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Columbia Event — A Dream for the Iranian Regime

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The Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in NYC (Photo: Flickr/Wally Gobetz/CC 2.0)
The Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in NYC (Photo: Flickr/Wally Gobetz/CC 2.0)

Support for the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolution project was in full swing at Columbia University last month where Shiite extremist groups held an event titled The Marginalization of Shi’a Initiatives, sponsored by Muslims United for Justice.

From organizers to speakers to sponsors and co-sponsors, the event was a dream for the regime. (See details of each of these players below.)

For an enemy waging ideological war against the West, a college campus offers a prime venue to mobilize supporters and recruit new ones.

The Iranian regime has found Columbia University to be a hospitable ground for years. The most vivid example was the school’s widely-criticized decision in 2007 to host then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a guest speaker.

Columbia also accepted funding from the regime in the past. The New York Post reported that $100,000 was donated after Ahmadinejad’s event. In 2006 and 2004, the Alavi Foundation, a regime-front, donated $20,000 and $50,000, respectively.

The Post also reported the Alavi Foundation financed at least two professorships, Gary Sick of the School of International and Public Affairs and Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature.

Sick was known for whitewashing Ahmadinejad’s calls to destroy Israel and Dabashi gained dubious distinction for praising Iraqi, Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists as heroes for “resisting this [American] empire.”

Columbia University receives millions in federal funding a year. From that taxpayer-funded academic setting, Iran’s radicals are able to set up shop to promote their global “Islamic Revolution.”

If universities and student activists are serious about countering hate, those who further the interests of terrorists and terrorist regimes, should be first on their list.

Unfortunately, up until now, the reaction to having mainstream conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens has been met with more ferocity than known promoters of jihadist organizations, sharia theocracies and Islamist extremist movements.

Organizers

Marya Abbas and Nessrein Shahba — the two primary organizers of the event — shared their extremism loud and clear on social media.

The two consistently support the Iranian regime, its theocratic head, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s primary enforcers which oversees the suppression of dissent and sponsor international terrorism. The Trump administration just designated the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Marya Abbas

On March 11, 2018, Abbas referred to the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force (its elite foreign terrorist unit), Qassem Soleimani, as a “legend” and wished him a happy birthday.

Honoring the birthdays of Shiite terrorist leaders seems to be a pattern for Abbas. On July 27, 2018, she called Khamenei a “righteous leader” in her birthday wish to him.

 

On September 28, 2018, she posted a photo of Khamenei in an adoring crowd. She asked that Allah protect him underneath the caption “#goals.” She then remarked that Khamenei’s rule reflects “the status of women in Islam.” That means that, to her, the true women’s rights advocates in Iran are not the brave women protesting for equality and boldly dancing and removing their hijabs in public—the true women’s rights activists are their oppressors:

 

 

 

Nessrein Shahba

The other event organizer, Nessrein Shabha, is even more openly radical than Abbas. On February 5, 2019, she changed her profile picture to a fist with a quote from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has been a designated terrorist organization since 1997 when the designations began.

On February 1, 2019, she uploaded a post celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, calling it a “success.”

On February 4, 2019, she posted a quote from the founder of the Iranian regime, Ruhollah Khomeini. The quote implores girls to reject the modern values “offered to you by the corrupt agents of the West or the East,” depicting Western influence as immoral.

 

Although Shahba condemned the Sri Lanka bombings by ISIS in April, saying, “Terrorism and oppression against any human being is unacceptable,” it is common for Shiite extremists to condemn acts of the extremism by Sunnis. Considering her support for Shiite leaders notorious for terrorism and suppressing the human rights of others, we can assume this is the case here.

Mohsin Naqvi

Naqvi was previously the center of controversy for having posted a flier of an event at the Islamic Education Center of Houston that promoted the anniversary of the 40th Iranian Islamic Revolution. A video surfaced of the event where young singers referred to themselves as “Khamenei’s soldiers.”

Naqvi is also a supporter of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah. In a post dated December 20, 2018, he shared an article about Nasrallah from Insight Media, which is run by Ali Salam, a virulent conspiracy theorist and Hezbollah supporter.

Abbas gave him a shout out on Facebook.

 

Speakers

The event featured extremist speakers and even those with ties to Iran-linked terrorism and espionage, including:

Hossein Hashemi

Hossein Hasemi is a research fellow at the University of Colorado.

Hashemi is the son of Marzieh Hashemi, an anchorwoman for the Iranian regime’s PressTV media outlet, making her a key propagandist for its ideology.

Marzieh Hashemi was arrested by the FBI for 10 days in January on a “material witness” warrant to prevent her from fleeing the U.S. to escape testifying before a grand jury. PressTV, predictably, claimed the U.S. government physically abused her.

