Josh Hammer: Why Was Malik Faisal Akram Ever on US Soil?

There are many lessons to be drawn from last Saturday’s hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.

First, reports that Malik Faisal Akram’s antisemitic hostage-taking had disrupted Beth Israel’s livestreamed Shabbat services proved more prescient than those reporters perhaps realized. Orthodox Judaism does not permit electronic streaming on the Sabbath, and it was revealed that Beth Israel is a Reform synagogue. This is relevant because Reform Judaism is not merely theologically liberal in the extreme, discarding the binding authority of Jewish law and placing an obtuse focus on the concept of “tikkun olam” (“repair of the world”), but is so uniformly politically progressive as to be a de facto wing of the Democratic Party itself.

Sure enough, Itamar Gelbman, a conservative former congregant at Beth Israel, wrote a viral Facebook post divulging that the rabbi had denounced Israel as an “apartheid state” and precluded congregants from concealed carrying. This is by now old hat to ponder, but still: At a time of rising antisemitism at home and abroad, when will liberal Jews ever learn to protect themselves?

Second, the attack reaffirmed the sordid reality that, when Jews are targeted in America, elites will dwell on the attackers’ identity. When white supremacists committed atrocities at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad of Poway, California, they faced unanimous nationwide condemnation. The New York Times even published a victory lap op-ed from the Chabad rabbi. But when Black nationalists of the antisemitic “Black Hebrew Israelites” cult killed innocents in Jersey City, New Jersey, and took a machete to a Chanukah gathering in Monsey, New York, just a few weeks after, the comparative media silence was deafening.

In Colleyville, the culprit was a British national of Pakistani Muslim background. He spouted “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-style conspiratorial nonsense and was attempting to free the viciously antisemitic Aafia Siddiqui, otherwise known as “Lady al-Qaeda.” Nonetheless, defying parody, FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno initially asserted, “We are continuing to work to find a motive.” The corporate media and even federal law enforcement have their narratives to peddle; we Jews just want to be protected.

Third, it is well past time to stop treating the Council on American-Islamic Relations with anything other than ridicule and contempt. The evidence is incontrovertible that CAIR was founded in 1994 as a Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas-tied outfit. The United Arab Emirates, one of the U.S.’s greatest Sunni Arab allies, formally designated CAIR a terrorist organization in 2014. And CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation trial, the largest terror financing case in Department of Justice history.

Here, the Colleyville attack transpired in the aftermath of a vile speech in which Zahra Billoo, head of CAIR’s San Francisco branch, called even “polite Zionists” and those in “Zionist synagogues” the “enemies” of Islam. CAIR has also held numerous rallies for Siddiqui’s release, helping to gin up the kind of hysteria that might lead a delusional British Pakistani Muslim to take some random Jews hostage as a “bargaining chip” of sorts to somehow free a locked-up Jew-hating al-Qaeda sympathizer. How much more evidence of CAIR’s misdeeds do we need before shunning the group once and for all?

Finally, there is the always-thorny issue of immigration, which has been the least-discussed Colleyville lesson to date.

It is a shameful failure of U.S. immigration policy that a man such as Akram, who was apparently so unassimilated into Western civilization that he deemed it prudent to take a gaggle of Texas Jews hostage as “leverage” to somehow free an entirely unrelated terrorist (one conjures up images here of how Akram must have actually believed in an “Elders”-style “Supreme Jewish Council” with the power to “free” Siddiqui), was able to enter U.S. soil.

As a British national, Akram was the benefit of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. As CBS News reported: “His entrance into U.S. was approved by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization … at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Tourism visas are not required for British travelers planning to stay in the United States for less than three months.”

Akram had an extensive rap sheet back in the U.K. and had been previously investigated by MI5, the British security service, for possible jihadi radicalization. Yet he did not appear on any U.S. terror watch lists and appears to have sailed right through the lax rules in place for the Visa Waiver Program. That he was able to do so points to a longer-running problem, which is the failure of American authorities to sufficiently vet every single person attempting to step on our soil. As the 9/11 Commission’s report on terrorist travel wrote back in 2004: “It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country … Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy.”

As easy as it usually still is to obtain a U.S. visa, it is that much easier to get here via the Visa Waiver Program. That program should now be heavily scrutinized, have any and all of its loopholes tightened and quite possibly be abolished in its entirety. There is no clearer and more straightforward way to preventing more Malik Faisal Akrams from entering the country.

PHOTO: National Museum of American Jewish Military History. Photo by Ted Eytan. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Josh Hammer is opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, a syndicated columnist through Creators and a contributing editor for Anchoring Truths. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal and cultural issues, Josh is a constitutional attorney by training and the co-host of two podcasts: Newsweek's "The Debate" and the Edmund Burke Foundation's "NatCon Squad."

An outspoken conservative, Josh opines on conservative intellectual trends, contemporary domestic and foreign policy debates, constitutional and legal issues, and the intersection of law, politics and culture. He has been published by many leading outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsweek, National Affairs, American Affairs, The National Interest, National Review, City Journal, First Things, Public Discourse, Law & Liberty, Tablet Magazine, Deseret Magazine, The Spectator, The American Conservative, The American Mind, American Greatness, American Compass, Anchoring Truths, Townhall, The Epoch Times, The Daily Wire, Fortune, Fox Business, Pairagraph, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Journal. He has had formal legal scholarship published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.

Josh is a college campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation, as well as a law school campus speaker through the Federalist Society. Prior to Newsweek and the Daily Wire, where he was an editor, Josh worked at a large law firm and clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Josh has also served as a John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute.

Josh graduated from Duke University, where he majored in economics, and from the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Miami, but remains an active member of the State Bar of Texas.