Cultural Conversations – Summing Up: The Message, The Meetings & The Media
It seems appropriate to sum up our incredible 10 days with Muslim Reformist Dr Zuhdi Jasser and his wife Gada. As tour organisers and fellow road crew, Hilary and I recognise that none of the opportunities presented to us would have been possible without the sacrificial support of individual donors and of course Michael making sure we physically got from A-B in a very busy schedule. Thank you so much. And thanks to Zuhdi and Gada for making that big leap Downunder and becoming our real (rather than virtual) friends in freedom.
This update offers a snapshot of The Message, The Meetings and The Media and my latest blog Straddling the Right-Left Divide provides some personal reflections drawn from Zuhdi’s message on rekindling a passion for liberty and nation state as a remedy to that widening divide.
The Islam + Islamism Tour was advertised as Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim Reformer, engaging with Australians in those ‘hard to have conversations.’ The message he brought to Australia was always going to be somewhat counter-culture and the timing of his visit, coinciding with the horror of the mosque attacks in New Zealand, would seem to make that conversation all the more ‘hard to have.’ Yet despite this, these important public conversations were had. In his own words:
“The best way to erode bigotry against Muslims is for our own communities to openly lead the defence of our respective homelands against Islamist ideological and security threats. Not only will Australia and our nations benefit and repair in the process, but Muslims who create reformist platforms could help push almost a quarter of the world’s population towards liberty…there is little difference between white supremacists fearful of ‘foreign invaders’ and militant Islamists who want to create a global caliphate and consider non-Muslim lands the ‘Land of War’ to be conquered.”
Jasser spoke of ‘tough love’ to address this and said Australia should not engage in the bigotry of low expectations toward its Muslim citizens. His was a message of liberty, love for your nation, and legacy. Clearly this was not just a message for Muslim communities. When it comes to terrorism, Jasser maintains Western nations are only on the defensive. They don’t have an offensive. It was evident he was much more passionate than the average Australian about offensively promoting liberty and the fruits of it; secular liberal democracy and universal human rights as part of a national identity future generations can be part of.
The Muslim Reform Movement unapologetically seek to foster a culture of liberty within the Islamic consciousness; an offensive against Islamist ideology (political Islam) and by extension, the terror it may produce. This requires dismantling the ideology of a supremacist Islamic state with its sharia laws which view blasphemy and apostasy as seditious and treasonous, and thereby punishable by ‘the state.’ Supremacism, whether it’s Islamist or white supremacism, is anti-liberty. This is why Reformists can call for a ‘jihad against jihad’ relegating the state concept to history and promoting a shared ‘Australianism’ or ‘Americanism:’ the rationale being if there’s no Islamic state theology there’s no theology of a military jihad.
After appearing on The Bolt Report 11 March 2019 highlighting Reformists ‘jihad against jihad’ Jasser faced somewhat of his own at the first public event in Melbourne the following evening. What was intended to be a civil public conversation between Jasser and Dr Yassir Morsi, La Trobe University about the ‘Merits of the Muslim Reform Movement deteriorated rapidly. Clearly unimpressed by the notion of a Muslim Reformation, Morsi said the conversation about separation of mosque and state as a remedy to radicalization was ‘reductionist and binary.’
Morsi appeared to argue that the roots of radicalisation were not embedded within an Islamist theocratic framework but stemmed from a multitude of external influencing factors, including external political and socio-economic factors. Jasser acknowledged the role of some external factors as ‘accelerants’ to radicalisation but identified the root cause as a separatist Islamist ideology resident within the House of Islam. Within or without – that was the question. Morsi tabled white privilege, racism,
Islamophobia and many other factors as cultural reasons some Muslims had adopted separatist responses toward living in the West. The conversation itself demonstrated the internal struggle within Islam Jasser was flagging. I certainly didn’t feel any white privilege when Morsi rejected the opportunity to even shake my hand on arrival. I discovered later this was not due to any religious reasons but because, as he wrote, I was ‘a bigot.’
