There was recently an article, written by journalist David Kirkpatrick and published in The New Yorker, that deserves to be read carefully, reflected upon, and studied. In fact, the article itself, in my opinion, is essential reading for any course about Islamophobia, race, or Islamic law in the West. The article previously appeared under a slightly different title, but when it was first published, it got practically no attention. As we talk about this article, it will become clear why it received no attention, and why it was reprinted under a slightly different title. It is now called “The Dirty Secrets of a Smear Campaign.” The article deserves a long pause. It really is the most powerful, direct, unadulterated, and blunt illustration of how the politics of oligarchy, despotism, dictatorship, and colonialism has emptied and exhausted so much of the energy and potential of Muslim movements, institutions, and causes in the West.
The article is long, and I do not know how many Muslims will read it, but it deserves to be unpacked and discussed. The plan of the article is straightforward enough. It focuses on a young Muslim American, now in his early 40s. This young Muslim American, Hazim Nada, is fortunate in some regards. He is the son of a very successful businessman and grew up in a world of business and money. At a very young age, Hazim Nada succeeded in creating a niche for himself in the world of oil exports. He lived in Como, Italy, and I believe continues to live in Como, Italy, but the business he created for himself involved shipping oil from Libya to Korea, from Gabon to Italy. This went well for him, and he became a millionaire at a young age. His business, in fact, was dealing in the billions of dollars, not millions.
The thing about Hazim Nada is that his father, at one point in his youth, like so many Egyptians before the coup of 1952, had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Egyptian youth of the 1940s and the early 1950s joined the Muslim brotherhood as a way of trying to reclaim their Islamic identity and protesting colonialism. Hazim's father, like many other Egyptian youth, ended up paying for this decision by being arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for some years. Hazim's father, however, after leaving Egypt and becoming a pseudo-permanent exile from Egypt, focused on becoming a successful, wealthy businessman. He immigrated to the United States to avoid the oppression and persecution that would inevitably be his fate back home.
Hazim's father had donated to the Muslim Brotherhood on several occasions, including after the Arab Spring and the election of President Morsi in Egypt. Especially in countries like Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood represented the only Islamic democratic force in Egypt. The options were either an Islamic salafi movement that considers democracy and participating in representative government to be haram, or the theology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not consider democracy haram, and in fact looks at democracy as an Islamic imperative.
Like so many Egyptians, Hazim's father enthusiastically invested in the democratic future of Egypt. Like so many Egyptians living in the West, he dreamt that Egypt would transcend the curse of post-colonial politics, with its reliance on brute power and oligarchical paradigms. He wanted Egypt to transcend the logic of, "You Muslim masses cannot be trusted to think, to choose, or to exercise volition, and because you cannot be trusted, you need oligarchs. You need elites that will guide you like a herd of cattle, that will tell you where to go, where to stop, where to eat, and when to rest." Of course, the democratic experiment that Hazim's father enthusiastically supported came crashing down when the Egyptian military staged a coup against the short-lived democratic experiment, with the blessing of the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, the French, and only God knows who else.
Islamophobes had begun a smear campaign against Hazim's father for being part of an alleged Islamist universal conspiracy to dominate the world and establish a Caliphate that would render non-Muslims subservient—the typical, conspiratorial Islamophobic rhetoric. As a result, Hazim's father was persecuted, placed on several terrorism watch lists, and had to endure a very expensive, painful set of legal battles, including in the European Court of Justice, to clear his name and to legally enforce a stop to those who engaged in a smear campaign, citing him as being part of a universal Islamist conspiracy.
Hazim's father was involved in Islamic activism, or at least had donated to several Muslim Brotherhood efforts, especially in the West. Hazim's father had gone through painful legal battles to clear his name, which included forcing the United States to remove him from its terrorism watch list. After a long litigation, the United States, without apology or explanation, was forced to send him a short letter stating that he had been removed from their terrorism watch list. Meanwhile, Hazim Nada himself was enjoying what seemed to be a hedonistic lifestyle, making money and getting rich without cause, purpose, or involvement. Perhaps the reason he chose this lifestyle was, in part, because he had seen how much his father had suffered in his life for having cause and a purpose.
