Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump. (Source)
The Westminster Institute
I met Katharine Gorka (“Katie,” as she asked me to call her) at the Westminster Institute in McLean, Virginia in early 2012. I contacted Katie, the Director of the Institute, to check if she had any interesting thoughts to share on counter-terrorism efforts.
Always interested in defending Islam from terrorists who hijack my religion to promote demonic goals, I was interested in the Institute for its mandate of countering radical groups. After exchanging emails for some time with Katie, we finally met when I returned to the US after living in Europe for several years.
Katie greeted me congenially and later introduced me to her husband, Dr. Sebastian Gorka (‘Sebastian’). Sebastian was different. His stony demeanor and towering stature made him look like a Viking in a suit.
When the Gorkas and I sat in the Institute’s conference room to discuss Islam, Sebastian to my astonishment bluntly asserted that terrorists were waging a “jihad” that Islam supports. I tried correcting Sebastian on how Islam differentiates jihad from terrorism.
Instead, I was shouted down by Sebastian and fed an egotistical monologue that Islam supports terrorism. Now he was behaving like the Barbarian horde. Less confrontational, Katie submissively nodded in full agreement with her husband. Sebastian, the former Breitbart News National Security Editor, was the more dominating personality who was recently appointed as Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump.
While Katie is less known to the public, Newsweek describes Katie as having “well-established anti-Muslim views.” This shows in her writing and choice of anti-Islam guest speakers at the Westminster Institute, including Ibn Warraq. Katie is reported to have served on the Trump “transition’s Department of Homeland Security ‘landing team.’”
I was interested in teaching the Gorkas the peaceful face of orthodox Sunni Islam. They shoved Islamophobia down my throat instead – so much for collaborating with them to counter the extremist threat. That was the end of my association with the Gorkas, at least in person. Thank God the Obama administration marginalized such zealots, I thought at the time. The future of US-Muslims relations was not in peril.
The Gorkas & Patrick Sookhdeo
Patrick Sookhdeo (Source)
Meeting the Gorkas only intensified my curiosity. I set out to learn more about the Westminster Institute and discovered that Patrick Sookhdeo was the Institute’s founder. Sookhdeo, known for his anti-Islam diatribes, was fully behind the Gorkas. Sookhdeo and Katie Gorka co-edited a book, Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism, extolled by Ayan Hirsi Ali, a rabid anti-Islam activist.
Sookhdeo was also a guest speaker at the 2007 Counterjihad Conference in Brussels and was fully supported by Pamela Geller, the Islamophobe par-excellence. Sookhdeo was also “quoted approvingly four times in the 1,500-page ‘manifesto’ of the Norwegian killer Anders Breivik.” Sookhdeo pointed fingers at the Muslim majority when in the book he said, “[T]raditionalists… are not prepared to tackle the deeper theological legitimacy that terrorism derives from classical Islam.” The Gorkas agree.
Sebastian Gorka who describes himself in the book as a “child of the Cold War” claims that Islam’s Prophet is “not a man of peace.” He erroneously conflates pseudo-Islamic terrorism with historical jihad, and peddles the myth that “shari’a-compliant mortgages in Northern Virginia” are examples of “counter-state” enemy efforts. Katie expresses irrational fears of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and, contradicting polls, casts doubt on whether the Muslim majority is really inclusive and peaceful.
In 2013, I wrote a critical review of the book to expose the anti-Islam attacks by Sookhdeo, the Gorkas, and other contributing authors, a few of whom included: Robert Reilly, the current Director of Westminster Institute, who disdainfully declared, “The Middle East is poor because of a dysfunctional culture based upon a deformed theology;” Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neoconservative think tank with a “history of engaging in alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering;” and John Lenczowski, Founder and President of The Institute of World Politics, who believes “the traditional poor – with its unique and seemingly intractable pathologies” and “growth of Islamic communities in Europe that threaten to erase the distinctiveness of individual European cultures” contribute to the fragility of Judeo-Christian civilization.
Katharine Gorka (Source)
Reilly and Lenczowski held senior positions in the Reagan administration at the height of the Cold War. All are in far-right or neoconservative circles. They are described as the fringe who, with Patrick Sookhdeo and the Gorkas, promote conspiracy theories and howl “totalitarian” and “fascist” as if the Cold war never ended. Now they are forcing a Cold War lens on an entirely different kind of ‘threat.’
The Gorkas apparently parted ways with Sookhdeo after accusations of sexual assault and intimidation of witnesses led to a guilty verdict against him in 2015.
But the Gorkas’ Islamophobic efforts continued unabated. Katie relinquished her Director position at Westminster Institute and founded The Council on Global Security, while Sebastian continued his intermittent interviews by the media and launched “The Gorka Briefing” website to share thoughts on “threats” to the homeland. Both sites were recently taken offline.
Some errors in the book include Sebastian’s portrayal of the Barbary Wars as “jihadist” or religious in nature. But key historian/scholars describe these wars as mainly economic/political, not religious. Sebastian also misrepresents the “jihadist” threat in America as the bigger threat, and ignores the far greater numbers who die annually by gun violence overwhelmingly by non-Muslims. Contrary to fact, Sebastian also claims, “Saddam Hussein is the second leader to use WMD after Hitler,” and distorts the view of the controversial Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) on rebellion against rulers.
With the Gorkas and others of the same cloth (e.g., Stephen Bannon) in the Trump administration, is the future of US-Muslim relations now in peril? My first knee-jerk reaction was to answer in the affirmative. How could it have been otherwise?
Finding Moderation in the Trump Administration?
But calm reflection has changed my thoughts. I believe the world’s realities will soon compel the Trump administration to have a more pragmatic view of Islam and the peaceful Muslim majority. The administration’s poorly conceived views of Islam and Muslims, its insistence on passing apparently anti-Muslim bans, and other such imprudent efforts with their negative fallout will eventually force the administration to distinguish between militants and peaceful Muslims. They will realize their policies do not and will not work. While I do not believe the Gorkas will spearhead this effort, someone more sensible in the Trump administration will – like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster who believes the description “radical Islamic terrorism” is not useful because it unfairly maligns peaceful Muslims and emboldens terrorists.
I am concerned as a Muslim American but I am still optimistic for a possibly meaningful way forward. The other remaining option – the perpetuation of Islamophobia – will only continue to embolden the minority of extremists on both sides and marginalize the peaceful Muslim majority.
Lovers of peace, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, are on the same side, and all of us are the prime targets of militant groups like ISIS. Muslims, in fact, make up the overwhelming majority of casualties by such radical groups. I as well as my fellow Muslims are the most outraged and want to defeat the hijackers of Islam more than anyone.
A Trump Alliance with Moderate Muslims is Not an Option
The Trump administration’s collaboration with the Muslim community is not a choice but a required imperative to strengthen our nation’s (and world’s) security. Correcting incompetent scholarship on Islam from both “Islamic” militants and their detractors is a necessary first step to dilute the extremist narrative effectively. This can only be done when Muslims are respected and seen as part of the solution instead of the problem.
I call on the Trump administration to follow the way of prudence now – not until failed policies make this world a more dangerous place. Join hands with us – the Muslim moderates – for a win-win partnership. Start reaching out to moderate Sunni scholars already embedded in counter-terrorism and inter-faith efforts, including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (founder of Zaytuna College in California), Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi who has delivered phenomenal rebuttals – spoken and written – against ISIS, and Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat of the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation. Our survival depends on it.