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Rebranded Islamist think tank normalizes radical anti-semitic connections in DC

The release of one of the prime suspects in the Daniel Pearl case by the Sindh High Court in Pakistan, countering the government orders for his detention while the Pearl family appealed Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s acquittal, may have come as a shock to the intellectual circles in the United States. Nevertheless, the judiciary has been playing an increasing outward role in Pakistan, and projecting Islamist values, which increasingly encroach on issues of international concern. For instance, Pakistani regulators threatened Google and Wikipedia with lawsuits for hosting “sacrilegious” content online. Prime Minister Imran Khan accused France’s President Macron of Islamophobia following recent efforts to bush back against Islamism.

All of that comes in light of rumors about Pakistan’s alleged openness to normalizing with Israel, including recent stories of members of local clergy allegedly greenlighting this move. Pakistan’s dichotomous policies, therefore, have been more frequently in the news in recent days. Still, Pakistan’s role in foreign affairs has been of marginal importance to most of the US public, and when it comes to domestic interference, China, Russia, Iran, Qatar, or Turkey come to mind long before Pakistan does. That may be changing. As Pakistan openly aligns itself with China, Turkey, and Iran, it may be looking to play more of a global role and not just vis-a-vis its longstanding tensions with India.

Pakistan’s brand of Islamism may be building stronger bonds with once Arab-dominated Muslim Brotherhood, and coupled with the growing Turkish links, find its way into US foreign policy circles on issues having little to do with Pakistan’s immediate interests.  Ultimately, these issues may put in jeopardy, rather than enhance, some of the positive outcomes of the Abraham Accords, and Israel’s expanding diplomatic role.

At the center of the complex nexus of relationships that contribute to the proliferating toxic subliminal messaging in the US political discourse, is a DC based think tank called the Center for Global Policy. The Center for Global Policy claims to be a new institution; in reality it is a rebranded organization that was first legally formed in 2016. It was never formally dissolved; many attempts to reach its various spokespeople and employees failed to produce any documentation of any such dissolution. Despite a social media campaign to portray this center as an independent and novel entity, according to the admission of one of its administrators, CGP is under the auspices of Fairfax Institute, which is an affiliate of a major Muslim Brotherhood front organization, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, once an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. Other unindicted co-conspirators included organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which, despite also attempting to rebrand and claiming to have moved away from its radical policies and role in laundering charitable donations to Hamas, never got rid of its co-founder Nihad Awad.

The pattern of CAIR’s reemergence as a premier civil rights organization for Muslim Americans is being continued with CGP.  CGP is an upgrade on the Muslim Brotherhood approach to dealing with the American public. Version 1.0 in the 1990s consisted of openly ideological radical actors who did not put much effort into hiding their goals or intentions  –  rising as a political power, imposing their own norms on the society, subverting democratic liberal values and mechanisms to undermine Western societies, and eventually eradicate national borders and join the “Caliphate”, whatever form it ended up taking.

CAIR rebranded after the scandals and the trials was a more savvy 2.0 version who tried to present themselves as victims in a multicultural society. They championed identity politics and found fellow travelers among woke leftists, despite contradictory cultural norms. Center for Global Policy went a step further and hired a number of individuals who were either not Muslim at all and fairly well known in the mainstream media, or better still, had a reputation as critics of the Muslim Brotherhood.. The non-Muslims would be relatively ignorant of the nuances of the Muslim Brotherhood approach; they would be ambitious and perhaps greedy or desperate for money, or simply unaware of the operations behind the think tank and have failed to do the research. Center for Global Policy recently went on a hiring spree, recruiting some of these individuals and placed them both with the think tank, and with its new publication, Newslinemag, which publishes mainstream-sounding left-leaning content, much of it, however, indirectly supporting the positions that Muslim Brotherhood would align with politically.

