|Tue Dec 18, 2007 6:34 am A Good Muslim American - Qs & As: A MUST READ
NOW IF ALL MUSLIMS WERE LIKE THIS GUY AND THEIR PRACTISE OF THEIR RELIGION AS HE DOES ,THEN WHAT A WONDERFUL PLACE THE OTHER ISLAMIC COUNTRIES COULD BE! db
M. Zuhdi Jasser dreams of a Muslim Counterterrorism Unit, Jack Bauer-style.
In truth, his dreams are his work. Jasser, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander is president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy <http> based in Phoenix, Arizona. In an extensive interview with National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez, Jasser talks about his military service, the duties of Muslims in America, how to destroy Islamofacism, and more.
Today we run part one of three with Dr. Jasser.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: You’re a medical doctor, aren’t you? Do you still practice? When did you start talking about Islam and terror?
M. Zuhdi Jasser: Yes, I’m a physician in solo-practice specializing in internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona. My primary dream and most of my days are spent in the practice of medicine and in dedication to the primary care of my patients and the medical profession in Arizona. I just finished my term as president of the Arizona Medical Association <http> in June 2007, and I chair the bioethics committee of a large downtown Phoenix hospital. I graduated from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1992 on a full U.S. Navy medical scholarship and completed my specialty training in internal medicine at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. in 1996. I served operational tours of duty on the USS El Paso as medical department head participating in Operation Restore Hope, and I also served a tour of duty as an internist at the Office of the Attending Physician for the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court Justices from 1997-1999.
A native of Wisconsin and the son of Syrian immigrants, joining the United States military was natural. I was raised to appreciate American freedom which guaranteed my right to life, liberty, and the practice of my personal faith of Islam, like in no so-called Muslim country. My grandfather used to talk about how the devastation of Syria brought by the military coups and the Baathists, and ultimately by Hafez Assad, was allowed to happen because moderate freedom-loving Syrians abandoned the military to the thugs, who ultimately repeatedly savaged the country, before entrenching the Assad family despots for generations.
I have always been a devout practicing Muslim maintaining a central personal spiritual relationship with God in my life. I have also held true to the importance of spiritual practices in my life including fasting, daily prayer, scriptural recitation, charity, community worship, and personal integrity. As a result, I have often been asked by the local communities in which I have lived, to speak about Islam, its role in my life, and my understanding of its history. Well, before 9/11, in the 1980s, as I found myself frustrated by the politicization of many but not all of the Muslim communities in which I participated, I began to focus on the main problem I experienced — the harmful impact of political Islam upon the practice of Islam in America. I slowly began to absorb as much information as I could about Salafism, Wahhabism, and its associated extremist ideology. I looked into the history and workings of the Muslim Brotherhood <http> in America and realized that at some point anti-Islamists were going to need to take them on to rescue our faith from their clutches.
While I have never heard violence preached in any mosque I attended, I did hear conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and radical politics which often predominated instead of a focus on spirituality, humility, and moral courage. This led to a regular struggle with many, but not all, of the clerical leadership in many of the Muslim communities in which I have lived and participated. My refrain for decades has been to them, “why do you impose your Islamist agenda upon the congregants of your mosque who come to worship God, atone, and learn God’s scripture. Most of us don’t come to mosque to blame the world for our own maladies or to listen to your own political agenda.” I tried to intellectually counter them from within the community, but did so to no avail. For who was I to question clerical authority and interpretations? Who was I to take away their bully pulpit for Islamism?
After 9/11, it was immediately clear to me and a few other close friends in the Muslim business community in Arizona, that the Islamist agenda was the root cause of terrorism and Muslim radicalism. It was obvious to me that the only treatment of this cancer within was for devout Muslims who love America and love the spirituality of Islam to reclaim the mantle of faith from the Islamists. Our faith needed an expression which can be brought through an enlightenment process which separates mosque and state or separates the affairs of God and spirituality from the affairs of this world and our government. We formed the American Islamic Forum for Democracy <http> in the Spring of 2003 as the early mitotic divisions of an institution which over the following years and decades we hoped would be a leading anti-Islamist force pushing for that separation, modernization, and counter-jihad.
While I don’t have a degree in Islamic law or Islamic affairs, I believe that a lifetime of internal political struggle and spiritual and theological investigation has prepared me quite adequately to take on Islamists intellectually and publicly as we struggle for the soul of our faith. It seems that at this point, the lifetime theologians or ulemaa (scholars) of the Muslim community appear to be the problem more than the solution.
I just couldn’t take any more local or national interviews from Muslims who espoused apologia and victimization while espousing Islamic supremacy and anti-American vitriol. I was moved to write an occasional column for our local Arizona Republic on Islamic Affairs after their reporters printed a few post 9/11 stories which quoted some local Muslims and imams defending the USS Cole bombing, and invoking conspiracy theories about 9-11, to name just a few of their offensive comments said on behalf of all American Muslims. My columns began my anti-Islamist foundation. I wrote about the synergy of being Muslim and believing in American ideas of pluralism. That platform led to a growing audience of readers starving for alternative Muslim viewpoints. AIFD then decided to sponsor and organize America’s first major Muslim rally against terrorism held in Phoenix on April 24, 2004 — Standing with Muslims Against Terrorism. <http> That was just the beginning…
Lopez: Have you found that to be a dangerous thing to do?
Jasser: The power of minority politics to cloud the judgment of the masses cannot be overstated. One of the great achievements of classical liberalism and Western Enlightenment of our Founding Fathers was the appreciation of the need for our communities to always lift up the rights of the individual over that of the community. Western freedom is maintained in a tradition which questions authority, and rejects collectivism and tribalism. That tradition, while occasionally threatened and violated by various obvious political interests in the U.S. is still a central part of our behavior and character as Americans. Our liberty-culture will turn itself upside-down to help one child, one victim who immediately captures the hearts of Americans.
