For almost a decade, American Muslims have seen a growing debate among Muslim communities about the radicalization of Muslims in America and how to combat it. American Islamists groups (CAIR, MPAC, MAS and ISNA, to name a few) hatched from the ideology of the global Muslim Brotherhood and their being given a disproportionate amount of media attention and resources in the U.S. presented their best face of blanket denials and smoothly avoided any acknowledgement of a problem. For eight years since 9/11 American Islamist groups have refused to acknowledge the fact that salafism, Islamism, and other ideologies directly contributed to that radicalization. This year, actually just last week, after an ever increasing string of homegrown Muslim terrorists, and after CAIR was banned from the FBI, the denial finally gave way to a long overdue admission of a problem. Yet, their admission had no analysis whatsoever of the real root cause of Muslim radicalization – political Islam and salafism.
Since its inception in 2003, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) has been publicly waging a contest of ideas with many of those Islamist organizations that the ideology of Political Islam is at the root of the cancer that threatens American security and the faith of American Muslims. AIFD has long believed that Islamism is the root cause of Muslim radicalization in the U.S. and around the world.
The arrests in Pakistan on December 9, 2009 of five young Muslim men from America transitioned that debate into a new phase. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has thrust itself into the front of this case. CAIR held a press conference on December 9th, audaciously announcing in their their press release on behalf of the entire Muslim community that,
"The Muslim community has taken the lead in bringing this case to the attention of law enforcement authorities and will offer ongoing cooperation with the FBI as the investigation moves forward."
At the press conference, Nihad Awad, Executive Director, CAIR-National stated that,
"We also as a community realize and recognize that there is a problem. This problem we believe it is not wide spread, but we as a community, we acknowledge that there is a problem, and we are going to deal with it effectively. We are going to launch a major campaign of education to refute the misuse of versus in the Koran or the misuse of certain grievances in the Muslim world."
In a press release for the same press conference, Haris Tarin, Community Development Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) recognized that,
"Any radicalization that exists is a major problem that we must – and are – addressing head on. This case underscores not only the importance of strong relations between the Muslim American community and law enforcement, but also the grave need for educational programs to prevent extremism within our community."
This news follows a number of troubling cases related to Muslim Americans, including the disappearance of five young Somali men from Minnesota who later turned up in Somalia to fight alongside Al-Shabab, the horrific shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, and the arrests of three men in Illinois, Colorado and Texas on unrelated terror plot charges."
This is an important change in the rhetoric of CAIR and MPAC. The optimist in me would like to believe that AIFD's efforts and that of other vocal anti-Islamist Muslims and non-Muslims have forced these organizations to admit that there is an ideological problem in many of our communities. As with alcoholics and drug addicts, admitting that there is a problem is the first step down the path of recovery and reformation. But the cynic and realist in me sees these announcements for what they are: recognition by these groups that their post 9/11 apologetic messaging is not resonating with the general public. To solve the problem, they adapted their messages to co-opt the rhetoric of curbing radicalization.
Just last month, both of these groups were out front in their efforts to decouple faith from the obvious Islamist radicalization of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre. In October they both were also quick to defame the FBI in the shooting death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah of Detroit, who openly called for an establishment of an Islamic State and opened fire on agents who were coming to arrest him under criminal charges.
While the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters trip over themselves to quote Mr. Awad and CAIR, who made themselves into the news of the case of the radicalization of these five men, none seem to be asking them the question that needs to be asked: What will be the structure and substance of your anti-radicalization education campaign and will you confront, renounce, and reform the ideology of Political Islam?
CAIR and MPAC have typically renounced the use of terror and violence, but they have never taken a position against the ideology of Political Islam. They both have also been the primary antagonists to efforts by law enforcement to understand and mitigate the real stages of radicalization of Muslims in America. In 2007, under the umbrella of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), CAIR-NY and MPAC –NY authored "Counterterrorism policy, MACLC's critique of the NYPD's report on homegrown radicalism." The paper is a response to NYPD's report "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." In it, the organizations lay out their belief that,
"The study of violent extremism, however, should decouple religion from terror to safeguard civil liberties on free speech and equal protection grounds as a matter of strong public policy."
