On April 16, the United Muslim-Christian Forum (UMCF) held an interfaith event in Owego, New York, featuring Christian and Muslim speakers, including the mayor of the town. Its Web site proudly hosts a photo of Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan holding a UMCF sign. Far from the model of tolerance it casts itself as, the UMCF is a front for an anti-Semitic, Islamic extremist group named Muslims of the Americas (MOA), and the keynote speaker warned that Allah will destroy whoever supports Koran burnings, and possibly the entire country.
The MOA was exposed in the Christian Action Network’s (CAN) 2009 film, "Homegrown Jihad: Terrorist Camps Around the U.S.," which shows that MOA “villages” (of which the group says there are 22) are used for guerilla warfare training. The Department of Homeland Security says that the MOA is linked to Jamaat ul-Fuqra, a Pakistani militant group. Both follow Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a radical cleric in Pakistan. In 1998, the State Department described ul-Fuqra as an “Islamic sect that seeks to purify Islam through violence.”
Shortly after the film’s release, I obtained an MOA videotape showing female members receiving paramilitary instruction at “Islamberg” in Hancock, NY. The group responded with a ridiculous rebuttal video in December 2009, followed by a four-part series in January 2010. Since then, CAN has acquired multiple recordings of gunfire coming from “Holy Islamville” in York County, SC.
The UMCF has been able to recruit some Christians as supporters, even though this information is readily available. Speakers at the April 16 event included Father Timothy Taugher of Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City; Prof. Diane O’Heron of Broome Community College (and UMCF board member); and Mayor Edward Arrington, who is chairman of the Deacon Board of First Baptist Church in Owego.
The keynote speaker was Muhammad Ali Qadiri, the “mayor” of the MOA site in Red House, VA. He declared:
[Terry] Jones has started his shameful plan in order to bring about the clash between Muslims and Christians, to destroy both religions and to establish an evil empire. This man is obviously fulfilling somebody else’s agenda which can cause irreparable damage to the peace and solidarity to the USA. We have been chosen by a divine mandate to declare that if any man is allowed to burn the Holy Qur’an the fate of him and his supporters will not be any different from those people who cut the tendons of the she-camel during the time of Prophet Salih (peace be upon him); although only nine people actually cut the tendons, the Almighty destroyed the entire nation. Thus we must pass a resolution to work together.
The Christian Action Network sent me to attend the event, and I heard Qadiri tell the audience that the U.S. government must be forced to end its wars overseas and the drone strikes in Pakistan. He did condemn suicide bombings and al-taqiyya, and said Wahhabists and Shiites are not really Muslims, despite the MOA’s admiration for Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
I was told that I could not film, even though it was a public event. Attendees and officials were polite, but tried to make me uncomfortable by constantly taking my picture, clearing the chairs in front of me for part of the time so I could be watched, and following my every step. I was followed into the bathroom, where someone stood right outside my stall. I was then followed back in, and back out to my vehicle.
Upon arrival, I was introduced to a spokesman, who explained to me that the group had “let other people define us” and this was an effort to show the true meaning of Islam. I was soon after brought out by one of their security personnel, who questioned me, and said I couldn’t even take pictures because “we are so much under the microscope.”
After the event, I approached Qadiri. He told me that 30 to 40 percent of the audience were Christians, which was a gross exaggeration from what I saw. I showed him a print-out from the UMCF Web site where it suggests the 9/11 attacks were a Jewish conspiracy. I read him the part that says, “This is Stage One of getting the Western World, on behalf of the Jews, to go to war with the Arab world.”
“We are trying not to get into the bashing business anymore. I mean some of this is trial and error when you go into it and the longer we do it, the more we’re finding that certain things are a little bit too offensive…categorically we do not deny anything we said,” Qadiri responded.
I then showed him a print-out of a writing by Sheikh Gilani, reading the part that says, “Jews are an example of human Satans.” After a long pause, he said, “That’s my sheikh,” followed by, “it is what it is.” I then brought up the recordings and videotape of gunfire coming from the MOA sites, to which he replied, “What is wrong with shooting your gun in the United States of America?” By this time, I had a small crowd watching, including one intimidating onlooker who kept coming closer to me, and one of the security personnel interrupted to bring the conversation to a close.
This is the organization being hailed by some elected officials as an example to be followed. It has at least 22 “villages,” some dozens of acres large, around the country where its members live in isolation. Yet, naïve Christians, government officials and reporters continue to embrace it. For too many, being known as a bridge-builder is more important than confronting extremism.