AIFD Brief: MPAC/ISNA counterterrorism video deceptive

Don’t be deceived
New York Times and CNN miss critical analysis of overhyped Muslim counter-radicalization video

By Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser

The New York Times, CNN, and other “mainstream media outlets” recently reported on a video that was put out by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) on July 15, 2010. According to MPAC it was “compiled with the assistance of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America)”. The organization says that the video is “part of MPAC’s broader effort to work with a diversity of respected leaders and communities to tackle the issue of violent extremism head on.”

The video was dished up by both the Times and CNN with virtually no critical assessment or investigation. It did not even seem relevant to these respected news organizations whether the video and MPAC’s strategy will really do what its producers claim it will do and what greater ideological context MPAC’s “broader effort” actually entails.

At the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), we are Muslims who are firmly dedicated to genuine reforms against the root causes of Islamist terror. Real reformists are not afraid to identify the ideas that need modernization to stop the spread of terrorism. Apologists, like those featured in this video who refuse genuine reforms against political Islam, however, live in denial and deception.

We prepared a comprehensive brief that touches on many of our concerns with the video (full transcript). The MPAC and ISNA imams hopelessly use only non-committal terms like “violent extremism”. That renders them entirely impotent against core ideologies of global jihad and Muslim radicalization. Real counterterrorism needs real reform. Real reform cannot happen without identifying up front what interpretations of Islam these imams are in fact reforming. Their overhyped video does none of that, and the Times and CNN recklessly give them a pass and give their audiences a false sense of hope.

A video of imams speaking only against “violent” means while conveniently ignoring the ends of the Islamic state, jihad, and the ummah will have no impact in the war of ideas within the House of Islam.

We must confront the ideas that create the violence and not continue to fight just the symptom of terrorism. Like any disease, fighting symptoms alone is a profoundly misguided.

In a recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, Salam Al-Maryati, MPAC’s President, stated that,

Avoiding religious terminology in America’s efforts to counter violent extremism denies Al Qaeda and its affiliates the religious legitimacy they severely lack and so desperately seek…. Muslims around the world know who their enemy is and have consistently and vocally spoken out against al Qaeda; they do not need the U.S. to afford al Qaeda any Islamic legitimacy. By removing religious labels from descriptions of the terrorists, we empower and embolden mainstream Muslim voices and deny the terrorists from making a religious claim, furthering a strategic American interest.

In fact, the nine imams in this new video never mention the name of Al Qaeda or any Muslim terror group. They never use any of the specific terms common to Muslims and central in the war of ideas like “jihad” or “shar’iah”. The dangerously simplistic approach of these groups to the problem demonstrates how compromised, apologetic, and deeply Islamist they truly are.

They claim that religious labels empower the enemy. Yet their use of our Qur’anic scripture and Islamic gravitas in the video to make an appeal to Muslims against “violence” is an obvious admission that they are speaking to other Muslims about ‘Islamic’ issues. But don’t let anyone else refer to them as “Muslims” or “Jihadists;” it would give them too much legitimacy. If that’s not denial, then what is?

Only MPAC and their imams can determine who is and who is not a ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ based on their own oversimplified paradigm of “violent extremism”-a paradigm that flatly denies any need for reform. Their binary paradigm of violent vs. non-violent has no practical application in countering the slippery slope of political Islam and its continuum of radicalization.

So how much praise do these imams deserve for this video? Is this really ground-breaking? Was it worth the nine year wait? Or has this actually just been done to placate the American public and allow these organizations to place a check mark on the task of fighting extremism, while putting a band-aid over the deeper wound of political Islam? Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be anesthetized by this video since it hits the one note of anti-violence. But once the anesthesia dissipates they will realize that violent Islamism is the end of a long continuum of political Islam that will never be diminished until the continuum is addressed as a whole.

The importance of these questions cannot be overstated. This video (supposedly the first of many) makes dangerous assumptions and overgeneralizations about what a truly effective strategy should be against the ideology of Islamist terror. The problem of homegrown Islamist terror, as a recent RAND study points out, is only increasing and the worst we can do is invest our hopes in a treatment that not only misses the diagnosis but is part of the problem.

