Ever since the Congressional hearings on radical Islam were announced, a number of Jewish groups, including the National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street, have been critical of Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
They accuse King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which convened the hearings, titled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response," of singling out a particular faith community ("Scope of Muslim radicalization hearings stirs debate," Jewish News, March 18).
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Valley resident, disagrees. As president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which he describes as "a think tank and a reformist group that looks to advance the idea of separation of mosque and state," Jasser was one of three main witnesses to testify in front of the committee on March 10. The other two witnesses were Melvin Bledsoe, of Memphis, Tenn., and Abdirizak Bihi, of Minneapolis, Minn.
So far, King has done nothing to raise the ire of Jasser, a fellow Republican. "I have seen nothing but respect from him for our cause, for our religion and for our communities," Jasser said. He characterizes the hearings as inoffensive and necessary. "Our country is so obsessed with the polarized nature of partisan politics that we can no longer see the bigger issues we share."
Jasser wants to be clear: "Our faith is a beautiful religion and the vast majority of Muslims are not only part of the problem, but also part of the solution. ... Every Muslim I know would report a radical Muslim who was about to do something violent. But that's not the problem."
Violence, he said, "is the last step of a long continuum of radicalization. The problem is that our (Muslim) communities are not picking up on the pathology that leads to radicalization over (the course of) years."
"Ultimately, we've been failing as a community," said Jasser. "If you look at the last 220 arrests by the Department of Justice on terror cases, over 180 of them are Muslims."
Muslims make up about 1.5 percent of the population in the United States.
The issue, as Jasser sees it, is that the culture in most mosques teaches young Muslims what he calls "insidious separatism."
"A lot of the youth grow up confused," he said. "They feel the duality of their existence, saying, 'Well, we live (in the U.S.) because it's a "B" society. It's better than the "F" society where we came from. But the "A" society is the utopian Islamic state where the Quran is the constitution, and we want to have the imams write the laws.'
"It becomes fuel for radicalization because then (the youth) don't bond to their society and they envision a completely different society."
This issue, said Jasser, "is a Muslim problem that needs a Muslim solution."
He believes the solution is to open channels of dialogue that allow for debate between what he calls revivalist Muslims (those who want to bring Islam to the West) and reformist Muslims (those who want to adapt Islam to the West). If this dialogue occurs, Jasser said, Islam will turn to reform.
"The only way to inoculate youth against radicalization early on is to inoculate them with the liberty narrative, and once they understand that narrative, they will never be susceptible to the virus of radicalization," he said. "Once a Muslim kid ... believes in a society under God where everybody, even atheists, have equal access to the presidency because they're human beings, because they have free will and they're God's creations of equality, once they believe in the unalienable rights of individuals under God, they could never be driven by a jihadist movement."
He said the American government can help the cause of the reformists by "providing platforms and advancing the ideas of freedom and liberty into our communities."
"(The government) needs to advocate for the ideas of Americanism into our communities, so that the Constitution that voices independence and the ideas from Madison and Jefferson are taught, and there are opportunities to debate those ideas and whether they're compatible with our religion."
Jasser said the government should conduct polls and studies to learn the true dynamics of the American Muslim community. He said one reason such projects have not yet gotten off the ground is because Democrats are too concerned with political correctness and not offending Muslims by singling them out.
Since the hearings were announced, some Democrats have likened them to McCarthyism, while some Republicans have termed opponents politically correct to a fault.
Still, Jasser said he hopes to promote a national conversation about the continuum of Islamic radicalization.
"I hope people understand that this is a first step in a long process, and we've got a lot of work to do," he said. "But it has to be a partnership with Muslims, where we engage our communities and not marginalize them."
To read a transcript of Jasser's testimony to Congress, visit tinyurl.com/jassertestimony.