It’s Islam Awareness Month once again at the University of Florida (UF) Gainesville, and once again “unindicted co-conspirator” of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Siraj Wahhaj, has been invited to participate. Given the inappropriate nature of the event, can anyone question the radical nature of the group who is sponsoring his appearance?
UF, like most other major universities, has on its premises a chapter of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Muslim Brotherhood faction that began in the early Sixties. The MSA stationed at UF has the title Islam On Campus (IOC). Not unlike its big Brother overseas, the rhetoric from IOC and its staff is considerably extreme.
In the April 2008 issue of The IOC Chronicles, in an article about an online Scrabble-type word game, the following quotes are found: “Then on the very next turn, it crosses Mosque with JEW. I was so pissed. I could just picture some programmer with a yarmulke laughing at me. Punk.” He continued his slur: “That’s exactly what these friggin Yahood want. I won’t give them the satisfaction of winning.” The IOC excused the piece as “satire.”
From 2002 to 2007, UF student Jason Fieldhouse held various leadership positions within IOC, including Student Government Liaison, Islamic Political Action (IPAC) Chair, and IOC Representative to the MSA Florida Council. During this time, Fieldhouse was also involved in another UF group, Nakba ‘48, whose stated goal according to its website is “working to end Zionism and the state of Israel.”
As well, during this time, Fieldhouse was a contributing writer for the radical Islamic website, Captive Minds, a site which refers to the U.S. as “the rogue nation.” In his March 2003 article entitled “Tribute to the Mujahideen,” he states, “[R]ight now, as I write there are brave brothers who have decided to finish themselves for the reward of Allah…When a Mujahideen leaves for martyrdom they should be cheered, their courage exemplified…We cannot allow the fear of the U.S. government, rejection from the American society, or passive intellectual theory [to] discourage us from giving the Mujahideen the respect, honor, and support they deserve.”
IOC sponsors a number of events on campus, many of which feature well known extremists. For Ramadan Awareness Week, in November 2003, the group brought Zulfiqar Ali Shah to UF, describing him as a “renowned scholar.” Shah is the former National President (Ameer) of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the American affiliate of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) a.k.a. Muslim Brotherhood of Pakistan. Shah is also the former South Asia Director of KindHearts, a Hamas charity that was shut down by the U.S. government in February 2006.
Every year, IOC holds its Islam Awareness Month, which according to the group’s website is “aimed at enlightening the public about Islam and its rich legacy in America.” On February 20, 2003, the speaker for the event was supposed to be former University of South Florida (USF) professor, Sami al-Arian. However, that same day, the FBI arrested al-Arian, charging him with being the North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), responsible at least in part for over 100 murders.
This year, one of the featured speakers for the event is Siraj Wahhaj, a man infamous for having been named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” for a federal trial dealing with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC). He was a speaker for last year’s Islam Awareness Month, as well.
In January 1995, a federal trial began, which charged a number of defendants with conspiracy to commit violence by blowing up various New York City landmarks, including the 1993 WTC attack. For the trial, a list of those believed to be associated with the bomb plots (“unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators”) was created by U.S. prosecutor Mary Jo White.
Found on the list were the names of 172 individuals. Some of the names have since become well recognized within and beyond counter-terrorism circles. They included Osama bin Laden; bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam; and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative and the incorporator of the U.S. al-Qaeda headquarters, Fawaz Damra.
Other names placed on the list were that of prominent North American Muslim leaders. They included Canadian Bilal Philips and the imam of the At-Taqwa Mosque in Brooklyn, Siraj Wahhaj. With regard to the ’93 bombing, Wahhaj had been linked to both bomb-maker Clement Rodney Hampton-El and the spiritual leader of the attack, the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, for whom Wahhaj served as a character witness during the trial.
Apart from bearing the label himself, various groups whom Wahhaj has been affiliated with have been identified as “unindicted co-conspirators” as well. Throughout the recent federal trial which named the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and its leaders as defendants, over 300 organizations and individuals were given the classification of “unindicted co-conspirator” by the U.S. government. [The defendants were indicted for raising millions of dollars for Hamas, and in the end all of them were found guilty on all charges.]
Three of the groups given the designation were the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Wahhaj was a member of the Board of Directors (Majlis Ash-Shura) and was the U.S. Vice President of ISNA, and Wahhaj was a member of the Board of Advisors of both NAIT and CAIR.
Having the “unindicted co-conspirator” label hasn’t hindered Wahhaj from speaking at Muslim functions. In fact, he is amongst the most popular lecturers on the American Islamic circuit and gets invited to all of the largest conferences and conventions. IOC is only one of many who are willing to accept the controversy and sponsor his appearance. However, while IOC has had a long history of extremist behavior, the organization adamantly disputes the label.
In November 2007, five campus groups co-hosted a showing of the film Obsession – Radical Islam’s War Against the West. The groups announced the event via e-mails and flyers posted around campus declaring “Radical Islam Wants You Dead.” IOC protested the content of the announcements, which included discussions of radical Muslims being at UF itself, calling them “slanderous” against IOC. “We do not take accusations of promoting terrorism…lightly,” the organization stated.
But while IOC does not take the accusations lightly, the group and those involved in it have indeed exhibited extremist rhetoric and have indeed supported individuals directly connected to terrorism.
Tonight, February 17, 2009, Siraj Wahhaj will be lecturing the campus about Islam. The speech is titled, “Islam: Moving from Image to Reality.” If Siraj Wahhaj is the image that IOC wishes to promote as an authority on the religion, IOC has forfeited any right to complain about others calling it “radical.”