American Islamists Find Common Cause with Pamela Geller
by M. Zuhdi Jasser
Over the past few years, numerous hearings have already been conducted on Capitol Hill, in both the House and Senate, looking into domestic Islamist terrorism and 'radicalization'. Unfortunately, those hearings garnered little attention and few tangible results - because they avoided discussing the root causes. Those hearings instead focused only on "violent extremism" a useless concept addressing a symptom and not the disease. Up to now the combined efforts of the forces of political correctness and Islamist pressure groups have dominated the debate and the lexicon.
Recently, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, announced that he intends to hold hearings to address what he describes as the failure of leaders in the American Muslim community to address the problem of the domestic radicalization of Muslims. King told Politico that "the leadership of the [Muslim] community is not geared to cooperation," and that the goal of the hearings will be "to confront the threat of homegrown terrorism and explore the role of Muslim leaders in dealing with it." He has opened the discourse about some imams and other Muslim leaders who have been less than helpful (if not obstructionists) in counterterrorism investigations.
The numbers speak for themselves; in the last two years there have been twenty-four attempted or successful terrorist attacks on American soil, perpetrated by native-born or naturalized American Muslims. Furthermore, in 2007, Pew found that 24% of American Muslims between the age of 18-29 believe that suicide bombings against civilians are justified, at least sometimes.
I am the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). The body of our work in this area can be found at our website, YouTube channel, and peppered amongst the work of so many other thinkers among the anti-Islamist, anti-jihadist movement in the United States over the past decade. Our mission at the AIFD is, "to advocate for the preservation of the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state." Terrorism is only one endpoint, one symptom, of a much more protracted complex process of Muslim radicalization. American Muslim radicalization is a natural endpoint of the separatist ideological continuum of political Islam. We are one of the most prominent American Muslim organizations directly confronting political Islam (Islamism) from within the Muslim consciousness. The AIFD is grounded in the need for honest Muslim reform ending the concept of the Islamic state and getting the theocratic instrument of shariah law out of government and out of the central nature of our Muslim identity. That is the only viable solution to Muslim radicalization both domestically and abroad.
King's proposed hearings finally sound like an important beginning to the sadly unchartered public discourse about these issues. Islamist groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council have responded to criticisms defensively citing data (possibly exaggerated) that many plots were broken up by Muslims themselves. There are most certainly many American Muslim heroes. But at the end of the day, those anecdotes are just straw men to divert the discussion of the deep internal drivers of growing American Muslim radicalization. Our nation desperately needs a strategy to prevent the undeniable. Now, liberty-loving American Muslim leaders can publicly acknowledge that responsibility and our representatives in Congress can begin to expose and de-legitimize various mechanisms of Islamist facilitation in the United States.
Prejudging the King hearings: surprising bedfellows
Those who are familiar with the issue of Islamism are well aware of the alphabet soup of Islamist propaganda groups and their supporting cast of politically correct non-Muslim apologists that have all quickly aligned against the King hearings. King is already being vilified for even daring to hold them. Chief among these is the Council of American-Islamic Relations which called King a "a McCarthyist." CAIR is a notorious American Islamist group whose links to Hamas were concerning enough for the FBI to break off all contact and whose links to the Muslim Brotherhood labeled them an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror-financing trial in U.S. history. Other Islamist groups and representatives have also done their best to stoke the flames of fear and victimhood providing outlets like the Washington Post with the malignant and unsubstantiated claim that "a wave of panic [is spreading] throughout the Muslim community."
Witnesses have yet to be called and King's mere mention of me as a possible witness to Politico incited a vicious attack, published right here at American Thinker on January 20 by blogger Pamela Geller. That attack was later amplified and perpetuated by among others Robert Spencer at Frontpage Magazine.
While I appreciate the fact that honest disagreements are par for the course in this intensely difficult and controversial issue, Geller's attacks go far beyond ideology, employing a mixture of fabrications and libelous character assassination. Amusingly, the methods she and her cohorts use to dismiss my work share common cause and technique with the Islamists. In the past, I made it a policy not to respond to such scurrilous attacks but the fact that Geller's diatribe has gained some "currency" on the Internet made this a necessary distraction given also the importance of Rep. King's hearings.
Less amusing is the bottom line that Geller's and Spencer's genre is headed in only one direction-declaring an ideological war against one-fourth of the world's population and expecting to neutralize the Islamist threat by asking Muslims to renounce their faith.
