Why American Muslims Stay Silent
by Stephen Schwartz
Four years after September 11, 2001, numerous non-Muslim Americans repeatedly ask, "Why do American Muslims stay silent in the face of extremism and terrorism? Why do they not act to cleanse their religion of the reputation it has acquired?"
Paradoxically, Muslims in the US and Great Britain are, today, far more dominated by Islamist extremism than their counterparts in various Muslim countries. In many lands where the majority follows Islam, a struggle is underway between mainstream moderates and radicals inspired by the ultra-Wahhabi preachers of Saudi Arabia, the agitators of the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab countries, and the virulent and volatile adherents of Pakistani jihadism. In some places, from Bosnia-Hercegovina to Indonesia and from Morocco to Mozambique, the moderates are winning. Yet the Islamic communities of the U.S. (dominated by the Saudis) and Britain (run by radical Pakistanis) suffer under a totalitarian regime of thought-control.
What happens when ordinary Muslims rebel against radical domination in America? They are ostracized, thrown out of mosques, and subjected to extraordinary public insults and threats. I myself was harassed in a Long Island mosque in 2003, as noted in this article. Shia mosques are excluded from "Sunni," i.e. Wahhabi-controlled bodies, and numerous incidents of expulsions of individual Shias from Sunni mosques in the U.S. have been reported to the Center for Islamic Pluralism, which I have established.
The "Wahhabi Lobby" -- an assemblage of groupings, headed by the Hamas- and Saudi-backed Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- controls the public life of many American Sunnis. It demands certification as moderate, but not in recognition of real moderation or loyalty to the American constitutional tradition. Instead, their demand for recognition and respect is a preemptive strike to shield them from a proper understanding and appreciation of their tactics and aims.
And how does the CAIR gang react when a moderate Muslim activist raises a dissenting voice? It betrays its guilt: accused of extremism, CAIR reacts by the extremist methods of menace and hate-mongering.
The latest such case involves one of the founders of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Jasser is a mild-mannered and manifestly moderate individual with a column in the Arizona Republic, the largest daily in the state, on Islamic affairs. Dr. Jasser previously founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He is knowledgeable and devoted to the religion of Islam.
Readers around the world have lately been treated to the despicable spectacle of Islamist rhetoric turned against Danish cartoonists, as if the spiritual force of the faith were so weak that trivial media products in the West could threaten it. Compared with the malicious tone of images employed by cartoonists in most Arab countries, the works of the Danes were innocuous.
But the U.S. has had more than one "cartoonist case" -- and the latest involves none other than an Arizona Republic editorial caricaturist named Benson. The Republic published a work by Benson questioning why so many mosques are centers of extremist agitation. The cartoon included nothing offensive to moderate Muslims; it simply dramatized an obvious fact.
CAIR, which serves as the U.S. equivalent of the Saudi mutawwiyyin or religious militia, leapt into hysterical action, calling for an apology from the Republic for publishing Benson's cartoon. CAIR, as usual, freely indulged in overheated rhetoric and unjustified demands. It utilized a local extremist scandal sheet posturing as a "community paper," the Muslim Voice, with which it has close ties, to stir venom against the Republic, Benson, and Dr. Jasser. They did so only because both are published in the Republic, and because, in the words of the Islamist complainants, "Many Muslims and Islamic organizations in the Valley were outraged by the cartoon and articles printed in the Arizona Republic Newspaper. One of the writers was M. Zuhdi Jasser who wrote articles that led to Benson's poor depiction of Muslims." The link between Benson and Dr. Jasser was purely one of common opinions to which the Islamists objected, including Dr. Jasser's frequent criticism of CAIR.
In a gross cartoon, the latter two were portrayed as voracious dogs eating a Muslim. Curiously, the "Muslims" in the cartoon, both victim and protestors to the Republic, are portrayed in Wahhabi dress, with skull caps of a kind few wear in large parts of the Muslim world but that everybody wears when they join the Wahhabi cult.
But the intent of the cartoon is more important than its details. The motive of the CAIRites in Phoenix is to punish the Republic for printing a cartoon to which they object, and to silence Dr. Jasser. The portrayal of this gentle and sincere man as a vicious canine, is the epitome of totalitarian conditioning. It is comparable to the Jew-baiting cartoons of the Nazi era or the anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim caricatures that appeared in Serbian media at the beginning of Slobodan Milosevic's dictatorship.
The editor of Muslim Voice is Marwan Ahmad, an appointee to the Phoenix Human Relations Commission. Yet at his paper's website, we find his signature over an editorial blaming Israel for the death of American service personnel in Iraq.
What possible justification may be advanced for treating CAIR and papers like the Muslim Voice as anything other than an intrusion of radical ideology and extremist habits into the social life of American Muslims? Numerous "community" periodicals like Muslim Voice have been established around the U.S., are distributed free in mosques and Islamic schools, and are often the only media read by the Muslim rank-and-file. In tandem, CAIR utilizes the camouflage of an alleged civil rights organization to enforce political and social submission to the dictates of the primitive clerics in the Saudi kingdom. Why should this be encouraged in America?
A terrible blow has been inflicted on the religion of Islam in America by the refusal of the religious "establishment" -- including CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and other entities -- to abandon and denounce the radical legacy present in their formation and displayed in their long service. They hate Dr. Jasser because he dares to expose their continued devotion to radicalism and their refusal to abide by American norms of religious respect and public dignity. Non-Muslim Americans as well as moderate Muslims must rally to Dr. Jasser and assist him in his just struggle. The Arizona Republic should be commended for providing him a platform, and must stand by its cartoonist, Benson.
Dr. Jasser's case illustrates why American Muslims stay silent: because the price of speaking out is immediate, coordinated attack. Sometimes the Wahhabi offensive on American soil is accompanied by physical threats; violence is not excluded. Born Muslims, living "in the community," seldom came to America expecting to find Islam in this country run by Wahhabis -- to the immigrant, it was inconceivable that such a situation would be permitted in the US. And yet, thanks to the Saudis, it came to pass, and just as President Bush should push the Saudis to quit financing radicalism, ordinary Americans should write groups like CAIR out of the roster of respectability. These are militants with an incurable penchant for intimidation. Their psychological reign of terror in America must end no less quickly than the literal bloodshed brought by their mentors in Iraq.