If the root cause of Muslim radicalization is Islamism (political Islam), what good is any effort at counterterrorism that decouples the religion from terror? How can law enforcement effectively counter terrorism in our country without recognition that Political Islam and its narrative is the core ideology when, at its extreme, drives the general mindset of the extremists carrying out the attacks? When we were fighting communism in the Cold War, we generally understood that, violent or non-violent, those who advocated the communist ideology were part of the problem and not part of the solution whether they were strident Soviets or just idealistic non-violent Marxists. The distinction mattered little and certainly our counterintelligence experts were not using the non-violent Marxists as experts on how to defeat the Soviets.
The truth is that American Islamist organizations must confront all of their connections to political Islam and the similar efforts of other global organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood before they can have any credibility in fighting radicalization. By hurling themselves face first into the middle of this current homegrown case, CAIR and MPAC may have inadvertently begun to more definitively expose their own ideology – Islamism.
While the details are still emerging in the case of the five men arrested in Pakistan, there have been far too many instances of American Muslims falling down the slippery slope of political Islam into radicalization to deny the connection. American Muslims must finally step out from behind the shadow of CAIR and MPAC and other Islamist apologist groups and pursue a true solution to the radicalization issue.
So, where do Muslims begin this process? If we use the current case of the Americans in Pakistan as a model we can find several good points of departure to engage the real issues herein:
1. These Muslims left the United States with a video stating that they went to defend Muslims who were casualties of American war efforts. CAIR and its Islamist brethren have long operated under the premise that the American military is in a war against Muslims. They have, almost on a daily basis, spread exaggerated and at times false anecdotes in the U.S. and abroad that the general American public and especially the American military are at war with Muslims and Islam. Just ask now retired General Boykin . That is the narrative from American Islamists, Al Jazeera, and the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. Zaid Shakir , a rock star at ISNA, MSA, and other Islamist conventions, recently opened his so-called condemnation of the Hasan shootings (praised by ISNA) by attacking the U.S. and our military and using a deeply offensive moral equivalency of Hasan and the war in Afghanistan. He stated,
"There is no legitimate reason for their deaths, just as I firmly believe there is no legitimate reason for the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have perished as a result of those two conflicts. Even though I disagree with the continued prosecution of those wars, and even though I believe that the US war machine is the single greatest threat to world peace, I must commend the top military brass at Fort Hood, and President Obama for encouraging restraint and for refusing to attribute the crime allegedly perpetrated by Major Nidal Malik Hasan to Islam."
American Muslims must recognize that America is at war with radical Islamists, not Islam. Muslims must confront their so called "Muslim Leaders" who say otherwise and realize that this inflammatory language and ideology directly feeds the fire of radicalization.
2. One of the five Americans was a D.C. leader in the Muslim Students' Association. MSA was established by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and its constitution explicitly says that MSA must "maintain continuous affiliation" with ISNA. ISNA and CAIR's connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Holy Land Foundation trials are well documented. CAIR's, Nihad Awad, appeared on CNN's "Larry King Show"on December 9th with Imam Johari Malik, who is the former Muslim Chaplain at Howard University. Imam Johari Malik openly admitted knowing one of the men and said he thought that the "young men were active in interfaith work doing community service and no indication that these individuals could ever have done something against America or violent in any way." So I imagine if this student was listening intently to Imam Malik's sermons just a few years ago when Imam Malik himself said,
"Before Allah closes our eyes for the last time you will see Islam move from being the second largest religion in America – that's we are now – to being the first religion in America."