This mindset is the greatest antidote to Islamist tribalism and collectivism. With my work since 9/11 in combating political Islam, I would have been much less concerned about my safety and that of my family if only the vast majority of my Islamist enemies would simply address the ideas which I raise and debate me in an open respectful forum. However, endemic tribalism, corruption, and often fascism drive a political propaganda machine which would much rather demonize <http> its adversaries than actually address the substance of the issues raised. When they are not demonizing me and other anti-Islamists, or portraying false exaggerated associations, Islamists prefer to just run and hide from open respectful debate about the issue of Islamism. Islamists would rather continue wallowing in denial. They prefer to project responsibility for terrorism upon everyone else in the world, rather than placing the responsibility upon the ideology of political Islam and the toxicity of the dreams of an Islamic state. They would much rather debate non-Muslims or former Muslims, because they can change the debate focus to Islamophobia, rather than the central issue of Islamism.
While I often receive disgusting hate mail, it is far outweighed by the volumes of gratitude and appreciation from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. So many in America have been hungry to hear about devotional Muslims unafraid to build institutions which are leading a counter-jihad. America is hungry to hear Muslims condemn apologetics for terrorism, identify terrorists and their organizations by name, and lead the effort to deconstruct the religious legitimacy of the Islamic state.
This is why I founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy <http> . We are not only “at home with American liberty” but, we recognize that our nation is under God and we are all American first and everything else second. We refuse to accept Muslim, Arabic, or any minority collectivism. We look at ourselves as Americans who happen to be Muslim rather than Muslims who demand to be Americans. Our political activism is not about being Muslim, but is guided by the platforms of our individual political party affiliation — not by the agenda of clerics who seek a theocracy. For these beliefs, the Islamist activists ignore real debate and prefer to call me an ‘Uncle Tom’, ‘a sellout’, or a ‘tool of some made up conspiracy theory.”
I’ve never been threatened physically. But if I allow such frivolous attacks or fear of them to modify the intensity of my work, I would dishonor the freedoms which our serviceman and women are fighting to preserve and I might as well take my family back to their motherland of Syria where there are no freedoms and the masses are silent out of fear of the ruling despots. If I stay silent I would no longer be an American.
Lopez: What do you think of the word Islamofascism?
Jasser: I find the term “Islamofascism” to be quite accurate when defining the ideological goals of Islamist militants. Yes, as a devout Muslim who believes that Islam is a faith from the God of Abraham, and could never be fascistic, the existence of Islamofascism saddens me. But it is not the term that saddens me but rather the Muslim supremacist organizations who employ fascism in the name of Islam. They are real and their Islamofascism is real whether I deny it or not. The longevity of this term will depend upon how long moderate Muslims continue to sit on their hands rather than fight the real fascists Muslims — like the Wahhabis, the Taliban, al Qaeda, or a host of other militant Islamist organizations and ideologies.
My love for my faith should drive me to wage a counter-jihad, and not blame the messenger (users of this term) and demand that the term be stricken so that I can live in denial. These thugs spread an evil in the name of a warped version of the faith they believe is Islam. However, I become like “al Qaeda” if I refuse to call them “Muslim” and commit takfir (determining who is and who is not a Muslim) by saying they are not “Muslim.” Their Muslim or Islamic identity is between them and God as it is for every Muslim. Once we open the door to debate who is and who is not a Muslim it empowers a theological hierarchy which will purport to speak for the faith community. I will never subscribe to that. As a moral human being and as an American, it is obvious that their actions are evil and barbaric and we should do everything we can to destroy them and defeat them wherever we find them.
A moral, pluralistic, spiritual Islam is the only way to defeat Islamofascism. We saw with the London plots this summer, perpetrated by Muslim physicians, that this ideology utilizes terror as a tactic to achieve fascistic political ends <http> blind to the professional training or level of education of the individual foot soldiers. The ends which these militants seek, is a warped, utopian dream <http> of a caliphate or some form of so-called Islamic state, which imposes their despotic theocratic interpretation of Islamic law upon citizens. The Nazis had physicians and professionals of all walks of life helping them to commit genocide against the Jews through a supremacist dehumanization of their enemies — true fascism. So too do militant Islamists dehumanize their enemies (anti-Islamists) and exact their barbaric punishments upon innocents in an evil torn right out of the pages of every fascist regime in history.
This is why the anti-Islamist work of organizations like AIFD is so vital. The only way to destroy the Islamofascists is to de-link their theological interpretation of the supremacy and exclusivism of the Islamic state over every other form of government. This de-linking will take some real work. Once devout Muslims can deconstruct the goal of the Islamic state and prove to our fellow co-religionists that the most pious form of society is one where government and religion are separate and faith practice is allowed only to be judged by God in a laboratory of free will, Islamofascism will die in the dustbin of history.
I will finally add a caveat that my only fear is that many exposed to the term will have little prior knowledge of Islam or contact with Muslims and will carry away a belief that Islam as a spiritual faith is fascistic in its ideology. That cannot be further from the truth of the Islam which I teach my children and so many of the vast majority of Muslims teach their families. But that should stimulate Muslims to even more actively defeat the Islamists who have hijacked our faith for their own political agenda. In fact we can also cannot forget that the Islamofascists are a subset of a much larger ideological threat to the west of the Islamists. The Islamists include all those who believe in political Islam from the fascists of Al Qaeda to the rank and file political Islamists who believe in democracy, elections, and parliaments but still hold tight to a theocratically exclusivist Islamic state.
Part 2 - Dr. J. CAIRs A jihad against jihad
Lopez: It’s hard not to admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But does it depress you that so many who are willing to speak out the loudest against Islamic extremism are atheists or have otherwise rejected Islam?
