The Magazine

It Can Happen Here

America's "homegrown" terrorism was made in South Asia.

Dec 28, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 15 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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According to CAIR itself, the plurality of Muslims attending mosque services in America are South Asian by birth or ethnicity, and make up at least a third of all American Muslims. Most of these have Pakistani roots; some are Indian, others are Afghan or Bangladeshi. Ethnic Pakistani and Indian functionaries and activists are the backbone of radical Islam in the United States. To further the cause of Muslim extremism here and in Great Britain, Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia provide the money, and the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood furnishes the literature. But South Asians handle the organizational work.

Aside from the leaders of CAIR and MPAC, who are Arab in origin, and a handful of African Americans like Mahdi Bray of MAS, South Asians account for most of the Muslim radicals who have attained prominence here over the last few years. Muzammil Siddiqi, the former president of the Islamic Society of North America, was born in India. He is remembered for his avowal on October 28, 2000, at an anti-Israel "Jerusalem Day" rally in Washington: "America has to learn .  .  . if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come." Sayyid M. Syeed, former secretary general of the same organization, was born in Kashmir. Agha Saeed, national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, an Islamist political action committee, was born in Quetta, Pakistan, where bombings and assassinations have become common. The list may be extended much further.

Why should South Asian Muslims in America be any more susceptible than Arab or other Muslims to recruitment for armed combat? Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims living in America have had little incentive to contribute more than money to the terrorist cause. The recipients of their donations, Hamas and Hezbollah, have plenty of foot soldiers in their own neighborhood. Iraqi Muslims residing here were divided by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, with most of them supporting it, but even when they opposed the U.S.-led intervention, they also had scant motivation to go and fight in Iraq.

But once the U.S.-led coalition effectively won the war in Iraq, the top priority for global jihadism shifted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is much easier for prospective combatants to reach than Iraq was. And Pakistanis are different: While Arab jihadists are aggrieved at the rulers of their countries of origin, sentiment among Pakistanis in America reflects the involvement of Pakistan's rulers in jihadism. Just as pro-Taliban elements have captured leading positions in the Pakistani Army and intelligence service (ISI), Pakistani Sunni culture in America is saturated with radicalism.

Pakistani Muslim extremists, whether involved with the Taliban or not, and whether living in Pakistan or abroad, are filled with resentment of India over Kashmir, enraged at Washington for, so far, preventing the collapse of the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, and twisted by a perverse pride at Islamabad's possession of nuclear weapons. These attitudes are pervasive among Pakistani Sunnis in America and have empowered Pakistan-based jihadist movements with the United States.

One such element, the clandestine Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous or LeT) operated the "North Virginia paintball jihad" network exposed in 2003, eleven of whose members were convicted of weapons and other offenses. LeT, an al Qaeda auxiliary, carried out the Bombay horrors last year. LeT guided the above-mentioned David Coleman Headley, who had legally changed his name to facilitate target-scouting visits to India. When the five Virginia youths and one parent now held in Pakistan attempted to sign up for terror training there, they approached groups allied with LeT.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is another larger and public formation of South Asian radical Muslims. Of the Northern Virginians recently arrested in Pakistan, three shared a Pakistani background, one was culturally Eritrean, one Ethiopian, and one was Egyptian-American. The mosque they attended in Fairfax County is the "ICNA Islamic Center."

ICNA is a front for Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the most powerful Islamist movement in Pakistan. ICNA is organized in paramilitary fashion and imposes discipline and tasks on its members. Its top leader, Zahid Bukhari, is designated its "ameer" or "commander." Its goal, as stated on its website (icna.org/about-icna) is "the establishment of Islam in all spheres of life." Mission work, or dawah, "has always been the top priority of ICNA."