the video in the session "Defining Ourselves and Reclaiming the Initiative" (beginning at minute 30). The November 2009 issue of the Mecklenburg Bar News on page ten ultimately solves the mystery with its listing of a Mojahid (Mo) Omar Idlibi as a graduate of Charlotte Law School swearing in to the North Carolina bar. Mojahid is one transliteration of mujahid, or one who pursues jihad.
Commenting upon the case, Robert Spencer at his website Jihadwatch considered the discrimination accusations "palpable hooey" in light of his regularly flying with Muslims in traditional dress without incident. Spencer could not suppress suspicion at the "coincidence" that the imams "got pulled off a flight just for being Muslim" while traveling to an "Islamophobia" conference. Spencer's suspicions have all the more circumstantial evidence given a previous case of six flying imams returning from another NAIF conference. The group brought charges after being removed in Minneapolis from a November 20, 2006, flight to Phoenix for exhibiting behavior indicative of a Muslim terrorist attack.
Given the background of these imams all coincidentally claiming discrimination during NAIF conference travels, there is good reason to suspect fraud. Three of the imams returning home were known personally to their fellow Phoenix-area resident, the moderate Muslim political activist Zuhdi Jasser, as radical Islamists. Zaghoul in turn is the imam of the Masjid al-Noor/Islamic Association of Greater Memphis (IAGM), a mosque founded under the auspices of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the original Muslim Brotherhood organization in America dating from 1963, as documented by another IPT dossier. Zaghoul's IAGM biography describes him as an alumnus of Cairo's "prestigious Al-Azhar (Islamic) University" that under the new Brotherhood-influenced Egyptian constitution (Article 4) will strictly interpret sharia for Egypt.
As for NAIF itself, its "membership consists of the most radical Muslim religious leaders located throughout the United States," as described by Joe Kaufman at FrontPage Magazine. NAIF's inclinations come through in the "Double Standards" cartoon series on the NAIF website. One cartoon juxtaposes a superman figure with a soldier confronting civilians in a Muslim village and states:
When someone sacrifices himself to keep others alive he is noble and everyone respects him. But when a Palestinian does that to save his son from being killed, his brother's arm being broken, his mother being raped, his home being destroyed, and his mosque being violated…he gets the title of "terrorist"!
Like NAIF's various flying imams, SAC board member Mohammad Natour in south Florida has also made questionable claims of anti-Muslim bigotry, as analyzed in an online dossier of news reports concerning this "sheikdown" at the Militant Islam Monitor. A Syrian-American restaurant owner, Natour, claimed along with six other Muslim-Americans that a Florida City Denny's restaurant discriminated against serving them during a two A.M. visit on January 11, 2004. In response to the subsequent lawsuit initiated on April 22, 2005, Denny's CEO Nelson J. Marchioli promised "to aggressively challenge the accusations" having "been found to be baseless."
SAC board members Zaki Lababidi from Phoenix and Seif Martini from Chicago, meanwhile, both saw fit to contribute to Cynthia McKinney's failed 2002 bid for reelection to Congress from Georgia (Lababidi, $250; Martini, two contributions of $200 and $250). McKinney lost her race when years of conspiracy theorizing and left-wing race mongering culminated in a March 25, 2002 radio interview in which she insinuated the Bush administration had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Interestingly, both $250 contributions from Labibidi and Martini came after McKinney's outrageous comments (on June 2 and May 2, 2002, respectively).
Not a SAC board member but appearing with Ayloush and others in a video on the SAC homepage is SAC communications director Rashad Al-Dabbagh from Orange County, California. Questioned in a May 2012 interview about possible Israeli aid to Syria's rebels, Al-Dabbagh flatly rejected help from a "country deemed as an enemy by Syrians." Al-Dabbagh also wrote on the Orange Juice Blog in December 2012 that NATO "direct intervention…at this point is too late in the game and will be regarded by many Syrians as an attempt by Western powers to hijack the revolution."
In all, SAC raises yet more questions about whether any Western intervention in a tormented Syria could find partners suitable for creating a peaceful post-Assad order, even as moderate Syrian-Americans like Jasser call for such efforts in the group Save Syria Now. SAC demonstrates once again that the Muslim world for the West is often a region of few friends and many diverse foes.
By Andrew Harrod