The conversation about the merits of the Muslim Reform Movement continued the next evening with Dr Bernie Power joining Jasser to address all those very curly questions which often go unanswered. Power is well versed in the Muslim faith tradition, history and the Arabic language and knew just where to go. With all his passion and geopolitical bandwidth, it was the sheer honesty of Jasser in addressing the issues tabled that impacted attendees and offered some hope for the Muslim Reformation he was promoting.
Private meetings in Melbourne included a meeting with Labor’s Frank McGuire MP, the Member for Broadmeadows, his electorate identifying as 30% Muslim.
He also addressed private community group meetings and a luncheon with Liberal Friends of Israel before heading to Sydney. He was well received by all.
The Christchurch mosque attacks impacted the Sydney public event and some who were booked to come cancelled, while others never heard about the meeting due to media interviews being pulled out of a genuine sensitivity to the atrocity. However, Prof Mehmet Ozalp, who was also willing to engage with Jasser publicly, was very welcoming and hospitable and organised a shared meal in a delightful local restaurant before the evening commenced. It was a small and participatory audience and while there may have been a divergence in opinion on ways to address Islamism from these two men, they shared the use of the same term, Islamism, and concern about addressing it.
There were more well attended private meetings hosted by community groups in Sydney and a productive meeting with Sen Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
Media appearances included interviews on The Bolt Report, 2 GB Radio with Alan Jones and Sky News Outsiders programme. Feature articles by Dr. Jasser also appeared in the Daily Telegraph 21 March and in the current edition of The Spectator Australia Magazine 23 March 2019 (republished on my website for easy access).
A radio interview with James Carleton on ABC ‘God Forbid’ was postponed due to sensitivity toward the NZ mosque attacks, as was an interview with Miranda Devine, and an interview with Richard Shumack, The Centre for Public Christianity Life and Faith podcast is still yet to air. An article was also published in the Australian Jewish News.
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My visit to Australia from the US was planned over a year ago for this week. In the immediate wake of the horrific, unspeakable act of terror at two mosques in Christchurch, I must first say to my Muslim brothers and sisters that I stand with you in the unqualified defence of religious freedom for every citizen in our nations. An attack on one faith is an attack on all. Terrorists target the vulnerable free amongst us because our liberty and its cohesive strength is the greatest obstacle to their supremacism and bigotry. We can never let their barbarism drive us apart.
Yes, I fear the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry. That sentiment is rising from many accelerants, not least of which is the West’s inability to resolve the growing conflict between the underpinnings of our liberal democracies and the theocracy of global Islamist movements. The best way to erode bigotry against Muslims is for our own communities to openly lead the defence of our respective homelands against Islamist ideological and security threats. Not only will Australia and our nations benefit and repair in the process, but Muslims who create reformist platforms could help push almost a quarter of the world’s population towards liberty.
Then, as our fellow citizens and social media platform contacts begin to see us as indispensable leaders for freedom, for our Constitution, and for our nation state identity, anti-Muslim bigotry will melt away. However, if we are contrarily seen as bystanders, perennial victims, in a domestic and global fight against theocrats within our faith and against the West, I fear the divide amongst us and within our nations will continue to widen.
Respect for any immigrant communities will not come by demand or by identity virtue-signaling. We as Muslims are a diverse community with many ideologies and theological interpretations, and yet, we are still looked upon as a monolith either all good or all bad. Both generalisations are false with an inherent bigotry of low expectations. The denial of this ideological diversity on various platforms only fuels bigotry from every direction. There is little difference between white supremacists fearful of ‘foreign invaders’ and militant Islamists who want to create a global caliphate and consider non-Muslim lands the ‘Land of War’ to be conquered.