Laurie Goodstein does point out in her Times story, “a recent spate of arrests of Muslims accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were radicalized by militant preaching they found on the Internet.” The media’s endorsement of the MPAC video implies that this intellectual jujitsu by MPAC and ISNA is just what the doctor ordered. No analysis provided.

Interestingly, this video does represent a relatively new public salvo in a long realized internecine conflict between Islamist groups. The non-violent pseudo-modern branches of American and Western political Islam (MPAC, ISNA are basically Islamism 4.0. They are simply trying to teach the violent branches of global political Islam (Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbullah, the Taliban (Islamism 3.0) a lesson about a better ‘jihad’ and a better strategy for political Islam. These internecine Islamist feuds will do nothing to counter radicalization because they are built on the same core ideologies of political Islam that threaten us.

The Times and CNN were careless to ignore genuine Muslim reformers (anti-Islamists) not steeped in the ideologies of the Muslim Brotherhood like all nine of these so-called moderate imams are. Moderation is not about violence it is about political Islam versus classical liberalism. The media and government approach to Muslim radicalization is too often skin-deep—Violent Muslims bad; non-violent Muslims good.

They should not accept these short cut videos on face value, but rather look toward a more thoughtful review of the tactics and long term goals of Islamist organizations like MPAC and ISNA with respect to Islamic supremacy, shariah, political Islam and reform.

MPAC is banking on the fact that no one is going to press them or their imams for specifics that would expose their adherence to political Islam. They know that the majority of Americans view Islamist terror as simply a problem of “violence” and not a deeper ideological continuum between political Islam and our secular Constitutional republic based in an Establishment Clause.

The entire cause of political Islam will ultimately need to be intellectually defeated. It is a theocratic system of shariah law which is an anathema to western secular liberal democracies and impedes the genuine practice of a spiritual Islam based in free will. The Muslim consciousness needs a separation of mosque and state which these Islamist imams will deeply fight.

Don’t be deceived with this video. It appears to be against terrorism but is also still pro-Islamism. Internecine disputes between Islamists about the means they use will do nothing for American security.

Analyzing the Realities of the MPAC Video

What do the imams in the video actually say? What does the video not say that it should have said? Who are these imams and their organizations and who and what ideologies do they represent?

Our American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) has provided a complete transcript of the MPAC 5 minute video online. Watch the video and read the entire transcript. What they say and do not say will become far more clear with this analysis.

For starters, the video opens with the title “Believers beware: Injustice cannot defeat injustice”. The entire theme of this video is basically telling Muslims that their grievances are legitimate, just the means is immoral. It tells them basically that they are true victims of injustices against Muslims perpetrated by “non-Muslims” and just need to find other more moral means to achieve their ends. Nowhere do any of these leaders counter that dangerous anti-American, anti-Western narrative. Note in Zaid Shakir’s full video (excerpted on the MPAC video) on ISNA’s site, he spends the first few minutes blaming American foreign policy before he makes any message against terrorism. Very similar to what he did in his useless condemnation of the Fort Hood tragedy.

60 Minutes recently discussed the danger of this narrative in a segment profiling the anti-Islamist London based Muslim think tank, Quilliam Foundation. Countering that narrative is a key component to any effective counterterrorism. That can only be done by Muslims who actually deconstruct the political collectivization of Muslims as a single ummah (nation or body politic) and teaching Muslims that nations and constitutional republics like the United States are the best place for Muslims to live bar none. None of these imams do that.

To counter that narrative these imams would have had to identify Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbullah, the Taliban, Kho
einists, or the Saudi Wahhabis as their enemies by name. They would have had to state clearly that the U.S. and the U.K. care about the future liberty of Muslims domestically and abroad. But instead Imam Zaid Shakir stated in his post Fort Hood apologetic proudly posted on the ISNA website that “the American military machine is the greatest threat to world peace”. It remains perplexing how these deceivers believe that such statements from faith leaders will actually de-radicalize violent Muslims?

MPAC begins the instructional portion of the video with the Muslim American Society’s education coordinator, Imam Suhaib Webb. Note in a comprehensive undercover investigative report, the Chicago Tribune described the MAS in 2004 as the secretive incarnation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S.:

Imam Suhaib Webb: In recent months, messages which have been born from entities outside of this country have encouraged young Muslims in particular and convert Muslims to engage in illegal acts which would not only undermine the security of our country that we live in, our beloved country with our fellow citizens, but most importantly ultimately serve to undermine our place as a community and as a society.

