Written by Ryan Mauro
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) held a press conference on December 6 about “right-wing extremists” in response to my article originally published here criticizing the All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena for hosting its convention. MPAC founder and senior adviser Maher Hathout admitted to having been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but said the relationship ended when he moved to the U.S. and he is on the side of the Egyptian opposition to Mohammed Morsi. The press conference’s speakers relentlessly bashed the raising of legitimate concerns about MPAC as “Islamophobia,” hate-mongering and bigotry. The Center for American Progress report “Fear Inc: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” was made available for attendees. Rector Ed Bacon said the church received dozens of hate-filled emails, resulting in sympathetic media coverage.
“Kudos to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and MPAC for the promotional savvy to exploit a handful of negative emails into a major media story showcasing their supposed victimhood,” said Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which sponsored the original article. His organization was the only one directly attacked in the press conference.
Maher Hathout said that he is “very proud” of his work with the Muslim Brotherhood “student movement” against Nasser and British, but never dealt with any organization outside the U.S. since coming to the country about 40 years ago. In our debate the day prior, MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati repeatedly slammed mentions of a Brotherhood connection to his group as “lies” rooted in hatred. When I challenged MPAC to take an active stand against the Brotherhood, Al-Marayati said it was a “ridiculous suggestion” and “it’s not worth our time.”
Hathout said that he is against the anti-democratic “trend” in Egypt and is on the side of the opposition. He still took a soft view of the Brotherhood, saying its “work is changing” and its critics “freeze a point in history and think this is the whole story.”
MPAC was created to advance the Brotherhood ideology. The late Hassan Hathout, former MPAC President and Maher’s brother, said that they came to the U.S. to start the “Islamic Movement” inspired by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood. He described himself as a “close disciple” of al-Banna. A 1989 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Financial Committee document talks about working with someone named Hathout “in the field,” demonstrating that the Brotherhood had ties to at least one of the Hathout brothers after they arrived. MPAC has long collaborated with known U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities, as identified in the Brotherhood’s own documents, FBI investigators and the federal government during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation.
The privately expressed views of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood match the publicly expressed views of Hassan Hathout. A 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood document says, “its work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.” In 1997, Hathout said the U.S. needs the “Islamic Movement” because “If you look objectively you will see that this current civilization harbors in its body the seeds of its own destruction.”
Maher Hathout says he did not continue working with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood after he came to the U.S., but the Brotherhood is more than a political party. It is a movement based on Islamist ideology. In 1997, he praised Hassan al-Banna and two other Brotherhood-allied Islamists, Rashid Ghannouchi and Hasan al-Turabi, as “reformists.” Remember that when MPAC boasts that it is a voice of “reform.” Ghannouchi spoke at an MPAC event in 2011. Hathout is the spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, which still suggests Brotherhood texts on Islamic law on its website.
A 2004 investigation into the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood by the Chicago Tribune makes this point. An official with the Muslim American Society admitted that it was created by the Muslim Brotherhood, but explained that it “went way beyond that point of conception.” It is not administrated by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood but it follows its teachings. “We are not your typical Ikhwan [Brotherhood],” he explained.
This Islamist influence is apparent in MPAC’s history. In 1998, Maher Hathout said of Hezbollah: “I disagree with them on other issues, but on the issue of fighting to liberate their land and attacking only armed forces, this is legitimate, that is an American value — freedom and liberty.” In 1999, Salam al-Marayati said Hezbollah engages in “legitimate resistance.”
In June 1999, an MPAC position paper said Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon “was not in a strict sense, a terrorist operation. It was a military operation, producing no civilian casualties—exactly the kind of attack that Americans might have lauded had it been directed against Washington’s enemies.”
In 2003, MPAC opposed designating Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups, stating
It is clear that the terrorist threat to the U.S. emanates from Al-Qaeda and not Palestinian groups. There is no evidence that Palestinian groups designated as terrorist organizations have any connections to Al-Qaeda. Yet the preoccupation with these groups raises the question as to whether targeting Palestinian groups serves true national security interests or is based on political considerations.
To be fair, MPAC has condemned specific acts of violence by these groups and Hathout said in a radio interview that he disagrees with Morsi’s power grab and said dictatorship is the “imminent” threat to Egypt. However, he said he has a “sense of respect for the party [Muslim Brotherhood]” and believes Morsi is “sincere” and “smart.”
Islamists sometimes disagree over tactics. Al-Azhar University, an institution that endorsed the Reliance of the Traveler as an authority on Sharia Law, feels Morsi has gone too far. Nonetheless, MPAC’s criticism of these tactics is like a drop in the ocean of ferocious condemnations of Israel and “Islamophobes” that stand against Islamism, even when the so-called bigot is a devout Muslim like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.
MPAC repeatedly says that it is only seeking peace-making and good will between faiths. Al-Marayati even said that he doesn’t seek conversions to Islam because there are “more than enough Muslims.” However, Al-Marayati stated a political objective at the press conference. He said they want the U.S. government to be an “honest broker” for peace in the Middle East. A common refrain of MPAC and other anti-Israel groups is that the U.S. is unfair to the Palestinian and, more broadly, Arab side. MPAC seeks to broaden its interfaith coalition so it can undermine support for Israel and push back against their critics.
It is encouraging that Maher Hathout took a stand against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and finally addressed the very reasonable concerns about his Muslim Brotherhood past. The Brotherhood, though, is just the biggest component of the Islamist ideology. MPAC and its leaders continued to promote that ideology after arriving in the U.S. True reform will only come when the preaching of Islamists like Hassan al-Banna is challenged and not upheld as the “reformists” Muslims should follow.