Jasser: As a strong believer in God, I prefer to look at life’s challenges, rather than lose valuable time in non-productive feelings of depression. But I know what you mean. The fact that many of these loudest voices are atheists or former Muslims can be frustrating, but is not surprising to me, at least at this stage in the ideological battle against political Islam.
With the power and corruption of tribalism within the Muslim community, the first real challenges to treating the cancer of militant Islamism within the Muslim community are going to naturally be heard from those that have abandoned the faith in totality. This is a natural phenomenon. The courage that they summon to reveal the horrors of their past may ultimately impact devotional Muslims to correct the pathology which needs to be enlightened and brought into modernity.
When we look at the history of Islam, we should separate history from religion, as such highly respected scholars as Bernard Lewis have so often discussed. Similarly, the experiences of individuals like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are real, and certainly symptomatic of a disease of fanaticism and intolerance within cells of the Muslim community. But we also should separate cellular experiences from “religion” of the entire organism. We strategically hand over our greatest weapon at defeating militant Islamists — the mantle of Islam — if we blindly accept that her experiences and those of other former Muslims are due to Islam rather than simply due to the radical interpretations of Islam by barbaric Muslims that these individuals experienced. I and so many others of the majority of Muslims who are at home in Western pluralistic society are living modern interpretations of Islam which can if given a chance and the resources can directly counter the radical interpretations of fanatical Muslims which have abused so many in the world.
History has shown that in the west, Christian reformation and modernity was stimulated most by internal change from those accused of being atheists but were actually devotional reformers who loved God and loved their faith of Christianity. That position of love of God and their faith against the power of the Church gave them a position of credibility which was a catalyst for real and lasting change. Those, however, who were openly atheist or had left God and the faith of Christianity completely may have leveled valid criticism against the Church but did so from a position of disbelief in God and from outside the Christian community. Their critique could only serve as an external stimuli to change while possessing no remaining internal credibility to actually move the Christian community forward toward modernity.
What strikes me even more than the existence of the ‘former Muslim voices’ is the relative paucity of audible, devotional, anti-Islamist Muslim voices. For those of us immersed in the Muslim community for most of our life, we know that they exist, and we know they may even be a majority. Certainly, the anti-Islamist Muslim is a minority in the mosque scene or the political activist Muslim community scene. But studies have shown that less than a majority of Muslims attend mosque regularly, and even a far smaller percentage are involved in political Islamist organizations. Thus, the most Muslims are, in fact, raising their children Muslim without indoctrination into Islamism or Salafism, and staying away from some mosques, probably due to the offensive nature of the Islamist political agenda. Further study into the details of these assumptions will be central to defeating the ideology of Islamism. But again this can resonate more effectively with the non-Islamist, or anti-Islamist Muslims, if it is done from a devotional position of love of faith and God.
The engagement and awakening of the non-Islamist and anti-Islamist devotional Muslim is hampered by a number of factors. Fear, for one thing, plays a significant role in the silence of many moderate Muslims since they see other moderates become the primary targets of the militants, both physically and politically, through being ostracized. The other factor is knowledge and understanding. Many Muslims do not appreciate the penetration and control of Islamism upon the Muslim community because they just don’t understand political Islam and its inherent harm to society and faith. While I certainly believe that one can make a cogent argument for apolitical Islam and an apolitical interpretation of the Koran where history can be separated from religion, the reality is that the history of Islam and the tradition of the Prophet did not, for the most part, separate mosque and state. Mohammed himself wore both hats of spiritual leader and head of state. Despite that, one would be hard pressed to find clerics running government in Islamic history and in fact the Koran makes no suggestions at all about how Muslims should run their governments. If theocracy was supposed to be part of Islam, God would have made it clear in our holy scripture.
In the recent past, with the domination of dictatorships in the Muslim world today, often the only venue for any political discourse became the mosques. So it is not surprising that political Islam has especially flourished in the past century under the despotic regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran to name a few.
This is why the removal of these despotic regimes is so central to the deconstruction of political Islam. One cannot happen without the other. Along the same vein, many Muslims simply don’t have the understanding of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, and especially Koranic Arabic, in order to defeat the Islamists. The central nucleus of success of the Western enlightenment was education and infectious discovery. This desire to question authority with knowledge and thirst for freedom has yet to re-infect the Muslim mind en masse in over 500 years. Thus the intellectual voices of anti-Islamism are going to be less common. But with support they will awaken and triumph.
At some point I hope our nation realizes that our greatest asset in defeating political Islam is devotional Muslims.
Lopez: What do you say to people who contend that Islam is by its very nature violent?
Jasser: I would contend that certainly many extremist Muslims (some studies say 5-10 percent of all Muslims are militant) demonstrate a predilection toward violence, which they enact in the name of Islam. This is no doubt a very concerning figure considering the total number of Muslims in the world and the impact of only one event upon our way of life. Also, there are certainly passages in the Koran which provide for specific examples in Islamic history of a “just war,” in which God permitted Muslims the armed defense of their community against the pagans. It is my belief that these were specific examples in the early seventh century, and are not transferable to today, except as concerns a “just war theory.” All of the major faiths have theological underpinnings of “just war theory,” and it being a principle of last resort. The interpretation of those verses discussing war is dependent upon the morality of the Muslim reader, and the separation of history and religion. The Muslims of today must theologically articulate a primary loyalty and reliance upon their individual nation’s decisions for war, and thus relegate to history any concept of a Muslim nation or ummah playing a role in just war theory. Certainly, Muslims must modernize our theology of just war. The key is that I, as a Muslim, articulate an ideology that coincides with unqualified allegiance to my citizenship pledge and American national interests, over any Islamist interpretations.
