America must protect religious freedom abroad

By M. Zuhdi Jasser, Published January 20, 2013, |

In the mid-1960s my family fled the oppressive Baath regime of Syria for liberty’s shores in the United States.  Raised in Wisconsin as an American Muslim, I learned that my faith was best served by a nation founded in liberty with a Constitution that guaranteed genuine religious freedom.

As I watched the Arab Awakening unfold in 2011 and 2012, I had high hopes that my co-religionists might finally be lifting the yoke of their oppressive secular dictators for the freedom that I have enjoyed here in the United States.  But now as 2013 opens, we are witnessing the frightening ascension of an even greater oppressive force than the dictators who had a stranglehold on the region for almost five decades — Islamism (political Islam).

Islamism combines the autocracy of the secular Arabist dictators with  unrestrained religious supremacy. The primary battle front, where Islamists suffocate their enemies, is on religious liberty. The plight begins in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the royal family, in a bid to maintain power, essentially gave control of religious life to the radical Wahhabi elements within the country.  The petro dollars of the Kingdom have spread this lethal Islamist ideology around the world.  They are joined by the Qatari through arms like the Al Jazeera Media Group, which, after decades of failure, just recently acquired access to more than 40 million American homes through the purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV.

The recipe is simple: Islamists are government theocrats who promote a particular version of an Islamic doctrine  in order to impose their fascist interpretation upon all citizens. They use elections and so-called “democracy” in order to empower a single version of Shariah – their interpretation of Islam’s legal framework for the “Islamic state.” Islamists exploit their own perceived divine mandate to justify a litany of draconian laws upon their people.  The most obvious permutation of those laws leaves no room for religious tolerance let alone religious liberty.

Make no mistake, the victims of Islamist control are both religious minorities and those with dissident beliefs, whether Muslim or non-Muslim who are against the theocrats.

Throughout the region we are seeing a significant increase of oppression of religious freedoms.  In Pakistan this week, the Ambassador to the United States has been indicted by the Pakistani Supreme Court under blasphemy laws for simply saying that the country needs to rework its blasphemy law.

In Iran, we continue to see case after case of devout Christians, Baha’i, and Islamic apostates who face death penalties for expressing their religious beliefs. It is not a coincidence that this plight coincides with a government that at the same time is pounding its collective Islamist chest in seeking nuclear arms and feeding the genocide against an entire dissident citizenry in Syria.

On Monday, a 32-year-old Christian pastor, former Muslim, and American citizen, Saeed Abedini will stand trial for supposedly “compromising national security.”  His real crime to the Iranian theocrats is his own human expression of religious freedom through the development of an underground network of home churches. He will face the infamous Islamist Judge Abbas Pir-Abassi, known for sending innocent dissident believers to Iran’s dungeons.

In Egypt, with the ink hardly dry on the new Egyptian Islamist Constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood has wasted no time in bringing their Islamist justice to the people of Egypt. Nadia Mohammed Ali was sentenced this week to prison along with her children and the clerks who documented their Christian identity cards. The plight of Christians signals the future of religious freedom for all in Egypt. Ali and her children are now imprisoned simply for their chosen faith of Christianity.

The silence from devout Muslims around the world must end. It is time to rise up as free-thinking Muslims against governments and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood which exploit the faith of Islam for their own supremacist mission. The essential fuel of Islamist political parties and systems is the idea of the “Islamic state.” Nadia and her family are canaries in the coal mine of the Islamic state. The silence from the White House also must end. We must stand with Nadia as human beings. An Obama Doctrine is nowhere to be found and at this point the administration is unlikely to ever lay out a coherent foreign policy strategy with regards to religious liberty in the Middle East. Real global leadership for human rights needs a Liberty Doctrine. Free-thinking Muslims, however, are most directly positioned to repair this rupture within our collective soul.

The stifling of religious freedom is a natural evolution of an Islamist system fueled by an obsession upon one faith and its divine mandate. As a Muslim, I know the Islamist state will never evolve into genuine democracy. I reject the entire notion of the Islamic state and I see no other way to defeat Islamism but through the separation of mosque and state. Mollifying Islamism into some kind of tolerant form is a fool’s endeavor with example after example in Islamic history of failure. That is why my family came to the U.S.

In the U.S., I learned that whether I am in the minority or the majority, the only way to realize religious freedom is to live in a society where its governmental laws are based in reason and government stays out of the business of determining which religious legalisms are righteous. There are sadly hundreds to thousands more cases like these of courageous religious minorities and also dissident Sunni and Shiite Muslims from within the majority in countries like Egypt and Iran who are at the tip of the spear. They are often alone cutting through the battle raging inside the soul of Islam and Muslim communities across the world.