It does not look like Hazim Nada himself had any purpose other than marrying a beautiful Saudi woman, having children, acquiring beautiful and expensive property in Italy, renovating historical property, and all other kinds of indulgences. This is until Hazim Nada wakes up one day to find that everything—from the Wikipedia that describes his company, to the Wikipedia page that describes him, to the banks that he relies on for conducting his business, to all the clients that he relies on in his oil export business—had him blacklisted as a possible terrorism suspect. Nebulous, unclear claims of Hazim Nada somehow being connected to Islamic terrorism and to Islamist conspiracies to control the world. The result was, as the article describes, that Hazim's life was turned into a living hell. Banks refused to lend him money or give him letters of credit. Clients refused to complete contracts with him. Various governments that he relied on to license his business and facilitate the use of their docks canceled him and informed him that he was a persona non grata.
His multi-billion-dollar business crumbled. He had to declare bankruptcy and lay off hundreds of workers. The stress of the collapse of his business even affected his relationship with his wife, leading to a divorce. The plot thickened when Hazim Nada suddenly received a message from a hacking group that specializes in hacking companies and organizations with sensitive information. The group had hacked the business of a suspicious named Mario Brero, with his set of companies known as Alp Services, and the hackers group told Hazim that their motivation was money. “We have hacked Alp Services and Mario Brero, and the information we have will explain to you what led to your downfall and destruction, why suddenly you became a persona non grata. It will explain what happened to you." In exchange for this information, they demanded millions of dollars as payment, but Hazim Nada had become bankrupt and no longer had millions of dollars to pay.
As a way of whetting his appetite, Nada was allowed to see some of the information hacked from Alp Services. Therein was the real shock. Hazim Nada discovered a concerted campaign that covered every imaginable base, from changing the way that he and his company are described in Wikipedia, to resisting any efforts to correct the misinformation that Wikipedia now communicated about him, to communicating to every bank and every government of every country he did business with, circulating unsubstantiated rumors that Hazim Nada may possibly have ties to terrorism. The irony, of course, is that it was Alp Services, owned by the dark and questionable figure, Mario Brero, that fabricated these rumors. They took someone who had no political activity whatsoever, and absolutely destroyed his reputation.
If their campaign would have led to Hazim being arrested, they did not care. If their campaign would have led to Hazim being charged and prosecuted, they did not care. If their campaign would have led to some crazy conclusion in the CIA that he should be among those marked for assassination by the United States, they did not care. All Mario Brero and his company cared about was one thing: getting paid. But who was the client paying Mario Brero and Alp Services?
The United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed and his cronies. Why? This is the most intriguing part of the article. It is clear that the United Arab Emirates really had no issue with Hazim Nada. They actually did not care about Hazim Nada. In fact, before the involvement of Mario Brero and Alp Services, they did not know much about Hazim Nada at all. Alp Services is not just an Islamophobic company. It is part of an Islamophobic network of journalists and academics, including a professor at George Washington University who deserves to be named, Lorenzo Vidino. There is a devilish, immoral network of journalists and academics who specialize in smearing Muslims, Islamophobic discourses, and peddling this Islamist conspiracy garbage. As the article makes clear, they do not do this simply because of their racism and religious bigotry. They do it because it is lucrative to do so. But what is fascinating about the article is that as these journalists smear Islam, smear Muslims, and work with entities such as Mario Brero and Alp Services, who pays their bills? None other than the United Arab Emirates.
Here is how the scheme worked. Mario Brero, along with his company, was aware that he could make a lot of money if he could convince the Emiratis that he was taking down Islamists. The Emiratis opened their door for Brero to make a proposal. Brero's proposal was that he could target Islamists through his smear campaigns, and by the word “Islamists,” it turns out that Brero meant any person, whether academic or businessman, who was identified by Islamophobes as part of the Islamist conspiracy. While they pretend to have a sophisticated intelligence system, it is clear that the UAE did nothing beyond telling Brero, "Wonderful. You take down the Islamists, and we will give you millions of dollars."
Now, Brero and his company had to show results, that of lives ruined, journalists fired, academics destroyed, businessmen going bankrupt, and reputations tarnished forever. This is all so the Emiratis can continue to pay him millions of dollars. He looked around, found the son of a man who used to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood—or maybe is still part of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is not material—and said, "Well, his son is also wealthy. It must be that, like his father, he has Islamist sympathies. He is a fair target.” What matters for Mario Brero and Alp Services is that he has to offer sacrifices so that the Emirati money can keep coming in. It did not matter to him whether Hazim Nada was actually involved in any way with anything.
