Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser gave a fascinating and encouraging talk on a cold, rainy Tuesday evening before an audience of 120 at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. “Stopping Radical Islam: An American Muslim’s View” opened with introductions by the Israel Consul General of the Mid-Atlantic region, Yaron Sideman, and StandWithUs directors Ferne Hassan and Yossi Puder. Internationally recognized political Islam expert Dr. Jasser founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which advocates for the preservation of the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution and counters the ideology that fuels radical Islamists. He is the author of the book A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faithand has been featured in several documentaries, including Islam v. Islamists, and The Third Jihad. He has been published extensively in national news media and appeared on national broadcast and cable TV and syndicated radio programs. He regularly testifies and briefs congressional staff members and caucuses on the threat of radicalization within the American Muslim community.
|Islam v. IslamistsThe Third Jihad
Dr. Jasser’s family story is instructive. He spoke of being a first generation American of Muslim Syrian parents who fled the oppressive Baath regime in the 1960s. His family believed in the ideals of this country, where they could practice their faith freely. He was raised to serve and consequently went on to earn his medical degree with a U.S. Navy scholarship. He was the past president of the Arizona Medical Association, and now teaches and advises on medical ethics. He proudly wears a U.S. flag pin on his jacket lapel.
Why does he speak out?
Dr. Jasser boldly speaks out because of his three young children. Contrary to the loud, dominant anti-American, anti-Western and pro-Islamists voices who get the most media attention, moderate voices often lack the courage to speak out. The world clearly has a “Muslim problem” and echoing Daniel Pipes mantra, Dr. Jasser says that the only solution is one that includes “moderate Muslims.” The radicals cannot be left to their own devices, or as history continues to prove, they will demonize other faiths, prevent reform from within and increase the likelihood of developing an “Islamic State.” He stated that 70% of the world today lives without freedom and is oppressed, and that includes all Muslim-majority countries, who are united in their hate for the West.
Dr. Jasser explained there are actually many versions of Islam, not what the Islamists would make us all believe. This is indeed a minority view, he admitted. He does not believe in the Hadith that refers to Judgment Day which will come when the tree and the stone say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” He claims the Prophet never said this, but no one is willing to say this publicly. This is not the way he learned scriptures. For otherwise, how can Islam be characterized as a religion of peace? This is the supreme battle that Muslims must have internally, between originalists and reformists, who espouse liberalism, universal human rights, and respect the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. If the Wahhabis can reinterpret the Hadiths, so can and should liberal Muslims. There is regrettably not a culture for introspection and questioning in Islam, like there is with the rabbis and the Talmud. Many centuries ago, there used to be a concept in Islam called itjihad, independent reasoning, but that has been submerged. His prescription: we should not give Muslims a pass here, we must hold them accountable, but at the same time help create a liberal environment for them.
His religion today is dominated by politicians and theocrats, who want to run government and all life activities, of first the Muslims and then everyone else. The pathology of Islam is its triumphalism and supremacy. We must help make American Muslims patriots, because patriots never become “Islamo-fascist patriots.” This is what he has been trying to do, infuse this sense of patriotism into Islam today. He acknowledges this will certainly not be fixed in his lifetime. And, undoubtedly, it will not be a bloodless thing, as history has shown that Islamists will not simply hand over the keys and walk out.
Anti-Semitism is rampant in the Arab world at 95%, part of which is explained by the fact that 30-40% of them are Islamists. His family’s homeland, Syria, has become the world’s greatest magnet for jihadists. According to Dr. Jasser, we had a chance to help overthrow the dictator Assad and support the rebels early on in the civil war, but it is now too complicated and too late. Muslim-majority governments fuel anti-Semitism and are anti-America/West because our freedoms and way of life are the biggest threat to their existence- and a way to deflect their own failings. But until we as a community get the sense, and our leadership comes right out and states and emphasizes policies that proclaim that ISIL and Iran are “evil empires,” we will not be able to recognize the enemy.