I would argue that I was not created in a vacuum, and my family taught me the same moral constructs that my Jewish and Christian friends throughout my life, shared with me concerning national allegiance, war, and violence. I read from the same Koran as the radicals. But I was taught to be, by nature, humble, honest, compassionate, and loving. There is no doubt that Muslims need to build American institutions, which flood the public space after every evil pronouncement from militant Islamists with a counter-jihad interpretation — — a jihad against jihad. Nonviolent re-interpretations of the passages in today’s context to counter Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda’s twisted injunctions to war against the west are very prevalent in the Muslim community, but unfortunately, difficult to find in the theological academia since that was abandoned by the pious masses around the 14th century. It should be the work of organizations like AIFD to respond directly to Bin Laden, the Wahhabis, salafists, deobandis, the Taliban, and other extremists when they interpret our scripture in a way that is violent or incompatible with our citizenship pledge or loyalty to our nation.
The question of the central nature of Islam rests on two issues. First, the values and morality of Islam are not derived de novo from the text itself, which can be twisted by any deviant who chooses to become God on earth. But rather, the individual morality comes from the superego or conscience of the individual reading the text. Thus the nature of Islam is measured more by the values which Muslim families teach their children, than by the radical published interpretations of passages, which can be more of a reflection of the thugs and theocrats in power over publishing houses, rather than the religion itself as it is practiced by the Muslim masses. Thus, while ultimately, all morality comes from God, the faithful are moral from within themselves and not from a text.
Second, the morality of the messenger of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed, is central to the believability of the question of the violent or non-violent nature of Islam. Ultimately, what matters the most is not whether I can come to an agreement with Osama bin Laden over how violently aggressive, or humbly nonviolent the Prophet Mohammed was. What matters most to the world today is that my interpretation of my faith, its messenger, and its scripture today is based upon a moral code which is consistent with the moral code of the vast majority of other Americans, and our rule of law in the 21st century. What matters most is that my construct of citizenship and belief in American exceptionalism is not at conflict with any aspect of being Muslim.
I supported and continue to support the doctrine of preemption in Iraq on moral grounds that greater harm to Iraqis and global security would come from leaving Saddam in power. This could be considered violent but it is reasonable, because our leaders and military generals are moral people who enforced a war of liberation in the long term interests of the Iraqi citizenry. This does not make Americans by nature violent. Similarly, in as far as ‘just war theory’ is concerned in Islamic history, Muslims believe that Mohammed was a moral man, and that while God corrected him in our scripture if he went astray, the passages which condone violence do so as a last resort, and with the same moral mandate of “just war” as our free governments use today. This is all with the understanding that for Muslims now living in modernity, the concept of a ‘religious state’ is archaic, and must be relegated to history as inferior and outdated when compared to today’s Western secular democracies.
A great deal of Islamic scripture discourages war and encourages peace. Some argue that the peaceful verses are abrogated. Many Muslims however believe that unless a verse is specifically identified as abrogated and since God left it in the Koran it is still valid and His word and instruction cannot be abrogated but rather just put into the context of the time of its revelation. Thus, almost every Muslim I have ever known would not subscribe to the abrogation of peaceful verses.
Lopez: What’s the biggest challenge Muslims in America face?
Jasser: I’ll first tell you what it is not- it’s not Islamophobia. If anyone is to blame for the existence of the concept of Islamophobia, if it even exists, it is Muslims who have been unable to articulate a manifestation of Islam which is free of a political state which threatens the sovereignty of the states in which Muslims reside. I don’t subscribe to the existence of the notion of Islamophobia because I believe that we are in just the beginning of a global conflict of political ideologies (Islamism vs. Americanism), and the conflation of “Islamophobia” is intentional by Islamists to deflect Americans and the free world from the necessary debate of political ideologies.
From where I sit, as a devout anti-Islamist Muslim, the greatest challenge facing Muslims today is an intellectual victory over the Islamists — — rescuing our faith from their clutches. We are also challenged to expose Islamists for their exploitation of victimology to isolate Muslims and divide America. We are also challenged by how to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the existence of a separation between spiritual Islam and political Islam, and the need to protect spiritual Islam and defeat political Islam. The enablers of political Islam are many — both from within and without the Muslim community. Within we are suffocated by the control (financial and structural) of most mosques and organizations by Islamists, Wahabbists, and Salafists. Outside the Muslim community we are suffocated by enablers of Islamists including those in media, government, universities, and positions of influence. These are generally individuals who in the spirit of America’s First Amendment are not willing to question the political ideas of Islamists since it is cloaked in a faith despite the fact that that their ideology is an anathema to the principles of the American body politic. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said in 1949, “the Constitutional Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact” and moreover, Islamism is not a protected faith practice, but rather a political ideology which threatens the sovereignty of the United States of America.
These challenges are profound since the steps toward victory are many. First, the majority of Muslims need to wake up from their denial and acknowledge that the root cause of Islamist terrorism is not external but internal — — political Islam and the false dreams of the Islamic state. Take away the Islamic mandate of their dreams and we defeat Islamist terror. Second, I believe that Muslims need to accept responsibility for the interpretation of our own faith and its exploitation by the Islamist agenda. Great thinkers have said that every people deserve the leaders they have. A great challenge is to convince the rank and file Muslim that Islamists don’t control the academia of our faith, and that every one of us has an equal right to reinterpret and practice our faith as we believe. The Salafists and other extremists have created a pseudo-clergy which controls the theology of Islam, and it is time for the common Muslim to displace these clerics — with institutions and a voice which drowns them out and defeats their exclusivist interpretation of Koran, Sunnah, and sharia (Islamic Jurisprudence).
