The Washington neo-cons, President Karimov of Uzbekistan and Jack Straw appear to be linked to a newly prominent “Muslim interest group” that supports the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israeli action in the Lebanon…
Who and what is the “Sufi Muslim Council”? They seem to have emerged from nowhere ‘ suddenly their spokesman is interviewed on Radio 4 and Newsnight and a Channel 4 documentary gives their views some weight. They have a new website and a new magazine. But hardly anyone knows who they are or what they stand for?
We wanted to know the answer to these questions so we set about doing some basic research. We have uncovered very worrying links between this new council and the neocons in Washington. There are also links to some of the most brutal regimes in the world e.g. the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan. We have also unearthed allegations of dodgy business dealings and vote rigging.
The Neocon Link
Just take a look at the SMC website [www.sufimuslimcouncil.org] and the influence of the neocons in Washington becomes very clear. The majority of the content is written by neocons that criticise Islamic groups ‘ ‘Wahhabis’, the Muslim Brotherhood, MCB, MAB, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaati Islami are some of the examples that come in for criticism. There are articles entitled “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Conquest of Europe”, “Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘ Islam’s Political Insurgency” and “Islamic Radicalism ‘ Its Wahhabi roots and current representation”.
We found that one of the prominent authors on the SMC website, who also writes for the SMC magazine “Spirit”, is Zeyno Baran ‘ a self confessed neocon who works for the ultra right wing Hudson Institute. She is close to the Uzbek regime and close to the oil and gas interests in Washington and Central Asia. She tirelessly does the bidding of the dictatorial regimes of Central Asia by playing down human rights abuses and encouraging western governments to enact draconian measures against Muslims. She has condemned Sheikh Qaradawi and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, amongst others. She says that Islam should play no role in politics and condemns even the mere mention of Islam in the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions.
From our enquiries it seems that for some time now, Baran has been trying to establish a neocon-friendly Muslim organisation in the UK. She has talked of the need to, “provide money and help create the political space for moderate Muslims to organize, publish, broadcast, and translate their work.” We also uncovered evidence that she has also held meetings with government officials in the UK, urging them to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir and cease working with Muslim organisations that mix Islam with politics.
What do real Sufis and local Muslim leaders say about the Sufi Muslim council?
In a recent survey of Sufi Muslim Scholars and Imams in the UK none had heard about the SMC or its founders until its launch. Most found it very disturbing that there was no real evidence of real tassawuf in their organisation.
The hard right neocon think tank the Nixon Center published a document by Zeyno Baran which encouraged using Sufism as a means to attack Islam.
Similarly the RAND corporation in their paper Civil Democratic Islam talk of using one group of Muslims against another – Shia vs. Sunni; Sufi vs. Non Sufi. Divide and Rule.
The Kabbani/Jack Straw link
The SMC is closely linked to Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA). The SMC website and magazine are full of Kabbani’s writings and Haras Rafiq has admitted that Kabbani is the spiritual leader of the SMC.
On the 29th of April 2005, the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA), Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, met with the then UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn (right). The meeting was also attended by Haras Rafiq and Hedieh Mirahmadi, an apologist for the Uzbek regime and the founder of the neocon “Committee on the Present Danger”. She is also a foreign policy analyst at the right-wing neocon think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
While Britain continued to arm Israel and occupy Iraq, Kabbani, thanked Straw for the role the UK played in the Middle East and said, ‘We are glad to see changes taking place in the political mechanisms in the Middle East. We hope to see an end to tyranny and we are happy to observe a strong upsurge in freedom of speech, freedom of belief and political openness in the region.’
Most Muslim organisations in the USA, of all schools of thought, have strongly criticised ISCA for its close relationship with the US government and its strange theological positions, including outlandish claims that the late Princess Diana, Prince Charles and Hillary Clinton have all embraced Islam at the hands of the leaders of the ISCA.
Igor Rotar, the Forum 18 News Service Correspondent in Central Asia, has noted that, “The Uzbek government supports close ties with the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA), which embraces Naqshbandi followers in the USA, and plays up its supposed popularity in the Islamic world. Although the number of ISCA members is relatively small, Uzbek propaganda represents ISCA as being one of the most influential Muslim organisations in the United States.”
On January 7 1999, Kabbani infuriated the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the US when he gave a clandestine testimony to the State Department in which he claimed 80% of mosques and Muslims in the US were “extremists”, Muslims pose a threat to the USA and the US government needs to act quickly and Israeli occupation is legitimate and should be accepted. Only those with State Department security clearance were allowed to attend the event. Following this meeting, all the major US Muslim organisations including CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, AMC, MPAC, AMA, ING, and IAP, issued a statement condemning the ISCA. In a later statement, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, of the Zaytuna Institute, joined the above groups in their condemnation.
Soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan, Kabbani had Iftar with George W Bush and US Secretary of State Colin Powell. There are also photos of meetings with Dick Cheney and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan (below). The photo of George Bush with Sheikh Kabbani (above) has mysteriously disappeared from the ISCA website, but a trawl through internet archives unearthed it.
