The National Prayer Service and the Wahhabi Lobby

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), will deliver a prayer at the National Cathedral during the National Prayer Service on January 21st. The event is part of the festivities for the inauguration of Barack Obama, which occurs January 20. A convert to Islam, Mattson directs the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

ISNA has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist group, and was named an un-indicted co-conspirator in U.S. v Holy Land Foundation, a case that uncovered covert financing of the terrorist group Hamas. Since her election as ISNA president in 2006, Mattson's apologias for the radical Wahhabi sect of Islam have gained a much wider audience.

Daniel Pipes has written that, under Mattson's leadership, ISNA is "a key component of the Wahhabi lobby."

In a "Meet Ingrid Mattson," Campus Watch adjunct scholar Jonathan Schanzer offered specific examples of Mattson's denials and deceits regarding radical Islam's threat to the U.S. Among them:

  • Wahhabism is simply a "reform movement" that "really was analogous to the European protestant reformation";
  • Contrary to statements by Director of National Intelligence Adm. Michael McConnell that "there are sleeper cells in the U.S," Mattson claims that in fact "there aren't any sleeper cells";
  • The president's use of the term "Islamic" when speaking of terrorist attacks on the West is "not only inaccurate, but unhelpful."
Additional examples of Mattson's dissembling abound. During a 2001 CNN chatroom interview, asked at what point in history the Muslim world "turn[ed] from a philosophical and educated state comparable to the Greeks to the now third world state it is in," Mattson emulated other members of the Middle East studies establishment and employed postcolonial theory to blame the West:

Well, the decline began with the colonization of the Muslim world by European powers. One of the first things the colonialists did was to dismantle the institutions of what we could call civil society. The Muslim world has until now not recovered from that dismemberment of its society.

In a move hardly in keeping with the ecumenical nature of a National Prayer Service, Mattson sought to sow division between religious groups when in 2007 she advised American Jews not to trust conservative Christians:

Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews because they are really anti-Semitic. They do not like Jews.

Next Wednesday's event won't mark Mattson's first appearance at a significant Obama event. Last August, she participated in an interfaith meeting at the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Nor will it be the first time Mattson benefits from an obsequiousness Washington political class more fearful of giving offense than of facing down apologists for radical Islam. Former Undersecretaries of State Karen Hughes and Nick Burns and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England went to great lengths to legitimize ISNA. Hughes addressed ISNA's annual convention in 2005, and England attended the following year.

At the State Department's 2006 annual Iftaar dinner, Hughes singled out Mattson for praise, calling her:

A thoughtful scholar, a teacher ... I think we owe Ingrid a round of applause.... She's doing a wonderful job and is a wonderful leader and role model for many, many people.

Mattson's participation in President-elect Obama's Inaugural festivities heralds the incoming administration's intent to follow the Bush administration's practice of ignoring her long history of shilling for radical Islam. In lending its imprimatur to ISNA, the Obama White House proves that opening the doors of power to Wahhabi apologists is the kind of bi-partisan undertaking we'd all be better off without.

Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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