What is astounding is the discovery of the extent to which it is Muslim money that keeps this malignant, foul network of Islamophobes busy and working, along with the discovery that it was none other than the well-known Lebanese Christian Islamophobe, Roland Jacquard, who recommended Mario Brero to the Emiratis. Roland, a French citizen born in Lebanon, is a self-declared expert on everything Islamic. He has consistently pedaled the thesis of Muslims taking over Europe. And it was none other than Jacquard who played a critical role in introducing Brero and his company to the Emiratis, advising them that Brero and his company are experts in destroying careers, reputations, and lives. The Emiratis received Jacquard's recommendation with great warmth and enthusiasm. On August 2nd, 2017, Brero arrived in the Fairmont Hotel in Abu Dhabi as a guest of the Emirati rulers. He prepared 14 pages of talking points to persuade the Emiratis to pay him to take on Qatar and its Muslim Brotherhood allies, stating, "We will discredit targets by discreetly and massively diffusing embarrassing and uncompromising information." The article details how the Emiratis signed the contract paying Brero millions of dollars.
The article notes that at one point, Brero offered to take down Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss philosopher and grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, by exposing his wild sexual life, his many young mistresses, and his lax religious practices. However, someone else beat him to it. Six months after the Abu Dhabi meeting, French police charged Ramadan with sexual assault; charges that, to date, have never been proven.
The idea of targeting Hazim Nada appears to have originated in conversations with none other than Sylvain Besson, the Swiss journalist for the journal Le Temps. Why is this important? Because Sylvain wrote a well-known Islamophobic book called “The Conquest of the West: The Secret Project of the Islamists.” This book, which became a best-seller in Europe, was heavily cited by Anders Breivik in his thousand-page manifesto. In other words, it is clear that Brero goes to an Islamophobic source like Sylvain Besson and tells him, "Sylvain, dear, since you are an expert on Muslim conspiracies, can you suggest names for us to take down and to offer to the Emiratis as sacrificial lambs, so the millions of dollars can keep coming?" The article then explains how Nina May, a writer who often publishes Islamophobic freelance pieces, was hired by Alps to write articles, this time focused on Hazim Nada and his purported terrorist ties. The money came from the Emirates, but the go-between was Brero and his company, Alp Services. It does not even stop there. The Alp company created a fictitious freelance journalist called Tanya Klein, who was a purported expert on Islam and Islamists. Tanya Klein is none other than Alp Services. Klein launched a campaign against a Muslim youth organization in Europe headed by Youssef Himmat. This activity was, again, compensated by the Emiratis. The article goes on and on about French and British correspondence and journalists, all on the payroll not of the Emiratis directly, but of the Emiratis through this go-between company that specialized in destroying Muslim lives.
As an academic, one of the most troubling parts of the article is that George Washington University hired a man named Lorenzo Vidino, who now runs a program at the University called Program on Extremism. For years now, Vidino has been in league with well-known Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. Far from an academic, he is nothing but a racist who spins conspiracy theories about Muslims and Islamists, and the “danger” that Muslims pose to the U.S. and the West in general. One may wonder how Lorenzo Vidino got his job at George Washington University, and who funds this Program on Extremism? How did he pass scrutiny when his qualifications are so clearly substandard? As this article makes clear, Vidino works with these Islamophobic organizations and gets paid for his “consultancy and expertise." When all is said and done, the money that ends up in Lorenzo Vidino's pockets, once again, comes from the Emirates.
When the far better academic and scholar, Farid Hafez, aided in the publication of the European Islamophobia Report, Vidino was directly responsible for Austria's government targeting Farid Hafez and 50 other Muslims. Of course, after harassing, brutalizing, and persecuting these Muslims, no charges were brought, because nothing could be proven. None of these Muslims were involved in anything remotely connected to terrorism, but this is just one among the many accomplishments of Lorenzo Vidino. Meanwhile, sadly, Muslims are too ignorant and clueless. They spew purported wisdom and support the likes of Jordan Peterson hosting a conversation with Hamza Yusuf.