Zeyno Baran has enjoyed a very close relationship with the ISCA. In particular she has had a close relationship with Hedieh Mirahmadi, Executive Director of ISCA, a “former top aide” to Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani and a former senior adviser to the US embassy in Kabul. In writing the Nixon Center monograph “Hizb ut-Tahrir: Islam’s political insurgency”, Baran acknowledges the “tremendous intellectual and personal support” given to her by Mirahmadi.
Mirahmadi is an apologist for one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. About a government that bans all dissent, represses religion and boils dissidents alive, Ms. Mirahmadi had this to say: “We were all grateful to experience for ourselves the spectacular growth of this new republic. We sincerely believe Uzbekistan will be a formidable contributor to Islamic tradition and culture for centuries to come. Their great history and scholarship will preserve the traditional Islamic teachings of our ancestors and deserves the support and acknowledgement of the American Muslim community.” These were her words of praise for a viciously repressive government, uttered at the conclusion of her trip to Uzbekistan, where Mirahmadi was feted by the ruthless Uzbek dictator.
Who is behind the SMC?
There is very little publicly available information on the Islamic credentials of the Sufi Muslim Council. Unlike other Muslim groups from across the political spectrum, the leaders of the SMC are either underground or non-existent. Those who write for its magazine are unknown, other than those who work for neocon organisations in the US. Many of the articles in its magazine are just a “cut and paste” from ISCA publications. The most prominent person since its establishment is a guy called Haras Rafiq who originates from Rochdale in Lancashire.
Some may have noticed that the previously unheard of Rafiq has suddenly been giving interviews, claiming to speak for the “silent majority” of Muslims in Britain.
Haras Rafiq has said, “The prime minister and others have on many occasions rightly called for moderate Muslims to stand up and be counted. In response to this call, and following extensive consultations within the Muslim community, we have decided to establish the Sufi Muslim Council.”
In most of his interviews, Haras Rafiq, talks a lot about representing ‘apolitical’ Sufis. However, from our investigations, the majority of Sufis in the UK had never heard of him. In an interview on Radio 4, when asked who supported the SMC, he did however say that they were supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
We did find evidence of Haras Rafiq’s involvement in Bridges TV UK, a company incorporated on 24th August 2004. Reports suggest that it was envisaged that this would be a “Muslim version of Sky One”. They have been involved in a trademark dispute with Bridges Network in the US. Contrary to an agreement with Bridges Network, Rafiq registered Bridges TV UK as a trademark in the UK in March 2005. The US district court in New York ruled against Rafiq in January 2006 and granted a temporary restraining order. Soon after that ruling, Bridges Network UK Limited changed its name at Companies House to Crescent Network UK Limited. Rafiq is also listed at Companies House as being the Director and Secretary of the little known Bury based Communications 4 Business Limited.
It is also noteworthy that the ‘apolitical’ Haras Rafiq also supported Labour Friends of Israel MP Lorna Fitzsimmons’ re-election campaign in Rochdale in the 2005 general election.
Rafiq was also presented in Martin Bright’s Channel 4 documentary “Who Speaks for British Muslims?” In that documentary, Bright and Rafiq, said that the majority of Muslims were Sufis and ‘apolitical’. Not much evidence was brought to substantiate that contention, but it was clear that Bright wanted Western politicians to utilise ‘apolitical’ Sufis to soften condemnation of Western foreign policy.
The other person who appears in a photo with Haras Rafiq and the Labour Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly, at the ‘apolitical’ SMC launch in Parliament is the staunch Blair supporter, Azhar Ali, a former Labour councillor in Lancashire. He stood for the Labour NEC elections in July 2006.
The Labour party website makes no mention of Ali’s new found interest in Sufism, merely stating, “Azhar has been a community activist since 1984 when he became NUS President at his local college, and a Labour party activist since the early 1990s. Azhar’s politics have been shaped by living in a mill town in Lancashire hit hard by Thatcherite policies which led to urban and social decay.” [http://www.labourhome.org/tag/Azhar%20Ali]
Not surprisingly, no mention is made of allegations in the Guardian of vote rigging involving Ali: “The Guardian counted at least 96 [declarations of identity] which were witnessed by Mr Iqbal, and dozens which were witnessed by Azhar Ali, Labour’s leader on the council. On behalf of both councillors, Mr Iqbal denied that this was improper practice.”
Speaking in Parliament, Lord Greaves, said, “I have a file of more than 100 cases in which we believe that either declarations or signatures’by either the witness or the voter’were forged. I have photocopies of them here. I do not understand why the police have not been able to deal with the evidence that we have provided.”
We set out to discover who and what the SMC was about. We have uncovered very worrying links between this new council and the neocons in Washington, links to some of the most brutal regimes in the world and allegations of dodgy business dealings and vote rigging.
The SMC state, “We appeal to UK based Muslim organisations to openly disclose their ties to foreign groups and movements.”
After this investigation, will they now disclose the full extent of their links to the neocons in Washington and Blair’s new Labour? Or do they think the Muslims will be fooled by a Parliament launch, a magazine and the odd press release?
We will continue to watch the SMC’s every move and will continue to expose its links to the neocons in Washington.