American Muslims’ Love Affair With Erdogan and ICNA Convention

Abdullah Ayasun
8 min readJan 12, 2019

How ICNA sparked controversy over inviting Ibrahim Kalin

Umut Acar, Turkey’s Consul General in Chicago, delivers a speech at ICNA Convention.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), one of the largest Muslim organizations in the U.S., organized an annual event in Chicago on Dec. 28. The gathering offered an opportunity for self-reflection and wider analysis of the current state of Muslim affairs across the U.S. and the world. It was, as in the past, a great chance for a dozen participants with diverse backgrounds to dwell upon a wide array of issues and share their commentary on inter-faith dialogue, contemporary challenges the Muslim world face and the place of the Muslim individual in a rapidly changing modern society.

The usually flawless convention, however, was somehow tainted this time by a notable controversy: Ibrahim Kalin, the chief advisor and spokesperson of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was one of the speakers who was invited to address the audience. It was not the first time Kalin, who had acquaintances with the organization from the days of his academic life in the U.S., would speak at the gathering. But this time, his presence stirred a backlash from other Muslim communities who harbored genuine resentment and suspicion over Erdogan’s authoritarian policies in Turkey. The Kalin case, therefore, went beyond a simple invitation and represented a steep moral challenge for the identity and the character of ICNA itself: given Kalin’s close association with a politician whose government has locked up tens of thousands of opponents after sham trials, brutally cracking down on critics of all social stripes and obliterating last remnants of a democratic system and rule of law, the ICNA’s own credentials regarding matters of democracy and human rights were to stand a serious trial. What further landed Kalin at heart of a sprawling controversy was his recent remarks that endorse Erdogan’s unlawful kidnapping of opponents, mostly from Gulen community, from the countries they have sought refuge all over the world.

So, the question appeared pertinent and relevant more than ever. By inviting Kalin, wouldn’t the ICNA approve and legitimize someone who just called for the abduction of Erdogan critics from wherever they live as lawful residents, including the U.S. soil, in blatant violation of international laws and humanitarian norms and…

Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun