In the past few months we have seen an unusual increase in publicity concerning the interactions of the American Muslim “activist” community with various governmental agencies involved in Homeland Security. The Justice Department, FBI, DHS, State Department, and others in the Bush Administration have since 9-11, and especially in the past few months, aggressively sought out “representatives” of the Muslim community with whom they can “partner”. They cite a number of justifications including: the development of “mutual trust”, opening channels for reporting suspicious activity, education about Islam and Muslims, and the general breaking down of cultural, political, and religious barriers through better-founded relationships. The jury is out as to whom this relationship benefits and on whose behalf it is being done.
On January 10, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, met with “American Muslims” which included the organizations-- the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the Arab American Institute (AAI). A quick, random, browse of just their websites shows heavily political organizations with an underlying religious movement for the first two and Arab movement for the last. Their combined product is a heavily political-religious movement. It has some following, but represents only a minority of the Muslims in America who mostly remain unaffiliated.
One would be hard pressed to find precedent in the U.S. of our security agencies and leadership “partnering” with manifestations of a national and global political movement within the United States. Simply put, it seems our government is being duped, through political correctness, into partnering with organizations which present themselves as being purely religious (Muslim) or ethnic (Arabic) but are actually upon even a brief review rather solidly religio-political and Arab-political movements.
It is not that these organizations have not condemned terrorism as an act or a means to an ends. It is, rather, that they have not condemned political Islam (Islamism) and its theocratic foundations as an ends. Islamism is the end-game of our enemies and its ideological antidote is Americanism and its multi-religious and mulit-ethnic pluralism. American Muslims need purely spiritual organizations which are not also sympathetic to a national or global political-religious movement. Currently there are few to none. To have our governmental leadership in any capacity officially and publicly “partner” with current Islamist organizations is a significant liability in the war of ideas - if we have any hope of ever defeating the Islamists.
The Proportionality Test and the Islamist Agenda
After the January 10 meeting, MPAC called upon the Attorney General to: “publicly acknowledge the positive contributions of their communities in working to preserve national security and to expand efforts to promote engagement with all levels of government and law enforcement.”
If these positive contributions are so prevalent, shouldn’t their existence be common knowledge? Why would the Muslim community need the Attorney General to acknowledge that in order for Americans to believe it? The public campaigns leading such counterterrorism efforts would speak for themselves. However, Islamist organizations want it both ways. They want the government to validate their actions behind the scenes and then use that validation to give them a pass on doing the same publicly against America’s Islamist enemies.
Wholly dismissed as irrelevant by the mainstream media and the administration is what political Islam reciprocally gains from this public relationship. Is this relationship with Islamism wise—strategically? Is it ultimately in the best interests of America and American Muslims for that matter? Helping the counter ideology to Americanism thrive in our communities will in the end be a detriment to national security. While Islamism has its moderates, the measure of moderation is still within a political construct which is Islamist and rather anti-American in its ideology.
It is the duty of every American Muslim and non-Muslim to be critical of how “representative” these organizations are of the vast majority of American Muslims who are not on their membership rolls and who do not subscribe to the goals of political Islam. When current “major” organizations appear with the MSM and with governmental leadership and become the face of American Islam, every Muslim is entitled and obligated to weigh in on the validity of their representation. Without criticism, the greater unaffiliated American Muslim community is associated with their religious and the political mission.
Organizations like ISNA, MPAC, CAIR, or ADC will never bring forward national campaigns against the un-American ideologies of Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Wahhabism and Islamism on their own. And this becomes especially true if our government officials enable them by providing constant public testimony to their unblemished partnership. More importantly, this partnership will suffocate any chance for newer, anti-Islamist organizations ever coming out of the devout American Muslim community.
To the extent that non-Muslim America is interested in Muslim organizations and Islam, it is for the most part derived from a post-9-11 interest in security. Thus, we could invoke a similar proportionality test upon American Muslim organizations. What proportion of their programs and funding are spent on counterterrorism, anti-Islamism, and internal reform versus civil rights protections, “Islamic education” and domestic and foreign policy? The proportion should illustrate their agendas and the appropriateness of partnership if any.
Avoiding Islamist advocacy is pro-Islam
In a speech to a gathering of U.S. Attorneys on January 11, 2007 in South Carolina, Attorney General Gonzalez admonished:
“You also have a duty to show your colleagues and your districts that we are not engaged in a struggle against a faith or religion… On the contrary, we very much need the partnership of the Muslim community. Discouraging radicalism is vital, and that cannot be done effectively without Muslim community leadership. So seek it out in your districts. We believe in religious freedom for everyone. The Department of Justice is committed to protect these rights, and in doing so, I think we promote trust and provide an alternative way to that of radicalization.”
