Hardliners in Costume as Moderate Muslims
by Stephen Schwartz
September 11, 2001 changed a lot of things for America and the world. Americans and other Westerners were suddenly forced to examine the faith of Islam and to try to figure out who among the world's billion-plus Muslims – including several million living here in the U.S. – could be considered friends and allies in the fight against bloodthirsty terrorism.
This remains a major challenge, and U.S. government representatives have done a poor job of responding to it. Many sincere Americans say they don't know how to differentiate between a moderate Muslim and an extremist.
Behind the scenes in Washington, Justice Department and other federal employees complain, barring attribution to them, that their bosses have budgeted no resources (literally none) to train investigators in the nature, history, and habits of Muslim radicals.
And in key departments like Homeland Security, a predictable attitude has emerged. The West, it is said, should engage in dialogue with Muslim radicals. Paradoxically, however, 9/11 also brought about another change in America: outspoken Muslim extremists began re-branding themselves as moderates.
Within days of the horrific attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, America's main, self-appointed Muslim leaders stood up with President George W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington, to condemn the terrorists. Muslim moderates were shocked, then, to see that the "leaders" chosen to represent them at such a difficult moment were none other than the most outspoken radicals in the American Muslim community.
They included Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Both organizations began with financing from terror apologists – ISNA from the official, ultrafundamentalist Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia and CAIR from Hamas. Both Siddiqi and Awad have long records of rhetorical aggression against the U.S. and, of course, Israel.
Within a short time afterward, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a West Coast figure known for his fiery denunciations of American society, had met with President Bush and began advertising himself as an adviser on Islam to the chief executive. Moderate American Muslims asked themselves then whether the U.S. government, which Muslims thought had sufficient investigative resources to identify radicals, knew what it was doing when it dealt with Islam.
In a recent incident that further dramatizes the ongoing problem, a foreign Muslim listened to a U.S. government appeal for dialogue with the radicals and asked me, "Why do they want us to talk with the extremists? We want to defeat the extremists first!"
To many moderates, dialogue with long-standing Muslim radicals like Muzammil Siddiqi and CAIR merely strengthens the power that Islamist extremism has gained over the believers, through manipulation, financial incentives (mainly from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), and intimidation. Thus, even after 9/11, the same radical individuals and organizations speak as Muslim representatives in the West, notwithstanding these leaders' bad records.
Failure to recognize the extremists who dominate the American Muslim community for what they are has many dangerous consequences. I have repeatedly written about the problem of radical Muslim clerics in the federal and state prison systems, yet little significant government action has yet been taken to abate the problem. And while Americans and other Westerners are right to protest that few American Muslims step forward to oppose the extremists, it is also true that Western governments have failed to identify and support the moderates who could provide an alternative voice for the Muslim community.
Western leaders seem paralyzed when dealing with the internal battle for the soul of Islam.
"Born again moderates" like Siddiqi, the people at CAIR, and Hamza Yusuf have merely changed their strategy, not their ideology. Five years after 9/11, CAIR promotes the lie that the Israel lobby controls American foreign policy. Hamza Yusuf calls for a "radical middle way" implying that "radical Islam" and "extreme Islam" are different – radical good, extreme bad. The deception should be obvious, especially to the U.S. government.
Moderate Muslims see no difference between radicalism and extremism. Both lead to violence. Both prevent Islam from becoming a normal religious community. The learning curve for Westerners on Islam was bound to be long, but it should not be infinitely long – especially for government.
Yet the campaign to present Islamic extremists as moderates continues. In a recent and largely-ignored such incident, the government of Kuwait's Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs sponsored a gathering in Washington over the weekend of November 18, grandly titled "the Second International Moderation Conference." This event saw all the familiar faces: Siddiqi, Awad, New York CAIR veteran Ghazi Khankan – whose radical, and especially anti-Jewish rhetoric has been denounced by New York Republican congressman Peter King. The event also drew Jamal Barzinji of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), which was raided by Treasury agents in 2002.
Barzinji formerly represented the Saudi-based World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in the U.S. WAMY has been the topic of a global investigation for terror financing. In 2002, its U.S. representative, based in Annandale, Va., was Abdulah Bin Laden, brother of Osama. But in Washington in November, with Kuwaiti money, the assembled anointed themselves as "converts to moderation." The deceitful performance was briefly revealed when the Iraqi-American Shia Muslim cleric Hassan al-Qazwini stood up to ask how the Muslim leaders present would deal with Muslim-vs-Muslim terror in Arab and other Muslim-majority countries.
According to a participant who also had to request anonymity, the newly-minted "moderates" had no answer for an Iraqi Shia, even as blood flows in ever-widening streams in Iraq.
American Islam will not benefit by turning radicals into fake moderates. American officials and others of goodwill, even at this late date must take up the hard task of identifying and assisting moderate Muslims.
In this regard, the war on terrorism abroad and the battle against extremism at home are identical.