While most studies have shown that those Muslims who believe in political Islam are a plurality and not necessarily a majority, certainly the remaining majority have been for the most part asleep. The remaining majority must not only be non-Islamists but they need to awaken from their slumber and become anti-Islamists. This the greatest challenge. AIFD and other anti-Islamist Muslims are working on how to wake up that silent majority of Muslims to their national responsibility and faith responsibility to separate the political from the spiritual within the Muslim community and take away the mantle of faith from the Islamist politicians.
Third, the defeat of political Islam will need a recalibration of the public Muslim consciousness away from victimology and apologia toward character, unrelenting moral courage, personal responsibility, and a steady focus on defeating the ideology of Islamism. After the embarrassment of the appointment of Essam Omeish by Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, the AIFD promulgated an example of a set of standards, <http> which could be used by public entities to vet Islamist Muslims from anti-Islamist Muslims.
Fourth, these challenges can only be met if Muslims begin to build institutions which build the foundations of an anti-Islamist mindset. These Institutions will need to do the hard work of modernizing the sharia, de-politicizing the faith, and de-collectivizing the Muslim community in the body politic, and deconstructing the whole concept of the Islamic state. This process is basically bringing Muslims through enlightenment and into modernity.
Lopez: You’re an Islamic American. Does CAIR speak for you? (Why or why not?)
Jasser: Not only does CAIR not speak for me, their Islamist approach to American politics and discourse is one of the greatest liabilities to the American Muslim community and a liability to America in the war against militant Islamists. Not only does CAIR not speak for me but the panel of Islamist organizations — CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), MPAC (Muslim Public Affairs Council), ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America), MAS (Muslim American Society), and CSID (Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy) to name a few, supposedly representing Muslims in Washington, do not represent me. They only represent their members and their donors. They are the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ in the American Muslim community in Washington, so the media and government use them despite their core Islamist ideologies. It seems that the only filter used is that they condemn terrorism. It is important that they not only condemn the tactic but the whole ideology of Islamists. As groups they are either openly Islamist working in defense of political Islam or they are silently Islamist, and equally dangerous by virtue of their refusal to genuinely take on political Islam and the establishment of Islamic states.
The reasons why these groups do not speak for me, and like-minded Muslims, are too numerous to list here. But at its core is an ideological division. To understand the ideological premise of AIFD is to understand what it is about CAIR and other Islamist organizations which repulses the anti-Islamist Muslim.
We acknowledge our responsibility to defeat political Islam, they empower political Islam. We will name terror groups and terrorists by name as our enemy, they will not. We refuse to accept victimology and apologia. They will not. We speak out openly against oppression and dictatorship committed by so-called ‘Muslim’ leaders in the Middle East, from the Wahhabis and monarchies, to the secular dictators of Egypt and Syria, to the theocracy of Iran. They will not. Some will actually solicit support from some of these governments like Saudi Arabia or Dubai. We will not collectivize Muslims to any national political agenda Left or Right. They do. They claim a civil rights focus when it suits them and use their Muslim membership for their own domestic and foreign policy agenda when it suits them. We will not. The only collectivization we will employ is an anti-Islamist movement.
Ultimately, these organizations operate under a grand hypocrisy — which is that they come to prominence by virtue of America’s fear of terrorism and the American hope that they will help in the frontlines — and yet they spend most of their public bandwidth and finances on promoting Islamism. Counterterrorism is only done as an afterthought for window dressing and is combined with a self-righteous indignation about them having any role in fighting militancy and Islamism.
Today’s American Muslim organizations need to reflect where the majority of the American mindset is — concerned about Islamist terror, its ideology, and how to defeat it.
Lopez: Can a group like CAIR be reformed?
Jasser: Unfortunately, I am not too optimistic about their reformation. The source of their ideological and financial lifeblood is from those within the national and global Muslim community who believe in political Islam. It is no different than expecting the non-Soviet Communists to reform away from Communism during the Cold War against the Soviets. Not all Communists domestically and globally subscribed to the Soviet militant agenda, but the Communist ideology, whether violent or nonviolent, ran in opposition to American interests and the American ideology of freedom and liberty. Similarly, Islamists may condemn terrorism as a tactic but their outlook for America is an Islamist one that runs contrary to the interests of individual freedoms and universal religious pluralism. Thus it’s not about reforming Islamism but creating an alternative Muslim narrative which can defeat Islamism.
Just as we see today many former Communists who have embraced American ideas of liberty and capitalism, so too may the next generation of Muslims see former Islamists embrace Americanism and believe in the personal practice of devotional Islam separate from government. But this change will not come from within these Islamist organizations but rather by their ideological defeat by other liberty-minded Muslim organizations. Recent evidence that their membership rolls are decreasing speaks to this.
Can an addict be reformed? Yes. Can the addict’s poison become a channel of moderation? Never. The toxicity of political Islam is a poisonous addiction that can only abandoned by the Islamists once they realize defeat and are able to come out of denial.
Lopez: Can your group ever reach the same level of notoriety?
Jasser: The AIFD is first and foremost based upon remaining true to an idea — an anti-Islamist ideology which from a pious Muslim perspective stands in defense of American liberty and freedom in order to defeat political Islam. There are organizations and individuals which lead by demagoguery and those which lead by staying true to themselves and the principles they hold dear. I will never allow AIFD to become an organization which tells Muslims what they want to hear in order to build a constituency of numbers driven by victim minority politics.
No matter how long it takes whether in my generation or my children’s, we need to build Muslim organizations which stay true to God, our nation, and our moral character. Moral courage will gain the respect of the greater American community when Muslims hold true to universal truths and laws which are not exclusivist or supremacist. At the core of apologetics for terrorism is a moral decadence in which the ends justify the means. This is an affront to the faith of Islam as I was taught as a person of morality. It is an abandonment of God’s morality and the laws of mankind, regardless of what the Islamists say the list of excuses includes. AIFD’s belief in the separation of specific faith practice from government, in order to preserve the sanctity of the personal relationship between an individual and God, free from any coercion, is at the core of real faith. AIFD will not abandon those principles in order to achieve notoriety or a larger constituency.
