by Hossein Khorram and Ibrahim Ahmed (July 27, 2020)
A recent article by Nahal Toosi in Politico is essentially a hit piece against a highly qualified appointee to USAID. Tera Dahl has been labeled by the outlet as a contentious hire, but all the reasons given simply point to her “conservative” connections as the sole source of contentiousness.
She is accused of labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization – “a characterization many Middle East experts disagree with.”
First, although this may be a characterization many Middle East experts disagree with, many of these “experts” have been advocates of the Obama engagement and partnership policy with the Muslim Brotherhood since June 2009. She is not serving in the Obama Administration, but under President Trump, who had promise during his last campaign that he will consider putting the Ikhwan on a terror list and he has formally asked his current administration to actively study the case. Ms Dahl is a political appointee, which means she follows the agenda of the sitting President not the past one. Note that Politico has been adopting an apologist position regarding the International Islamist organization, criticizing its critics and praising its backers. Dahl is in line with the Trump platform and Politico is in line with the Obama partnership with the Islamists.
Second, there is no quote indicating Dahl ever actually said it was a terrorist organization, but she did liken the organization to other terrorist organizations with the same ideological goal, i.e., the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. The authors at Politico are essentially equating political Islam with terrorism, ultimately supporting Dahl’s criticism of the organization as she links the Muslim Brotherhood to political Islam. Politico makes that connection. Not Dahl.
Dahl is likewise “accused” of writing favorably about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. But as an appointee of President Trump she follows US policy which was announced in May 2017 at the Riyadh Arab Muslim summit with America. Trump, Sisi and other leaders of the Arab Coalition have precisely formed a counter terrorism alliance. Thus, this is official US policy, even though if there are critics within the bureaucracy or obviously across the opposition. Unlike Obama whose Administration characterized the revolution of millions of Egyptians against the Ikhwan as a coup because the civil society had called on the Army, headed by Sisi then, to help them against an oppressive and violent regime. In her writings since June 2013, Dahl sided with the Arab Muslim masses against the tyrannical rule of an organization Politico seems adamant to defend – the Muslim Brotherhood. That adamant defense by Politico should be more troubling to readers than any pretense at contentiousness.
Toosi also attempts to connect her to a memo that was penned after she left the Trump administration, probably because it spoke of the danger of, again, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The remaining “accusations” come down to one thing: conservatism.
- “Dahl’s past writings frequently appeared on the conservative Breitbart News site.”
- “Dahl has previously worked as an aide to former Rep. Michele Bachmann, a conservative Republican from Minnesota.”
- “She also helped run the Council on Global Security, an apparently inactive think tank that said its mission was to ‘challenge the totalitarian ideologies that endanger individual liberty and human development around the world, with a particular interest in threats to religious liberty.’”
And although the word “conservative” is not used in this last quote, the reader should be able to recognize that individual liberty, human development around the world, and religious liberty are of fundamental concern to conservatives.
Of course, Dahl’s connection to Trump should also be considered an egregious crime, according to Politico.
The first accusation in the article, however, is where we will end. She is guilty by association of using “sharp” language when referring to Islam, perhaps a vague attempt to label her Islamophobic. The reality is that Dahl has spoken out against “political Islam” – technically Islamism- but never against the faith tradition nor its adherents.
In fact, in 2013, she notes, “People want to live in peace. In speaking with Muslims from Libya, Syria, and Tunisia, they all tell me that they want what is happening in Egypt to happen in their country. They say that Egypt has taken measures to stop the spread of political Islam and terrorism. They want that for their country. I believe and hope what is happening in Egypt will spread to Libya, to Syria, to Tunisia, and across the globe to counter the rise of political Islam.”
And the political Islam stopped in Egypt was the political machinations of, once again, the Muslim Brotherhood.
As she wrote in 2014: “What happened in Egypt is nothing less than a true miracle […] With an intransigent theocratic Muslim Brotherhood in power the nation could have descended into a civil war. Instead, today the Egyptians are casting their vote for an Egypt free of fundamentalist control.”
Yes, she has been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS, and Hamas. She has been consistently critical of what she personally identifies as “political Islam,” and others describe as Islamists (Jihadists), but the Politico article could not cite a single “sharp comment” she has made against Islam. And she was always on the side of the majority of Arab Muslims who protested to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt.
Her critics as cited by Politico are problematic. “Career employees?” They should be in line of the US Government regarding the radicals and extremists, not blast a very qualified citizen to satisfy a previous Administration they still support. As for the “Muslim Advocacy Groups,” one of the labels describing the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the other Brotherhood sympathizers, they are named as Dahl critics. That makes Politco’s “investigation” as a hack piece aimed at the targets of the Ikhwan lobby.
Dahl is inordinately qualified for the USAID position – and what qualifies her for the position is also evidence the accusations against her in the Politico article are false – and the attack ignores generally and specifically her rich experiences in the Middle East.
Dahl witnessed firsthand the destruction Islamists caused in Egypt – and Iraq and Syria. She took numerous trips to volunteer for weeks at a time at IDP and refugee camps in Northern Iraq. She spent a month in Burma with the Free Burma Rangers. She spent six months in Iraq with the American Red Cross, six months in Afghanistan with the Red Cross, and was embedded with the US Marines in Helmand Province.
Dahl was also the 2015 US Fellowship Coordinator for the East-West Art of Dialogue Foundation – and has been featured in three documentaries about the region.
- “USAID leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.”
- “USAID transforms. It transforms families, communities, and countries – so they can thrive and prosper.”
As the Politico article also (perhaps unintentionally) notes, Dahl has always been passionate about improving lives around the globe through human development. She has been working to transform families, communities, and countries in some of the most dangerous areas for at least a decade. She brings those experiences, in addition to her knowledge and passion, to an agency that shares her values. This is anything but a contentious hire.
Hossein Khorram is an American Muslim and Vice-Chair of AMCD.
Ibrahim Ahmed is a member of the AMCD board of directors and part of the East Africa Coalition in the US.
The views expressed here are their own.