Since I last wrote in December about our now infamous local Phoenix ‘political’ imams, the story has developed even further. It is now entering the court system as the next venue for the victimization agenda. While in November I was chagrined by the imams’ choice to trumpet to the public their own victimization in the name of all Muslims, now with the filing of their lawsuit, I found it necessary that Muslims who are not of like mind must push back publicly and break down this false assumption of a monolithic American Muslim community.
The inappropriateness I expressed about the way the imams and their handlers at CAIR (Council of American-Islamic Relations) exploited political correctness within seconds of being released from detention from their US Airways flight on November 20, 2006 now pales in comparison to the further damage which this drawn out litigious agenda is causing and will cause to American Muslims. Our only hope in salvaging what is left of our credibility is to mount a public response which will demonstrate to the American public that not all Muslims agree with these tactics and their public commentary. It is pure demagoguery to postulate that Muslims who do not toe their line must not respect civil liberties. Quite to the contrary, one can certainly be a proud American Muslim civil libertarian and yet not remotely believe in the wisdom of suing the airlines and also ‘John Doe’ passengers for anonymously reporting their fears.
Now, after almost 4 months of reflection and with cold-blooded determination, the imams and their CAIR handlers have retained the New York City firm of Mr. Omar Mohammedi who also happens to be President of CAIR’s New York Chapter. On March 4, 2007, Shqeirat et.al vs. US Airways, John Does, and the Minneapolis Airports Commission was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. The media attention upon the imams, their history, and their lawsuit has been wide but not necessarily as deep as it should in such a publicized case.
Make no mistake. This lawsuit forces our courts and our community to firmly clarify our rules of engagement and the tools we can and cannot use to stay safe and maintain our freedoms. If this case is not thrown out early by the courts it stands to chill civilian reporting of suspicious behavior which will further embolden those who target our American citizenry—Muslim and non-Muslim. Frankly, it will also create a deeper wedge and greater fear whether based on reality or ignorance between the Muslim and non-Muslim community. Contrary to the CAIR spin machine and their sympathizers, this case is about much more than a few Muslim imams from Phoenix who felt their rights (to fly) were infringed by U.S. Airways and some passengers (John Does) who passed notes to the crew. It is about much more than such a simplistic view of the known facts.
As a nation, our collective response to this will be a defining moment in the articulation of our values, while also defining our priorities in defense of civilian America against the threat of militant Islamism and all those enemies who target us.
We are seeing at play in this case elements that illustrate the pathology of political Islam and how it blindly drives many Muslims who believe in it, whether or not their means are wise or their ends are understood. The longer we avoid the deeper discussion of the machinations of political Islam (Islamism) in America, the longer we allow it to take cover and thrive under the guise of political correctness within our pluralistic democracy. The longer we continue to disengage from the real aims and overriding denial of Islamist organizations that wage public battle through their toxic mixture of religion and politics, the further we fall behind in this war of ideas. Without engagement, Islamism, Salafism, and radicalism will continue to flourish within the very construct of our Constitutional government and protection of our Bill of Rights - including its establishment clause – and all the while Islamists strive to create a society which honors neither.
Let us look at some of the deeper lessons and unanswered questions that should come out of this misguided lawsuit from CAIR and their six imams.
The Political Imam—no nutrition for the soul
Some educated, enlightened Muslims first need to inform the ‘imams” that imam in Arabic means teacher not leader. Much as rabbi means teacher. Their mad rush out of detention at the Minneapolis Airport and within seconds toward the media is hardly noble or spiritual nor the actions of teachers. Instead, it is intensely political and agenda-driven. Come to Phoenix and listen to the sermons of Imam Ahmed Shqeirat (primary plaintiff in the suit) of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe. Unless he experiences a major rebirth soon and focuses upon spiritual issues, he will still be delivering sermons focused upon domestic and foreign policy. Such topics are hardly nutrition for the soul.
The Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, conspiracy theories du jour, Guantanamo Bay, Israel, the Danish cartoons, the Patriot act, wire-tapping, and the Muslim victimization story of the week top off the subject matter of sermons of many of these local imams which I have witnessed or heard of in the past 8 years. Sadly, I recently wasted my Friday prayers on that last Friday in November 2006 before God, not nourishing my soul with Qur’anic scripture and the spiritual teachings of the God of Abraham, but instead I was victimized with the visiting political ramblings of Mr. Saadeddin (also one of the plaintiffs) sermonizing to the Muslim masses about his own victimization on ‘the worst trip of his life’ from Minneapolis to Phoenix on that fateful November 20, 2006.
