In part one of this column I introduced the genesis of the debate which occurred in Fort Myers, Florida on April 5, 2008 between Imam Mohammed Al-Darsani of the Islamic Center for Peace and me. Even more instructive than looking at the uniqueness of the debate is to actually begin to dissect the revealing anatomy of the discourse which occurred at Edison College between us a few weeks ago.
Imam Al-Darsani's Islamist apologetics in response to direct intellectual challenge from a fellow devout Muslim revealed a great deal to all those present about the fact that the real battle lines in this global conflict are within the Islamic community and over the boundaries and clarity of morality. Our disagreements were far more fundamental to human nature than simple disagreements over specific Islamic theology or practices. Our disagreements, in fact, boiled down to a fundamental difference in moral consistency, moral clarity, and moral courage.
Mr. Al-Darsani gave blatant apologies for terrorism and dismissed the Islamist ideology which feeds it. I continued to press him on the need for Muslims to globally resonate a universal moral consistency and unmistakable clarity in countering every individual and organization which excuses any act of terror against noncombatants. He responded with avoidance, denial, and obfuscation. What it boiled down to was, at best, moral weakness; at worst, corruption.
From excusing acts of terror to defending the theocratic Islamic state, Mr. al-Darsani was unwilling to recognize the theological work which needs to be done by modernists in the Muslim community. Arguments thus far relegated to "Muslim vs. non-Muslim" debates, due to Islamist activists' tendency to evade responsibility and ownership of the problem in the public square, were finally debated from a position deep within a Muslim consciousness.
On Islamist Movements
In my remarks I linked the rise of radical Islamist movements during the 20th Century to the concomitant rise of secular dictatorships and autocratic monarchies. It was this toxic environment in the Middle East which fed the political Islamist imams like Mr. al-Darsani from Syria, which led to the ossification of Islamic thought and the prevention of any modernization. In response, and in defense of Islamist movements, Imam Al-Darsani stated:
"All of these Islamists and extremists, all they are doing is fighting for their freedom...Islam, wherever it controlled an area, it ended corruptions and brought freedom to people and brought stability. That is why people want Islam that the only idea they can think of and the examples of democracies."
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) would be proud. There was nothing from Mr. Al-Darsani about the inherent lack of religious freedom for Muslims and non-Muslims alike when Islamists like the MB are in power. There was also nothing about the misogynistic practices of Islamists or any acknowledgement of the inherent corruption exemplified by most Islamist movements in the Middle East. No acknowledgement came from the imam about the more central fact that most major militant Islamist organizations today have their roots from the same tree as the MB: Wahhabism, and Salafist ideology.
The following is an exchange we had during the debate over the immorality and barbarism of terror operations. Imam Al-Darsani didn't exactly see it that way. Mr. Al-Darsani goes on to say in response to those who believe that the victims of terrorism in "occupied territories" are "innocent victims:"
Imam Al-Darsani: "People who are killing innocent people as you heard this is a false statement my dear brothers and sisters. There are groups that will be named here today. They never aim their guns against anybody other than occupiers. So, Islamism, Islamic terrorist, and radical Islam, they don't exist. This is terminology created to create this...that what Washington did himself, that's what every human being who stood up for freedom and liberty...against occupation and occupiers this is not innocent people ...A martyrdom operation unfortunately is conducted by people who have no other means to fight".
Dr. Jasser: Oh, so you're giving it moral legitimacy.
Imam Al-Darsani: "Absolutely not, not for everyone, if I have nothing to fight with except my body against occupation, absolutely. (inaudible) and see what happened to these guys after the movie..(inaudible) killed in front of you , you are willing to give your life especially when you are trying to help, "
Dr. Jasser: "Yes or No, you have no immoral imperatives that you have in your life without exceptions?
Imam Al-Darsani: "I am for freedom, I am for liberty. What did I just say? Anybody - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad. Anybody that attacks innocent people is a terrorist. These people my friend are fighting occupation and everybody in their lives is an occupier."
Dr. Jasser: "Wait a minute, you just condemned them and you're giving them a reason."
Imam Al-Darsani: Well again, give me liberty or give me death, we were occupied by the United Kingdom..."
Dr. Jasser: Do you agree that over 90% of the terrorist acts committed in this world have been done by Muslims in the past ten years?
Imam Al-Darsani: It happens in the occupied territories.
Dr. Jasser: Let me ask you, if we don't form organizations that are clearly called "Muslims against Al-Qaeda", "Islam against Terrorism", how can these people (in the audience) tell the difference between you and the radical Islamists?
Imam Al-Darsani: My friend, every Muslim is against terrorism, we don't have to have an organization, this is what our faith tells us, that's is, but obviously some people don't understand that concept.
This interchange is a classic example of the type of deception and absurdly offensive comparison of our American history of truly moral freedom fighters to the barbaric attacks of HAMAS and Iraqi insurgents upon noncombatants. By invoking the mantra of "occupation," the good imam thinks that it dismisses the evil of deliberate attacks against civilians. His responses demonstrate the moral depravity of Islamists who compromise moral truths in exchange for their utilitarian principle where the "ends justifies the means." This leaves no boundaries for those Muslims who feel "victimized." This imam abrogates his moral leadership in exchange for demagoguery and an ideology which can easily feed into fuel for further acts of terror by Muslims who could act on this message.