Revealingly, Mr. Johari Abdul-Malik spoke just last year at a July 2008 London conference of the "Radical Middle Way". This Radical Middle Way, sadly British government supported, is an outgrowth of the ideas of Sheikh Yusef Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdul-Malik gave a speech entitled "Can Muslims Trust Obama?"
Among many Islamist separatist statements he made the following prediction about the collapse of the U.S. government,
"For me, again, I'm not putting my faith in the Government. My faith is in Allah, I don't believe in the Government. If I believed in the Government, then we would have been involved in the civil rights movement. Slavery – my people were slaves, I don't know if you know that, we did not rely on the good will of the Government to get us out of slavery. We organised internally and externally to end slavery. Now what your idea would have been would be to get out of the abolitionist movement. Eventually the United States Government will fall under its own weight and you'll be free"
Thus, Mr. Abdul Malik's pronouncements with CAIR about these missing American Muslims are of no value to anyone and are most likely misleading. Muslims must call these organizations like CAIR and their supremacist Imams like Abdul-Malik to the carpet for their ideologies and affiliations. We must demand that they support the separation of mosque and state and abandon adherence to the ideology of Political Islam- an ideology that carries an obvious supremacism which media so often ignore.
3. Muslims are routinely fed inaccurate representations and facts of the goals of America in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are, in fact, risking their lives to liberate Muslims from their own oppressors and give them a transition toward real liberty, freedom and eventual self-governance. Early in the Iraq war, CAIR used the Internet and mosques to distribute an offensive photo of an American soldier in Iraq. They have since conveniently removed that photo from their website. American Muslims must reignite the Islamic tradition of critical thinking and question the information they receive and the underlying political agenda behind it and question the impact it has upon radicalizing our youth.
4. Without an open frontal critique of political Islam and salafism along with a promotion of the ideas of liberty and freedom, any effort at "education" by the likes of CAIR will only end up promoting political Islam and remain neutral against radicalization at best. It's time to finally ask these Islamists-cum-deradicalizers whether they prefer liberty (separation of mosque and state) or the Islamic state.
5. At the December 9th press conference, Nihad Awad said one of the men left behind an 11-minute video that "misused" verses from the Koran in a way that showed a "profound misunderstanding." That is just not enough, Mr. Awad. Does CAIR believe the "Ummah" (i.e. the Muslim nation) is still alive and viable in the future as a state? If so, then any time clerics and leaders feel that Islam or Muslims are threatened, then jihadi interpretations of the Koran will prevail. Without the separation of mosque and state, they cannot dismiss those interpretations.
6. While they may say that Muslims should follow the laws of the land as a minority, if CAIR promotes the Islamic state as a majority then, what are these youth doing wrong by going to Pakistan where Muslims are a majority and helping them fight a war against non-Muslims who are attacking them? So only Muslims who took the American citizenship oath should feel guilty in fighting Americans abroad? Is it just their violation of the oath which is wrong or are the Americans in Afghanistan on the right side of this war? Until leading Muslims make moral statements about who is on the right side of these wars, the Islamist narrative will prevail. The Islamic state must be intellectually put to rest. American Muslims must advocate for American interests abroad and the interests of individual liberty over those of all Islamist groups (violent or non-violent) and theocracy or monarchy. American Islamist groups have actually long promoted the radicalization narrative ("America is in a war against Islam"), well described recently by Thomas Friedman. Without an exposure of these ideas, press conferences and press releases by American Islamists groups are simply PR stunts on the heels of stories like that of these five Muslims
Time will reveal the details of the story of these five Muslims. In the meantime, we cannot allow our collective intelligence as a nation to be insulted. Radicalization of American Muslims is real and the root cause is political Islam and its separatist, supremacist teachings. Until Muslims can reform our ideas against the growing power of the Islamist movement, homegrown terror will only increase. Now over eight years since 9/11, the Islamist narrative is growing with hardly a measurable war of ideas within the Islamic consciousness promoting liberty over Islamism, freedom over theocracy, and one secular law over Sharia law.