U.S. President Donald Trump held his first Iftar dinner at the White House last week. Iftar is the traditional meal that breaks the day-long fast that Muslims observe during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Although the list of the 40 Muslims who were invited was not disclosed, we do know some those invited as well as those excluded. In attendance were ambassadors from Muslim countries. Excluded were members of Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
Trump’s choice of attendees stands in sharp contrast to former President Obama, who invited these groups and their radical leaders into the White House. Not only did his administration have a history of empowering American Islamists (giving them a hand in rewriting military and intelligence training protocols and purging existing counterterrorism materials that made the connection between Islamism and terror), the Obama administration empowered the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Muslim world.
We saw how that went. Shortly after Obama assumed office, he made his famous Cairo speech, in which he insisted that members of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood attend. The New York Times famously gave Obama credit for jump starting the Arab Spring, which was not-surprisingly hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Mr. Obama’s order, known as a Presidential Study Directive, identified likely flashpoints, most notably Egypt, and solicited proposals for how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States,” the Times reported. “Presumably, the paper pointed out the strength of Islamist forces and the Muslim Brotherhood factor and then discounted any dangers from this quarter. One could have imagined how other U.S. governments would have dealt with this situation.”
Obama’s reasoning, based on intelligence reports he had ordered, was that revolution was about to happen anyway in certain American-allied countries in the Muslim world. By supporting the opposition (i.e. the Brotherhood), the United States would be sitting pretty.
The strategy backfired. While the Brotherhood took over Egypt and installed Mohammed Morsi as president, Islamists exerted increasingly autocratic power over the Egyptian people, who revolted once more – this time against Morsi and his cadre of Brotherhood thugs.
Ironically, while the U.S. was supporting the Brotherhood, their minions were busy denouncing the U.S. and trying to take over the U.S. embassy in Cairo (aiming for a circa 1979 repeat of the embassy takeover in Iran after the Islamic revolution there).
Even though the Islamists who gained power in Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab Spring were eventually thrown out, Obama had let a dangerous genie out of the bottle. Coupled with his withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, a vacuum was left that was ultimately filled by ISIS and later by Iran. Similarly, Obama’s withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan made way for the resurgence of the Taliban.
Trump has wisely taken another tack. ISIS is all but defeated in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban has its head down in Afghanistan once more and the much of the Arab world has united with the U.S. to defeat the fanatical regime in Tehran. Of note is the fact that the alliance with America and the perks that come with it have also yielded good payoffs – Saudi Arabia has officially reversed its policy of extremism and, with America’s blessing, Israel has been routing the Iranians in Syria.
American Islamists may cry they are not represented in the White House anymore. But the truth is, they never represented American Muslims as they claim to.
A 2011 poll found that only 12% of Muslim-American males and 11% of females picked CAIR as the organization that most represented their interests. In addition, of all the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups, only 24 percent of Muslim-American men and 19 percent of Muslim-American women felt these groups represented them.
The poll may be seven years old, however, the pictures we have seen of the reality of living under sharia governance as represented by Islamist regimes from Turkey to ISIS in the years since that poll was taken has not been pretty.
It is likely the majority of American Muslims are well aware of this and still do not support Brotherhood-linked groups in the U.S.
Trump made a good call by not inviting American Islamists to the White House. It should be followed up by an embrace of Muslim reformists who have everything to add to the conversation and to their community as well.