A federal indictment strongly indicates Marzieh Hashemi worked in America as an agent of Iranian intelligence who used her cover as a “journalist” to recruit spies, specifically Monica Witt, a U.S. Air Force Counterintelligence Agent who spied for the regime and defected to Iran in 2013. Witt gave classified information to Iran about a secret U.S. program, disclosed the identity of a U.S. intelligence officer and assisted Iranian regime cyber operatives in trying to hack into her colleagues’ computers.

Before the Columbia event kicked off, the organizers shared a video from Marzieh Hashemi where she thanked everyone for attending and denied recruiting Monica Witt as a spy. She then spouted common Iranian propaganda about the U.S. being an opponent of human rights and how the U.S. should end its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

 

Muzzamil Zaidi

Zaidi is a student studying in Qom, Iran, which is a hub of indoctrination for the regime.

 

Co-Sponsors

Twelve organizations co-sponsored the event at Columbia. Any group that looks at this event and decides it is worth supporting should be scrutinized as a possible component of the pro-Iran network in America.

Here are four of the sponsors whom are known to promote the interests of the Iranian regime:

Al Khoei Foundation

The Al Khoei Foundation is a Shiite organization in New York. In 2016, Khoei received a $25,000 grant from the Alavi Foundation, which had all its U.S. assets seized by the U.S. government in June of 2017.

The Alavi Foundation is a thinly-veiled front for the Iranian regime’s propaganda efforts. The U.S. government also charged it with funneling rental income from its $1 billion building in Manhattan to the Iranian regime, specifically to a bank linked to Iran’s nuclear program.

Muslim Congress

The Muslim Congress is a non-profit Shiite organization that claims to have no ties to domestic or foreign entities. However, it regularly chooses extremists to speak at its conferences, such as Maulana Muhammad Mirza Baig, who promotes Iranian theocracy, Shiite jihadists and exalts Supreme Leader Khamenei as the foremost spiritual authority on earth. Clarion Project exposed Baig in October of 2018.

In August of 2017, the Iranian American Forum exposed Muslim Congress as a front group for the regime in Iran. Human rights activist and political activist  Hassan Dai wrote:

“The annual Muslim Congress gathers several hundred participants and starts with a video message by the Iranian regime’s high ranking Ayatollah Javadi Amoli from the city of Qom in Iran.

“During the three-day conference, pro-Tehran clerics and political figures participate in town hall meetings and panel discussions to promote the Iranian regime ideology and its policies. There are also a number of side-events to attract the young Muslims and families such as the ‘Heavenly Match,’ a spouse selection service, poetry sessions, a Qur’an contest and sport competitions.”

 

Muslim Foundation Inc.

The Muslim Foundation Inc. is a non-profit Shiite organization that runs the Masjid-e-Ali in New Jersey. Masjid-e-Ali’s resident scholar, Syed Rizwan Rizvi studied in Qom, Iran from 2000 to 2006.

The chairman of the board for Muslim Foundation Inc., Dr. Aftab Hussain, supports the conspiracy theory that ISIS is a puppet of Israel. On September 18, 2018, he uploaded a Facebook post promoting a video by Christian anti-Semites who claim Zionism and ISIS are the same thing, that God will harshly judge Christian Zionists for supporting Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to exterminate all Palestinians with a “Final Solution.”

 

Imam-a-Zamana Foundation of North America

The Imam-a-Zamana Foundation of North America, which is also known as Bait Wali-e-Asr, is a Shiite mosque in New Jersey. On November 15, 2018, its scholar (maulana) Syed Mohammad Askari conducted the majlis (council). Askari is a major supporter of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In a speech given in Urdu in March 2018 about Khamenei’s achievements, Askari told people to listen to and follow Khamenei, saying:

“Dear listeners, I have just quoted two verses from the Quran and a hadith (Sayings of the prophet) in front of you because today’s gathering is about that mujahid (jihadi warrior) scholar’s life and accomplishments whom Allah has blessed that rank for which our 6th Imam says he has personally designated him as the ruler. If he gives you an order and his order is not conducted, then it not his opposition but in fact my insult. This is not his insult and it’s like disobeying my order. And disobeying my order is like disobeying Allah’s order.”

Bait Wali-e-Asr’s website refers to Askari as a “pious” religious leader.

In Sum

According to the information shared following the event from one of the organizers, Marya Abbas, 160 people attended. While the speakers are not known to have advocated at the event for Iranian terrorism, the event clearly aimed to introduce extremist Shiite Islamist speakers to the audience as respectable authorities on the issues.

Iranian intelligence and supporters of the regime also use such events to bring together like-minded ideologues so they can be mobilized later.

 

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Ryan Mauro and Justen Charters

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's Shillman Fellow, national security analyst and the director of Clarion Intelligence Network. Mauro is also an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Justen Charters is a research analyst with the Clarion Intelligence Network.