Professors cut ties with US university, citing director’s reported role targeting Muslim groups


Two US professors have withdrawn their affiliation from George Washington University’s (GWU) extremism program, following a report that the program’s director was involved in a coordinated campaign to label some Muslim organizations as being linked to terrorism.

“Before joining I should have done my due diligence about the director’s research and professional activities; I didn’t and I regret that. To be very clear: I condemn Islamophobia in the strongest possible terms,” said Hilary Matfess, assistant professor at the University of Denver and former fellow at GWU’s extremism program.

A day after Matfess publicly announced that she was withdrawing from the program, Cynthia Miller-Idriss also announced that she would be doing the same.

Miller-Idriss, founding director of American University’s polarization and extremism research and innovation lab (Peril) and now a fellow at GWU’s extremism program, said she was not in a paid position with the program, but still wanted her name out. removed after the article. published.

“Although my role was nominal – no payment & no obligations, & I saw it as a courtesy – I refuse to give legitimacy to an organization with such an ethical breach,” Miller-Idriss said on Twitter.

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“I also feel that I should have done a better job before agreeing to join, and I apologize to all Muslim organizations in particular who made these false, false claims coming from a leader whose organization had my name that hurt them.”

Middle East Eye reached out to George Washington University and its program on extremism for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Last month, The New Yorker published a lengthy report alleging that Alp Services, a private intelligence firm based in Geneva headed by Mario Brero, sent a campaign to the UAE to smear several Muslim organizations in Europe, including the United Kingdom-based Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW).

The report said that Brero had paid thousands of euros to Lorenzo Vidino, director of the GWU program on extremism, for “interesting leads/rumors” about the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as “a list of alleged members of first-tier organizations in European countries”. .

Middle East Eye contacted Vidino for comment on the two professors but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Islamic Relief charity

According to the report, Alp tried to link Heshmat Khalifa – a member of the IRW board of trustees – to terrorism, following his work with an Egyptian humanitarian organization in Bosnia during the 1990s.

After that attempt failed, Alp trawled through Khalifa’s social media history where they found a number of anti-Semitic posts shared by the board member after Israel’s 2014 attacks in Gaza, which were shared with the Times of London newspaper in 2020.

Khalifa immediately resigned from the charity and the IRW chief executive condemned the posts, calling them appalling and “unacceptable”.

As a result of the news articles on IRW, the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission and the Swedish International Development Agency launched investigations into the charity, and Germany cut off funding for the organization altogether.

Banks also threatened to “stop transferring Islamic Relief funds to crisis zones around the world”, according to the magazine.

IRW told the New Yorker that it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for “external audits, to prevent false information in Internet search results, and to restore its good relations with governments”.

It also paid for an independent commission – headed by former English attorney-general Dominic Grieve – which found IRW to be a “highly effective charity” free of institutionalized anti-Semitism.

The New Yorker report stated that “no one has credibly identified any institutional links between the charity [Islamic Relief] and Islamic movement”.

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