Entities? These groups have names. Al Qaeda, Imam Al-Awlaki, the Taliban. Outside this country? Al-Awlaki was from the United States. There are a number of homegrown Islamist radicals and groups that received their ideas and marching orders domestically. Illegal acts? Now the message is “just don’t do anything illegal”. How about “immoral, corrupt, barbaric, wanton, evil” or how about criticizing the legitimacy of the ends that they seek?

Then MPAC’s Dr. Maher Hathhout states,

Dr. Maher Hathout– The media is flooded with quotations and statements by people who are either half educated or not educated at all about Islam. They have the audacity to quote the Qur’an as if they know what the Qur’an is, taking certain verses and twisting the meaning and ignoring what the Arabic language actually indicates and basic (sic) passing judgments that will make Islam and Muslim a very frightening phenomena which is contrary to the reality.

Good points, but too vague with no specifics abou

t what ideas he is looking to reform? Short of a separation of mosque and state, this becomes simply a debate over methods of jihad and legitimate instruments of war in 2010. These internecine debates over the most legitimate form of jihad will do nothing to change the narrative unless contextualized into a frame of a belief in the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Establishment Clause as being preferable to the Islamic state, the Caliphate, and shar’iah law-all concepts Dr. Hathout and his cohorts conveniently ignore.

Then ISNA’s Ihsan Bagby states,

Dr. Ihsan Bagby– Allah (the Sacred and the Almighty) has said very clearly and very categorically, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his ashab (companions) has said very clearly and categorically that we cannot kill innocent people. There is no footnote there. There is no real exception to that.

and then he later states,

Dr. Ihsan Bagby– I am not calling on anybody to be inactive. I am calling on people, for the Muslims of this country in particular, and for the Muslims of this world to be proactive and not to embrace the nihilism and the anti-Islamic policies of terrorism and unwarranted violence.

That all sounds well and good to rational non-violent Muslims, but again, it does not address the ideology that feeds the terrorism. The issue here is that Islam is not a pacifist faith and our faith does have a number of Qur’anic passages which discuss the concept of ‘just war’. These imams do not and will not address the concept of ‘just war’ here or jihad. Why? They are Islamists who sympathize with the complaints and Muslim collectivization of the radicals but just not with their means.

The radical Islamist narrative is that these individuals are “not innocent” and that Muslims are participating in a just war- a jihad. Read the transcript of Faisal Shahzad’s pleadings in open court. I have recently discussed the more genuinely reformist way of addressing the concept of jihad and the “Muslim Soldier” to which Shahzad and his cohorts appeal. Anything short of that type of discussion is an apologetic as this is from Bagby feeding into the hands and ideas of radicals.

Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society then states,

Imam Mohamad Magid– Islam is a religion of peace for building a community, not destroying it not tearing it apart. It is saving life not taking life.

Imam Mohamad Magid– That many people say that there is so many issues of injustice taking place around the world. This is true. We acknowledge the injustice taking place around the world. But we believe there is a way to address the injustice. Not by taking innocent people life.

Magid ignores the fact that these jihadists want to build supremacist Islamic states and even a future caliphate. The jihadists believe that their violence will build an Islamic state in the long term. These radical Islamists believe that the west is taking life and it is they who are employing a tactic in which the “ends justifies the means.” The ends they seek is a world hegemonized by the dominance of Islamic states. Until Imam Magid and his colleagues openly abandon and condemn that goal their admonishments of peace and community building are only going to be interpreted as an internecine dispute over methods.

The constant refrain with no opposition whatsoever (another sign of Islamism) as to “so many issues of injustice” only serves to validate their cause and acknowledge their conspiracy theories of the “evil of the west, America, and Israel” as the narrative goes.

Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna Institute then weighs in stating,

Imam Zaid Shakir– Islam teaches a balance in all of our affairs so it is not a religion that is amenable to extremism and because of that you don’t see Allah (subhana wattaala) giving it success to the advocates of extremism to the advocates of indiscriminate violence to the advocates of killing civilians. Where are they successful? Where are they successful? You just see one mess after another. One mess after another. And it’s time for us to start cleaning up those messes and even going beyond that and it’s time for us to begin to contribute to the construction of something beautiful.