As leaders of the free world, our nation can choose to abandon these canaries in the Islamist coal mine or we can lift up their plights as beacons of freedom that can ultimately defeat Islamism.  It is time to call out the governmental oppressors of innocents like Nadia Mohammed Ali in Egypt or Saeed Abedini in Iran for what they are—ruthless fascist theocrats (Islamists) who use religion as a tool to destroy the spirit of their citizenry.

If the United States stands for anything we need to vigorously and consistently stand for the protection of religious freedom abroad that is not only enshrined in our own founding documents, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which we are supposed to protect.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is the author of the recently released book, “A Battle for the Soul of Islam” and is President and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Ariz. He is also a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (the opinions here are his own).

Three-minute video blog: Dr. Jasser on the Muslim Brotherhood and how to push back to achieve real liberty

Dr. Jasser sat down to share his thoughts on the latest news from Egypt, including the new Islamist, anti-freedom constitution. He says that it may take a while to defeat the well-organized machine of political Islam, and that the answer is in non-Islamists organizing like never before.

Click here: Dr. Jasser on the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi.

USCIRF Calls Charges against Iranian-American Pastor Bogus, Urges Immediate Release

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released the following press release. Dr. M.  Zuhdi Jasser, AIFD President &  Founder of AIFD is a member of the Commission.


USCIRF Calls Charges against Iranian-American Pastor Bogus, Urges Immediate Release


January 16, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — USCIRF today called for the immediate release of Saeed Abedeni, an Iranian-American pastor reportedly awaiting a January 21 trial on trumped-up national security charges that date back to 2000 when he lived in Iran.

Mr. Abedini married an American in 2002 and has lived in the United States since that time.   He became a U.S. citizen in 2010 and periodically has travelled back and forth to Iran. According to sources familiar with the case, Mr. Abedini was arrested in Iran in September 2012 for his involvement with the underground house church movement.  Mr. Abedini’s lawyer was unaware of the charges until January 14, when he was informed the trial would be held on Monday, January 21.

“The national security charges leveled against Mr. Abedini are bogus and are a typical tactic by the Iranian government to masquerade the real reason for the charges: to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve,” said USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett.  “USCIRF calls on the Iranian government to release Mr. Abedini immediately and unconditionally.”

Mr. Abedeni’s trial reportedly is scheduled to be heard by Judge Abbas Pir-Abbassi of Branch 26 of Iran’s Revolutionary Court.  “Judge Pir-Abbassi is notorious for conducting swift trials and imposing lengthy prison terms, as well as the death penalty, without any semblance of due process,” said Lantos Swett.

In 2011, under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), USCIRF called on the U.S. government to impose travel bans and asset freezes on three “hanging judges” — Judge Pir-Abbassi, Judge Salavati, and Judge Moghiseh — for committing serious human rights abuses against Iranian citizens, including religious minorities.  In April 2011, the European Union imposed sanctions for human rights violations on all three judges.  The U.S. government has yet to follow suit.

During the past year, religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate in Iran, especially for religious minorities, most notably Baha‘is, as well as Christians and Sufi Muslims, who have experienced   physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment.  In recent years, high level Iranian government officials and clerics have called for an end to Christianity in the country. Supreme Leader Aytaollah Khamenei publicly stated that “enemies of Islam” are using the spread of Sufism, the Baha’i faith, and Christian house churches to weaken the faith of young people in society.

Since 1999, the State Department has designated Iran as a country of particular concern, or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.  USCIRF continues to recommend that Iran be designated as a CPC.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner please contact Samantha Schnitzer at (202) 786-0613 or

 The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

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Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair • Mary Ann Glendon, Vice Chair • William Shaw, Vice Chair
Elliott Abrams • Sam Gejdenson • Robert P. George • Azizah Y. al-Hibri
M. Zuhdi Jasser • Jackie Wolcott, Executive Director

202-523-3240 | 202-523-5020 (FAX)

Why Al Gore’s Al Jazeera deal doesn’t seem right


Howard Kurtz, January 7, 2013

Editor’s note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) — So Al Gore starts a liberal cable network, which turns into a complete and utter flop, then sells it to a Middle East potentate in a deal that will bring him an estimated $70 million.

Is America a great country or what?

There is something highly unusual — OK, just plain weird — about a former vice president of the United States doing this deal with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

To read the entire article

Mali army fires warning shots to halt Islamist advance

BAMAKO | Tue Jan 8, 2013 7:53am EST

(Reuters) – Malian soldiers fired warning shots on Tuesday at Islamist fighters pushing south towards their positions, military and diplomatic sources said, raising fears of the first clashes since militants seized Mali’s north in April.

The capture of the northern two thirds of the arid West African nation by a loose coalition of Islamist groups has sown fears among Western and regional powers that Mali could become a haven for radicals to plot international attacks.

To read the whole story

Bookshelf: A Nasty Neologism

The term Islamophobia treats political ideology as akin to race.

