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A Congressman for Jihad By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 17, 2008

Former U.S. Congressman Mark Deli Siljander (R-MI) was indicted Wednesday for money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, in connection with charges that a Muslim charity, the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), was involved in efforts to finance the Afghan jihad terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The IARA was named a specially designated global terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004.


John F. Wood, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, declared: “An organization right here in the American heartland allegedly sent funds to Pakistan for the benefit of a specially designated global terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban…. The indictment also alleges that a former congressman engaged in money laundering and obstruction of a federal investigation in an effort to disguise IARA’s misuse of taxpayer money that the government had provided for humanitarian purposes.”


According to the indictment, the IARA sent around $130,000 to bank accounts controlled by its parent organization, the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), in Peshawar, Pakistan, where the money went to Hekmatyar’s activities. The ISRA’s headquarters are in Khartoum, Sudan, with the Columbia, Missouri-based IARA as its American office until it was shut down. According to the Treasury Department, “IARA is formerly affiliated with Maktab Al-Khidamat (MK), which was co-founded and financed by UBL [Osama bin Laden] and is the precursor organization of al Qaida.” The IARA has also funneled money to Hamas.


How did an American congressman get mixed up with a group co-founded and financed by Osama bin Laden? The indictment charges that the IARA hired Siljander in 2004 to lobby for its removal from a Senate Finance Committee list of organizations suspected of supporting terrorism, and reinstatement as an “approved government contractor.” The IARA, according to the indictment, paid in $50,000 that had been stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – and Siljander is also charged with helping to launder other money stolen from USAID. The IARA, then known as the Islamic African Relief Agency, had received the funds for relief work in Mali. Questioned by the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander lied, says the indictment, about his connections with the IARA – he told agents that he had not been hired by IARA and had simply received “donations” from them to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.


And that may provide a clue as to what may have led Siljander down this path, or how he justified it to himself. In a revealing November 2007 address, Siljander described how his thought evolved, and spoke of his forthcoming book, A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide, which was set to be published this summer. Siljander said that during his tenure in Congress (1981-1987), he was angry when the Qur’an was read during the National Prayer Breakfast. He wrote to the Breakfast’s emcee: “How can you read the book of the devil at a prayer breakfast?”


Afterward, however, he began to read the Qur’an himself, and was impressed: “I found out that Jesus was mentioned in the Quran 110 times, either directly or indirectly, and there was not a single word about Jesus that was horrible, disgraceful or, in my opinion, inconsistent with what the Bible says about him.” He explained that he had discovered “paradigm crashing” ways to harmonize Christian and Islamic beliefs on issues on which the two religions disagree, and hoped they would “create a movement, a dynamic” to bring Christians and Muslims together.


Siljander also spoke about his meeting with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, one of the architects of the Darfur tragedy, when he went to Sudan for the UN in 2006 to mediate the Darfur conflict. Al-Bashir was so impressed with his “paradigm crashing” views of Islam and Christianity, said Siljander, that he had him address the Khartoum Sharia Law School. “We were the first white American Christians to speak on a Friday afternoon at the Khartoum mosque,” Siljander noted. “That happened, not because we’re so good looking, but because we built bridges of respect.”


Siljander’s lying to FBI agents about the nature of his relationship with the IARA suggests that he had no illusions about what he had gotten into. Still, it may be that his indictment today is the bitter fruit of his naivete. Siljander would not be the first naïve Westerner to establish, out of zeal to build bridges of respect between Muslims and Christians, ties with Muslims who had a far deeper connection to the global jihad than he would ever have imagined. Siljander’s experience should also serve as a cautionary tale for all who pursue “bridge-building” and “dialogue”: while these may be laudable, they are beset with pitfalls, and the universal purveying of the politically correct fiction that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists has only had the effect of leading many to grow complacent about many areas in which jihadists are actively operating – notably, Islamic charities. Were there a more forthright and honest public discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists use among peaceful Muslims to recruit and motivate terrorists, Siljander may never have succumbed to the naïvete that he manifested in his November 2007 address.


If he was really naïve at all. Columnist Debbie Schlussel opines that Siljander is less naïve than greedy. Having worked with him in his Congressional office in the 1980s, she remembers him before his change of heart, and recalls that he was a “Born-Again Evangelical Christian. We had fast days in his office. There were prayer circles. So deeply religious and so deeply against the Islamic threat, Siljander was known, at the time, as the most pro-Israel Congressman on Capitol Hill, with many Jewish and pro-Israel Evangelical contributors from all over the world.” She said that Siljander “was decades ahead of his time in understanding the Islamist threat worldwide and to America. That he’d reverse course sickens and saddens me.”


Schlussel doubts Siljander’s story of the evolution of his thought concerning Islam. “I don’t believe he thinks any differently about Islam — and this is all phony…He was just too enlightened about what Islam was all about when I worked for him to change for anything but cash.” At her website she wrote: “I think this was about money. Since he lost his Congressional seat, he was hard up for money and was involved in many failed business ventures, including an AIDS-Test-By-Mail. (He also ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress from Virginia.) Desperation and money do bad things.”


Ultimately, whether he was motivated by a naïve hope to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and the West, or by a simple need for money, or by something else, the outcome is the same: if the charges are true, Siljander was working with people dedicated to the destruction of the United States, and working to that end under the guise of charitable activity while funding violent jihad against Israel and against American troops in Afghanistan. It may be that he is among the multitudes in America today who fail to take this threat seriously – after all, there has not been a major terror attack on American soil since 9/11. It may be that, if he was aware of the IARA’s activities on behalf of Hamas and in Sudan, that he saw both – again like so many multitudes of Americans -- as regional conflicts with no geopolitical significance beyond those regions. Had he had a full and informed awareness of how Islamic charities, because of the nature of Islamic charitable giving and the status of jihad in Islam, are so often tied to jihadist activity, he might have hesitated to get involved with the IARA, even though it did bill itself as a “relief agency.” Had he had a comprehensive understanding of the jihad ideology, and an appreciation of the significance of some of the IARA’s choices of venue for its labors, he might have thought twice – unless, of course, the money was good enough to overcome even that. America fights against global jihadists with, thanks to the oil weapon, an essentially inexhaustible supply of income. The Saudis in particular use that money to buy armies of Mark Siljanders – lobbyists who fight for their causes in Washington with complete ignorance of or indifference to the ways in which our own national interests are thus compromised.


The best outcome of the Mark Siljander indictment would be an investigation of those lobbying efforts, and the framing of new laws that would require complete transparency as to the origin of the funds used by Muslim groups to pay such lobbyists. The case should also lead to a comprehensive reevaluation of Islamic charities, and a call to those still operating to cooperate fully with investigations of the jihadist money trail.


If the charges against him are true, Siljander’s story is a tragedy. But it could yet bear good fruit, in an American public newly prepared to meet the multifaceted challenge of the global Islamic jihad.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.

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