The three most interesting cases illustrating this new strategy of employment include Hassan Hassan, Michael D. Weiss of The Daily Beast, and Rasha Al-Aqeedi. Hassan Hassan and Weiss have co-authored a well-regarded book on ISIS. Hassan Hassan had once worked in UAE; however, he later moved on to Qatar-backed Chatterham House before ending up in DC. Hassan Hassan’s intellectual transformation during that period of time can be best observed in his article from 2019, in which he accuses the Saudi Crown Prince, the UAE head of state, and the President of Egypt of Islamophobia for aligning with Christian conservatives who are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.  This seemingly absurd argument, however, makes sense to scholars of Muslim Brotherhood ideology, who would recognize this refrain from the ouevre of Sayyid Qutb, who had infamously attacked Muslim leaders for being heretical.

Whether or not Hassan Hassan himself shares Islamist views is irrelevant to the fact that he is hardly unaware of what those views are and perfectly willing to accommodate them when the opportunity comes knocking. Michael Weiss, in his role at The Daily Beast, meanwhile has given plenty of room, generally unchallenged, to Qatar-backed activists to engage in commentary that advanced the general agenda of the country that openly hosts Islamists. Rasha Al-AQeedi gained acclaim as an analyst on Iraq, who was attacked by Muslim Brotherhood members. However, after gaining employment with the Center she compared an abducted and executed Iranian journalist to the Muslim Brotherhood supporter Jamal Khashoggi, and in a discussion of the Center’s background and policy, she insisted that she was not duped about its operations, essentially admitting willingness to cooperate with a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate.

This rebranding strategy may not be particular innovative, but the role the Center seeks to play in the Muslim Brotherhood ecosystem is in some ways groundbreaking. At the helm of the intriguing path now being defined for the Muslim Brotherhood 3.0 vehicle is the Center’s Islamabad-born director Kamran Bokhari, a son of a UN diplomat.. Bokhari is a Renaissance Man of sorts, a prolific writer an analyst, and an expert on an assortment of topics, including Afghanistan/Pakistan, Pakistan-US relations, the Middle East, counterterrorism, and more. Bokhari has trained Canadian intelligence and law enforcement and has authored articles for CIA. He is a respected analyst at Stratfor. At first glance, Dr. Bokhari is eminently qualified to lead a global policy think tank, and moreover, presents himself as a reasoned, articulate moderate who navigates effortlessly among some of the hottest controversies of the day, with a serious analytical approach.

But beneath the surface, Bokhari’s darker side lurks. Bokhari, though he has removed CGP’s affiliations from his biography, is on record as the Founding Director of the project, in a piece published a year prior to these latest developments. Rather than a muddling coincidence by misinformed staffers, the lie about CGP’s supposed dissolution and resurrection starts from the very top. He never hid that affiliation in the plethora of relevant articles he published. Like a chameleon, he managed to strike an appropriately scholarly and neutral tone, simultaneously striding his presence in a Muslim Brotherhood front organization and as a non-resident fellow at the Saudi-backed Arabia Foundation, before it shut down, which since Mohammed bin Salman became the Crown Prince in 2017, has been harshly critical of extremists in all forms. Prior to founding CGP, Bokhari was the spokesman for a radical organization called “Al Muhajiroun”. Bokhari openly stated that the group sought to enact political, social, and economic change throughout the Muslim world (consistent with Muslim Brotherhood doctrine), and sought to establish the Islamic State (Caliphate), allegedly through non-militant means. This line, too, is entirely consistent with how the Muslim Brotherhood generally garners support in the West.

Throughout the Arab Spring, the Brothers claimed that they sought to come to power through peaceful, democratic, and political means. Intelligence analysts presented them as the “moderate” wing of Islamism, and would assert that the “radicals” had moved away from the movement to join Salafi-jihadist hybrid groups like Al Qaeda. In reality, Al Qaeda’s intellectual roots stem squarely from the Brotherhood, and all of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist branches received funding and support from the intellectual and political motherlode, with many of the “moderate” members eventually graduating to joining their violent counterparts.

Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the organization, insisted that the movement would have both the superficial political path and the violent struggle inherent to major revolutionary movements. Regardless of Bokhari’s rhetoric, Al Muhajiroun was eventually investigated for laundering money to terrorist causes and disbanded. Bokhari never fully disavowed his views or affiliations. He did however, make efforts to claim he never held the position as a spokesman for Al Muhajiroun, which failed, because he was exposed for continuing to maintain with his former associates, some of whom were now based in London, one of the primary centers of Brotherhood activity in the West and the hotspot in Europe. Indeed, there is evidence that he learned to distance himself from the most radical language in tactics without ever fully rejecting either which gave him the flexibility enter literally any circles with equal ease and credibility.

Further investigation of the organization leads us down the rabbit hole of radicalization. Bokhari had attracted the attention of groups concerned with the Islamist creep on campuses even after the Al Muhajiroun was disbanded. In fact, the organization continued to live on in several Western countries, though not always in an organized cell form. In the United States, its supporters retained their ideological leanings, and shifted into a campus based chain that came to be known as the Islamist Thinkers Society, which appeared to encourage violent ideological leanings. This network is traced back to Pakistan, where some of the radical contacts involved would be training jihadists who would be then sent out to do maximum damage. The “graduates” of these training camps went on to participate in major terrorist attacks such as the 7/7 bombings in London. Some of the Al Muhajiroun meetings in the US were sponsored by the Muslim Students Association, a well known Muslim Brotherhood campus organization. Bokhari had joined this network as a student, and even help found an Islamist mosque. The mosque drew controversy for drawing money from a source allegedly linked to Al Qaeda.

While Bokhari ultimately chose to follow an academic, outwardly reputable path, some of his associates stuck to the tried and true methods, and in 2019, were found to be once again reconstituting extremist cell in the UK. Anjem Choudary is one of the affiliates that Bokhari retained semi-clandetine ties with through the years, as the letter exposing this illicit relationship showed.  The fact that one of the extremists from the group ended up involved in the London Bridge attack drew additional scrutiny to the organization, but did not put an end to Bokhari’s fledgling career. Nor did these student experiences and roots disqualify Bokhari from becoming an expert in counterterrorism. However, following these early revelations, organizations studying radicals somehow lost track of Bokhari. Despite a plethora of work output from him, no questions were raised when he rose through the academic and social ranks, gathering credibility with each media appearance, new title, and role. Eventually, Bokhari found himself not only as an academic superstar, and an authority on extremism stemming from Southeast Asia, but as an influencer on Moneycontrol, an elite website for heavyweights in the financial arena, particularly well known for hosting Muslim Brotherhood high roller funders. How did an academic and analyst find himself in the circle of financiers and business frontliners? Regardless of his role there, someone with Bokhari’s background would find himself connected to a number of high-ranking like minded individuals, who could move large amounts of cash  from company to company with ease.

At the moment Bokhari is well connected political, academic, intelligence spheres. He has sufficient funding to employ dozens of relatively well known writers and analysts, even at the peak of a global pandemic. He has sidelined his comments about the Islamist state, but never rejected his past activity – despite all of that, rather than being subjected to scrutiny over his ideological leanings and associations, he is heading a major venture in Washington. And discretely, his work peddles the indirect version of the same radicalism that has allowed one of Daniel Pearl’s likely murderers to escape detention. One thing is clear – this combination of factors does not bode well for the Jewish and pro-Israel communities in the US and elsewhere. However Bokhari’s troubling student past and another CAIR-like knock off rising from the ashes of past failed attempts to extent influence are only the tip of the iceberg. Bokhari’s story touches on the very underbelly of Pakistan’s extremism and its transportation to the United States.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Irina Tsukerman

Irina Tsukerman is a New York-based human rights and national security lawyer and analyst. She has written extensively about geopolitics, foreign policy, and security issues for a wide variety of domestic and international publication. She has appeared on Fox Business, i24, and the John Batchelor Show, and has been interviewed by multiple Arabic language channels and publications, including Morocco’s 2M and Al Arabiya. Her writings have been translated to Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Indonesian.

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