The Attorney General is certainly on-point in his understanding that this conflict is not with Islam, and that Muslims are ultimately our greatest assets in defeating radical Islamism. But at the same time he is dangerously vague about what ideology will serve as an “alternative way to that radicalization”. Before we “partner”, our branches of government need years of preparation, schooling, and deeper understanding of the ideology of Wahhabism, Islamism, and the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood with all the tentacles of its ideological precursor to current radical Islamist organizations around the world. Public relationships with organizations and individuals that constitute the lowest hanging fruit in the American Muslim community may not be in our national interests.
The fact that “no other national Muslim organizations exist” is not a good enough excuse. This conflict of ideologies is going to be generational. Rather than partner with anyone at this time, we should be actively investigating American Muslim ways yet to begin to win the war of ideas-- the war against political Islam. This is an intellectual war which none of the current major organizations care to acknowledge. The vast majority of Muslims are certainly patriotic and will always privately assist on the front lines in the community.
Current “major” Muslim organizations certainly deserve what is afforded to every political lobby in America. But as a political lobby, they subsequently lose the respect afforded to apolitical faith leaders in the United States. In a country which is founded upon the separation of religion and politics, they cannot be both. It needs to be made clear whether these organizations are representing a faith community or a political lobby. And make no mistake, the Islamist political lobby is a part of the global ideological threat to the U.S.
Once we see these organizations as political lobbies, then a critical quid pro quo about Islamism will be natural during meetings with our government. Other voices of anti-Islamism within the devout Muslim community will then be empowered rather than marginalized. Then, the greater Muslim community can actually begin to lead the charge against political Islam, and its radical off-shoots.
Slow down and wait for the silent Muslim majority
This partnership is taking form across the nation in the public eye with various branches of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the office of Karen Hughes, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department to name a few. While each has a different mission, they all seem to be working from the same playbook of engaging the lowest hanging fruit of organized Islam in America. There has even been a move to meet at mosques across the country with little assessment of the nature of the ideological background of political sermons from those mosques with whom our government meets.
There are somewhere between 4 and 6 million Muslim taxpayers in the United States. When our governmental agencies report to be ‘partnering’ with the Muslim community, there is a deep implication that this represents all of the Muslim taxpayers. That could not be further from the truth. There is no evidence to suggest such a representation. In fact there is some convincing evidence to the contrary. Since the silent majority are more about faith than politics, we cannot assume that non-Islamist Muslims will organize themselves into packages for the Beltway.
Critics will contend that I am maligning the only and the most effective representatives of Muslims in America today. What they dismiss is the realities of the internal Muslim ideological conflict in which we are engaged globally. They also conveniently dismiss the majority of Muslims in America who remain unrepresented but also are taxpayers and deserve acknowledgement by our government as Muslims who reject political Islam.
So the ultimate question is – how do we engage the silent majority who reject political Islam but yet need to engage in political discourse to be heard?
Rather than empty photo-opportunities with current Islamists, we need to convene a national discussion about how to engage and ideologically defeat political Islam in the media, in diplomacy, and at home. Obviously, devout Muslims who see Islamism as the problem are our greatest asset. We risk alienating them even more than they are already from their own activist Muslim community if our leadership continues to give American Islamism a pass.
We need to set aside the conventional wisdom that government employees avoid ideological engagement with communities. Our homeland security is defending our nation from acts of terror perpetrated by radicals driven by a societal ideology at odds with America. Part of our defense strategy must be the articulation of what America is and what it is not. It is pluralism and it is not theocracy.
Getting educated on the conflict between Islamism and Islam
Whether or not the theocrats are moderate or radical shouldn’t matter. On the scale of American religious pluralism even the most moderate Islamist theocrat has a mindset which is anti-American in its ideology. We need to figure out how to both engage the Muslim community as our greatest asset but also hold them accountable to their responsibility to lead the public effort to counter political Islam and its radical offshoots.
John Welter, Chief of the anaheim Police Department recently said this to Washington Post reporter, Karen De Young:
“Most people are very ignorant of what the Muslim faith is about, including me," Welter said. "I've got a book on Muslims for dummies; I can't be an expert on all the religions and cults and cultures in the world. But what I can do is be an expert in behavior that terrorists engage in prior to an attack."
This type of naiveté illustrates the basic problem in our current approach to engagement of the Muslim community. Our current national security problem with terrorism is not about finding behavior. That is only the most basic part of law enforcement. At the core of our national counterterrorism strategy should be a solid understanding of the ideologies and state of mind which precedes the radicalization and the motivation of terrorist behaviors.
Our security agencies understood the ideology of communism as we protected our nation during the Cold War. We should do so with even more sophistication and clarity now when it comes to the relationship of political Islam (Islamism) to militant Islamism and how they both differ from the spiritual path of Islam. The longer we avoid the centrality of political Islam in this equation, the longer it is going to take to win the war of ideas and preserve our security.
It is time for a national education and discussion on the conflict between Islamism and Islam. It is time to learn where national Muslim organizations and more importantly where the greater American Muslim population finds itself in that conflict.