Maybe he was just trying to help out a charity. In 2004, the Islamic American Relief Agency approached former Congressman Mark Deli Siljander (R-MI, 1981-1987) for help: the group had been placed on a Senate Finance Committee list of organizations suspected of supporting terrorism, and wanted Siljander to lobby for its reinstatement as an “approved government contractor.”
Islamic charities have long been a subject of government scrutiny. Leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, one of the leading Muslim charities in America, were recently tried in Dallas for allegedly funneling contributions to the jihad terrorist group Hamas, in a contentious court battle that ended in a mistrial. The case will be retried. But Muslim spokesmen and advocacy groups have long insisted that Islamic charities are being unfairly targeted, consistent with an anti-Muslim bias they allege to exist among law enforcement officials.
So it may be that Siljander, when approached by the IARA, thought they deserved a fair shake. For his thought was evolving, and his sympathy with Muslims and Islam growing. In a revealing November 2007 address, Siljander described how, as a congressman, he was angry when the Qur’an was read during the National Prayer Breakfast. He wrote to the Breakfast’s emcee: “How can you read the book of the devil at a prayer breakfast?”
Afterward, however, he began to read the Qur’an himself, and was impressed: “I found out that Jesus was mentioned in the Quran 110 times, either directly or indirectly, and there was not a single word about Jesus that was horrible, disgraceful or, in my opinion, inconsistent with what the Bible says about him” — hardly a mainstream view among either Muslims or Christians. He spoke of wanting to “create a movement, a dynamic” to bring Christians and Muslims together.
One way he did this was to work for the IARA. But according to his indictment for money laundering and obstruction of justice, released Wednesday, he ended up helping that organization conceal funds it had stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and lied to FBI agents about the nature of his relationship with the IARA.
And the IARA itself sent around $130,000 to bank accounts controlled by its parent organization, the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), in Peshawar, Pakistan — where the money went to fund the activities of jihadist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ally of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Also, according to the Treasury Department, “IARA is formerly affiliated with Maktab Al-Khidamat (MK), which was co-founded and financed by UBL [Osama bin Laden] and is the precursor organization of al Qaida.” The IARA has also funneled money to Hamas.
John F. Wood, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, declared: “An organization right here in the American heartland allegedly sent funds to Pakistan for the benefit of a specially designated global terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban…. The indictment also alleges that a former congressman engaged in money laundering and obstruction of a federal investigation in an effort to disguise IARA’s misuse of taxpayer money that the government had provided for humanitarian purposes.”
The fact that Siljander lied to the FBI suggests that he had no illusions about what he had gotten into. Still, it may be that his indictment is the bitter fruit of his naivete. Siljander would not be the first naïve Westerner to establish, out of zeal to build bridges of respect between Muslims and Christians, ties with Muslims who had a far deeper connection to the global jihad than he would ever have imagined. All too many of those have been operating what appeared to be completely reputable charitable organizations. Siljander’s experience should also serve as a cautionary tale for all who pursue “bridge-building” and “dialogue”: while these may be laudable, they are beset with pitfalls, and the universal purveying of the politically correct fiction that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists has only had the effect of leading many to grow complacent about many areas in which jihadists are actively operating — notably, those Islamic charities. Were there a more forthright and honest public discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists use among peaceful Muslims to recruit and motivate terrorists, Siljander may never have gotten into the fix he’s in.
The best outcome of the Mark Siljander indictment would be a newly vigorous investigation of Islamic charities in the U.S., and the framing of new laws that would require complete transparency as to their funding. It may be too late for Mark Siljander, but it isn’t too late for the rest of us.