Overcoming Islamism: Defeat the Ideology and Claim Majority Victory- Part 3 of 3

Defeat the ideology and claim majority victory

By M. Zuhdi Jasser

Part 3 of 3 (appeared in the Washington Times)

August 4, 2006

Islamists fear any real ideological battle within Islam against Islamism and its clerics. To that end, they seek the removal of American and Western involvement from Muslim majority countries. Americanism is founded upon an anti-theocratic ideology that is a global ideological threat to Islamism. “Jeffersonian” Muslims who depart from Islamism are similarly the greatest threat to the influence of Islamists within the Muslim community.

Disengage Islamism from Muslims and Americanism will flourish among Muslims. With the deconstruction of Islamism (the ends), Islamist terror (the means) has no cause.

Muslim activists should find it commonplace to address the central ideological issue of this war -Islamism vs. Islam vs. anti-Islamism. Islamist moderation, vis-a-vis anti-terrorism and anti-autocracy, should not dismiss the remaining overriding Islamist philosophy. This philosophy is what needs to be understood.

The issue is not one of patriotism. Islamists can be intensely patriotic while having a differing vision for America. It is the ideology of political Islam that needs to be engaged. The following questions may begin to help opinion leaders discern an Islamist from an anti-Islamist: Do you believe in the strict separation of religion and politics? Do you support the development of religious (Islamic) political parties and movements? Should the imam’s “mimbar” (pulpit) be the place for the advocacy of domestic and foreign policy opinions? Should clerics be politicians or legislators?

Also: Would you prefer (if Muslims were a majority) to see legislatures argue interpretation of scripture and religious law over secular non-theological argumentation? Do you believe in a movement at any time to return a global Caliphate into existence? Where do you stand in regards to the stated global goals of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabi Movement? Is the American system of government and the Constitution inferior to the basis used for an “Islamic” state? What is the role in local and global society of the Muslim “ummah” (community)? Of the mosque? Do you believe individuals who leave Islam should be a legal concern of society? In the hereafter, by your theology, do you believe that God will only judge individuals or will He collectively judge entire communities overriding the individual?

Moderate Islamists are not an ideological threat to the radicals of al Qaeda, Hamas or Hezbollah because they generally seek similar “Islamic” governance, albeit a more moderated, non-violent, even democratic playing field in the end. Moderate Islamists will usually also avoid identifying radical Islamists by name as the enemy.

We are five years behind and only just beginning to delve into the intellectual debate we should already be having with the Muslim world domestically and abroad. This debate needs to be at the forefront of our mass media and our “public diplomacy programs.”

Our public diplomacy leaders must no longer avoid these central questions when meeting with Muslims all over the world. Engagement involves real dialogue and debate where ideas conflict, not superficial photo-ops and sporadic ineffectual comments. Such superficial discourse actually makes the work of anti-Islamist Muslims much more difficult, for it publicly mainstreams Islamist ideology.

President Reagan did not defeat communism by creating photo-ops and a few verbal exchanges with non-Soviet communist nations during the height of the Cold War. Our leaders need to emphasize the ideological chasm between Islamism and Americanism and begin to methodically deconstruct Islamism. Our officials should also find and engage Muslims who are on the same wavelength against political Islam.

In the meantime, the United Arab Emirates just announced the provision of a very disturbing endowment to the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of reportedly upwards of $50 million. Not only is this unprecedented foreign interference, but these monies are also unlikely to be used to deconstruct the ideological basis for Islamism, Wahhabism or the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah or other enemies of the United States. They will rather be used to continue the focus on apologetics, non-Muslim “education” and political empowerment (Islamism) with very little attention to internal renewal (ijtihad), anti-terror work and the ideological incompatibilities between Islamism and Americanism.

All civil human beings and their organizations condemn terrorist acts. The real question is what separates Islamists from “Americanists”? In order to fight an ideological battle against the Islamist enemy, we must not only seek to understand them, but we must make sure that we understand ourselves. If we remain unclear about America’s ideology, then we will never understand what drives the ends of our Islamist enemies.

Our forefathers understood what was needed to extricate the oppressive influence of theocrats in England. Muslims have yet to articulate this understanding about Islamists. We must quickly embrace the openness and pluralism of our American religious heritage.

At our nation’s 230th birthday this July, we can no longer afford to dismiss the Islamist threat. Just as Islamism is a threat to the essence of the America we love, it is also a threat to the essence of my personal faith of Islam which I love. Many pious Muslims can engage in this debate to defeat Islamism. Defeat Islamism and its political ideology, and we have achieved a major victory for our nation’s security.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former Navy lieutenant commander.