Zaid Shakir again is dangerously vague here about who is causing the violence and what exactly are the messes that need to be cleaned up? This is very similar to the half-hearted condemnation Shakir gave of Nidal Hasan after his Fort Hood atrocity. The moral equivalency jujitsu comparing heinous slaughtering of unarmed combatants with our military missions of our sons and daughters abroad is the wrong kind of message and hardly one that will end terrorism.

None of these imams name an instance or an example of an individual, an act, or a group that they are attacking. In fact almost anyone can read what they want into Shakir’s admonitions. Are we really supposed to believe that these platitudes will do anything but muddy the water for the ideological battle against political Islam and rather simply embolden global non-violent Islamism? Shakir’s comments could be simply restated, “right cause, wrong method”.

Imam Abdal-Hakim Murad then stated,

Imam Abdal-Hakim Murad– What is our state when some new “fitna” arises. Do we panic? Do we freak out? Do we start feeling the emotions rise to the surface? So we want to go out into the streets and yell and scream and kick up a fuss exhibiting our own closeness to the munafiqeen (hypocrites) or do we say, hasbanallah wa Ni’mal wakil (Allah is alone sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of Affairs for us) and genuinely act on the basis of a true understanding of the Qur’an and the Sunnah for the interests and the further flourishing of this great ummah of Islam.

Murad starts by saying that the urge to commit terror is coming from some new “fitna” (chaos, division, or community discord). He tells them not to kick up a fuss and be like the ‘hypocrites’ but rather trust in God and act on a true understanding of the Qur’an for the flourishing of the ummah (Islamic nation or community). This is dangerously vague about who the hypocrites are, what the chaos is, and what the goal of the ummah is all about?

Then, Dr. Jamal Badawi, a controversial Canadian Islamist with deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and ISNA states,

Dr. Jamal Badawi– The Fiqh Council of North America reiterates its consistent repeated, perpetual position in condemning any incitement of hatred senseless random acts of violence or acts of terror committed by any party against any party or any other parties be it an individual, an organization or state, and irrespective of perceived legitimacy of grievance.

Badawi again proves his dangerous vagaries and Islamism. The Strategy Center noted a well referenced critique of ISNA and Badawi in their February 2007 position paper on “Extremism and the Islamic Socie
y of North America
“. They write,

“Shortly after 9/11, Dr. Badawi made the following statement to a Muslim Community Conference in Dallas, Texas: Suicide out of despair is not acceptable…Giving one’s life in a military situation is different and can be heroic if there is no other way of resisting…Killing civilians should be avoided is possible, but not everyone out of uniform is a civilian.” Such a statement can easily be interpreted as providing a justification for suicide bombings by redefining them as “a military situation.” ISNA’s negligible actions in opposition to terrorism lend further credence to this interpretation. A July 28, 2005 fatwa against terrorism was issued by FCNA Muzzamil Siddiqi, who was accompanied by ISNA president Nur Abdallah, among others. The fatwa received broad-based criticism, however, for a number of problems that rendered it a feeble and ineffectual alternative to opposing fatwas in support of the attacks made by Salafist clerics. For example the authors of the fatwa were unwilling to invoke religious language to condemn the attacks, calling them simply unlawful; the fatwa was not specific, i.e. not unequivocally in condemnation of bin Laden, al-Qaeda, etc., and the term “civilian” was undefined. Coupled with the previous statement by Dr. Badawi, the latter criticism is especially troubling, because it leaves open the possibility of designating Israeli citizens as legitimate targets.”