Living in the lap of freedom, enjoying liberties our families in places like Syria can only dream of, I believe we have a unique opportunity and responsibility here in the West to take advantage of these liberties we are blessed with. For hundreds of years, inside the proverbial ‘House of Islam’ reformists have had little voice against the theological interpretations which inspire Islamist theocrats. For too long, the bandwidth of Muslim thought has been obstructed by Islamists who de-platform our speech through tyranny in Muslim majority nations and through identity politics in the West. It is time for liberal modern Muslims to advocate for secular democracies and universal human rights with the same vigour that Islamists advocate for a caliphate.
It was because my parents loved their faith that in 1966 they escaped the oppressive Ba’athist regime that turned Syria into an open-air prison in 1963. They immediately embraced Americanism and its attendant freedoms. In the small midwestern town I was raised, I never had a conflict between my faith and what it meant to be an American. My family has helped start, build and grow more than four mosques in the US. I served eleven years in the US Navy.
After 9/11 we formed the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founded the Muslim Reform Movement in the West in order to confront the root cause of Islamist terror—political Islam. We see liberty and freedom and universal human rights of every individual equally under God and protected by our nation’s Constitution as central to our personal and national identity. We see its advocacy domestically sprouting roots globally as the solution to the oppressive tyrannies of most Muslim majority nations.
We seek to defend this identity of liberty through the Jeffersonian separation of mosque and state. It is time for our own faith community to live by the verse in the Qur’an in which God says to us, ‘Believers! Conduct yourselves with justice and bear true witness before God; even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your kin’. (Qur’an 4:135).
For too long, our nations and we Muslims who live in the West have been diverted from working on actual legacy solutions to Islamist radicalism and instead retreated to balkanised, hyper-partisan corners. Radical Islamism is a Muslim problem that needs a Muslim solution. Militarily, we can only defer its byproducts, but not defeat it.
Make no mistake: many reform-minded Australian Muslims are left out of the conversation which is hogged instead by Islamist apologists and identity politicians. Both extremes, left and right, of identity politics are ripping our nations apart and the best way to begin to bring us back to our united roots is for patriotic Muslims to reclaim our love for our homeland by leading centuries-overdue reform against jihadists, misogynists, bigots and other tyrannical Islamist theocrats.
We must publicly engage and empower counter-Islamist pro-freedom leaders and movements within and outside the House of Islam. Islamist jihadism inspires not only rogue terror organisations, but it also inspires many established Muslim majority governments and their political movements. Today’s neo-caliphate is the OIC from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Qatar all the way to Turkey. These regimes directly inspire Islamist terrorism in order to intimidate the West into passivity and isolationism while legitimising their dictatorships. This week, Turkey’s President Erdogan horrifically used clips of the Christchurch terror to whip up his campaign rallies into a fervour against the West. Islamists will exploit any terror whenever they can.
We must break this cycle. Find our Muslim Reform Movement Declaration online and discuss its precepts with Muslims, or their leaders, about why they would or would not sign on to its principles. We believe it to be a firewall that clearly delineates the difference in values between those who are Islamist identity apologists and those who are patriotic Australians who just happen to be Muslim. It is about time that we all have this essential national conversation. If we cannot have it in the West, then where?
As the month of fasting, reflection and atonement of Ramadan ends tonight at sundown, we at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy would like to wish Muslims around the world “Eid Mubarak”(a blessed holiday) as tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate Eid al-Fitr, (the holiday of the feast) the celebration marking the close of Ramadan.
We hope that this month has allowed each of us to discover a renewed sense of spiritual solace. A time where we rededicated our ourselves to our families, our purpose, our humanity, our faith in our country, our duty to protect our nation, and our duty to protect our world from the radical savagery of militant Islamism.
AIFD has had many opportunities to share our mission during this time of sacrifice, reflection and spiritual growth and we thank those of you have offered your blessings and wishes for continued success and to those who continue to support our efforts through donations, with whom without, we could not exist.
Yours forever in liberty,
All of us at the,
American Islamic Forum for Democracy
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