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A Congressman for Jihad

by Robert Spencer


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.


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