Friday, December 24, 2004

The Invisible Man and the Hidden Agenda, Part I

The Invisible Man

At its annual convention in June 2000, a controversial Muslim organization, the American Muslim Council, presided over by Abdurahman Alamoudi (we will get to him shortly), presented one of three awards for service to the Muslim community to Grover Norquist. Mr. Norquist is the head of the anti-tax organization Americans For Tax Reform, and an admittedly avid right wing, ultra conservative. Over the years, he has become one of the most dominant and influential Republicans in Washington with some maintaining he is second only to Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political advisor, in terms of his power to create, influence and help implement fundamental conservative policy decisions. Despite his celebrity and prominence amongst fellow conservatives, most Americans have never heard of Grover Norquist, thus the "Invisible Man" appellation.

Mr. Norquist, with degrees from both Harvard College and Harvard Business School, while still a young man in 1981, first made a name for himself, as executive director of The College Republican National Committee. According to that organization’s website, while in that position, "he oversaw the transformation of the committee into a conservative grassroots powerhouse for the Reagan administration." It was also during that early period that he met and developed friendships with many of the conservatives serving in today’s Republican Party, including a close relationship with Karl Rove. He has also established a literal "seat of power" within Washington.

Here is a description of his activities as described in the September 6, 2004 issue of The New Republic: " In the early 90’s however, Norquist took the lead in combining these organizations [such as the Christian Right, the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association, and anti-abortion groups] into a functional coalition. In 1993, he brought together representatives of anti-tax property rights, second Amendment, Christian conservatives, and other groups that wanted to see the Clinton administration fail. Norquist initially called the assemblage the "leave-it-alone" coalition. Later it became the "center-right-coalition." With the Republican capture of congress in 1994, Norquist, working closely with Gingrich, Armey and DeLay, pressured the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business to send representatives to the meetings. Norquist’s coalition has now grown to several hundred groups and meets separately in 46 states as well as in Washington." The article sums up, "Norquist’s coalition represents the triumph of Southern conservative ideology. The participants at the meetings combine the economic individualism of the property rights and anti-tax movement with the social conservatism of the religious right." Because the meetings are "by invitation only", they have become the hottest ticket and most sought after gathering in Washington since attendance implies acceptance into a most eminent and singular group—not to mention the implied influence, and networking potential.

According to the magazine Mother Jones, the hundred or so attending these weekly meetings are the conservative Republican power elite—"lobbyists, congressmen, senior White House and Senate staffers, industry leaders and right wing policy wonks." Usually, seated next to Norquist (who acts as master of ceremonies) is Khalel Saffuri, who in 1998 left the position of lobbyist and deputy director for the American Muslim Council, to help Norquist establish an organization known as The Islamic Institute. Although this move by Norquist may sound a bit strange and off key, as the saying goes, "there was a method to this madness." It illustrates Norquist’s genius for organization and is a testimony to his inventive abilities. He sensed that by creating an organization of this nature, he could develop a nation-wide alliance with prominent Muslims, who, impressed with his close ties to the White House, would form a Republican voting bloc. As a further incentive to Muslim groups, he intimated that their support for Republicans could alter U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In order to accomplish his primary goal of inducing American Muslims to vote for Republicans—aiming specifically for the presidential elections of 2000—Norquist sought seed money to fund his new venture. He turned to a prominent Muslim named Abdurhaman Alamoudi, the prime mover behind the American Muslim Council, the American Muslim foundation, and a number of other U.S. based Islamist sympathizing/supporting organizations.

Alahmoudi provided two $10,000 checks to Norquist and subsequently paid $50,000 to his lobbying firm, Janus Merrit Strategies. A Washington Post article maintains that Norquist’s Islamic Institute also received funding from "a secretive group of tightly connected Muslim charities and businesses based in Northern Virginia [and] used to funnel millions of dollars to terrorists and launder millions more—a number who are currently part of "the largest federal investigation of terrorist financing in the world."