Lorenzo Vidino has destroyed many Muslim lives and will continue to destroy many Muslim lives. Many of us know the organization Islamic Relief. Well, Islamic Relief had to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off terrorism accusations that the likes of Mario Brero and Lorenzo Vidino are directly responsible for, accusations that Islamic Relief is a part of a terrorism network. Again, the payment came from the Emirates. The article talks about British journalists like Andrew Norfolk, who continues to write for The Times. Norfolk is a journalist with a history of inflammatory writings about Islamists and the Islamist threat to Europe. The article details how it turns out that Norfolk is intricately connected to Lorenzo Vidino, Mario Brero, and Alp Services; all with Emirati money, which continues to oil the machinery of Islamist conspiracy.
The article details many examples, but one that stood out to me involves a rather well-known human rights academic, Kamel Jendoubi. Jendoubi is an academic with a solid reputation in the human rights field, and has undertaken and published a number of works, mostly in French. But in 2018, Jendoubi was part of a panel discussing war crimes committed by the United Arab Emirates in Yemen. Jendoubi presented a shameful record that is beyond dispute. No one can seriously contest the fact that the Emirati government committed war crimes and atrocities of unimaginable proportions in Yemen, and that because of Emirati money, they have simply got away with it for the most part. They have managed to call on Israel, the United States, and Britain to block any investigations in the International Criminal Court, to block any efforts to investigate war crimes in the Human Rights Council, to block any efforts by the High Commissioner for human rights in the United Nations, and to malign and slander the reputation of anyone who pointed the finger at them.
The article details how after the conference in which he presented the evidence of the United Arab Emirates being responsible for numerous war crimes in Yemen, Jendoubi suddenly found himself a persona non grata in the academic world. No one wanted to work with him, invite him, or deal with him. The Emiratis had paid people like Alp Services to malign, slander, and spread all types of unsubstantiated rumors about Jendoubi. They called him an Islamist, although the man probably does not know how to recite Surah al-Fatiha. But it does not matter. His name sounds Arab, and they do not need the truth. Truth is an inconvenient detail. It was easy to invent all types of slanderous stories and completely ruin the man's reputation.
I urge all of you to read this article, but to also pause and think. We know that the Emiratis are not the only people funding Islamophobia, but this is a very good example as to why Islamophobia is lucrative for academics and journalists. That is point number one. But point number two is to put together all those who are willing to spend money—not just the Emiratis, but, as the article details, oligarchs from all over the Muslim world—to take down opponents and make sure that Islam never becomes a cause of social justice, because social justice is dangerous to them. The trope of political Islam is very convenient at keeping the Islam of social justice and equity at bay. These governments are willing to pay the cost, and they pay people who are ex-intelligence and ex-military. The ex-intelligence are often Israelis, Americans, Russians, British, or French—the colonizers of yesterday. So, the colonizers milk the colonized, and the financial resources of the latter pedal a well-worn, well-known commodity. Islam is not about social justice. Islam and democracy, rights, and social dignity are irreconcilable with one another. You want to be a good Muslim? Do not do anything that would bother the oligarchs.
Who is paying for this mission and message? Everyone that has an interest in keeping Islam as such. And who has an interest in keeping Islam as such? Everyone who has an interest in abusing Muslims without accountability. Who has an interest in abusing Muslims without accountability? Everyone from the Russians, to Middle Eastern dictators, to the Israelis, to the Americans in Iraq. They do not want an Islam that says it is part of the duty of a Muslim to affirm, recognize, pursue, or establish justice on this Earth.
This reminded me that at one point, when Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi was alive, Emirati newspapers started publishing an alleged story from a servant girl that had worked in Qaradawi's household. She was now in the Emirates, being interviewed by Emirati journalists. These news reports in the Emirates had this girl claiming that Qaradawi and his wife, who were in their 90s, forced her to watch pornographic movies with them, and then forced her to engage in threesomes. Thankfully, enough people in the Muslim world had enough sense to read these stories, shake their heads, and largely ignore them. So these stories did not have sticking power. Follow the money, however, and see how easy it is to malign and slander especially those who speak truth, justice, ethics and morality; especially those who find the idea of an authoritarian Islam that tolerates despotism, oligarchy, and injustice repulsive and unacceptable.