Sifting through the scurrilous
In her American Thinker article, "King Abdicates" Geller stated:
Every one of Geller's allegations are provably false, with the one exception of our deep disagreement on the nature of Islam and the possibility of reform. And even that is a nebulous argument. The following will show that she knew, had the means to know, or should have known they were false. Let's look at her allegations, one by one:
The truth: This is a regurgitation of Geller's initial dismissive criticism of my work from May 19, 2009 during the official release of "The Third Jihad," a documentary featuring some of my views on the responsibility of Muslims to combat the Islamist ideology that drives Islamist terrorism. I do see a valid debate as to the prevalence and intellectual underpinnings of the Islam I and my family practice, and whether it constitutes a minority or majority of Muslims. It is an important national conversation whether most Muslims can be counted upon to lead any type of genuine, lasting reform toward modernity. But this issue needs sound, thoughtful study - not sloppy unsubstantiated visceral prejudgments.
Frankly, it takes a lot of chutzpah for any non-Muslim, let alone one who has never met me, to insist that I am not practicing Islam. According to them I, and the vast majority of Muslims with whom I have had significant contact in my life must be entirely delusional when we pray, fast, congregate, supplicate, worship, or recite scripture. Between the two of us, I certainly more than Geller have a far more credible perspective coming from a lifetime as a practicing Muslim from within diverse Muslim faith communities. It is also quite telling that Islamists completely agree with them on that count. Regardless, what I am exactly practicing is a determination that only God can make and not Geller's oracle. We can debate what exactly "Islam" is. Certain versions of Islam do threaten our security. But contrary to Islamists and also Geller - there is no "one Islam," just as there is no "one" of any faith. To dismiss me as having a 'private Islam' is absurd for anyone let alone an outsider.
If such a position against my work was intellectually possible, the American Islamist groups would have publicly 'apostated' me long ago in their now over 6 year campaign to discredit me. The radical Islamist group, Revolution Muslim is the only one to try that so far in addition to Geller. For reference, please see the large body of my work on this issue at the AIFD website, especially pertinent was my series on "Which Islam? Whose Islam" Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV," or these pieces (here and here and here) on apostasy, in which I address many of these misconceptions.
The truth: I have never been thrown out of any mosque - let alone the mosque that I and my family have attended for years, and continue to attend. My family and I have been involved positively in several mosque projects which I have discussed openly on numerous occasions. I have also proudly engaged in numerous debates with leaders of certain mosques across the country, and I will continue to critique the ideas of various mosque leaders including our own as necessary and the reluctance and refusal of many of them to deviate from Islamism. Geller's claim is a fabrication.
The truth: Geller's allegations are absolutely false. First, Mr. Wilders came to Washington to screen his film "Fitna" in February 2009 for interested members of Congress. His visit to Congress was sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). While the CAIR-AZ chapter did do everything they could to quash Wilders' visit, as did the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association (now shut down), I stood practically alone among American Muslims in support of his free speech, even though I disagree with his characterizations of Islam as a faith and his conflation of political Islam with Islam. In fact, Sen. Kyl used some of my work to respond to Islamists about the value of free speech, as endorsed by many other anti-Islamist Muslims. The only concern I voiced to Sen. Kyl, unrelated to the film showing, was my understanding that Mr. Wilders had not been dialoguing with any Muslims, especially anti-Islamist Muslims, who are vital assets in helping to protect America and Europe.
In fact, Mr. Wilders' chief of staff called me (in Phoenix) the day of the showing on Capitol Hill, and stated that Sen. Kyl felt it was important that Mr. Wilders and I speak while he was in town. I agreed, and Mr. Wilders called me. We never discussed his film or its showing. We had a very cordial conversation about the benefits of open Muslim engagement and he agreed. If Geller were an honest inquirer, she would have discussed all this with Sen. Kyl or his staff, before making such a wild, inflammatory accusation against me.
In regards to her second false allegation, the fact is that I visited the Netherlands in October 2006, and again in December 2007. I had discussed with Sen. Kyl that during my visit of December 2007, I was invited to lead a program (discussed in Dutch Muslim media here and here), sponsored by the American embassy in the Netherlands, on "Citizenship and Democracy." During that visit, I met privately and publicly with a number of leading political figures in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, in addition to speaking to various Muslim groups at schools and universities.