Nothing is more telling about the agenda of these imams than how they have used it to stoke the flames of victimization. Their claims are completely rudderless with no frame of reference in a world in which the gates and airports are the frontlines in this battle. With such hyperbole and demagoguery from the pulpits, should anyone wonder why we in the Muslim community have a credibility problem?
The political imam is a nuclear manifestation of Islamism. To rescue Islam from the political societal agenda of individuals, imams, like Shqeirat et.al, we will need to find and nurture Muslim youth who understand that a spiritual leader should not be contaminated with the affairs of this world. A spiritual teacher should teach us about the universal principles of the God of Abraham and not aspire toward interfering in the affairs of this world. A spiritual teacher does not seek redress in the courtroom, but rather teaches his co-religionists in principle and in humility.
The wrong battle, the wrong war
CAIR would do better for the greater Muslim community to rethink its priorities in this war and not target the passengers who actually symbolize, no matter which way they spin it, over 300 million fearful Americans.
Public priorities which would go a long way toward salvaging Muslim credibility in the United States would include--- formation of counterterrorism and anti-Islamist think tanks, public identification of the enemy ideology -- militant Islamism -- and public internal debate regarding Muslim modernization and reformation.
Perhaps before suing the ‘menacing’ John Doe American who reported the imams, Mr. Mohammedi and his firm would do well to have joined Mr. David Strachman, the attorney representing the family of Yaron and Efrat Ungar in their lawsuit against HAMAS for the murder of their family members for which they were awarded $116 million in January 2004. There is nothing more effective that we could do to change public opinion than to have Muslims see the use of our court system to defend victims of terrorism against radical Islamists!
But it seems that the Islamist victimization agenda, its apologetics and all of its vague nonspecific ‘fatwas’ against terror, are simply a distraction from the real issue. Organizations like CAIR and their imams have profound difficulties in going beyond condemning the act of terrorism, but rather more significantly condemning the ends of militant Islamists terrorists and their brother and sister organizations.
The most difficult aspect of this whole lawsuit is that ultimately whether the suit is thrown out or drags on or even in the unlikely event that CAIR wins, at the end of the day, the American public is already growing numb to this misplaced agenda from leading Islamist organizations which purport to speak on behalf of Muslims.
If, God forbid, another act of terror occurs on our soil, the American psyche is going to be even less understanding of the separation of spiritual Islam from political Islam and the militant Islamists. With this numbness may come more real civil rights infringements which can only be saved by improving the tenor of our relationship with the greater American community and not by litigation.
A blogger by the name of Zoo Daddy writes on the PowerLine Forum, a most pointed retort to the ridiculous comparison of the Phoenix imams to Rosa Parks.
“Awad’s hollow attempt to compare his well-funded group to the grass-roots, up-from-nothing social progress of the likes of Rosa Parks and MLK is void of historic parallel. The difference couldn’t be more distinct. The latter only wanted America to live up to her creed; the former want to impose their own creed on America.”
Time for the unaffiliated Muslim to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’
It is time for Muslims to stand up and say that we are not a monolithic community. For years I - and some of us in AIFD (American Islamic Forum for Democracy) - have been saying here in Phoenix that the local Muslim leadership as represented by five of these imams do not speak for the local Muslim community but rather only for their individual mosques and their organizational memberships. The local Muslim community in Phoenix numbers over 40,000 by some estimates. These imams are only 5 of them. The national Muslim community numbers from 4 to 6 million by some estimates. These imams are only 5 of them. CAIR and their membership are only a minor minority of them.
It’s time for America finally to hear that not all Muslims are seeking a religio-political movement of Islamism within the American body politic. Some of us leave our religion to the spiritual path of Islam in our personal relationship with the God of Abraham at home and within ourselves.
Some of us in the Muslim community, if not most of us, understand the fears of regular America and how they can become exaggerated in areas like airports and gates at the frontlines of this war. Such places are clinics of anxiety. We understand it enough not to correct it through “intimidation by lawsuit” as noted by the Arizona Republic editorial board. We understand that this is not about race or religion but rather about behaviors, vigilance, and security in which our citizens who are the primary targets must be the primary observers.
We understand that the cornerstone of our democracy is not only our Constitution and its Bill of Rights but also the tenor of our relationships and its harmony. We understand that respect and credibility cannot be demanded in the courtroom. It must be earned.
Earning that credibility begins with leading the war against radical Islamism. It begins with proving that our imams understand human rights not only for themselves but for everyone in their mosques, male or female, Sunni or Shia, conservative or liberal. Our credibility will come from internal reformation toward an ideology which depoliticizes the ‘ummah,’ opens internal debate, and exchanges political Muslim collectivism for American nationalism.