Two American Muslim leaders on opposite coasts made very different comments last Friday that go to the heart of the Islamist ideology that is behind both the San Bernardino shootings and the threat from ISIS.
Early in the day, Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that “some of our own foreign policy, as Americans, as the West have fueled that extremism. … We are partly responsible” in Los Angeles on CNN’s “New Day.”
Later that day Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, the President and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, struck a starkly different tone. Jasser was in Washington to host a summit of 20 moderate Muslim organizations who had gathered to approve a Islam reform movement statement that rejects Islamist radicalism and ISIS.
In this statement, the signers pledged to:
* Reject interpretations of Islam that call for any violence, social injustice and politicized Islam. They invited their fellow Muslims and neighbors to join them.
* Reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.
* Support secular governance, democracy and liberty.
* Recognize that every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights.
* Stand for peace, human rights and secular governance
People of every faith should make a similar pledge. Click HERE to read this remarkable statement.
Jasser said at a conference held at the Heritage Foundation last Friday that “Terror is a Muslim issue, an Islamic issue within the house of Islam.” He also criticized U.S. Muslim groups that lament tragedies such as the San Bernardino shootings but say their religion is not responsible. Jasser insisted this violence has roots in Islam, and that Islamist political terror is being nurtured in Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi branch of the faith.
These comments are consistent with what Jasser has been saying for years that some Muslim groups and clerics in the United States are responsible for the early stages of the radicalization process of young Muslims because of their fierce anti-American rhetoric that promotes Islamic supremacism and separatism. Ayloush’s outrageous claim that American policy may be driving Islamist extremism in the United States is a perfect example of this.
This is not the first time Ayloush and CAIR have has made this kind of statement.
For example, in May 2004, Ayloush declared the U.S. war on terror to be a “war on Muslims,” adding his belief that the 9/11 attacks were committed because of “the U.S.’s unconditional support of Israel.” The U.S. is Israel’s “partner to the crimes” against the Palestinians, Ayloush explained.
In July 2014, while Hamas was firing rockets at Israel from Gaza, attendees at a CAIR-Florida-organized protest praised the Hamas attacks at a rally in Miami by chanting “We are Hamas!” “We are Jihad!” “Hamas kicked your ass.”
In 2011, the California chapter of CAIR issued posters for a conference that said “Build a wall of resistance: Don’t talk to the FBI.” These posters were withdrawn after they generated negative press coverage.
Jasser described an even more outrageous example of such behavior in 2011 in testimony he gave to the House Homeland Security Committee. According to Jasser, in 2004, while attending Friday prayers at one of the largest mosques in Arizona, a photo that had been distributed nationally by CAIR and later proven to be doctored was displayed. It showed an American soldier standing with two young Iraqi boys holding a sign that says, “he killed my dad and knocked up my sister.” Jasser said about this incident:
“As offended as I was as a Navy veteran, the imam and CAIR ended up pathologically alienating the Muslims in that audience from an American heritage.”
These Such examples prove that defeating ISIS will require more than military action in Syria and Iraq. Since ISIS represents a global ideological threat, we must also confront the anti-Western jihadist ideology to promote Islamist supremacism, known as shariah, which Jasser believes is being promoted by groups like CAIR. According to Jasser, this type of rhetoric leads to the first steps of radicalization.
Dr. Jasser, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and the other Muslim leaders who signed the Islam reform movement statement are trying to make Muslims and non-Muslims understand this. To defeat ISIS and to stop people in America and around the world from joining their campaign of terror, we must confront the shariah ideology at its source by embracing and empowering Muslim reformers like Jasser.
This means President Obama and other U.S. officials must stop claiming violence by ISIS and terrorists like the San Bernardino shooters have nothing to do with Islam. It means that the U.S. government and the news media should cut their ties with Muslim groups engaged in rhetoric which is encouraging the first stages of radicalization like CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Islamic Society of North America and forge relationships with Islam reformist groups like the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. We also need a comprehensive strategy to counter radical Islamist ideology around the world – especially on the Internet – and to promote Muslim reformers.
When Muslim leaders like Ayloush try to blame U.S. policy for Islamist terrorism they should be immediately called out and ostracized. The fact that this did not happen when he said this in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings is a sign that our elected officials and the news media do not understand the threat that this attack represents. Until our country acknowledges that shariah is the global ideology that is driving radical Islamist terrorism by ISIS, al-Qaeda and so-called home-grown terrorists in United States, this threat is certain to continue and grow.
President Obama could take a welcome first step toward acknowledging the shariah threat by inviting Dr. Jasser to the White House to discuss his Islam reform principles. If Mr. Obama does not do this, I hope the next president does so on his or her first week in office.
— Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs for the Center for Security Policy. He worked for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee during his 25-year government career. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.