I believe that with education and with opportunities like this interview, the ideas of enlightenment, liberty, and modernity will take hold within a new activist American Muslim community that will wake up to their national and faith responsibilities.
Most importantly, the goal ultimately is not anyone’s or any organization’s notoriety. It is the victory of the ideas of liberty against the Islamists, regardless of the individual or organization leading it.
The forces working against the AIFD, and the like-minded mission of other anti-Islamist Muslims are numerous, powerful, and well-funded. At the end of the day, I believe that the AIFD will become an established voice of reason for the American Muslim community, simply by virtue of the weight of our ideas. My prayer is that the hunger of America for more voices of reason will be channeled into helping anti-Islamist Muslims establish needed institutions, which will be our greatest strategic weapon against Islamism.
Part 3 - We need a Hero Looking toward 2008 and beyond
Lopez: What’s the most important question you get when you speak on radical Islam?
Jasser: I would weigh the importance of all of the various questions I get with their centrality in promoting American security. That said, the most important question or concern I get from audiences to which I have the privilege to speak, is whether spiritual Islam and political Islam are in fact contrary to my beliefs — inseparable? And whether I am whitewashing a dangerous political ideology? An appropriate answer to this question would need volumes of discourse. Ultimately, I ask them not only to believe my voice and my ideas, which appear to be in the wilderness, but rather to begin the ground work of speaking to Muslims in the grass roots about their political and spiritual constructs. We need to multiply this debate exponentially within the Muslim community.
While certainly, much of Islamic academia and established jurisprudence is still frozen in the 14th century, the majority of Muslims, I believe, have modernized their faith by virtue of their daily practices living in America. They raise their children pluralistically, and engage American politics and business not through faith, but through civic responsibility to nation. Their faith inspires their morality but does not direct their political collectivism. You shouldn’t take my word for it, but simply engage American Muslims in every walk of life on this very issue of political Islam. The vast majority of Muslims shares the Judeo-Christian moral construct of life, and has never felt freer, or more at home, than they do in America- a nation based under God, but not under one faith’s jurisprudence. Thus, it is not the ideology of spiritual Islam which is the problem, but rather it is the only solution to displace political Islam from the consciousness of the Muslim mind. The only way to depoliticize the ummah (Muslim community or nation) is for spiritual Muslims to take back the mantle of faith.
For those who ask the fair question of whether I am but a voice in the wilderness, I ask them back to look at those lone voices in Western enlightenment who worked against terrible odds to defeat the political control of the Church of England in Europe. History has shown that theocrats will do anything to maintain control over society, and will work most strenuously to marginalize those who work to defeat them from within the faith. Anti-Islamists Muslims need to be taken at their word and kept to their word. This is why the debate is so important. Creating a public record and open debate about political Islam, and the ability or inability of Muslims to separate mosque and state, will serve as our best insurance policy against the ‘Islamicization’ of the west.
Strategically, I also will add that to identify Islam as the problem will also serve to ultimately alienate even the anti-Islamist Muslims, like myself, who are loyal to America first — over any identification with the Muslim community, but yet are personally and morally empowered by a deep personal connection with God and Islam. When it is all said and done, I do believe that my faith is personal and its laws and scripture should stay at home, but the power of my conviction and my personal reliance upon God comes from my own interpretation of Islam, a faith I believe came from God. To alienate all those who follow Islam is to alienate our most necessary allies in the defeat of political Islam and Islamist terror.
Lopez: Do you like what you’re hearing out of any of the presidential candidates?
Jasser: (First a necessary caveat — the following is my personal opinion only and in no way that of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy).
Yes, I think most of the Republican presidential field is much more honest than the Democrats in articulating the real stakes in this war of ideas of the free world versus the Islamists. While most of the Republican candidates are in the right anti-Islamist arena, only a few have been able to articulate it clearly enough and with enough candor to get my attention. I am far from making up my mind on a candidate yet, but am encouraged by a lot of what I see from some of the candidates.
I am most heartened by what I am hearing from Rudy Guliani’s campaign, with Governor Mitt Romney very close behind in my mind. Mayor Guliani understands the toxicity of the Saudis and their Wahhabis. He backed that up with action, even before announcing his campaign, by sending back the $10 million gift to NYC from the Saudis after 9-11. He is not afraid to articulate the conflict in ideas between Western freedom and Islamist theocracy. His recent call for an expansion of NATO <http> confirms this. He names our enemies by name, and is not afraid to stand for principle and substance in foreign policy over diplomatic platitudes (i.e. against the Saudis, Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood), and other Islamists.
Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign has also demonstrated a willingness to mince no words when discussing the ideologies we are facing. He identifies jihadists <http> as our enemies and uses his important position of national and global leadership to clearly frame the debate as one between the ideology of Islamism (Caliphism, jihadism, and theocracy) versus freedom.
On immigration policy, another issue vital to the protection of our homeland, Congressman Duncan Hunter <http> lays out the issues most clearly avoiding sanctuary cities and standing by strict enforcement and a border fence so vital to those of us on border states.
John McCain’s articulation of the stakes in the Iraq war <https> has always been very impressive, and I hope that other candidates can look to his clarity on the issue as an example of principle.
Lopez: Do you find Americans fully understand the jihad threat we face?