Dr. Jasser is a brave man, indeed. Because of his forthrightness, and appearances on Fox News, he has been bullied by the imam in his own mosque for attacking Hamas. But he and his family will not surrender: they still attend, and have acquired allies, though they are not as open as he has been. He said Islam has within it Muslim intellectuals who are “shaking the tree” and trying to fight the Islamists- but are being ignored. This is the “pathology of Islam.” Using a medical analogy: the treatment of political Islam must be like treating cancer, hitting it with chemo and radiation, which might in the short term be painful, to ultimately make it better and healthier. But things do not look good: Imams will not help, Islamists are united, average folks are apathetic or scared, and liberals who strive for diversity will not unite. Ironically, ISIL has helped to show the dangers of the merging of mosque and state. Surprisingly, he stated, even the Muslim Brotherhood is horrified at what ISIL is doing to their branding!
So, what should be the strategy? Israel, which has led the world and will never accept terrorism as the “new normal.” It is the canary in the coal mine in dealing with radical Islam. America, lamentably, is beginning to accept this as the new normal. Very simply, he said, “the world will die if it turns a blind eye.” The West indeed needs to be educated. Fox News does adhere to this, having debates by both sides, unlike CNN which “hardly smokes out the Islamists.” Muslims here must appreciate what this country offers and impart that to the youth, so they will have something here to live for, rather than become disaffected and join ISIL.
Have we entered a period of reform for Islam? Not yet. That is due to how Islam is taught in schools and especially universities. The first step will be very difficult: changing governments in Muslim-majority countries. ISIL is getting 10-20 times more recruits than al-Queda because it is perceived as the strong horse that is taking on the West and “infidels” to produce the caliphate. Yet, very few Americans agree with this ideology: “Americanism has toned this down.” He then cited some interesting statistics: while 80-90% of mosques in the U.S. preach that jihad and a caliphate is legitimate, only 20-30% of Muslims regularly attend mosques, and 30% attend only 1-2 times per year, and 60-70% of American Muslims do not agree with the ideology. That is where the potential is for change.
According to Dr. Jasser, it is all our responsibilities to hold Muslims accountable. They have been prevented from doing so, from introspection and reform, by the 400 year rule of the Ottomons. The U.S. should not be afraid to exert its power to help affect this change. The biggest reason for America’s success is its separation of church and state, that it is a religious country of God-fearing citizens, freedom, and its powerful military. But it also must include and needs Muslims to share these values to live in peace with diversity.
Dr. Jasser was asked if there were any fatwas on him due to his frankness. He responded that in the past two years, since the rise of IS in Syria, he has received several death threats, through social media especially. Yet, ironically, it is in fact the public that protects him, by him actually being in the sunlight. While CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) “softly” implies he should be takfir (excommunicated), they have not dared yet to physically intimidate him nor protest his work.
Dr. Jasser accepted that most conflicts and bloody wars in the world today involve Muslims, who are fighting Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and mostly among themselves and their different sects. It is undoubtedly a “pressure cooker,” especially in the Arab states with their repressive governments.
After his talk, in which he received a standing ovation, this reporter had an opportunity to ask him several questions on the record:
Why are American Muslims so afraid to speak out against radical Islam and sharia law and be pro-American, and are things so bad here in the U.S. that Muslim kids are heading off to join IS?
It is an identity problem in the Muslim community, there is no sense of urgency since they do live here, and the warped media gives them a pass and promotes the victimization paradigm. They feel they have nothing to die for by living here. Those that came to the U.S. for economic reasons tend to be more pro-American than those that came for political or religious reasons.
Isn’t the ultimate goal of normative Islam the “global jihad” to establish the caliphate throughout the world?
This dogma needs to be addressed to sink the superiority/triumphalism in Islam. This is not my belief.
Is Islam compatible with democracy?
Yes, it can be. Virtually impossible with the governments in the Muslim world today.
Is this the Islamic century?
So far it is starting out that way, in a negative sense.
It is clear that Dr. Jasser is that rare, enlightened Muslim who embraces American ideals. He is the exception and is unafraid to stand up and speak out against his community’s ills and politics. But he wants to fix it for better. Will others join him? Is there a movement behind him? So far, the evidence is very limited. As he has acknowledged, this will not occur in his lifetime, but he is doing this for his children. Time will tell.