The mosque that the Cordoba Initiative is planning to build near Ground Zero has generated a substantial amount of attention across the country. Exemplifying the ire of many Americans, a recent poll showed that 53% of New Yorkers were opposed to the mosque. And while that majority may not include as many Muslims as we'd like, more and more are speaking up in opposition to the mosque. These Muslims offer many Americans a vital interpretation of the Islamic religion as a whole and show that Islam is not in fact a monolithic faith.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), is one of these devout yet patriotic Muslims. A former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander with 11 years of service as a medical officer under his belt, Dr. Jasser has made it clear that "until anti-Islamist Muslims wage the intellectual battle against Islamism within the Muslim consciousness, we will make no headway against 'the narrative.'"
Jasser founded AIFD in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in order to provide a Muslim American voice that would genuinely advocate and defend the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution. He has taken the fight against radical Islam to heart and sees it as a responsibility of all "true" Muslims. Where many U.S.-based Islamic organizations, such as CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America, claim to support the U.S. Constitution but provide dodgy answers and shoddy excuses for terrorism when the rubber meets the road, Dr. Jasser's AIFD is based on the founding principles of the United States. Where CAIR's rhetoric tends to create a tension between Americans and its Muslim members, the rhetoric of Jasser and AIFD refers to Americans as an "us" and not a "them."
"I have always looked upon myself, long before 9-11, as a Jeffersonian Muslim, if you will," Dr. Jasser answers when asked about his identification as a Muslim. "Along with the ideas of liberty as embodied in the works of our founding fathers, naturally emanating from that is a deep antipathy for Islamism (political Islam), salafism, jihadism, governmental sharia, and the global collectivist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Terms such as "moderate," "secular," and "radical" are innately controversial as any group is able to contort them to mean what they want. For example, Jasser posits, the term "moderate" has become synonymous with being non-violent or anti-terrorism. But this is an oversimplification that blinds Americans to the very political ideologies — which he identifies as "Islamism" — that are the cogs and gears of terrorism.
"I know everyone is looking for an easy label to know the 'good Muslim' from the 'bad Muslim,'" Jasser continues, "but … I believe that the 'anti-Islamist' or at least 'non-Islamist' Muslims are on our side and the pro-Islamist Muslims, those who believe in the Islamic state and governmental sharia, are not on our side but on the side of political Islam."
AIFD's slogan is that its members are "Americans who happen to be Muslim, and not Muslims who demand to be American." As a devout Muslim, Dr. Jasser has voiced strong opposition to the mosque now called "Park 51" that threatens to encroach on Ground Zero. When he first heard of the plans, he says, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Post detailing why he as a Muslim felt a mosque in such a location would only offer more misguidance for the U.S. Muslim community.
"The reality is that many of us have never said their rights should be infringed in any way but rather that we pray that a light will finally go on in their heads which tells them that 'this ostentatious $100 million Islamic center should be built elsewhere and not in a place that casts a shadow upon the graves of thousands of Americans' — still an open raw wound for most Americans," Dr. Jasser explains.
Jasser also expresses deep concern that the organization funding the mosque, led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has refused to exclude foreign funding from filling its coffers. Such financial transactions immediately offer the opportunity for foreign Islamists and their sympathizers to preach their version of political Islam and sharia, he warns, and present a very significant threat to national security.
"I cannot see genuine Muslim reform happening on the dime of foreign Islamist interests," Jasser says. "Make no mistake, this Islamic center is not a spiritual statement but a global political one in the name of Islam. … Every group I have been directly involved with in building mosques and Islamic projects in the U.S. have rejected foreign funds entirely because of the ideological hypocrisies and Islamism that comes with them."
Dr. Jasser's only contact with Imam Rauf has been indirectly. Rauf penned a Huffington Post article admonishing anyone who thought sharia was incompatible with the Declaration of Independence, and Jasser responded with a commentary at HuffPo telling him that Muslims need to be "getting real with Shar'iah." Rauf's opinion that America must embrace sharia rather than fear it belies the true reality of sharia as implemented by Muslim majorities, Jasser explains, and demonstrates an intense denial or deception on his part of the innumerable female, non-Muslim, "liberty-minded Muslim," and minority victims of sharia law.
Dr. Jasser has also taken serious issue with the background story that the mosque's developers have chosen to promote.
"The primary developer of the project expected us to believe in a recent interview with CNN that he had been looking for affordable property in Manhattan for 5 years and the mosque has 'nothing to do with the World Trade Center,'" Jasser muses. "That runs contrary to the initial public announcements, for example, with the Washington Post from the Cordoba Initiative and Daisy Khan, that, 'the building came to us. It goes to show there is a symbolism there, a divine hand in it.'"
In addition to the shadowy aspects of the mosque's planning, the issue of the neutrality of the mosque's foreign funders also presents a significant problem. Several of the nations that the mosque's organizers have accepted funds from — Qatar, for instance — serve as cesspools of Muslim Brotherhood activity and development.
