Meet the ‘moderate’ Syrian sheikh young think tanker wants us to adopt

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

The State Department-funded Syrian Emergency Task Force and Elizabeth O’Bagy backed an anti-Semitic, anti-Shiite imam for presidency of the Syrian rebels.

O’Bagy ran into trouble earlier this month after The Daily Caller revealed her dual role as a pundit urging war on the Assad regime in Syria and a paid contractor for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a pro-rebel front group. But while she still held a position at a connected Washington, DC think tank, O’Bagy strongly supported the anti-Semitic, anti-Shiite Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib for a leadership position in an imaginary conquered Syria.

“Empowering a unified and accountable leadership for the opposition, led politically by SOC President Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib and militarily by SMC Chief of Staff General Salim Idriss, is not only important from a command and control perspective,” O’Bagy wrote in a March 2013 report on the Free Syrian Army for the Institute for the Study of War. “This structure, if developed properly, can create a framework for rebuilding Syria’s security and governing institutions in order to fill the power vacuum left by Assad’s fall and help to aid in a secure and stable Syria.”

Khatib resigned that very March, serving only five months in office and criticizing the restrictions foreign donors—principally from Qatar and Saudi Arabia—placed on aid.

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Khatib’s anti-moderate views were well known even before his election in November 2012. His website praises Saddam Hussein for “terrifying the Jews,” according to London-based journalist Mohanad Hage Ali writing in Foreign Policy in 2012. The imam-turned-politician “also published others’ anti-Semitic observations on his site,” Ali wrote. “In one article, written by Abdul Salam Basiouni, Jews are described as ‘gold worshippers.’ Finally, in an obituary of a Gaza sheikh copied from IslamSyria, Jews are dubbed ‘the enemies of God.'”

Though he promised pluralism in Syria once he was elected, Khatib has also been quoted calling the Shiite minority liars and an Arabic slur.

Despite these views, Secretary John Kerry, who met with Khatib in Rome in February, approved giving more than $60 million in aid to the Syrian rebels.

Khatib isn’t the only person linked to the Syrian Emergency Task Force with radical views. Mouaz Moustapha, pictured here with Khatib, is the group’s executive director.

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Moustafa is a Palestinian Arab and self-described “freelance revolutionary” was formerly Director of the Libyan Council of North America. Mousafa hired O’Bagy as the SETF’s political director.

SETF’s board members include Dr. Jihad Qaddour, who  is also a trustee of a Muslim Brotherhood front group called the  Muslim American Society. Another board member, Bassam Estwani was the imam  of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, which was Al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki’s  former mosque and a front for Hamas, according to the Treasury Department. Board  member Zaher Sahoul is chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of  Chicago, an organization with terrorist links which is  involved in organizing a boycott of Israel.

Just who funds the SETF isn’t clear. “No major foundations” support the think tank, says O’Bagy. “Most of the funding for the Syrian Emergency Task Force comes from individuals,” O’Bagy said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “Not only Syrian Americans, but they actually – I mean, you’d be surprised at how many Cuban Americans or even Jewish Americans support the organization.”

O’Bagy wasn’t much troubled by some of the rebels’ Islamist ties. She insisted that it is “misleading”  to divide Syria into secularists and Islamists.

“This notion of secularism is a very negative term and has a negative connotation in Syria so when you talk to Syrians they don’t identify as being secularists,” O’Bagy said. “It’s almost to the point where it is a dirty word in Arabic, especially in Syria because it is so closely related to the regime.”

O’Bagy prefers to use the word “moderate” and has developed a “well defined rubric” she has been “working on for quite some time” as part of her dissertation research. “I think it’s a more useful reference because it…is based on principles and practices. I refrain from using words like ‘secularists’ and ‘Islamists’ and try to stick to ‘moderate’ and ‘extremists.’”

“Moderates,” O’Bagy insisted, have “not only talked about but demonstrated respect for minority rights…a respect for women’s rights and a woman’s agenda within the revolution.”

The 26-year-old pundit also demanded of prospective rulers of post-war Syria “that they respect civilian leadership over military leadership and that they have demonstrated good relationships with all of the civilian councils and activists.” O’Bagy further stipulated that “they also have to believe in some sort of democratic processes and the notion of pluralism.”

O’Bagy was fired from the Institute for the Study of War for allegedly lying about her academic credentials, not for the work she did on behalf of Syria’s Sunni rebellion.

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