By JONATHAN SCHANZER, The Wall Street Journal, 1/9/13

“The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends,” President George W. Bush declared soon after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bush’s statement set the tone for the tumultuous decade to come, one in which the nation prosecuted a war on terrorism in two Muslim lands while taking great pains to protect the rights of Muslim Americans.

Yet if the author Nathan Lean is to be believed, Americans today are caught in the grip of an irrational fear of Islam and its adherents. In his short book on the subject, Mr. Lean, a journalist and editor at the website Aslan Media, identifies this condition using the vaguely medical sounding term “Islamophobia.” It is by now a familiar diagnosis, and an ever widening range of symptoms—from daring to criticize theocratic tyrannies in the Middle East to drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad—are attributed to it.

In reality, Islamophobia is simply a pejorative neologism designed to warn people away from criticizing any aspect of Islam. Those who deploy it see no difference between Islamism—political Islam and its extremist offshoots—and the religion encompassing some 1.6 billion believers world-wide. Thanks to this feat of conflation, Islamophobia transforms religious doctrines and political ideologies into something akin to race; to be an “Islamophobe” is in some circles today tantamount to being a racist.

American Islamophobia, Mr. Lean claims, is fomented by a “small cabal of xenophobes.” “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims” is less a book than a series of vignettes about some of these antagonists, who are “bent on scaring the public about Islam.” His Islamophobic figures and institutions range from political leaders like Mr. Bush, Sen. John McCain and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who, Mr. Lean says, have “harnessed Muslims and Islam to terrorism”; to the pro-Israel community, which is alleged to be animated by a “violent faith narrative” and funded by magnates who inject “eye-popping cash flows into the accounts of various fear campaigns”; to pretty much everyone who campaigned in 2010 against the construction of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in lower Manhattan.

Mr. Lean tars with the same brush the likes of the scholar Daniel Pipes and the Muslim activist, physician and U.S. Navy veteran Zuhdi Jasser. Mr. Pipes, the author writes, is “deeply entrenched in the business of selling fear.” He portrays Dr. Jasser as a puppetlike figure, “a ‘good Muslim,’ one that openly and forcefully denounced various tenets of his faith.”

These are crude and uncharitable caricatures of these men. Mr. Pipes was one of the first Western commentators to raise the alarm about the subterranean spread of extremist attitudes in both the Middle East and among some Muslim communities in the West. Dr. Jasser, a devout Muslim, is the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization that advances the notion that “the purest practice of Islam is one in which Muslims have complete freedom to accept or reject any of the tenants or laws of the faith no different than we enjoy as Americans in this Constitutional republic.” Both men argue that the real contest is the serious war of ideas raging within Islam itself, between the forces of liberalism and pluralism and those of obscurantism.

To Mr. Lean, though, any such distinction is simply a false perception manufactured by Islamophobes. Thus the author fails to grapple with the fact that, unlike average Muslims, Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah do commit unspeakable acts of violence in the name of Islam—actions that surely help account for why many Americans (49%, according to a 2010 poll) hold an unfavorable view of Islam, even when they view favorably Muslims that they personally know.

Mr. Lean also can’t seem to tell the difference between Islamist organizations and ordinary Muslims. Consider his view of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a self-proclaimed civil-rights organization that wields outsize influence on questions of Muslim integration in the U.S. Mr. Lean barely mentions CAIR and, when he does, it is in invariably glowing terms. The author lauds “cooperation between the FBI and CAIR” that supposedly “led to the capture of five American Muslim men in Pakistan suspected of trying to join radical, anti-American forces.” But he neglects to mention that CAIR was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terror-finance trial of 2007. The same group, according to an unclassified State Department cable, sought to raise $50 million for an Islamophobia campaign from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Islamist states and groups have been at the forefront of promoting the concept of Islamophobia. As far back as 1999, the United Association for Studies and Research, a group founded by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook, published a book that purported to expose “The Truth Behind the Anti-Muslim Campaign in America.” After 9/11, Muslim states mounted a campaign to characterize the fear of Muslim violence as blind hatred. In 2004, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan assured the world that U.N. “special rapporteurs continue to monitor the exercise and infringements of this right [freedom of religion], and to recommend ways to combat Islamophobia.”

According to anti-Islamophobia crusaders, though, even questioning the origins of the concept is itself a form of Islamophobia. Such dogmatism chills the crucial conversations that need to take place about Islamism here in the West. It also does a profound injustice to liberal Muslims around the world. After all, if Islam is dominated by its most violent and illiberal elements, and questioning these forces is deemed by intellectual elites to be a form of racism, then reform-minded Muslims really stand no chance.

Mr. Schanzer, a former terrorism-finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

A version of this article appeared January 10, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Nasty Neologism.