During that visit, at the direction of the American Ambassador to the Netherlands, Roland Arnall, his embassy staff reached out to Mr. Wilders, to invite him to a private dinner with a few of his like-minded colleagues in parliament, the media, and advocacy groups who were vocal on Muslim affairs. A number of embassy staff, including the ambassador himself, confirmed that Mr. Wilders' staff responded that "he was not interested" in attending. I discussed this with Mr. Wilders during our call. He said he did not recall such an episode, and that if his staff did that without his knowledge, he apologized. Rather than remind him of his similar on-the-record stances he had taken with other Muslims (Islamists and anti-Islamists) in the Netherlands, I assumed he had a change of heart since my December 2007 visit. I told him this was a good development, and that I would be happy to keep a channel of communication open with him.
I did not broadcast these facts to anyone - because they were, as far as I was concerned, a private matter. But now that Geller has repeatedly and recklessly aired this issue, it deserves facts rather than fiction. Again, this is all verifiable by Sen. Kyl's staff from 2009, and with the embassy's staff from December 2007.
It is also interesting to note that in a March 2009 interview with Jeff Jacoby soon after his appearance on Capitol Hill, Mr. Wilders told Jacoby that he "hoped there are more Muslims" like me. If he really believed I tried to quash his appearance on Capitol Hill, he would have certainly mentioned it in that interview.
The truth: This is absolutely false. The truth is that on May 22, 2007, I responded to Geller's request to interview me for her Internet radio show. From start to finish (over an hour of discussion; listen here; full transcript here), we had a relatively cordial, albeit sometimes painful exchange.
She is falsely describing my response to a caller's outrage about Hamas's use of a Mickey Mouse look-a-like character on a Palestinian children's TV show, which it uses to indoctrinate Muslim toddlers in Gaza to hate and want to kill Jews. Here's my actual quote (audio at 56:30; transcript on page 18):
Geller alleges that I "referred to Israel as 'occupied territory'" (singular) - when, in fact, as the recording and transcript of this interview show, I actually said "occupied territories" (plural). The Islamist terror group Hamas refers to all of Israel as "occupied territory" (singular); and its charter claims that its mission is to conquer all of Israel, and rename it "Palestine." From 2000-2005, however, the term "occupied territories" (plural) referred to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, both of which were under the control of the Israeli military. (In fact, Israel completely withdrew from Gaza and the northern West Bank in late 2005.) The only mistake I made was to still in 2007 refer to Gaza and parts of the West Bank as "the occupied territories." On that count, I should have immediately corrected myself but that simple mistake was far from her accusation.
When Geller says I "blew my cover," what she is alleging is that I've been engaging in al-taquiyya, a term identifying the actions of traitorous Muslims who use deception in order to hide their true beliefs and intentions from their enemies, while on their soil. One of the reasons I take great personal offense at this libel is because this is my soil. Like Geller, I am a natural-born U.S. citizen; but unlike her, I proudly served for eleven years as an officer in the United States Navy, including as a physician to Congress and the Supreme Court.
Next, if Geller actually believed that she 'exposed' that I said "occupied territory" (singular - meaning all of Israel) on her radio show, why did she not call me out on it right there and then? In fact, here's what she said a few minutes later, at the end of her show (audio at 1:00:30; transcript on page 19):
Well surely, you're saying, she must have mentioned it the next day, right? Or the following week - or month? Nope. When did she finally make this allegation, for the first time? Two years later - on May 13, 2009 - just as "The Third Jihad" was about to be released. Here's what she said, in this blog article:
During the twenty-four month period between our interview and this libelous assault, she conducted many more radio programs, and wrote hundreds of blog articles - yet never once mentioned this allegation. To the contrary, she posted instance after instance of positive references to my efforts to fight radical Islamism - yet not a word about how I supposedly "blew my cover" on anything.
The fact is that I have been a long-time supporter of a secure state of Israel, and have been one of the most outspoken American Muslims against the toxic and potent linkage of our Muslim faith community to the goals and propaganda of the Palestinian lobby in the United States. Because of that toxic linkage, AIFD is predicated on our published principles, which have clearly stated since our inception in March 2003 our position "in support of the existing unqualified recognition of the state of Israel."