Think about how easy it is to malign, slander, defile, and defame the reputation of these people. You do not need to prove anything. You need only start rumors. I come back and I place the blame directly on the individual Muslim practitioner, who, as I have said a million times before, decides every day of their life if they want to support the scholar who is in the pockets of the Emirates. The scholar who is always silent before Israeli atrocities. The scholar who sees oppression and subordination among race, gender, and class, and is always dismissive, if not silent. When we choose to ignore the fact that they are on the payroll and do not support the Islamic cause of justice, freedom, and dignity, we are supporting this vile reality that pervades every part of our lives.
Whether you realize it or not, if you choose to support this type of scholar, you are as dangerous and as morally culpable, if not more so, than the Islamophobe who out of ignorance, stupidity, or bigotry, absolutely hates Muslims. With your apathy, lack of moral standards, and lack of commitments, you are a part of the problem. You are a part of the reason that the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel can continue doing what they are doing. When all is said and done, we still have a substantial number of Muslims pontificating about whether Jordan Peterson is going to convert to Islam. It shows how stupid and ignorant we are as a people. This is why people like Mario Brero and his Alp Services company can look at us with the same arrogant air of superiority that colonizers have always embraced as they looked at the colonized. “These people are too stupid and too ignorant to comprehend, care, act, or actually take charge of their own moral faith and their own future, and so we continue playing with them like we play with children.” May we wake up someday.
In deciding what to talk about in the second khutbah, there are so many options, but I think one issue rose above everything else for me this week. Those who know me will probably not be surprised. It is a morally bankrupt, highly unethical, and extremely alarming symptom of a Muslim corrupted soul: Fatih Seferagic leading taraweeh prayer in Times Square.
This is not the case of an imam with an accusation of perhaps having a relationship with an employee who worked for him for a long time, in which there are discreet and complicated allegations of sexual harassment, in which, for instance, it could have been a love story that went sour, or it could have been an employment relationship that became vindictive.
No. This is an imam with whom a number of young women were lured into privacy, often because they are young and bright-eyed, or because they believed him when he told them that he will teach them how to recite the Qur'an. There are numerous reports that these women, when left alone with him, were violently sexually assaulted. In numerous complaints, including complaints filed with law enforcement, not just filed with the FACE organization, there are accusations that he used some type of rape drug to knock out these girls. Many of them were virgins, and when they spoke up about being sexually assaulted by this man, the price they paid was in shame, embarrassment, and isolation. These girls knew very well that when you speak up against a Qur'an reciter—because we, as Muslims, have reached the point that we no longer care about whether someone actually understands Qur'an; if they can just recite it, we say, "Oh, they are a godsend, they are a prophet”—they would become isolated and marginalized in their own communities. They knew they were going to be treated as pariahs, but they did it. In fact, at least on one occasion, there is fairly well-documented scientific evidence that he transmitted a STD to one of the victims. He continued to dismiss the allegations of these girls as if they are nothing, as if they are just insane or sexually promiscuous. None of his responses even rose to the level of an actual engagement.
The Muslim community then invites this man to lead taraweeh prayer. Not only that, but the article notes that he has numerous invitations in Ramadan to go to many Islamic centers to lecture or recite Qur'an. I am sure some of these mentally defective people will ask, “How do we know this is not part of the Islamophobic campaign to malign Islamic figures?” To them, I say this: “Use your brain.” What does a Qur'anic reciter contribute that would cause issues among Islamophobes? Have you heard him speak out against despotism and oligarchy? Have you heard him uphold the principles of justice and liberty? These are the people that the Islamophobes fear, not someone with an attractive voice, a reciter of the Qur'an. Also, if we bothered to read and do our research, we would know that Islamophobes do often use what they refer to as “honey traps,” in which a woman pretends to be attracted to a male figure, obtains compromising pictures, and then blackmails that figure into silence, compliance, or complacency with dictatorship. The human being falls as a human being, but instead of gravely confronting the fact that he fell in a “honey trap,” he goes along with the extortion, because he fears people more than he fears God.
For these poor women who are violently, aggressively, and in the most disgusting way, sexually assaulted to have their testimony simply marginalized as part of an Islamophobic conspiracy is further proof of how far we have strayed away from the Straight Path (Q 1:6), and from any Muslim ethical core.
I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I wish I could apologize a million times over to every single Muslim woman who has been hurt by Fatih Seferagic and beg them to forgive us for what the truly blind among us have committed. I have no words, but again, it is another issue that should clearly help us separate between those who represent an unethical Islam, and those who might represent an ethical, moral Islam that we should embrace and support.