Muslims in the crosshairs- Part 2 of 3

By M. Zuhdi Jasser

Published August 3, 2006

Part two in a three-part series. published in the Washington Times

So far the ideological battle against political Islam has proven to be a fight few Muslims want to participate in. It has taken five years since September 11 for conventional wisdom to even begin to attempt to understand “moderate” Muslims let alone engage their ideology.

Far more important than a debate over who or what defines a moderate is our need in the United States to focus discussions upon the ideology of Islamism and political Islam. If radical Islamist terrorism is a means to an end, we should be pressing American Muslim leaders about where they stand regarding al Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah.

Islamism, as I see it, is an overriding philosophy of Muslims who believe in a society guided by a system of government founded upon clerical interpretations of religious law as derived from their own interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah. Argumentation within Islamist governments and parties is based upon clerical interpretations of God’s law, not upon a reasoned deduction of effectiveness of human law. No matter how moderate Islamists present themselves, they will always hold on tightly to the notion that a majority Muslim state must be identified as an “Islamic state” with clerical guidance of their society’s proximity to the Muslim path.

Islamism is clearly in direct conflict with Americanism. Yet, an Islam which is anti-Islamist is not. Americanism as Islamists see it is defined by our Constitution and our legal precedents as a system based in legislative liberty for all faiths – true pluralism. Americanism uses a language of legislative debate not derived from religious precedent or clerical interpretation of one faith, but rather from the reasoned precedent of our secular courts and legislatures. Until this great chasm of thought between Islamists and American ideology is made clear, we are actually facilitating the spread of Islamism among American Muslims.

Make no mistake. There are many Muslims who do understand that anti-theocratic societies like the United States are preferable for the free practice of their own private faith and that of all others. In fact, many Muslims are inherently anti-Islamist by virtue of being pious Muslims demanding to be free of coercion. That is why many of our families immigrated to the United States. But virtually no efforts are underway to find these Muslims, who are our greatest untapped resource since September 11.

Islam, as a personal faith, and its inherent spirituality, worship, moral code and practices can and should be looked upon as entirely separate from all that is political Islam. This is the profound challenge of anti-Islamist Muslims of this generation. While this separation is admittedly hard to find, its existence is essential to our victory in this ideological battle.

Muslim ideological moderation is not achieved by a declaration of nonviolence. It is not demonstrated by a belief in elections and representative democracy. The radical Islamists simply ride along with moderate Islamists toward the same arena. They repackage themselves as moderates while still residing within an Islamist construct.

For example, Europe’s radical, pretend moderate, Imam Yusef al-Qaradawi, the international spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Grand Islamic Scholar of Qatar, has recently been pushing for a “wasatiya” (middle way) movement, often preaching to his followers to moderate and tolerate. Yet, he continues to have the blood of American soldiers and innocent civilians in Iraq on his hands, with his endorsement of the religious legitimacy of suicide bombing in Iraq. He moderates his language for European audiences and reverts back to his fundamentalism for his Al Jazeera audiences. His fundamentalist stances are misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Western, pro-Islamist and anti-freedom.

In the current American discourse, we should be curious to learn whether Muslims agree with leaders like him and why. Unless my fellow Muslims are willing to take on the likes of al-Qaradawi ideologically, they will continue to facilitate Islamism and its associated threat to American security.

When we fought the ideological battle against communism during the Cold War, was there a moderate Communist ideology? The public intellectual debate was clear that Americanism and communism were entirely incompatible. The Soviet goal for global domination was an imminent threat to our security. Similarly, the Chinese, North Vietnamese, North Koreans and Cubans, to name a few, had central conflicts with American ideology. Are we as aware of the threat posed by “moderate” Islamists regardless of their denunciation of militancy? Those who know American Muslims will tell you that the violent jihadists are a small minority of the world’s Muslim population and hard to find in our local communities. This militant minority, including members of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others, certainly needs to be found and reckoned with swiftly and forcefully on the battlefield. However, the jihadists use barbaric methods to achieve change toward a theocratic political end – political Islam.

Political Islam, on the contrary, has great support within the Muslim population. It should be engaged relentlessly in our public arena. Only anti-Islamist Muslims can change that tide. But, for now, our private and public-sector thought leaders should first wake up and force the debate.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former Navy lieutenant commander.