Imams like Al-Darsani need to be told by the majority of Muslims that suicide operations against civilians such as those committed by the likes of HAMAS, Iraqi insurgents, and other militant Islamists are wanton acts of barbarism no matter what their circumstances. The suggestion of a moral equivalency to moral freedom fighters and our forefathers is not only abhorrent but is also corrupt. It is this deception of moral equivalency borne out of pure Islamist fantasy which spreads like wildfire among the young Arabs and Muslim recruits of the militant Islamist movements. Meanwhile imams like Al-Darsani feign ignorance and attack those with the moral courage to fight them as being "outside the mainstream of the Muslim community." It is a simple fact that apologetics like his are well outside mainstream America..
The following is an interchange we had during the debate over the immorality and corruption of apostasy laws:
"Dr. Jasser: And I believe you're of the Shafi'i school of thought, the Mezheb or school of thought which teaches that if someone leaves the faith of Islam, they should be killed. Are you willing to publicly say that - that should be condemned? I'm asking if you are publicly willing to say that, it is immoral for people who leave Islam to be killed.
Imam Al-Darsani: "Let me say it again, this is not for me to decide or anybody else people .... You don't understand the concept of the Islamic community. We think once you are a Muslim you are part of a community, and when you leave the community you have committed treason. "
"Imam Al-Darsani: It is not fair to talk about Wahabis when people don't understand what Wahabis stand for and who they are and how they became (illegible). (Moderator and Imam speaking at the same time).
Dr Jasser: It's not fair for Wahabis to have 80 million dollar industry of piping hate into this country either."
And there it is. An imam from the Islamic Center for Peace in Fort Myers Florida, is on the record publicly describing how, according to his interpretation of Islamic law, Muslims cannot leave their faith community without committing treason. There is little that can be more illustrative of a theocratic ideology which is separatist, cultish, and a threat to the security of the United States when adopted by its coreligionists. This may be Al-Darsani's Islam, but it certainly is not the Islam I know and practice.
Clearly, the imam is in denial of the need for the modernization of various laws of many of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Without that modernization the same Constitution and citizenship pledge which this imam told our audience he would defend runs in complete contradiction with his own religious laws on apostasy, which he also defends. I have written previously on the need for Muslims to abandon all laws against apostasy in Islamic jurisprudence and how I believe those laws are twisted fabrications of ignorant Islamists.
A Teaching Moment
The audience left the debate on April 5, 2008 with an indelible impression that this conflict is not between Islam and the West but rather between political theocratic Islam (or Islamism) and spiritual moral Islam.
It is time for anti-Islamist Muslims and non-Muslims to continue to press the likes of Mr. Al-Darsani and his Islamist cohorts about their lack of moral clarity, moral consistency, and moral courage against the radical Islamists and the core ideologies which fuel them.
When it comes to the threat of political Islam within the devotional Muslim consciousness, leading Islamist figures and organizations in the U.S. have remained slippery targets, unwilling to engage anti-Islamist Muslims in the public square. They conveniently dismiss anti-Islamists as outside "mainstream" Muslim thought, when in fact the only stream we are outside of is not Muslim thought but Islamist and salafist thought.
This was hopefully only the first salvo of many public debates around the nation between Islamist and anti-Islamist Muslims as our paradigms shift to encourage these debates. Elusive Islamists include a host of "political imams" (imams who use their pulpit to preach an Islamist domestic and foreign policy agenda). Political imams are in many mosques and closely affiliated with political Muslim (Islamist) organizations like CAIR, ISNA, MPAC, the North American Imams Federation, and the American Assembly of Muslim Jurists in the U.S., to name a few.
The "battle for the soul of Islam" between Islamists and anti-Islamists needs to be forged expeditiously or the Islamists will continue their grand scheme of eventual and total domination.
Our American Islamic Forum for Democracy was created by anti-Islamist Muslims upon a foundation that our guiding principles of freedom and liberty need a hearing within the Muslim community. With that "forum," we can begin to openly challenge the ossified precepts of salafism, Wahhabism, Islamism, and various pre-modern identifications of eastern Muslim culture toward an anti-theocratic modernization and a moral reawakening.
This is no small challenge, considering the number of Islamist forces working within the Muslim community in the U.S. Further compounding these challenges are the blind tendencies of our general public to accept minority and identity politics in the U.S. on face value without critique.
This blind collectivism is the exact reason the "Muslim mind" in so many mosques and activist organizations is hopelessly and cowardly paralyzed in apologetics and victimization.
The most effective means to counterterrorism is a devotional Muslim counter to political Islam and the false religious validity of the Islamic state (the end game of the terrorists). The determination of whose version of Islam is closer to the central message of Islam is vital to countering the visceral drive of militant Islamism.
The Prophet Mohammed had a tradition of intellectual engagement with all those who disagreed with him inside and outside the faith community. Islamists who avoid debate immorally fall into lockstep with the supremacist stance that an ideology is superior simply by virtue of its own demagoguery and should never be challenged by other non-conforming Muslims.
One has to give Imam Al-Darsani credit for showing up and having the courage of his convictions. Sadly, it is those very slippery morally corrupt convictions which are the primary fuel for Muslim discord within America and terrorism worldwide. Once we truly understand the central guiding relationship of political Islam with its militant permutations, we will be able to effectuate and move forward a global anti-Islamist movement for the sake of world stability.
Telling debates like the one which occurred last month in Ft. Myers are only the beginning of a "contest" of ideas which will herald either the victory of post-modern Islam over theocratic Islam or the converse. Global security and the continuation of American society as we know it precariously hangs in the balance.
My belief is that once we can repair the great moral rupture demonstrated in apologetics for terrorism and ideas like Mr. Al-Darsani's, we can then more easily begin the real work of reform. Once we can expose their immorality and the failure of political Islam in areas of universal human rights and religious freedom, we can finally begin the work of modernizing a theology and separating the domain of God from the domain of government.