Norquist and Saffuri assiduously (and according to Norquist, successfully) courted Muslims into the Republican fold. Norquist actually stated that the Muslim vote won the election for Bush in 2000, although the numbers he quotes are widely disputed. For example, Michigan, the state with the largest Muslim population voted for Clinton. Nevertheless, according to The New Republic, "Norquist quickly set about turning that supposed electoral influence into legislative influence. Soon, Saffuri began regularly appearing at the White House accompanying imams and heads of Islamic organizations to discuss faith based initiatives and concerns about law enforcement persecution of Muslims." Norquists’s close relationship to Karl Rove seemed to be paying off.

It wasn’t until after 9/11 that suspicions arose regarding the true function of many of these Muslims and their organizations that were being welcomed by the White House and other Republican officials—all facilitated by Norquist’s recommendations. In addition, Norquist had lobbied for the appointment of one Suhail Khan to a White House position where Khan helped Muslim outreach. Norquist became visibly upset when it was discovered that Khan’s father, a prominent West Coast cleric had twice hosted an al-Qaida operative, and Khan was ousted. However, the real controversy over Norquist’s relationships began to simmer over the questionable activities of two organizations including Alhamoudi’s American Muslim Council. The other was the Council On American Islamic Relation (CAIR). Both claim to represent the interests of American Muslims, but now have been sharply criticized for supporting terrorists organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaida. According to the Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, both represent the "extremist Saudi, Wahabi brand of Islam" that views jihad against Western civilization as a primary goal of Islam. Yet, both organizations received numerous audiences in the White House since September 11th.

As late as December 2000, CAIR continued to publicly claim that the September 11 attacks were implemented by Israel. Working with the American Muslim Council, as well as the Islamic Institute, was Sami Al Aram, the president of The National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF). That name should be familiar to most Floridians. He was the now infamous professor at the University of South Florida, who while under suspicion for some time for advocating radical Islamist concepts, and accused by some of being a terrorist, was not immediately fired, but was ultimately suspended. Before his suspension, Aram did gain access to President Bush, primarily as a result of Norquist’s intervention, as well as Aram’s close association with the AMC. Once again, Norquist’s faith was shattered and his judgment certainly faulted, when Aram was finally charged and indicted as such in July, 2004.

In the past, when Norquist was questioned or confronted about the dubious nature and background of many of the individuals or organizations he advocated, he would accuse his critics of bigotry and prejudice against Muslims. Like others of his ilk, he could not, or would not admit mistakes. Does that sound familiar? However, topping Al-Aram’s indictment was the arrest of his original benefactor, Abdurhaman Alamoudi. On October 15th, 2003. Alahmoudi was sentenced to a maximum penalty of 23 years in prison. After pleading guilty to immigration fraud and illegal business dealings with Libya, as part of his guilty plea, he acknowledged taking part in an unsuccessful Libyan plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The New York Times stated that Alahmoudi, "As president of the American Muslim Foundation had extensive access to senior United States government officials [obviously thanks to Grover Norquist] and contacts among prominent Muslims across the country."

There was no mention of the award Alahmoudi made to Grover Norquist four years ago; no indication that he helped found Norquist’s Islamic Institute; nothing relating to Alahmoudi's former deputy being head of that organization. I can find no recent articles commenting on whether Grover Norquist’s reputation has been sullied because of these new revelations. In fact, I can find no recent articles that even mention the name Grover Norquist. Is there some kind of conspiracy that deliberately shields him (and his Bush/Grove relationship) from criticism for insinuating fundamental Islamists into the very heart of the U.S. government, in fact into the very top echelon?

While Grover Norquist apparently still presides as the virtual Washington king of right wing conservatism at his weekly meetings, paradoxically, he remains the Invisible Man.

Part II gets to the financial implication of Norquist’s influential role as a tax hating radical—a role he cherishes.


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