I have also previously dissected Dr. Badawi’s deeply Islamist positions in favor of laws against apostasy for “Islamic states” and laws similarly against blasphemy. In Badawi’s commentary on Islamonline (a well known Global Muslim Brotherhood outlet) from April 26, 2006, he states, “Apostasy is a capital crime as it threatens the integrity and stability of the Muslim community and state.” Note, the Islamic state is dependent upon a supremacist legal system which gives government and its imams the power to maintain its own interests vis-à-vis shariah law above that of the individual. This is the antithesis of Western governments and especially of our First Amendment and our Establishment Clause. Badawi actually goes on to cite Yusuf Qaradawi as “eloquent,” and points readers to Qaradawi’s defense of apostasy laws wherein Qaradawi states, “As for hadiths specifying the death penalty for apostates, they have been proven to be authentic. Besides, they were put into effect by the Companions in the era of the Rightly-Guided caliphs.” I would hardly put any faith in an individual who carries such beliefs and looks to such known radical imams as Al-Qaradawi to be any credible leader in a counterterrorism movement video or any valuable war of ideas.

Then Imam Hamza Yusuf from Zaytuna Institute states,

Imam Hamza Yusuf– this religion is not our property. This religion we have no right to detract, to pollute, to sully the good name of Islam and the good name of our Prophet sallahu allaihu wassalam (peace be upon him). We are obliged to honor that name. If you go by the name Muslim, that is a very exalted status to be one who submits to the will of God and it’s important to not arrogate to oneself the idea that somehow you know what the will of God is.

This statement actually does begin to touch the surface of some of the core issues we as Muslims need to address, and more importantly it also actually admits that the people perpetrating acts of terror around the world are Muslims and are acting in the name of Islam. Too bad, Imam Yusuf does not name them or discuss their supremacist, Islamist motivations to create Islamic states. While many herald the Zaytuna Institute as one of the future schools for American imams, the reality is that they have yet to take a stand against the Islamic state and the goal of Islamism to install shariah law into government when Muslims are a majority. Without that, their school will just be another factory of Islamist teachers seeking to modernize political Islam (Political Islam 4.0) rather than reform against it and separate mosque and state.

Do not be deceived. Non-violent modern Islamists may speak against terror in the short-term but do not treat the problem in the long term.

The video ends with a very well known advocate for salafi-Islam, Yassir Qadhi. He states,

Yassir Qadhi– we as Muslims are instructed to respond to tyranny and to fight it in a proper manner. There is not denying that we as Muslims must stand up for truth and for justice. There is not denying that we have to help those who are in need of our help. That we have to help the oppressed, and help the poor, and help the weak, and help the widow and help the orphan. This is a part and parcel of being, not just Muslims of being decent human beings. [VIDEO ends abruptly]

Qadhi frequents the Saudi funded, London based Islam Channel. He speaks regularly in defense of Islamist ideologies and shariah in government. He, for example, recently attempted to dismiss a number of valid concerns revealed in the British Channel 4 “Dispatches–Undercover Mosque” investigation which exposed the medieval Islamist ideas of a number of radical imams in Britain. Rather than address the Islamist ideologies of these imams, he blamed Channel 4 for their taking all of the comments “out of context.” For most rational human beings there is no context in which to defend the comments made by these radical imams. Qadhi also goes out of his way to tell Muslims that they are “Muslim first and British second” saying that nationalities come and go while Islam will always be there. That clearly speaks to the collectivism of political Islam and leaves wide open the drive of Islamists violent and non-violent to establish Islamic states and even a caliphate globally. Note should also be made that Qadhi’s colleague, Suhaib Webb also gave a profoundly inappropriate defense of Qadhi over global criticisms he received for his insinuations of Holocaust denial discussed here by the Muslim Quilliam Foundation. In that defense Webb labels the reformist Quilliam foundation “lap-poodles” and basically calls them liars. Qadhi is no moderate.

MPAC is banking on the fact that no one is going to press them or their imams for specifics that would expose their adherence to political Islam. They know that the majority of Americans view Islamist terror as simply a problem of “violence” and not a deeper ideological continuum between political Islam and our secular Constitutional republic.

The entire cause of political Islam will ultimately need to be intellectually defeated. It is a theocratic system of shariah law which is an anathema to western secular liberal democracies and impedes the genuine practice of a spiritual Islam based in free will. The Muslim consciousness needs a separation of mosque and state which these Islamist imams will deeply fight.

Don’t be deceived with this video. It appears to be against terrorism but is also still pro-Islamism. Internecine disputes between Islamists about the means they use will do nothing for American security.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a physician in private practice and a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander.

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