One overlooked aspect of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s attempt to find common ground with child-killing mass murderer Bashar al-Assad during a surprise trip to Syria in January 2017 is her meeting with the Assad regime’s Grand Mufti, Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun. According to the disclosure forms about her trip she submitted to the House Ethics Committee, she met with Grand Mufti Hassoun for an hour right after her ‘surprise’ visit with Assad.
Grand Mufti Hassoun is no ordinary cleric and his relationship to the Assad regime is also not ordinary from the standpoint of secularism — Hassoun as Grand Mufti is part of the Syrian state, specifically the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf in Arabic). Tulsi Gabbard’s claim that the Assad regime is secular is either a conscious lie or the product of mind-blowing ignorance: under the Syrian constitution, non-Muslims are barred from the presidency and Islamic law (sharia) is a main source of legislation; state textbooks teach holy war (jihad) and that “Islam accepts only two choices for pagans: that they convert to Islam or be killed”; for Sunni Muslims, sharia courts sanctioned by the regime have authority over matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce which puts women at a disadvantage compared to men; and the Ba’ath Party has interfered in the religious affairs of Syria’s Sunni clergy ever since it came to power in a 1963 military coup.
What makes Gabbard’s meeting with Grand Mufti Hassoun galling is not the un-secular nature of the Assad regime but the fact that Hassoun called for suicide bombers to attack the U.S. and Europe if the U.S. launched airstrikes targeting the Assad regime. The Islamic State (ISIS) likewise called for terrorist attacks on the U.S. and Europe in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on their so-called caliphate and yet Gabbard did not meet with any ISIS clerics. And what exactly did she discuss in her one-hour meeting with Grand Mufti Hassoun? Presumably not suitable American targets for Houssan’s would-be jihadist bombers.
Even worse, Human Rights Watch reported that Grand Mufti Hassoun signed off on the execution of over 10,000 prisoners at the infamous Sednaya prison where people are systematically tortured before being killed. This is why the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland branded Hassoun a war criminal and called for his arrest when he visited the Irish parliament and told blatant lies such as “Russia and Iran did not kill any civilians” during the 2016 battle for Aleppo city.
If the Assad regime was serious about fighting terrorism as Tulsi Gabbard claims, then Assad would have dismissed Hassoun from his position as Grand Mufti and the Ministry of Religious Endowments would have severed all ties after his call for suicide bombers to attack the U.S. and Europe. But the Assad regime is not serious about fighting terrorism and in fact has a decades-long history of providing political, material, and logistical support for terrorist groups:
- The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC): PFLP-GC and its leaders have enjoyed a safe haven in Syria since it was founded in 1968 as a split from the PFLP. Over the course of the next five decades, PFLP-GC has killed thousands in attacks on civilian airliners, rival Palestinian factions, and even Palestinian refugees in Damascus during the Syrian civil war.
- PFLP: PFLP has a similar but somewhat less murderous history as a terrorist organization than PFLP-GC and was based in Assad’s Syria from 1985 to 1999.
- Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): The Assad regime provided a safe haven for PKK to operate in from 1979 until 1999 when pressure from Turkey — the main target of PKK attacks — succeeded in getting the regime to clamp down on PKK.
- The Assad Regime: The Syrian government itself launched a slew of car bomb attacks in 2005 and 2006 to assassinate anti-regime journalists and political figures in neighboring Lebanon during their occupation of the country. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri by Assad’s intelligence agencies triggered a mass popular revolt in Lebanon that ended some 20 years of occupation by the Syrian army.
- Al-Qaeda: During the American occupation of Iraq, the Assad regime funneled Al-Qaeda fighters through Syrian territory to help kill American troops and contractors next door. Iraq’s then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki estimated that “90% terrorists from different Arabic nationalities infiltrated Iraq through Syrian territory” and demanded the Assad regime hand over and “expel the terrorists, Ba’athists and takfiris who take Syria as a base to launch criminal activity inside Iraq.” Iraq’s former National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie said, “I went and met President Bashar al-Assad twice, and presented him with material evidence, documents, satellite pictures, confessions, all sorts of evidence that his security forces were involved in active [sic] and transporting jihadists from Syria to Iraq … And also, there were training camps with names and locations.” The Kouachi brothers who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015 were jailed and convicted on terrorism charges in 2005 before they could board a plane to Damascus en route to Iraq, then a jihadist playground. During the battle of Fallujah in 2004 between U.S. troops and insurgents led by Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Hassoun prayed in a sermon “for our brothers in Fallujah” and said “may God be with you when you kill Americans.” The video of this bloodthirsty sermon is still up on Grand Mufti Hassoun’s YouTube channel (he uploaded it in 2013; apparently he has no regrets about what he said then). So while Tulsi Gabbard was serving in Iraq as part of the Hawaii National Guard, Hassoun was praying for Al-Qaeda to kill her and her fellow troops.
Tulsi Gabbard likely thought her 2017 ‘peace trip’ to Syria would be a stroke of political genius just like her opportunistically timed endorsement of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. She would make headlines, raise her national profile, look like a foreign policy pro, generate ‘presidential’ buzz, and — given Steve Bannon’s fondness for her — potentially serve as an intermediary between Assad and the incoming Trump administration.
Instead, Gabbard’s stunt turned into an ongoing catastrophe for her political career. And rightly so.
Aside from Breitbart and The Intercept, the entire political spectrum was outraged that she portrayed a mass murderer responsible for the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis since World War Two as a peace partner. Journalists discovered that her trip was paid for by a fake charity run by a fascist organization, the Syrian Socialist National Party. When the Assad regime used repeated its August 2013 sarin gas attack on civilians in April 2017, Gabbard promised she would call for Assad’s execution if he was found guilty of the attack and when United Nations investigators proved that Assad’s forces were indeed guilty, her call for Assad’s execution never materialized. When the Trump administration responded to Assad’s April 2017 chemical weapons massacre by hitting one of Assad’s airbases with 50 cruise missiles to enforce the Obama administration’s chemical weapons “red line,” Gabbard said the strike would lead to greater U.S.-Russia tensions (it did not) and possibly a nuclear exchange (never happened). She also described the move as “reckless” (it was not) — since the cruise missile strike there have been no sarin gas attacks in Syria. When the Trump administration cancelled the ‘regime change’ covert arms program for Syrian rebels effective December 1, 2017 as Gabbard advocated, the result on the battlefield was the opposite of what she said would happen — not peace but more war, more refugees, more killing, and more suffering. Two weeks after the rebels were effectively disarmed, Assad regime offensives in Idlib governate forcibly displaced over 200,000 Syrians in a little over a month.
Tulsi Gabbard’s trip to meet terrorists in Syria proved two things about her: she is both morally and intellectually bankrupt. She is morally bankrupt for aligning herself with a murderous regime guilty of torturing children and raping women as a matter of policy. She is intellectually bankrupt for thinking that the Middle East’s second-most prolific state sponsor of terrorism (Iran is in first place) is an ally in the struggle against terrorism.
The last thing this country needs is another heartless know-nothing dictator-worshiping buffoon angling for the Oval Office — one was enough.