Faux ‘moderate’ Islamists
August 2, 2006
M. Zuhdi Jasser
Part one in a three-part series (appeared in Washington Times).
It is almost five years since September 11, one year since the July 7 attacks in Britain and just months after the arrests of alleged members of a Toronto terrorist cell. But the intellectual machinery of the United States has not legitimately engaged the Muslim American community and its leadership in an ideological debate about Islamism.
Stories about Muslims and Islam are now ubiquitous in the mainstream media. Yet rarely is there any substantive discussion with American Muslims about the ideology of Islamism or its prevalence. Is it limited to the activists? Is it the money trail? Or is it the faith? These questions and others that engage American Muslims in declaring or denouncing Islamist ideology seem to generally be off-limits for the media and for our elected officials. As they dance around this central cognitive engagement of our global war, the consequences to our nation’s security are immeasurable.
Many frontline reporters seem to actually have little understanding of the conflict between Islamism and Islam. There is a deep contradiction between the Islamist ideology of theocracy and our Americanism. Avoiding this, we forget who we are. The touchstone of Americanism that Islamists fear the most is our constitutional system, which protects our individual spiritual liberty through a complete separation of religion and state.
While the vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorism as a means of political change, the burning question is where Muslim leaders and their constituencies stand regarding the ideology of Islamism. Moreover, is there a difference between Islam and Islamism? If pious Muslims can be anti-Islamist, shouldn’t public discourse highlight this potent ideological weapon against the political ends of our enemies?
There are plenty of news and human-interest stories about Muslims and Islam that discuss the so-called “moderate” Muslim American identity. But what is the exact measure of this moderation? The concept of moderation can be superimposed upon any ideological construct. How long is it going to take for conventional wisdom to come to terms with the fact that moderation within Islamism is in no way moderation with regards to Americanism? Until this understanding is commonplace, anti-Islamist American Muslims are going to be unable to force the hand of their fellow Muslims in the ideological conflict within Islam against the Islamist ends.
Why? Anti-Islamists are a minority among activist American Muslims. Internally, we are usually ignored or dismissed by the majority of our activist co-religionists when trying to engage them in debate regarding the dangers and toxicity of Islamism upon Islam. No matter how pious, anti-Islamists are often demonized as irreligious. All the while we try to argue that, to the contrary, there is no closer relationship a Muslim can have with God than one entirely free from government and clerical coercion.
On June 18, the New York Times ran a story by Laura Goodstein, “U.S. Clerics seek a Middle Ground,” which highlighted the “moderate” work of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and his colleague, Imam Zaid Shakir. The bulk of this typical story discussed platitudes regarding the personal struggles of these American Muslim leaders and positively anticipated their development of a moderate Muslim seminary. However, nowhere did the New York Times delve into a genuine critical analysis of whether there was a central conflict in the ideology of the Zaytuna Institute, the school mentioned in the New York Times piece, and that of America. Yet, the piece ended with this alarming quotation from Mr. Shakir: “He still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, not by violent means, but by persuasion.” The imam further stated, “Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said. “I think it would help people, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it’s helped a lot of people in my community.”
Not only is this a blatant endorsement of Islamism (theocracy) over Americanism (anti-theocracy), but this imam labels anti-Islamist Muslims dishonest. The radical Islamists are rabidly anti-American from their fear of pluralistic liberty. They are too insecure to give Muslims or any citizens the opportunity to be free and to choose to sin or not. Can mainstream American thought afford to be naive and uncritical about this central theme of Islamist movements? Radical or moderate, regardless of the packaging, the goal of Islamists is to create a Muslim theocracy. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League responded with clarity in his June 23 letter to the New York Times: “Religion flourishes in America because we have no imposed religion, as the founding fathers designed. Imam Zaid Shakir’s hope for an America ruled by Islamic law is fundamentally un-American. Our hope is that he is an aberration and that moderate Muslim voices will prevail.”
How long is it going to take for our mass media and political leaders to finally begin to turn our collective lenses upon this un-American ideology and report on the threat it poses to America even in its most subtle forms? If Muslims insist upon remaining silent about the dangers to Americanism of Islamist ideological infiltration, we must ask why. Anti-Islamist Muslims receive the brunt of attacks from radical Islamists. This is not happenstance. Conversely, attempts by so-called moderates to ‘Islamize’ America are cheered on by the radicals no matter how far these ‘moderates’ try to distance themselves from them in all their empty condemnations.
How long will it take Muslims to frontally counter Islamism (political Islam) and separate it from their Abrahamic religion of Islam? We in the Muslim community unfortunately need a little nudging before it’s too late. America’s security hangs in the balance.
M. Zuhdi Jasser is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former Navy lieutenant commander.