Expert: Grassroots Islamic group a clear threat to U.S.

Thursday, July 16, 2020
J.M. Phelps (

Muslim praying U.S. flag backgroundA Middle East expert says there's good reason for heightened concern about theocratic groups operating not only in South Asia, but also deep within the United States.

In the past, Article 370 of the Constitution of India granted special status to the region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It has long been under dispute, as Pakistan has occupied a small part of the state. Interestingly, until August 2019, J&K functioned autonomously, even having its own constitution.

For decades, however, there have been talks of revoking J&K's special status in the constitution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to make the move after his recent reelection. Following a terrorist attack in Kashmir that slaughtered 40 Indian paramilitary police on February 14, 2019, Modi was further quickened to seal the deal and place J&K under the mainstream of Indian law.

Cliff Smith is director of the Middle East Forum's (MEF) Washington Project. In an interview with OneNewsNow, he highlighted some of the unfolding concerns, both in the U.S. and abroad.


"[Modi expected] a violent backlash from the numerous jihadist groups [in the region, which are] mostly funded through Pakistan and other jihadists," he began. As a result, the prime minister responded militarily to the perpetrators of the attack and implemented a number of security measures in the region that have been considered controversial, such as widely restricted internet use. And, of course, he also increased security forces in the region.

Smith considers this chain of events to be "a real flashpoint" that, foreshadowed by the terrorist attack in February 2019, has garnered attention from Islamist organizations both in the United States and abroad. One such organization is the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an Islamic group of South Asian origin.

"For all practical purposes," Smith determines, "[ICNA] is an arm of Jamaat-e-Islami" (JeI). While Smith considers the assertion "one of those things that's true until it's not," he says, "JeI is often called the 'South Asian Muslim Brotherhood.'"

The MEF director does affirm that the two organizations "are very much alike in terms of theology and operations, and in terms of the fact that they are transnational." On the other hand, he adds, "[their] differences are a little less clear, but nonetheless important."

For example, Smith says, "since the 1970s, when the Muslim Brotherhood tried to overthrow the Syrian government, they have been fairly careful about being too overtly involved in violence – [attempting] to put forward a very moderate face, [placing] buffers between themselves and overt violence." However, he adds, "[JeI] is significantly less careful about [their use of violence] than the Muslim Brotherhood."

During Bangladesh's War of Independence in 1971, JeI was responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. In 2014, Smith points out, "[JeI's] student wing was named one of the most violent, armed non-state actors in the entire world – [responsible] for burning, pillaging, raping to intimidate their opponents." More recently, "[JeI] held mass rallies calling for [Asia Bibi's] death after she was acquitted [of blasphemy by the Pakistani Supreme Court on October 31, 2018]."

On February 29, 2020, says the former congressional staffer, "Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) introduced a resolution condemning [JeI] in all its forms." And as Smith points out, ICNA is "the face of [JeI] in the West."

"They have been involved for decades in preaching [JeI's] version of theocracy, preaching their version of Islamic law, and preaching hate against Jews and Hindus [in the United States]," he adds. And it's all unsurprising, according to Smith, considering the group's South Asian origin.

"ICNA openly calls India a fascist country," the Washington Project director shares, explaining that any time India executes or arrests a known militant or terrorist, ICNA makes the claim that security forces are "murdering everyone in Kashmir – [which is] really over-the-top rhetoric." In making those claims, he says, ICNA is repeatedly defending the terrorists.

Moreover, on the heels of the aforementioned terrorist attack in Kashmir and the revoking of special status, Smith says a group called Stand with Kashmir sprang up. He points out that very little is known about the group – that no one knows how it is funded or how many states it may be incorporated in. But the group appears to be affiliated with ICNA. "They openly hold events, put up billboards, and do conferences with ICNA," he offers.

"They hold up anybody who opposes India and Kashmir as a hero" – and like ICNA itself, "any death, including the death of actual terrorists, is held up as an example of Indian fascism.

"There's a dangerous pattern to be seen when it comes to [JeI] inside the U.S.," he concludes.


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