Geller regurgitates here the unsubstantiated ramblings of another blogger, Christopher Logan. Logan's attack simply rehashes Geller's previous fabrications declaring me not a Muslim. As to a following, our organization's primary mission is ideological and it is not a membership based organization. Our mission is reform toward the separation of mosque and state in Islam. Even with that, and all of the other obstacles toward change not least of which Geller's genre creates for rational Muslims, we have over 200 Muslim supporters and over 2000 non-Muslim supporters.
Even groups like CAIR have a very limited membership compared to the number of Muslims in America. Most American Muslims avoid becoming members of any 'Islamic' organizations which actually speaks to their unwillingness to collectivize as Muslims. Getting them to join reform groups like ours is certainly a challenge to which I freely admit, but I will not surrender the measure of that success or failure to the judgment of Logan or Geller or their choir (on that count) of Islamists.
Spencer piles on more gloom and doom
On January 21, Geller's colleague Robert Spencer chimed in, "Peter King Doomed To Fail" at Frontpage Magazine actually quoted Geller's baseless attacks against me and then claimed:
Yet, Spencer found it completely appropriate for us to engage in an in-depth online symposium at Frontpage - on May 27, 2010-The World's Most Wanted: A "Moderate Islam". One year after Geller claimed I "blew my cover," Spencer engaged with no mention of such attacks on my veracity? Spencer echoed Geller's dismay at any suggestion of Islamist-supporters like Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) appearing at the hearings. Testimony from Islamists would actually serve to give Americans an on-the-record understanding of the obstacles and the actual ideological diversity within the Muslim community. On October 1, 2009, after I gave a briefing on political Islam to the House Anti-Terror Caucus, Rep. Ellison came up to the same dais and stated about me, "I think people who want to engage in nothing less than Muslim-hating really love you a lot because you give them freedom to do that. You say, 'yeah, go get after them." On-the-record, Ellison chose obfuscation and fear-mongering, equating political Islam with Islam, denying any role for reform, and basically calling me an "Uncle Tom."
Let Americans see the stark difference between Muslims who are part of the problem (promoters of Islamism) and Muslims who are part of the solution (anti-Islamists who promote reform and modernity). Ellison, for example, has proudly raised funds for American Islamist groups like CAIR, and has never acknowledged any need for reforms against political Islam.
American Islamists find common cause with Geller
For whatever reason, the American Islamist groups have now found common cause with Geller and Spencer (by proxy using Geller's comments) in attacking my character, our mission for reform, and more importantly these hearings. The motivations are certainly very different, but the blunt instrument of marginalizing and destroying reformers is identical.
Let us be clear: Geller and Spencer's comments in their echo chambers show that they are against any solutions from within the "House of Islam". This only aids and abets all Islamists. But, then again, that doesn't matter if the target includes all Muslims and their only viable solution is conversion of one-fifth of the world's population.
Their rush to quickly declare Cong. King's hearings dead-on-arrival are tone-deaf to the reality of American discourse today, and the strategy necessary to overcome the hyper-partisan, politically-correct environment on Capitol Hill. They are only adding fuel to the fire making it impossible to have a rational, informed discourse on the matter of domestic Muslim radicalization and terrorism, which they so loudly profess to be concerned about.
Rep. King's is contrarily far more solutions-oriented. He has expressed a desire to expose the obstacles put up by some American Muslim leaders against law enforcement in their work and in getting to the root causes of Muslim radicalization on American soil.
Changing the discourse to a solutions-based paradigm
If the solution against political Islam and its global shariah project is to come from within Islam and Muslim communities, it will only come through public engagements between Islamists and anti-Islamists. Certainly, non-Muslim activists and experts are key to motivating and empowering that change, but they cannot be that change.
The National Journal positioned the debate very well in a report last July 31, 2010 titled "Reformers vs. Revivalists." This debate, this clash, is the one on which we must take sides. Hopefully, some day Geller and Spencer (and others who agree with them) will realize that any mantra or strategy that pits the West or America against all Muslims, or Islam, is what is actually "doomed to failure" - not Rep. King's hearings.
Encouraging this debate will involve a paradigm-shift for some, to look seriously at the work of many Muslim reformers, rather than dismissing us out of hand with scurrilous, inflammatory false accusations and character assassinations. Our work is not just based upon our own ideas but a lifetime of real-world experience with fellow Muslims and reform-minded scholars who believe and practice the same reform-minded Islam. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but this discussion needs thoughtful, scientific approaches to Muslim communities about the ideas they harbor, rather than off-hand dismissals that allow Islamists to speak for all Muslims and the faith of Islam.