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A Muslim Soldier

Last week Al Arabiya decided to air a previously unknown video message from Faisal Shahzad, the convicted Times Square bomber. His justifications for Jihad in the video were similar to his statements at his June 21 arraignment. At his hearing, Shahzad defended his actions by pronouncing that he was “part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people,” claiming that “We Muslims are one community. We are not divided.” His remarks highlight the danger that the Islamist ideology represents to the United States. The Shahzads of the world do not go to sleep one night a normal citizen in corporate America working for the Affinion Group and wake up the next morning a traitorous jihadist adhering to a radical ideology.

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There is a process of indoctrination and the pathway is political Islam. Shahzad portrayed himself to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum as a “Mujahid or Muslim soldier.” Understanding Shahzad’s self-identification as a Muslim soldier is the key to any efforts in counter terrorism.

There are two primary transitions that take place in the indoctrination of jihadist. The first is when a Muslim decides to enter the Islamist arena as a non-violent cheerleader waving the banner of global political Islam. The second transition occurs in a significant minority of Muslims who want to graduate from the stands to play on the field. The fervor of the Islamist crowd cheering on the global agenda of political Islam drives jihadists to enter the battlefield on the team with their Islamist brothers against the west and against America. Islamists also effectively recruit by using the myth of the “Ummah” combined with a false narrative that the West is at war with Islam and Muslims in order to convince followers like Shahzad to commit horrific acts of violence.

Shahzad represents many things– a terrorist, a traitor and an adherent to a supremacist ideology that has no place in modernity. But the most important question for the 21st Century is whether he represents a “Muslim soldier.” As a devout Muslim and a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy, I never felt myself to be a “Muslim” soldier even though I prayed five times a day and read the Qur’an. I always looked at myself as an American soldier who happened to be Muslim. I never had a split allegiance with any other military collective (i.e. a Muslim Ummah) – even when fighting against other nations that happened to be Muslims.

At the core of the difference between the jihadists and the rest of us Muslims who are loyal to our nations is our own personal interpretation of jihad. This discourse needs to go beyond the platitudes of definitions about the various meanings of the term and become a more frank discussion about what meanings and assumptions inherent in “jihad” in Islamic history are no longer relevant in the 21st Century to Muslims.

Muslim leaders, scholars and imams need to reform the concept of jihad, the Islamic state, and the “ummah” (all of which need to be considered together) now or there will continue to be more Nidal Hasans (“soldier of Allah”) and Shahzads. While jihad has many meanings, one of its predominant ones for Islamists is armed conflict or war in their warped concept of the defense of Muslims and the “Islamic state.” This is why our organization’s (AIFD) primary mission is the separation of mosque and state. “Ummah” has two meanings from the Qur’an for us as devout Muslims. It means faith community (for prayer, holidays, theological practice and education, charity and socialization) and it also means “nation state.” Ummah as nation is incompatible with our allegiance to western nations like the United States which are based in reason and secular law like our U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and especially it’s Establishment Clause. We need to put that latter definition of Ummah as nation into the dustbin of history.

The core of our American citizenship pledge and my officer’s pledge I took when I was in the U.S. Navy is to defend the U.S. against enemies foreign and domestic. Muslim leadership need to reform the ideas which feed into the development of traitors like Hasan and Shahzad and others who slide down the slippery slope of political Islam to become agents of the “Islamic state” over their allegiance to the U.S., the nation that gave them freedom. Simply placing road blocks along that slope as many who prefer political correctness over debate would do is not enough.

The whole slope of political Islam needs to be ideologically defeated in real debate within the House of Islam.

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Many Muslims will deflect the need to reform the concept of jihad by saying that it doesn’t apply here where Muslims are a minority and can only be called into play by a “legitimate” Islamic state and “legitimate” Islamic leader and nation. Whatever that means? But that qualification is also extremely dangerous since 57 nations are included in the Organization of Islamic Conference – many of whom consider themselves “Islamic.” And who’s to say what is and what is not “legitimate jihad.” I certainly, for one, would never want to live under such a governance. I prefer the post-Enlightenment, secular states. But not only do many of us never want to live under such a state even where there are Muslim majorities, they actually ignore the core ideological supremacism inherent in political Islam that feeds jihadists.

Political Islam is based in the idea that the Islamic state is the best form of governance (supremacism and theocracy) and preferable over one that separates mosque and state. Thus along with Shahzad’s concept of faith in God and Islam comes an obligation to fight jihad against “non-Muslim enemies.”

Many if not most Muslims that I personally know do not believe in this, but the reality is that we have yet to mount any palpable domestic or international movement against the ideas of political Islam, Muslim collectivism and the “Ummah” (Islamic nation) that feeds this supremacism and militancy. In fact most evidence shows that Islamists are making gains around the world where anti-Islamists are not because of an absence of U.S. support.

The obligations of jihad in the 7th century Arabian Peninsula under the Prophet Muhammad’s leadership are gone for all Muslims I know. We now only have a national obligation of citizenship to our nation – the United States– and there is and can be no other competing obligations. Muslim teachers need to make that repeatedly clear, with no qualifications about Muslims being in a majority or minority, or future Shahzads of the world will keep returning.

If Muslims apply the true meaning of jihad today that I know and learned from my family, they would start a ‘jihad against jihad’ and work to end the concept with regards to armed conflict, nation states, and the ummah. The real jihad in 2010 is within the House of Islam against the Islamists and those advocates of political Islam and its radical manifestations that have hijacked the spiritual path of Islam.

The only Muslim soldier I long for is one that is an American soldier who happens to be Muslim. It is time for soldiers who “happen to be” Muslims to fight to protect the inalienable rights of all men and women to liberty and freedom rather than theocratic martyrdom or servitude. The guarantee of individual freedom and liberty in our Constitution is our greatest weapon against an enemy who holds power through the theocratic, despotic control of its people.

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