Jasser: This is a good follow-up to the last question since I believe that most candidates reflect the range of understanding found among most Americans. Some truly get it. And others are living in denial or oblivion. At the end of the day, I believe that once most Americans take the time to walk through an understanding of the threat we face, they will understand it. This is not a partisan issue. Whether left or right, both sides will agree on the incompatibility of Islamist theocratic ambitions with our American Constitutional republic. Both sides will agree on the evil inherent in the anti-freedom, misogynistic, jihadist, theocratic mentality of the militant Islamists.
With my work, I am trying to explain to media and government alike, that we could never afford to look at Islamist terror as simply a crime problem. If we do so our Homeland Security apparatus will be chasing its tail for the next century putting out terror cells. In order to take the Jihadist threat seriously Americans need to understand that this is not a conflict against a tactic but rather a common ideology which utilizes a radical interpretation of Islam and is a natural off-shoot from political Islam.
The recent NYPD report <http> on “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” walks its reader through the process of ideological conversion of a peaceful Muslim into a jihadist one. Only Muslims can defeat this transformation process. But certainly, a better informed American citizenry can hold Muslims and non-Muslims alike more accountable for their facilitation of the radicalization of Muslims. Once this process is understood the contribution to jihadism of political Islam and the dreams of the Islamic state will become clearer to every American and the ideological threat will be realized.
With a more public acknowledgment of the jihadist threat, Muslim organizations which live and breathe political Islam will be held more accountable for their Islamist ideology whether or not they condemn terrorism. Ultimately, with a more open public debate and discourse about political Islam, the climate in America will be more conducive to a real discourse about the real source of jihadism and begin the difficult work of facilitating an enlightenment process within Islam that will be the only way to diffuse the real threat.
Lopez: What more can politicians do?
Jasser: Politicians can face this political ideology (Islamism) which threatens our security with clarity and without fear of the PC police and the Islamists who only want to divert the debate to victimology. Obviously, I would agree with those that believe in making it clear up front that this is not a quarrel with the faith of Islam- that is, spiritual Islam and its practice. This is important from a strategic sense and also very important in a society based upon politicians staying out of the internal ideological debates of various spiritual paths.
However, political Islam is not a spiritual path. It only pretends to be one. It is a governmental and societal ideology which cloaks itself in a religion. By focusing on a tactic or ‘counterterrorism’, we miss the far more lethal and insidious threat to America and the west of the political Islamic state. Our politicians can choose to engage this ideological threat today or later when the Middle East has evolved from secular dictatorships and monarchies to Islamist states. At which time it will be far more difficult in my estimation for freedom to win this debate. I and many other anti-Islamist Muslims believe that our chance for the victory of our enlightenment ideas over Islamism is much better now than after Islamist democracies have been established.
Genuine political leaders are able to frame the issues which face the American public in a way that guides public debate to focus on real differences rather than platitudes. Our politicians should engage Muslim organizations domestically and globally on the very issue of political Islam and what their goals are for government — the role of sharia in government and their acceptance of governments with Constitutions like that in America — whether or not Muslims were a majority.
Our politicians need to stop coddling Islamists who carry an agenda of political Islam which is an anathema to American freedom and change our currently empty engagement to one which is a critical political engagement. This can be done no different than the way we engaged the ideology of communism and communist ideologues in the United States during the Cold War.
I am in no way suggesting curtailing the freedoms of Islamists, but rather to the contrary beginning a more open and critical engagement of them on their stances with regards to governance. Our politicians do this nation a great disservice in the war against militant Islamism by meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as Sen. Pat Leahy and Cong. Steny Hoyer did recently in Egypt. The new condemnation of terror does not equate to groups like the MB being friends of American liberty. The existence of Islamist groups does not necessarily mean that their form of politics is the will of the people they purport to represent. Our politicians do the cause of freedom great disservice, for example by speaking at a local D.C. Wahhabi funded mosque surrounded by domestic Islamist organizations and suggesting that we will go and ‘listen’ to the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) as President Bush did recently in June. This type of ideologically empty leadership rather facilitates Islamists and suppresses anti-Islamists contrary to the interests of our nation in this conflict of ideologies.
Lopez: Care to weigh in on the Ijaz-Romney controversy? Do we need a Muslim in the Cabient?
Jasser: After reading some of the reports on this, my first comment is “where’s the YouTube video of Mr. Ijaz’s question and Governor Romney’s comments when we need it?” Mr. Ijaz’s recollection of the question he posed to Governor Romney as he described it in his Christian Science Monitor op-ed <http> and response from Governor Romney seems to be very different from the version discussed in subsequent media queries by the Romney campaign. NRO’s Jim Geraghty <http> has an excellent summary of the tit-for-tat.
My opinion about the controversy would thus depend on the facts of the wording of the question posed and the facts about the response from Governor Romney.
Regardless, as I mention in your question about the candidates with which I am impressed, Governor Romney has been refreshingly clear about fighting “jihadists” and their ideology. But setting aside basic factual disputes about “he said, she said,” reviewing the latest response from the Romney campaign, <ttp> I would entirely concur with them that there should not be a faith-based litmus test for any position in government and that it should be based solely on merit and what is best for the United States of America. That response is far more appropriate than the version reported initially by Mansoor Ijaz.
Having said that, however, I am now actually much more curious about how Governor Romney, and for that matter any other candidate, may envision defeating the Islamist ideology without anti-Islamist Muslims. Never mind a Cabinet position. Let us simply look at the engagement and assistance of our most needed allies — anti-Islamist Muslims.
Governor Romney’s comparison to WWII is certainly apt on the battlefield against established terror networks but is misplaced in the war of ideas. The ideological plagues of the 20th century, fascism and communism, were obvious totalitarian political movements that were ultimately defeated both on the battlefield and more importantly in the war of ideas of that era. Obvious political movements could easily be defeated in the political arena of governmental ideas. The anti-Communists in the west ultimately proved that communism and socialism are failed ideologies. But political movements cloaking themselves in religion can only be diffused and marginalized by fellow Muslims — - especially in this nation founded on religious freedom which our Islamist enemies use against us and our anti-Islamist allies came to this nation seeking. That is the real implication of Mansoor’s question as I see it.