"Radical Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, spreads his guidance from Qatar and via Al Jazeera, a strongly sympathetic Muslim Brotherhood media outlet." Jasser says. He adds: "Many of the Muslim Brotherhood's web outlets operate out of Qatar. Qaradawi's Arabic site regularly admonishes Muslims on how to establish Islamic states and install sharia law."
In short, Dr. Jasser finds it difficult to believe that any money donated from any of the 57 Muslim majority nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference would be neutral to American interests or security. A group that has received substantial funds from a Qatari foundation will not simply abandon Qatar's deep-seated Muslim Brotherhood sympathies, he argues, and to think so is ridiculous.
Asked about his stance on the Ground Zero mosque as an American, Dr. Jasser recalled his emotions on September 12, 2001.
"It did not matter to me that I was a Muslim or believed in the faith of Islam," he says. "On that day and in every memory of 9/11 I cannot help but think of myself as an American, a patriot, a citizen, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander. My officer's oath came immediately to mind like a sonic boom as it did again after the Fort Hood massacre by Nidal Hasan."
Islamists naturally target America because its innate principles allow them to fabricate an external enemy to unify all Muslims, Dr. Jasser goes on. At the Oslo Freedom Forum, Jasser laid out why Americanism and the ideas of liberty are the only weapons against political Islam. He discussed how the Muslim world has become trapped in a war of ideas between secular nationalist fascism (i.e., Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and Qaddafi) and militant Islamism (Iran, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood and its army of offshoots).
"America is really the only laboratory in the world that gives us the freedom to create a third alternative," Dr. Jasser states with certainty. "That is, an Islam based in modernity that separates mosque and state and celebrates universal religious freedom and liberty."
In that vein, Jasser puts forward the explanation that Americans' perceptions of Muslims will never change until they feel Muslim Americans are spending our own resources on issues more pressing than gargantuan and ostentatious religious structures that overshadow the ruins of a still-raw wound for Americans. Focusing on counterterrorism and reform centers built with the goal of countering the hostile ideologies of political Islam within the United States are two paths Jasser offers that will improve Islam's PR with America. Most importantly of all, Muslim Americans should show America that many of them have a completely different idea of what it means to give back to the country that has given them so many freedoms, and take a personal responsibility in combating the ideas of radical Islam and its root causes.
For now, the possibility of the Ground Zero mosque coalescing from idea into structure presents not only the insult to the millions of Americans who experienced true horror on September 11, 2001, nor the threat of a new mammoth gateway for radical Islamic ideas to slip into the U.S., but the threat of sending a message of weakness to Islamists the world over.
"It will be used by Islamist leadership around the world to say, 'despite the violence that al-Qaeda perpetrated on the American population, political Islam will always be victorious and from its ashes has risen the largest religious Muslim structure in the United States,'" Jasser warns. "As the administration continues to move backwards, [outlawing] the use of any specific religious Islamic terms like jihad, Islamsim, and salafism, the Islamists continue to make unopposed headway in the contest of ideas. We are losing the war of ideas."
Recent polls have revealed that an increasing number of Americans are developing negative views of Islam. Immediately after 9/11, the numbers sat at 39 percent negative. A 2006 study provided by Dr. Jasser discovered the numbers had risen to 46 percent negative, nearly half the country's population. The same study also found out that the number of Americans who associate Islam with acts of violence had nearly tripled from 13 percent to 33 percent in the same five years. Dr. Jasser blames these numbers in great part on the majority of Muslim organizations in D.C. who are "victim-mongering front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood."
"Until we treat the affliction of Islamism and separate mosque and state and begin a palpable movement against political Islam, those opinion polls will only worsen," Jasser points out. "If the organizers [of the Ground Zero mosque] were truly moderate, they would not be building mammoth structures like this but rather investing in spreading the ideas of liberty into the Muslim community against the ideas of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. They would be teaching American Muslim youth to reach out by joining our military and homeland security efforts en masse rather than allowing Islamist organizations in D.C. like CAIR to brainwash young Muslims that our military and FBI are anti-Muslim and the U.S. is anti-Islam."
Jasser iterates that he believes the most effective method possible for Muslims to reach out to Americans would be to organize a movement to hold the 57 Organization of the Islamic Conference nations accountable for all their violations of human rights as well as demand they shift from Islamism and state sponsored sharia towards more liberty-minded governments that allow more freedoms to their citizens.
"Don't let the Islamists set the agenda," Dr. Jasser says. "Yes, we will not let up against their agenda. But that's defense. We need to generate an offense to preempt the Islamists within Muslim communities domestically and abroad.
"At AIFD our offense in countering the Muslim Brotherhood Project is our Muslim Liberty Project," Jasser goes on. "We will be rolling that out over the next year and it is patterned after Jeffersonian principles of universal religious freedom and principles of liberty targeted to devout Muslims. We target Muslim youth and young adults in giving them an alternative framework for government and society that is based on our U.S. constitutional principles and the Establishment Clause. … [Our goal is to] inoculate them against the potent ideas of political Islam."