The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is again showing its affection for the radical Jamaat-e-Islami group of Pakistan and Bangladesh, a group that it derived from. ICNA was the first to publicly mourn the death of a Jamaat-e-Islami leader and to defend his record, eliciting harsh criticism from some Muslims online.
Jamaat-e-Islami is essentially a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are Islamist groups with a history of support for terrorism and who intend to use electoral means to implement Sharia governance. Bangladesh is prosecuting Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan.
ICNA portrays itself as moderate and its leadership has said that it has “no relations—no links to any organization or any country outside the United States.” The Clarion Project’s profile of ICNA documents its extremism, including its Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood affiliations.
ICNA’s quest to downplay its links to Jamaat-e-Islami is undermined by its own October 23 press release.
It mourns the death of Ghulam Azam, who led the Jamaat-e-Islami party in Bangladesh from 1991 to 2000. He was in prison after being convicted by a Bangladeshi tribunal on 61 war crimes charges.
Azam was the Ameer of the East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan in 1971. He is accused of working with the Pakistani military in its offensives that killed an estimated 3 million people and resulted in the rapes of about a quarter-million women, according to various press accounts.
The Daily Star recounts his role in the atrocities as the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing formed pro-Pakistan militias. Its account includes a picture of Azam with Pakistani general known as “Butcher of Baluchistan.”
He instigated the human rights abuses with comments such as, “The miscreants are still active in East Pakistan. People must be provided with arms to destroy them.” He basically characterized the Bangaldesh independence movement as a war on Islam by Indian Hindus.
The Bangladeshi tribunal judges ruled that Azam oversaw Jamaat-e-Islami when it “intentionally functioned as a criminal organization.”
The prosecution of Jamaat-e-Islami was demanded by hordes of Bangladeshi Muslim protestors, leading to a ban on the group from elections. A senior ICNA official was sentenced to death for his involvement in Jamaat-e-Islami’s war crimes.
Notably, Azam’s funeral was the scene of protests and explosions. An alliance of Muslim activists formed a human chain to protest his funeral at the national mosque. They demanded that his funeral instead happen in Pakistan.
ICNA’s press release paints a very different picture. It casts him as a victim of political persecution and “one of the foremost Muslim activists in the world.” It acknowledges his opposition to independence for Bangladesh, but denies that he supported or contributed to human rights violations.
Outraged Muslims posted comments underneath ICNA’s press release challenging this depiction. Here are a few:
“As a Bengali Muslim, I call for the organization to remove this post. It is not meet for an American organization to take such a partisan view in support of a person accused by many of the survivors of the war as having a hand in genocide. No matter how flawed the process of his prosecution was, it does not change the facts or history.”
“This article is biased in favor of Golam Azam and full of distortion of facts. From the previous comments it clearly appear how it offended the vast majority of moderate Muslims in Bangladesh whom ICNA claims to represent. Golam Azam is undoubtedly favorite among a section of Muslims like ISIS, Muslim brotherhood, Jamat-e- islami etc. but moderate Muslims don't believe in his interpretation of Islam. Sorry ICNA, this is not representing moderate Islam.”
“Exactly what makes him scholar? What is his contribution to Islam even? I'm really surprised ICNA can publish this type of thing without any investigation. He helped Pakistani Military killed and raped thousands of people. He is a mass murderer. ICNA should stop publishing this type of thing. Otherwise they will stop gaining trust from the Muslim community.”
This is a part of pattern by ICNA. The group denies having foreign links but consistently acts as the Jamaat-e-Islami lobby in America. ICNA’s own teaching guide advocates using deception to advance the Islamist cause and names the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami as a role model.
When the prosecutions began, ICNA asked the U.S. to intervene to get the Bangladeshi to end them and to lift the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami. When Jamaat-e-Islami supporters clashed with security forces, ICNA jumped to place full blame on the Bangladeshi government.
When the Bangladeshi government executed a Jamaat-e-Islami figure named Abdul Quader Molla, ICNA mobilized its membership to pressure the White House into issuing a condemnation. The Jamaat-e-Islami website featured an article about ICNA’s activism.
Now, ICNA is again investing its time and resources into helping Jamaat-e-Islami by uplifting Ghulam Azam and condemning Bangladesh.
Another supposedly “moderate” group and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity, Islamic Society of North America, is mourning Azam. ISNA used softer language, describing him as a “committed Muslim scholar and activist” without any mention of the charges against him.
ICNA is able to organize massive conferences with Islamist speakers, but this has failed to translate into significant Muslim-American support. A 2011 Gallup poll found that only 2% of Muslim-American males and less than a single percent of women chose ICNA as the group that most represents them. This was before ICNA acted as the thinly-concealed Jamaat-e-Islami lobby.
By siding with Islamists who persecute Muslim rivals, ICNA is discrediting its own “moderate” façade.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.