It is long overdue for all those in the public sphere whether media or government or otherwise to clearly understand that the root cause of terror is political Islam and the national aspirations of Islamists. The most effective if not the only way to defeat political Islam is to engage anti-Islamist Muslims. Thus, in essence Mansoor is correct, that finding and empowering dissident Muslims working against the Islamist establishment and with the resources of the west is essential if we are to win the ideological war of the 21st century. A cabinet position may be a stretch unless the most qualified candidate happens to be Muslim. Moreover, in regards to the global conflict, without anti-Islamist Muslims who are devotional, credible practitioners of Islam, the war of political ideas will degenerate into an intellectually fruitless clash of religions. The cognitive arguments of reason change to visceral arguments of passion. Questions and answers about Muslims and Islam like this posed without ideologically separating anti-Islamist from Islamist Muslims, and simply identifying Muslims by their personal faith identity actually directly feed into the collectivist and sectarian agenda of Islamists.
Neither the question nor the answer address the real issue of litmus tests — not religious but rather political ones. Campaigns are all about political litmus tests and Romney should not be afraid to tell questioners that he will have a litmus test against Islamists, but not against Muslims.
We are in a conflict of ideologies and it is time to replace elected officials unwilling to specifically identify those individuals working for the U.S. government and in the public sphere who sympathize or enable the Islamist political ideology under the guise of religious inclusion. Islamism as a political ideology is in conflict with the western ideology of post-Enlightenment freedom and liberty. Enabling Islamists actually enables those who are subverting our entire political and justice system. That is the answer Gov. Romney should have given. But he should also have stated that since this political ideology wraps itself in the false cloak of a faith it is essential that his or any administration work to enable anti-Islamist Muslims to remove that cloak and expose the transnational political agenda of Islamism for what it is — a threat to enlightened liberal democracies and our security.
We may never know what was actually said at the fundraiser. Both Mr. Ijaz and Governor Romney I hope turn their focus not to the political collectivization of Muslims and identity politics (which is the modus operande of Islamism) but rather to the engagement of anti-Islamists against Islamists as the necessary litmus test in this war of ideologies.
Finally, the reality is that Mansoor’s premise is also predicated on the fact that the ‘bench’ of anti-Islamist Muslims is deep enough to fill positions of need in American leadership today and represent considerable anti-Islamist Muslim organizations and movements. That has not occurred yet and is not palpable enough to be a reality in filling government positions of leadership. So aides and appointees are going to inevitably be ‘lone voices’ in the short term. I’m not sure that it rises to the need of being a cabinet post. Yet. But this is the primary conflict of the 21st century and such a profile or similar may be necessary. If our nation had an ‘anti-Islamist czar’, it would certainly help our credibility for that person to be both a devout Muslim and an anti-Islamist. There’s a fine line to tread for all of us Muslim activists to tread — between making sure America understands the need to have devout Muslims represented so that we remain credible to our nation, to our personal faith of Islam, and against Islamism while also not appearing to be self-promoting of our own deeply held ideological causes.
Lopez: Who are your heroes?
Jasser: My grandfather, Zuhdi Al-Jasser, a Muslim Syrian journalist and businessman who struggled for freedom in Syria after the French pulled out. He initially helped a short-lived positive transition toward democracy and parliamentary governance in Syria. But then Syria was ravaged by military coups. He and his immediate family then paid dearly for his ideas. He lost his Syrian businesses and freedom to the military coups of the 1950’s. It was his love for the ideology of Western freedom which led my father and mother to want to immigrate to the United States in 1966 and make America my family’s home. While he passed away when I was only 9, his generational impact and example upon some of the ideas which my father then imparted on to me as to the synergy of Islam and America’s Constitutional republic make me who I am.
President Ronald Reagan, for his steadfast ideological leadership of our nation against the global scourge of Communism. Reagan conservatism had a profound foundational impact upon me at a very young age of 12 and attracted me in almost every facet. His expression of “peace through strength” was prescient and clear. His belief in deregulation, free markets, and less taxation and that “government wasn’t the solution to our problems, government was the problem” resonated deeply to the core of my own political ideology engaging me for life as a conservative, as a Republican, and more importantly as an advocate for American liberty. Ronald Reagan’s ability to communicate the pressing ideas of the day and maintain steadfast leadership in the challenges of our time made him my hero.
President Thomas Jefferson, whose writings and leadership on religious freedom during the founding of our great nation profoundly impacted my own thinking on universal religious liberty more than any other figure in history. My intense love for this country comes from an appreciation of the protective nature of the ideals of our founding fathers. Our republic is not based upon democracy which can end up being an oppression of the minority but rather universal freedom and liberty. Jefferson’s Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was a cornerstone of these ideas. As an anti-Islamist Muslim I like to think of myself as a “Jeffersonian Muslim”. I believe no other single individual had more impact upon the creation of an American nation which was under God and also which honored religious liberty for all its citizens with inalienable rights. Jefferson said, “the Almighty God created the mind free…” and “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
If we can awaken other Jeffersonian Muslims, they will by nature combat political Islam and we will win the war against political Islam.
[Fictitious Hero] Jack Bauer. You can’t help but love Jack’s character, his steadfast intense adherence to righteousness, and the defense of America from evil. He is willing to risk it all for his country and for the preservation of freedom and the sanctity of life. My only hope is that I live to see a Muslim CTU (Counterterrorism Unit) come to reality and many American Muslim Jack Bauers serve as examples for Muslim youth.